Indian Superfoods vs International Superfoods

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When I was at a new age food store recently, I was quite surprised to see a whole lot of foods being marketed as ‘superfoods’ on the shelf. None of these however came from India and were all mostly imported and came with price tags that would burn deep holes in your pocket. With an increased focus on health and well being, people are probably leaning towards imported ‘superfoods’ forgetting that we have our own local food that is probably much better than the ones on the shelves. So what are the Indian alternatives that are as good if not better? Well, read on to find out.

What are Superfoods?

The concept of ‘super foods’ is a new one, created by the marketing hype. Each food has its role in nutrition. Each food can become a superfood. Unfortunately, over the last few years, some foods have gained recognition as ‘super food’. “For a balanced diet, we always need varied set of items. These ‘super foods’ are mostly international foods, and have come into India at the cost of the rich variety of Indian foods that have existed for centuries. Lest we forget, people used to come to India in search for spices and food items. Currently, the definition of super foods is limited to omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary fiber rich foods,” explains Dr. K.C. Raghu, Founder & MD, Pristine Organics.

Health Matters

New age farming technologies have changed what we eat and unfortunately it is not all healthy. For instance the move away from millets to rice that needs a lot more water to grow than millets is not just environmentally detrimental but also gives you far lesser nutrients. “International superfoods are extremely expensive, and not affordable to everyone. Sometimes, certain foods might also lose its nutritional value when it is packaged and marketed in regions thousands of kilometers away. This defeats the purpose of buying and eating those foods. People believe that ‘super foods’ are truly great and end up focusing on it at the risk of an extremely imbalanced diet. For instance, excess amount of omega 3 fatty acid rich food can lead to high amount of free radicals causing detrimental effects,” avers Raghu.

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Making the Choice

With an influx of information and reinforcement of brands through nonstop marketing, several times we tend to believe what we are told. Chef Sudhir Nair, Executive Chef, Courtyard by Marriott and Fairfield by Marriott, Outer Ring Road, Bengaluru explains, “almost every now and then we hear of a new emerging super food which boosts the immune system. We all know about how amazingly healthy Extra virgin Olive oil is only because there a big lobbies of companies which market and sell it in our country and worldwide. But do we know that majority of this Olive oil sold to us is has none of those properties that studies boast of. That is principally because not everybody can afford the real healthy, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Instead we buy a light green colored bottle of oil which is labeled as Olive oil and in very small letters in a corner it is written pomace, or list of ingredients state-mixed with refined oil. The latest fad, Keto diet also advocates coffee with coconut oil to boost metabolism in the body. Another gem is our kitchen is the raw mustard oil from the northern part of our country. The benefits outweigh the peculiar smell it emanates.  It is great for the cardiovascular health, weight loss, relief from asthma, cold and cough. Mustard oil is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-carcinogenic. Now that’s what I call super food. It is a gastronomical delight when smoked and used in meat preparations like Nihari Gosht (Awadhi speciality) or used to cook its own leaves and make the quintessential sarson ka saag.” With the return of fresh food and concepts like farm to fork taking center stage, it is time to look at your local markets for produce that is as fresh as it is healthy!

Here we list out a comparative study of International superfoods and their Indian alternatives:

Quinoa vs Amaranth

In terms of nutritional benefits, amaranth has a much higher fibre content and iron than quinoa, also for vegetarian it provides a high source of high source of protein as compared to quinoa.  Amaranth is known as an ancient grain which has been in India for a while as well.  While Quinoa just entered the scene recently. “Another fact about Amaranth grain is very easy for the body to digest and so is traditionally eaten during fasts, and given to those who are recovering from illness. But if you have to compare in detail, both the grains are very beneficial to health. But Amaranth has been known to Indians for a while now, even though it is known as the forgotten food grain,” says Swasti Aggarwal – Food Strategist, Foodhall. “Amaranth does not contain any gluten, which makes it a great choice for people who are celiac or gluten intolerant and an excellent way to boost the nutritional power of gluten-free recipes. One cup of raw amaranth contains 15 milligrams of iron, while quinoa contains only 1.5 milligrams of iron,” adds Rinki Kumari, Chief Dietician, Fortis Hospitals.

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Chia vs Flax Seeds

Chia is purely a product of the marketing efforts of USA & West. “When comparing chia and flax seeds, the former is lower in calories than flax and is better known as the slimming seed with higher calcium, fibre & phosphorus than flax. Having said this, flax seeds is still a clear winner as it is higher in proteins, has fewer carbs, higher vitamin B1 & MFUA’s. Flax has been used for centuries by our ancestors but only know is one realizing its true worth. We are lucky to have this easily available in India. Flax seeds can be ground into smoothies, mixed in salads, topped on cereals or simply had raw/roasted,” explains Chef Aniket Kadam, Head Chef, Estella, Mumbai.

Traditional Oils (Groundnut, Mustard, Coconut) vs Olive Oil

The amount of olive oil sold in the world today exceeds the production capacities, creating an artificial demand and driving pricing up higher. Ground nut oil is more native and have good amount of phytonutrients and antioxidants that protect the body from damage from free radicals. “We conveniently replace the age old locally produced oils with these beautifully packaged bottles on our shelves. Just because you read somewhere that it is healthy. People gave spiels on not using saturated fat like ghee and coconut oil citing reasons like cholesterol and fat accumulation in the body but gradually it has dawned on the world that these forms of fats are the best for your body. They are not only great for energy but also help us in being fit. Not only can they be used in food they can also be applied externally on the body. Coconut oil is great for the hair and skin when applied externally and eaten. It helps in weight loss and is great for the heart. Coconut oil has a very positive effect on kidney and liver. It not only balances the hormones in the body but also helps in reducing thyroid problems. It imparts an earthy flavor to the food it is used in. But care should be taken not to apply excessive heat or it burns off all the nutrients and taste gets affected. It is best used to finish a meal example poured on a freshly cooked Avial (Kerala veg dish) just before service,” says Nair.

Kale vs Cabbage

Kale and cabbage both belong to the same family Brassica Oleracea. Cabbage is a rich source of Vitamin C and phytochemical, whereas Kale contains good source of B complex vitamins. Aggarwal explains, “they both are highly nutritious foods. Kale ranks just slightly higher in most positive nutritional values, by just a little margin. The only real difference in terms of nutrition between them is the anti-inflammatory factor, even though it must be pointed out that cabbage is not inflammatory.  But keeping in mind how expensive kale is, it would be easier to have cabbage, which provides pretty much the same positive attributes.”

Goji Berry vs Amla

Amla is a rich source of Vitamin C, about 252mg compared to Gojiberry, which has 48mg of Vitamin C (per 100g). Goji berries are available in the market in a processed form which may lead to loss of Vitamin C. Executive Chef Dev Rawat from I Think Fitness avers, “cheaper and easier to source, amla is an all rounder it relives tiredness, throat pain, controls blood sugar levels and helps build stronger immunity. It contains healthy amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and Vitamin C.” Kadam adds, “little does one know the benefits of amla! It helps balance hormones for women and reduces stress, fever, cold/cough and is often considered a solution to diarrhea. One can easily substitute goji berries with amla (easily found in Mumbai & much cheaper!) in smoothies, salads & cereals. It can also be cooked as a savoury vegetable! Amla is slightly pungent and not as sweet as goji berries and may need a dash of artificial sweetness to balance it in cakes, brownies etc. Amla paste is also used to cure hair loss problems and even out skin during acne.”

Millets & Buckwheat vs Oats

Today the label superfood is being attached to the forgotten food like millets which used to be a staple food few years ago. “Millets are nine varieties of tiny grains also known as Navadanya. In the current scenario of global warming and water scarcity, millets can be one of the crops which will provide the food security to the population. Compared to oats, millets contain twice the amount of dietary fiber which provides better satiety value,” says Raghu. Also with oats the flip side is that it has a higher fat content. “Buckwheat or kuttu is gluten free and has lower fat than oats. Also, buckwheat is a fruit seed and not wheat. Hence, its gluten free and has a low glycemic index,” says Aggarwal. Avers Rawat, “buckwheat is richer in magnesium and potassium as compared to oats. A good source of complete protein, buckwheat contains all eight amino acids and helps improve gut health and blood circulation in your system.”

This story appeared in the Nov-17 issue of Smartlife Magazine here:

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