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Indian Superfoods

Rohini Diniz

Among the various foods that we eat, certain foods are believed to possess high nutritional value and exceptional health benefits and are considered superfoods.  But in reality, no single food or food group contains all the essential nutrients, hence in nutritional terms there is no such thing as a superfood.

Quinoa, chia seeds, olive oil, goji berries, acai berries and kale are some of the foods that are being touted as superfoods. Most of these so-called superfoods are from foreign countries and imported into India resulting in them being sold at exorbitant prices which is beyond the reach of the average Indian. What most of us fail to understand is that India has been the home to many foods that are not only cheaper, but more nutritious as compared to the imported superfoods.

Here are some of the Indian superfoods.

Amaranth, buckwheat and ragi are three cereal grains that are local substitutes for quinoa. These grains are not only cheaper but are also easily available.

Known as rajgira in many Indian languages, amaranth is a non-cereal grain of high nutritive value. Available both in grain and flour form, amaranth is mostly eaten as a fasting or faral food. Amaranth is rich in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, dietary fibre and is gluten free. Studies have shown that it is a source of dietary phytosterols, which have cholesterol-lowering properties. Amaranth grains are generally puffed and used to make kheer, chikki or ladoos. The flour is versatile and can be used to prepare porridges, pancakes, rotis, etc, and can also be used as a thickening agent in soups and kadhis instead of corn flour or besan.

Generally eaten as a fasting food, particularly in North India, buckwheat or kuttu is a gluten free grain that is a rich source of protein. The protein contains lysine, the amino acid which is deficient in other cereal grains. It also contains higher levels of potassium, zinc, copper and manganese, and is rich in soluble fibre that helps slow down the rate of glucose absorption; hence it has a lower glycemic index (GI). While most of the starch in buckwheat is readily digestible, a small portion (about 4 to 7 per cent) of the starch is resistant and can be highly advantageous to overall colon health. Resistant starch is a type of starch that escapes digestion in the small intestine and is considered the third type of fibre because it possesses some of the benefits of both soluble fibre and insoluble fibres. Studies have shown that buckwheat contains a flavonoid called rutin which has been shown to control blood pressure as well as possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. Buckwheat can be used to prepare a number of dishes. Whole buckwheat grains can be made into a khichdi along with dal or sprouts along with vegetables, while the flour can be used to prepare pancakes, dhoklas, dosas, chilas and even rotis.

Also known as nachni, ragi is a millet used in the form of flour to prepare various items. Ragi flour is a reddish-brown fine powder with tiny red specks which has a bland flavour and nutty aroma. It is rich in carbohydrates from starch and dietary fibre. Being fibre-rich, nachni is digested slowly and this keeps one full for longer, thereby helping to control food intake and preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. Fibre also helps lower triglycerides, VLDL and LDL cholesterol levels. Ragi is also a good source of protein and has a very high content of calcium and potassium and is a good source of B-complex vitamins. The high calcium content helps strengthen the bones which helps reduce the risk of fractures and development of osteoporosis. Potassium along with sodium has a role in maintaining the fluid balance in the body. Ragi does not contain gluten and so it is ideal for those who need gluten free diets. It has a high content of antioxidant polyphenols which have several health benefits. The consumption of ragi is believed to help relax the body, which is beneficial to people suffering from anxiety and insomnia. It is also thought to aid in wound healing. Fermented ragi products are rich in probiotics which helps keep the digestive system healthy.

To be continued. . .

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on rohinidiniz@gmail.com)

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