I promised you a gusher of a fountain of youth on your plates last week. And here it is, as promised. And it isn’t about the donts but the dos of a good diet… Basically, stuff you must stuff yourself with, everyday, to get the most out of yourself and the day, for all the days that you have in you.
But before I begin, a caveat: this dietary opus is the inspired work of a man exploring vegetarianism and would therefore include his bumbling stumbling along the green walls of that world. Vegetarian but not vegan, so figure that one out before you wonder why eggs figure in my list of recommendations and soy doesn’t. And no meat or fish either, but I will offer substitutes.
Fish was a tough one to let go of. Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely essential for good health and for keeping the two vital organs at the two ends of the spine healthy and functional into our swinging seventies and the decades beyond. And fish, especially marine fish, are some the most plentiful sources of omega-3. It was the presence of this essential fatty acid that made parents pump their kids full with ‘Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil’ in the eighties and nineties. The fish in turn get if from algae and sea-weed and coastal diets like those in Japan and Okinawa often get enough omega-3 from weeds like nori alone. But where was I going to find nori in New Delhi? And so the dilemma about fish continued until I discovered flaxseeds. They do just as well, and better, because with flaxseed or flaxseed oil, your system does not have to contend with the heavy toxic metals that are found in coastal fish.
Another problem with a largely vegetarian diet is the lack of vitamin B12, found mostly in animal products. And while the lack of omega-3 affects the body over a relatively longer period of time, B12 deficiency can hit you hard and fast. So if you’ve gone vegetarian and then had problems with digestion and are generally not feeling as full of beans as you used, your body might be complaining about not getting its regular dose of B12. So avoid the meats by all means but compensate with eggs, milk and cheeses.
If I may, my two pennies worth on balanced diets before moving on to the super foods…
For most of us, the usual recommendations of two-three servings of lean protein, similar servings of dairy products (low fat if you aren’t particularly active and walking the dog for 20 minutes or a round of golf doesn’t qualify as active, training like a Navy SEAL does), five to twelve servings of whole-grain carbohydrates are all par for the course for most of us. It is the remaining two categories, fruits (about two to four servings) and vegetables (up to about five servings or more) that don’t quite measure up on our plates, especially if we eat out often. So take note and take care…
And at last the super foods, i.e foods that have the power to change a lot of whats wrong with your body and set it right. These are foods that fight diseases like coronary heart disease and cancer, lower cholesterol and free radicals and keep you feeling upbeat through a beat-up day. And while every expert has his or her own list of favourites and top-tens, let me introduce you to the ones that show up on almost every list and are ones that you would find at your doorstep and not necessarily only when you’re on vacation to a first world destination or a tropical paradise.
First up on the list, a little fruit family - the berries. Blue and black and every hue, cran and rasp and strawberries too, these little do-gooders and vigilantes protect the body from a variety of cancers, keep the immune system in top gear and are packed with antioxidants that keep the body healthy and fight signs of ageing. No breakfast’s complete without a handful of these.
Garlics, onions and other alliums is the next category of super foods. Cooking styles in most parts of India have a healthy dose of these foods and if not overcooked, are very good at maintain cholesterol levels and fighting certain cancers.
So just dig into the alliums and don’t worry about the breath and the tears for the next superfood will take care of that.
Coconuts! These big hairy guys must be amongst the happiest of fruits. They usually have a great view growing up on those swaying palms by the sea and that makes them rather giving. There’s the flesh and the oil and best of all, the water.
Tender coconut water is perhaps the best sports drink on earth. Bursting with electrolytes and without the preservatives, sugars and chemicals that make a lot of sports drinks rather murky, this is the drink to reach for after a sweaty workout or a long day in the sun.
Herbal Tea is one of the best sources of antioxidants that fight cancer and what is even cooler is the fact that green tea for instance had these anti-ageing agents that drive off chemical residues in the body that trigger the ageing process. So before you look up that botox surgeon your aunt recommended, go buy yourself a pack of green tea and give them a chance to turn back the clock.
Nuts and seeds are an absolute must for everybody, and even more so for vegetarians. I have already documented the joys of a mouthful of flaxseeds. And now I must let you in on another secret. Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium which by the way is essential for rebuilding muscles. Seafood is a good source of selenium but if you want to stay vegetarian, Brazil nuts and barley are even better options.
Nuts and seeds are full of good fats, proteins and fibre. And walnuts are great for correcting heart arrhythmias and are for a must for a healthy heart.
Tomatoes have always been around and you might wonder what is so special about them, but if you’ve been having them anyway, that’s great because here’s what they do for you. Sure, they are packed with vitamins E and C and fibre but the really cool thing about them is lycopene. Apparently, it is that which gives them that rich red colour and, more importantly, it is this that neutralizes cancer-causing free radicals in the human body. Research says that while we all eat tomatoes, we perhaps don’t eat enough of them often enough. So here’s a good reason to fix that…
Green leafy vegetables! From Popeye to mommies all over the world, they’ve all gone on and on about why they are so good for us and yet we don’t want to eat them. Let me help with that. If you don’t want to end up with cancer, heart disease, blood pressure issues or diabetes (and no, it isn’t inevitable, no matter what your genetics), leafy greens are one of your best bet so make sure you have more and more of these in your daily diet.
Beans are gassy and that’s why a lot of people avoid them in the West. But here in India, we love our rajma-chawal and that’s great, because beans are good for you. Great sources of fibre, beans also contain essential fatty acids and are a very good source of protein. Add them to diet containing oats and you meet pretty much all your protein and amino acid requirements.
Just a word of caution for a superfood from the last category… Soy is undoubtedly a great source of protein and fibre and good fatty acids but on the flip side, there is a case for soybean consumption increasing estrogen in the body. Too much of it, some researchers say can give women breast cancer and men could become effeminate and it might even trigger gynecomastia. So the jury is still out o that, but until then, tread the path of extreme moderation with this superfood.
There you have it. A bunch of anti-ageing, cancer fighting foods that should always show up on your plate, every day and if you stay at it long and often enough, you might find yourself changing into red underpants in a phone booth and going up, up and away for high flying adventures long past your retirement age… All the best with that.