5 foods that you thought were unhealthy but actually aren’t
Some of the foods that Rujuta Diwekar recommends in her book are often (wrongly) branded as unhealthy. Here's a look at some of them.
There are so many delicious and varied food options available in our supermarkets today that it is very easy to let go and binge. In recent years, however, the trend towards indulgence has given way to one where mindful eating is seen as a marker of a good lifestyle.
And while the market is flooded with “healthy” ingredients from around the world (examples: quinoa and avocados), more and more health-conscious people are also turning their attention to local produce (examples: wheatgrass and amla).
Increasingly, in addition to quinoa and chia seeds, we are also eating lentils and paneer to lose weight the healthy way. True, some of these foods may not be fashionable, but they can be delicious and satisfying.
Rujuta Diwekar talked about this in her book Indian Superfoods: Change the Way You Eat (2016). Her argument: foods that are grown and made locally should be a part of your mindful eating routines because they have immense health benefits.
Interestingly, some of the foods that Diwekar recommends in her book are often (wrongly) branded as unhealthy. Here’s a look at five such foods that are thought to be bad for health (and weight loss) but aren’t:
Food cooked in ghee or with ghee on top looks so rich and tastes so delicious, you might argue that there is no way this indulgent ingredient could be healthy. This misconception about ghee has been globally debunked now. Unlike other fats, ghee has stood the test of time. Most oils break down into free radicals at high temperature, and excess amounts of free radicals in the body can lead to cell damage and even cancer.
With a smoking point of 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degree Celsius), ghee doesn’t break down as easily. Ghee is also high in conjugated linoleic acid which helps fight cardiovascular diseases as well as cancer. Butyrate in ghee also aids digestion, while the amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K make it a powerhouse ingredient that you shouldn’t say no to.
Just be mindful that moderation is key here.
“Ayurveda celebrates rice as a symbol of health, wealth and fertility and that’s why, from newborns to newly-weds to new acquisitions, everything gets showered with rice,” Diwekar wrote in her book.
But if rice is so culturally celebrated in India, why does it have a reputation for being unhealthy?
When compared to brown, red or black rice, white rice does have much less dietary fibre. And there is no disputing the fact that it is full of carbohydrates. But most people fail to notice that white rice is full of phytonutrients like thiamine (vitamin B1), manganese, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorous and copper. It is also full of antioxidants and is easy to digest (and so, you are told to eat simple dal-chawal or dahi-chawal when dealing with an upset stomach). Eating hand-pounded or single-polished rice will also help your body absorb nutrients from everything you eat with rice, particularly because of its lower fibre content when compared to brown rice.
“Eat almonds and walnuts, but don’t eat cashews because they will just make you gain unnecessary weight.” If you’ve heard this advice and follow it, then you don’t know what you are missing out on. Cashews don’t just taste good, they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your body needs. True, they are low on dietary fibre and high in carbohydrates. But as with rice, there is more to their nutrition story.
Instead of spiking your cholesterol levels, the phytosterols and stanols in cashews can improve your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol levels. Rich in vitamins B6, E and K, cashews can reduce the signs of ageing, improve heart health and increase carbohydrate metabolism. With a low glycaemic index, cashews tend to keep you feeling full for longer. They are also rich in phytonutrients like iron, copper, potassium and magnesium.
This versatile fruit gets a bad reputation because it is sweet and high in carbohydrate content, and therefore assumed to be fattening enough to lead to weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure. But bananas also consist of a fair amount of fibre and antioxidants. It is high in potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and vitamins B6 and C—all of which are good for heart health in reasonable amounts.
With a low to medium glycaemic index, eating bananas is safe, and can make for a good mid-meal snack, post-workout snack, and a healthy dessert. The sugars in bananas are natural glucose, fructose and sucrose that are easier to digest than, say, pastries or other desserts that can ruin your weight-loss plan. High in pectin, bananas can also help moderate blood sugar levels.
(Avoid them if you already have diabetes, though.)
5. Natural sugar
Now, this is something that you might find unbelievable. But Diwekar makes a good case for sugar—refined sugar derived from sugarcane, jaggery as well as the natural sugar present in most fruits—in her book. She argues that the idea that eating sugar leads to obesity and diabetes is manufactured by the West, while ancient Indian medicinal texts like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita used sugar as both medicine and food.
“Charaka used sugar to cure digestion-related ailments, improve complexion and even increase sperm production,” she explains in her book, while also claiming that sugar derived from sugarcane “puts your body in the positive nitrogen balance. That is a state where the body is not sacrificing muscle to meet its energy demands”. Sugar also has some nutrients and antioxidants that your body needs.
Diwekar’s argument is to cut off all store-bought products which are full of unnecessary and artificial sugars but indulge in traditional Indian ways of consuming sugar in the form of sugarcane juice, jaggery (especially in winter) and seasonal fruits (even mangoes).
Clearly, the above-mentioned foods you thought of as being unhealthy aren’t essentially so. In fact, they are full of nutrients you can’t and shouldn’t do without.
For more information, please read our article on Ghee.
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