Rujuta Diwekar on her book Notes for Healthy Kids, debunking food myths, eating local, seasonal and traditional

A dash of seasonal, a pinch of traditional and volumes of local. That is nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar’s recipe for fit and healthy living.

Diwekar, who works with actors such as Kareena Kapoor Khan, Anupam Kher and Alia Bhatt among others, has spearheaded a revolution in the way Indians look at food by taking them back to the very basics of the act of eating.

Buying from the market, produce that is fresh and in season, stepping into the kitchen to cook our own meals and regulating our diet and that of our family based on our grandmother’s age-old food mantra is what she advocates. The author of works such as Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight and Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha writes extensively about the significance of a lifestyle change along with a dynamic diet chart to ensure good health and a fit body.

At her office, buzzing with activity, one daren’t take up the offer of chai or coffee and instead opt for a refreshing glass of kokum sherbet. With that gulped down, a light-hearted interaction is in store, as Diwekar who recently launched Notes for Healthy Kids, laughs off myths around Indian food and explains her idea of nourishment and sustainable living.

Excerpts from the interview:

Your philosophy rests on the paradigm of sustainable living. Could you elaborate what sustainability means to you?

I think what qualifies as sustainable living for me is responsible living, and what qualifies as a sustainable diet is a diet that you can be on for the next 50 years. Today if you start following something which you can live with for the next 50 years, then it’s sustainable. And if you look at all of our eating habits culturally, they never really changed, they kind of remained the same, like every grandmom told her daughter what to do who then further told her children what to do. And eating according to culture, climate and crop cycle or even wearing, living, talking according to culture, crop cycle and climate is really what sustainable living is all about.

Cover of the book, Notes For Healthy Kids.

Cover of the book, Notes For Healthy Kids by Rujuta Diwekar.

The books you write, Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight or even Notes for Healthy Kids might seem a tough regimen to follow at first read. Is there a process that you would recommend to approaching your work?

I think first of all a book should be read with an open mind.

When I am writing, I always keep in mind that we all come from very, very diverse food habits and cultures and very diverse ways of living and the only thing that a book should address is a framework and then within that framework, whether you come from northeast or you come from down south or wherever it is that you come from, you should find something that, a) resonates with your belief system and, b) Seems doable and practical for you on a day-to-day basis.

So I feel that if the book manages to do both these things then it’s a success. Because beyond a point, eating right is all about really listening to our gut, using our common sense and being mindful of the act of eating. Really, there is no one standard formula which fits everyone.

In your film, Indian Food Wisdom and The Art of Eating Right, you have touched upon nourishment. Could you elaborate a little bit on the importance of nourishment for children?

Well, I think for children nothing is more important than nourishment. I think nourishment is really at the foundation of everything that is healthy and happy and harmonious.

When it comes to food, these days because of rising incomes, we are actually able to look at food in terms of entertainment or something that we will do when we are bored or just to kill time and stuff.

But food was only meant for nourishment, not just of the physical being but also of our intellect and our emotional being. And any food which appeals, I think to our body, mind and brain, is the food that nourishes us all and ‘no junk food’ can do that for us. Even if it seems to be tasty on the surface, it does bog us down in the long-term. And by the long-term I mean it starts bogging us down from 20 minutes post eating to the next 20 years.

Your work focuses mainly on eating healthy, and local. But every living being that eats also has a waste disposal system. Could you explain how we can prevent Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation and other syndromes by maintaining healthy food habits?

See, according to Ayurveda, improper digestion or hampered digestion is the foundation of every disease and one of the signs of improper digestion is a stool which is not well-formed, or constipation or gas, bloating, not having any sensitivity towards one’s hunger signals or even one’s satiety signals.

So once your digestion begins to suffer, you open yourself to all kinds of diseases so it’s very important that you look after your digestion well and for that, it’s not just food but the complete lifestyle which matters. So going to bed at the right time is very, very important. Not staying up beyond 10.30-11.00 pm, waking up on time, adopting exercise as a part of one’s daily routine, even if it’s for 20-30 minutes, being involved in something that has meaning or purpose to you, whether it’s a job or a hobby, anything that’s crucial and with that, eating food that is local, seasonal and traditional is like a 101 of having healthy digestion.

When we eat food which doesn’t grow in farms around us, when we eat food which is not in season, we eat food which is not cooked in our kitchen, we invariably have less than optimal digestion and sadly even when most diet trends come, they often come removed from what is local, seasonal and traditional. They just come from the point of view of what is going to help me lose weight and a lot of times what is going to help you lose weight may also just hamper your digestion and once it hampers your digestion, even if you have lost some weight,

a) You are not going to be able to keep it up for a long time and

b) It is going to take away health from you.

Nothing should come at the cost of health.

And the sign of a healthy person is someone who is able to empty bowels within the first 10-15 minutes of waking up and then just having a light, fresh, really positive start to their day. Because nothing feels as dull and clogged as a constipated stomach and nothing feels as depressive as an IBS.

Why and in what quantity is sleep beneficial for kids?

The process of sleeping, especially in a child, does multiple things.

a) Allows for diverse bacteria to grow and thrive within the child’s gut.

b) Allows for all the learning to actually take place, so deleting of everything that is actually not important and making associations for everything that needs to be remembered for the rest of her life happens during sleep.

Along with that, all of the functions of growth, repair, maintenance, happen during sleep. Even recuperation, rejuvenation obviously happens during sleep and without sleep, a child is denied childhood. So it’s very critical to allow your child to have a good sleep and even an afternoon nap, and that you are able to regulate both.

I think if you are one of those parents who is seeking time with the child in the night then you need to change that and seek time with the child in the morning and you’d rather have the child sleep early because otherwise, you are just going to raise a dull, tired, and at the same time sick child.

Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar recently launched her work, Notes For Healthy Kids.

Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar recently launched her work, Notes For Healthy Kids.

Drawing on the ‘swimming pool episode’ in your book (Notes For Healthy Kids), could you also talk a little bit about the mother-son relationship and how it needs to change to ensure healthier children?

Treating your boy to be constantly dependent or helpless, irresponsible or unaccountable is not going to help either the boy or the society that he is living in, in the long run. We have women who are now at the forefront of every aspect of their lives. But we still have men who will enter the kitchen and not even know where to find the spoon, or where the chai ka patti [tea leaves] is. But thankfully the world is changing.

Girls now know that it’s not really cool to hang out with a guy or date a guy who’s just a little boy and irresponsible. Young women are now seeking more responsible men and if nothing else I am sure that will at least change the dynamic for a whole lot of mothers: they hate the fact that their husbands are so mollycoddled by their mothers-in-law but when it’s their turn to raise a child to be more independent, they fail to do so.

Right now there is just too much focus and responsibility on the girl child that needs to shift.

But mothers might often say that the boy might mess-up the kitchen and prefer shooing him out?

We have to know that it’s not our job to clean up the mess that our son leaves behind. So they have to be responsible for the mess that they create whether it’s in the kitchen, playground or in the school. So, a) prevent causing a mess and b) if you did create one, own up to it and clean it up yourself.

What advice would you give to nuclear families who might not have their grandmothers around or never did or young parents who have no knowledge of how to pass the 'grandmom’s test'?

Read my book, because I hope that my book fills up the gap that has been created by not having a family elder at home.

We know that there are some blatant things that one can look out for as far as unethical food marketing is concerned so anything that you are giving your child which only screams out for one nutrient, ‘ye iron vala biscuit hai ya ye protein vala dudh hai,’ those are the things that you have to avoid buying and any packet which comes with any diagram of the human body whether it’s the heart or the bicep is something that you have to avoid.

A lot of times we under-appreciate the fact that indigenous wisdom about health and well-being is so common. So even if I may not have a grandmother who’s related to me in blood, I may have her in the form of an older office colleague, or a neighbor or a conversation that I have heard in my gym or on the train. Food and health’s knowledge is all around us. The only thing is that it is all around us mostly in any local or native language.

It’s important that we seek this information in indigenous languages and begin to use it for ourselves and our children and not get swayed by food marketing websites and daily headlines that we see in newspapers.

What are some of the foods that children should eat during the weeks of season change, especially now, as we transition from winter to summer?

All our festivals, whether it’s Makar Sankranti, Dussehra and stuff, are linked to the crop cycle. So Makar Sankranti is all about til (sesame) and gud (jaggery) because that is what is being harvested right now on the farm.

So right now is the time to eat bajra (millet)… it is time to also make gajar ka halwa and all the delicacies they make in the north of India. They start making amla sherbet at this point in time, or even chawanprash.

The chawanprash recipe, these days you can’t make it in totality because we are not even growing all the herbs that are actually required for it.

So young couples do need to understand that when we give up on eating the native way, we contribute to the loss of biodiversity. So I may not have specifically gone out there and axed a tree but if I have axed out a traditional recipe from my daily diet, I have axed out biodiversity.

Rujuta Diwekar's Notes For Healthy Kids, published by Westland Publications is available in stores now.

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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2019 10:31:33 IST

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