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 & food items. Currently, the definition of super foods is limited to omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary fiber rich foods.
QUINOA Vs AMARANTH
Both these are cereals. More appropriately, pseudo cereals (both are non grasses that are used in much the way as cereals which are in the form of grass eg: rice paddy, wheat field ). Quinoa has been marketed globally as a rare and exotic food whereas amaranth remain subdued and sidelined. Amaranth, also known as Rajgeera or Ramadana, is popular in Jain and other communities during fasting and other rituals.
|Protein (per 100g)||15g||13g|
|Zinc & Magnesium||Rich||Rich|
|B Complex Vitamins||1x||2x|
Chia seeds is purely a product of the marketing efforts of USA & West. Compositionally, Chia is similar to Basil. Both are rich source of omega 3 fatty acid and dietary fiber. Both swell and becomes a gel when added to liquid. However, when it comes to price, Chia seeds cost a whopping Rs. 350 (250g) compared to Basil seeds, priced at Rs.145 (250g)
|Nutrient||Chia Seed1||Basil Seed1|
|* All references for 100g|
|Total Fat (g)||30.8||4|
|Of which Omega 3 fatty acid (%)||57||37|
|Dietary Fiber (g)||37.7||40.5|
- IFCT- Indian Food Composition Table, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), 2017
- USDA data base on food composition
GROUNDNUT vs OLIVE OIL
Olive Oil is widely used as a salad oil worldwide. A few years ago, it gained popularity in India as a ‘healthier oil’ primarily due to a wide range of misconceptions and promotions. The amount of olive oil sold in the world today exceeds the production capacities, creating an artificial demand and driving pricing up higher. I’m not going to go into the potential environment harm this is causing!
Also, most of the olive oil sold in the market for general cooking is blended with Pomace Oil (Pomace oil is extracted from the olive pulp whereas Olive oil is extracted from the seed and the fruit. The refined Pomace oil is more processed which can lose the nutritional quality of olive oil)
Groundnut oil is ideal for Indian style of cooking compared to virgin olive oil
Both Olive Oil & Groundnut oil are ‘heart-friendly oils’ and are rich in omega 6 fatty acids. (ground nut oil is more native and have good amount of phytonutrients and antioxidants that protect the body from damage from free radicals)
KALE vs CABBAGE
We are used to cabbage. We use it in a wide variety of Indian recipes. 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.
MILLETS 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. Nine varieties of millets are grown by the small dry land farmers across India. Some of them are on the verge of extinction.
Where as Oats has been marketed well by the west as a healthy breakfast porridge. Compared to oats, millets contain twice the amount of dietary fiber which provides better satiety value.
GOJI BERRY vs AMLA
Amla, or the Indian gooseberry, was one of the most sacred trees in India. The fruit has been used in traditional Indian medicine, culinary dishes and even in Indian versions of shampoos.
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. Both have their place in the Eastern tradition, but amla has more profound medicinal benefits
COCONUT/MUSTARD OIL Vs OLIVE OIL
Coconut oil is rich in Saturated fatty acid along with medium chain triglycerides which are readily absorbed in the body and provides instant energy. Coconut oil contains good amount of antioxidants and phytochemicals which provides protection against free radical damage. Olive oil on the other hand id rich in unsaturated fatty acids namely mono and polyunsaturated form. There are studies that have seen beneficial effects of coconut oil for cardiac function. Olive oil has its own benefits but in a Mediterranean environment which cannot be always true to Indian conditions
BUCKWHEAT vs OATS
Both these are cereals. More appropriately, pseudo cereals (both are non grasses that are used in much the way as cereals which are in the form of grass eg: rice paddy, wheat field ). Both are consumed as a cereal because of the carbohydrate content which is comparable with other cereals. Both are gluten free and can be given to person with gluten allergy. In India, buckwheat in the form of flour is used as a fasting food during Navratri and Janmashtmi in Northern part of India. It is known as Kuttu in hindi
|* All references for 100g|
|Dietary fiber (g)||10||11.6|
- Why is there a need to focus on what we have (Indian superfoods) especially in today’s times
A: There was a belief once that the healthiest food you could eat had to be sourced from around you. We’ve outgrown that as farming technologies improved. What we eat directly affects the environment. For instance, Indian diet, though believed to be majority rice, also included a fair amount of millets, wheat and other grains. However, in the past few decades, we’ve moved more towards rice – for domestic and export purposes. Rice needs a lot more water to grow than millets do. We’re converting forest lands into rice farms, and we’re starving for water to grow these plants. We’re struggling nutritionally because just rice cannot give a human body all it needs.
As technology evolves and the world becomes a smaller place, we discover newer things around the world. We discovered new tastes that we had previously only imagined. This is great for further growth. However, we cannot put certain other crops at risk, since this can and will lead to an ecological imbalance.
Secondly, the increased focus on international super foods means that Indian super foods take a back seat. 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.
While we should always encourage diversity in thought and food, we truly need to understand the human body, our dietary requirements and naturally, what is the most cost-effective way of getting that nourishment.
- What are the pitfalls of going in for international superfoods – focus on the health aspect only.
A: As long as you are not eating something harmful, or in massive quantities, there isn’t anything wrong. However, today ‘superfoods’ are more about hype than reality. As mentioned earlier, today super foods are confined to omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary finer rich foods. These super foods are touted as ‘the perfect health options’. We’ve stories all around us saying ‘ 10 healthy breakfasts you must have’ featuring these foods. People try to make their own diet plans, and believe that the ‘super foods’ are sufficient to address all their needs. They 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.
Any minimally processed, well cultivated food grain can be turned as a super food. Super food cannot give a leverage to consume without control. Any food not eaten in moderation can be harmful to the body. Each food has its importance in its own place, context, cultural preferences and regional ecosystem.
More than international super foods, let’s not worry about what is a super food at all – be it Indian or international. Let’s go back to our roots and explore the good things in our foods that we are forgetting. Let our stomach not be led by fads and marketing campaigns.
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