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Take a trip down memory lane, and think of some of the best moments of your life! You don’t have to strain your mind muscles, because for most of us, the answer is childhood. Why may you ask? Because life was much simpler, and we weren’t struggling to figure what’s right or not, especially when it came to food. The focus was on experiencing simple joys—sitting in the backyard of your nani’s house, and relishing that juicy mango or digging into garma garam paratha with homemade achaar! Well, food always had to make an appearance, didn’t it? It still does, just that the dynamics are not the same!
The times we live in are far more complex, but that doesn’t mean we need to complicate our food habits. Most of us are constantly chasing the perfect figure, instead of paying attention to what goes inside our body. And guess what? Indian food has turned into our biggest enemy. You know that’s true! Instead, we’re fascinated by those superfood smoothies and rainbow salads that promise rapid results — nothing wrong with them, but why ditch the food you’ve grown up eating?
There are many myths around the desi style of eating, and who better than Delhi-based nutritionist Kavita Devgan to clear the air? She has over two decades of experience in the field, and propagates healthy ways to lose weight. She is also a weight loss consultant, health writer, speaker and author of three bestsellers Don’t Diet, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks, and Fix it with Food!
In an exclusive chat with Health Shots, Kavita tells us all about holistic eating, some precious grandmother hacks for a healthy living, and why the Indian diet must not be ditched!
“Holistic is the most overused word these days; a Google search throws up some 19,00,00,000 results (and increasing every day). But sit someone down, anyone, who is throwing the word around, and ask them its definition, and you’ll find the answer is always vague. In fact, a different version comes up every time. This is fine actually, because it is such a dynamic way of living, so everyone is bound to have their own interpretations. But if you ask me, there is only one simple way to define holistic — a single word that does justice to it — whole,” she explains.
Kavita believes holistic living is all about being completely aware of what’s happening both inside and outside the body. It is about being in control of what you’re putting in the body and how much, what kind of exercise you’re doing, and how you’re able to keep the everyday stress meter low, without making conscious efforts.
“Doesn’t that sound like how people would live, until a couple of decades ago — unaffected, undistracted and mindful of everything they were doing; completely focused on one thing at a time. According to me, this is the way of living we all must aspire to get back to, and that is why I propagate this idea so much,” she explains.
The world of health and nutrition is flooded with new trends every other day — some suggest avocado smoothies, while the rest ask you to down superfood bowls! Kavita believes they are wonderful vehicles of taking in necessary nutrients in a healthy, tasty and convenient manner, yet her “first love” remains the Indian way of cooking and eating.
“Indian cuisine is a festival for the senses —aromatic and appetising. The way it is assembled, the way we eat, and the way we spice it up is all done to help the body, to make it feel better. Secondly, Indian cuisine practises smart food combinations: there is a clear distinction of which foods are incompatible when eaten together and why. For example, mixing milk and sour fruits is not ideal for digestion, so it is better avoided. Similarly, there are multiple smart combos—the dal-chawal combination delivers complete good quality protein. Finally, the huge variety of options Indian cuisine offers is unparalleled; it’ll never let you get bored,” she adds.
The basic ingredients of Indian food are grains, vegetables, beans, and yogurt accented with meat or fish, and their combinations make a balanced thali, says Kavita.
“It encourages seasonal eating. When we eat food that is fresh and locally harvested, the flavours are intact and nutrients are optimum. Finally, I feel it is easy to be a vegetarian with Indian cuisine. With the wide range of vegetables and lentil dishes there are in all regional repertoires, you won’t miss meat for a single second. And staying majorly vegetarian I believe is actually the right way to eat, in order to stay healthy in the long run. I usually advocate a 70:30 veg:non-veg ratio, which is very easy to achieve with Indian cuisine,” she adds.
Slowly and steadily, people are starting to realise that the wisdom imparted by our grandparents was priceless! The lifestyle they led helped them not just to maintain optimum fitness levels, but also enhanced their longevity. Even if someone wants to embrace those hacks today, it is difficult to find the perfect starting point. But Kavita has all the answers!
She recommends starting the day with a glass of warm water with freshly-squeezed juice of half a lemon, just like grandpa!
“Well, he may not have known the exact reason behind it, but this simple drink restores acid–alkali balance of the gut and thus, helps maintain the body’s internal ‘climate’ at a pH that supports healthy bacteria, instead of the viruses and harmful bacteria (that thrive in an acidic environment). I guess he simply knew and felt that this simple ritual did him lots of good and therefore, he followed it religiously,” shares Kavita.
Her advice is to have one or two crushed garlic pods with water on an empty stomach, every morning.
“It is known today that garlic, thanks to 70 active phytochemicals, including allicin in it, helps cut cancer risk, cholesterol and prevents formation of plaques in the body to keep our heart in the pink of health,” adds Kavita.
She also recommends eating some foods in their pre-digested forms to ease the stomach— for example, almonds must be soaked overnight before consumption.
There are some other grandma hacks that she swears by. “I recall how my grandma taught me to prepare ajwain water (boil 2 teaspoons of roasted ajwain seeds in water, then strain this mixture) to treat a gastric attack that was triggered by eating way too many golgappas. After overindulging in a party or two, she would suggest I have multiple cups of fennel (saunf boiled in water) tea during the day to cut bloating. These gharelu nuskhe, or my grandma’s home remedies, have been my go-to ever since, for stomach bugs, and even to tackle an overdose of unhealthy foods,” says Kavita.
Fruits are great for a healthy lifestyle, but Kavita believes that a fruit should be had whole with the fibre, just like how our elders would!
“Juice was reserved only for times when one was sick, or for those who could not chew because of old age or other issues. Now, of course, we know that the fibre in fruits and vegetables helps the body use their goodness at the right pace, unlike in the case of juice, which only delivers a jug load of concentrated fructose that our body scampers to use up. It ends up messing its insulin resistance along the process (besides hastening diabetes along the way),” adds Kavita.
Last but not the least, she is a turmeric loyalist, and for good reason. “You will be surprised to hear this, but haldi is apparently the original probiotic. It soothes the stomach, strengthens digestion by improving intestinal flora, and when had along with high- protein foods, it assists in their digestion and prevents formation of gas. So haldi doodh, anyone?,” she says.
For those who want to embark on a journey of good health and well-being, Kavita has a piece of advice.
According to her, the four BIG rules of eating right are:
1. Eat more of the good and less of the bad (foods, drinks);
2. Practise moderation (portion control);
3. Eat a wide variety (across the spectrum for all foods);
4. Focus always on nutrition, and not calories or weight loss.
“Just focus on these and don’t get misled by fad diets. If a diet sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she says, signing off!