Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

BACK TO OUR ROOTS… If you’ve ever wondered what’s Shilpa Shetty’s secret to looking so fit, look no further — her book ‘The Great Indian Diet’ spills the beans. Turns out it’s getting rid of bad or unnecessary food habits we’ve picked up from the West and going back to our roots. Eat a good variety of fresh, wholesome, unprocessed food from your local market and you can’t go far wrong!

OVER the weekend I re-found my copy of The Great Indian Diet’ (Random House, softcover,299, put together by Shilpa Shetty Kundra and Luke Coutinho and thought what a useful reminder it is that we in India have the best but we’re busy taking it for granted and squandering it…forever chasing the good life (in the worst sense of the word) till the good life chases us to make short work of us. Something like that.
In `The Great Indian Diet’ (invest in it you’re seeking the right inputs to stay alive and kicking) is about the combined experience of a professional nutritionist and an uber-celebrity who swear by Indian food as the best food in the world. Both names need little introduction. Shilpa is actor, businesswoman, fitness enthusiast, wife and full-time mother and says she must be doing all the right things to have maintained her weight to a constant 58 to 60 kilos for over 22 years, she comes across as woman full of beans or so to speak in her book which coauthored by Luke Coutinho. Shilpa says staying fit and healthy is hard work. Regardless of who you are. For example, after her son was born she wanted her old glass body back and had to work for four months to lose an excess 28 kilos she’d put on and “believe me, it was far from easy.” She says any weight loss regime is 70 per cent diet and 30 per cent exercise, coupled with good sleep and a positive frame of mind. With Luke as her guiding light she found a healthy regime to live by — “the great Indian diet.”
She refused to say she diets but incorporates yoga, meditation to manage stress and stay positive in every situation. Ayurveda defines the real good life, she swears. First find out about your constitution, how much vata, pitta or kapha, it’s important to know this. Take it from there and yes, she confides, “negativity will drag you down. Pick yourself up and move on.”
She loved Indian food and when she found Luke Coutinho — nutritionist, author, cancer specialist, speaker and fitness consultant — she found the person she was looking for to help her understand the role of nutrition post-motherhood. She acknowledges Luke was part of her journey back to good health and they decided to collaborate on “The Great Indian Diet.” It’s a sharing book which reaffirms that Indian food is near perfect and all our spices, herbs, beverages, nuts and seeds can prevent and even cure the deadliest of diseases, help burn fat, improve energy levels, detoxify the liver, colon and blood…boost immunity.
Moral of the story: Return to Indian food! At a skiing holiday the actor Madhavan was visiting a famous health camp in Austria and the head nutritionist there told him: Go back to India and consume your Indian diet! But Madhavan, confides Shilpa, swears by “chew your water and drink your food.” In a nutshell, let food be your medicine and it works in most cases.
All this and much more. The book is full of useful tidbits and she says, “the answer to disease prevention and cure is immunity.” Immunity is something we must understand. She talks about acquiring a lifestyle mentality, the evolution of Indian food, historical introductions, the staples of milk and milk products, the fats (ghee is superior and not a processed fat though a saturated one, it lubricates the system in small portions), the cereals which are so abundant in Indian cuisines…wheat, bajra, jowar, maize, ragi, and the pulses of rajma, chhole, moong, matki, chawli, the vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds. I mean what don’t we have to stay fit and happy till the end of time in India?
Some common myths are Indian food is hot and spicy, Indian food is fattening and unhealthy, Indian gravies are unhealthy. Not at all, says Shilpa, be discriminating, the thali meal is still the best kind of balanced combo daily meal to live by. Here are the carbohydrates of roti, bhakhri, puri, idli, dosa, rice, khichdi, the proteins of dal, rasam, sambhar, usal, the dry and curried sabzi rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, paneer, yoghurt, buttermilk…calcium rich, raita. The bottom line: Have a love affair with Indian food!
After a quick review of this Shilpa Shetty-Luke Coutinho treat of a book I’m convinced it’s one of the most enduring cookbooks of our times and you need to learn from it. Puts you on the right path to recovery of health…go get a copy if you’re a nerd about how to eat, what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat and the rest of it. This book will straighten you out, in fact I would prescribe it as valuable text for learning in our schools and colleges.
TO move on to another subject. Why do I have so many stories of what is called acid reflux disease, or GERDS meaning gastro-oesophageal reflux disease coming my way? Is it so endemic! Every other person I meet, mentions acid reflux, and he or she says, oh, “I suffer from it too occasionally!” It’s a kind of heartburn in the chest and throat area which is sometimes mistaken for heart attack and the patient rushed to hospital. Well, the overview for so much acid reflux complaints is that most of us tend to eat to the gills, obesity rules, and naturally acid reflux catches up with us as the oesophageal muscle valve at the throat degenerates and permits stomach acid to surge up…it can happen at any age depending on use and abuse of food.
Some call it hiatal hernia (an abnormality in the stomach) when upper part of stomach and lower oesophagus sphincter keep moving above the diaphragm constantly. Men suffer from acid reflux more. Perhaps they eat more and more of the dead industrial foods of life! Add to this a love for alcoholic beverages, smoking and making a meal of sweets, and the picture is complete. Bad habits lead to obesity.
Bad habits like what? Just to reiterate, eating late dinners, imbibing alcohol, smoking away like there is no tomorrow, eating too much spicy, fatty, generally speaking abusing your stomach and never giving it a holiday for years on end. You get it? If you suffer from heartburn constantly in chest and throat beware! Neglect it long enough and you may end up with something called Barrett’s oesophagus which is a precancerous stage…this happens when oesophageal cells change because of constant tissue irritation. Before oesophageal cancer sets in do something.
Like what? The general advice is to eat less and especially when it comes to dinner, have your last meal before the sun sets. Do not eat and lie down after a meal. Walk a bit. When you lie down elevate yourself from the waist up, wear loose clothes, sleep left side, visit doc – who will invariably prescribe any one of the plethora of antacids in the market. At least three of my friends are forever complaining about acid reflux and this antacid or that antacid. Mercifully I don’t suffer from this complaint despite my abnormal love for food, a love which is wearing thin lately!
OVER and over I hear about what to do when acid reflux hits. The top five foods to consume are a banana (which is a low acid fruit), melons, oatmeal, yogurt, green salads. Safe and natural remedies for acid reflux includes sipping ginger water, liquorice water, apple cider vinegar in warm water. Over and over again I hear how a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water does the trick beautifully of neutralizing acid in stomach (baking soda being alkalinizing with its high pH level). Please be careful though when using baking soda water because it can react with medications or antacids you’re already on and bottled carbonated drinks which you may be guzzling.
Well, it’s your life. Enjoy it or be a glutton for suffering and punishment! One of my favourite doctors to read up is Dr Andrew Weil and he pretty much confirms that most of our health problems are rooted in our inflammatory lifestyles of living to eat and drinking everything but water!
The idea is to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle but that’s hard to do in our mod con times when greed drives our material lives with vengeance, nooo? Oh, well, not necessarily true but all around me today I see the kind of stress we entertain in our lives…the poor do it, the rich do it even more so, but stress is stress. It doesn’t discriminate between poor and rich. Slow down. It doesn’t hurt to be nice, to lend a helping hand to someone in a desperate situation which may or not be of their own making. Be constructive, not destructive! Be grateful, be grateful, be grateful. Read a book called “The Magic” by Rhonda Byrne. Don’t make a production of it, but be grateful.

TEAMWORK: Shilpa Shetty teamed up with Luke Coutinho, a holistic nutritionist, speaker, and exercise physiologist to write ‘The Great Indian Diet’. They first met through a common friend who recommended Luke to her to help formulate a nutrition plan for her son, Viaan Raj

Excerpted from `The Great Indian Diet’…

Why do we have diseases in India?
If the great Indian diet is as healthy as I am making it out to be, why then is there an alarming increase in the number of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and other diseases in India over the last few years?
Why are Indians living longer but suffering more?
Why are almost all diseases that have inflicted India related to poor diet and lifestyle?
Why are Indians earning more and also spending more on healthcare?
Why is the country getting more obese?
Why do non-meat eaters have extremely high sugar levels and cholesterol too?
Why is cancer rampant in urban areas?
Why is there an alarming increase in the number of obese children and children with diabetes, some as shockingly young as fourteen?
Why are there more gyms and more unhealthy people?
Why do we have more nutritionists and more confused people?
India is the country where yoga originated. Why, then, do we have increasing numbers of people with depression and other mind-related issues in the country?
Could the Indian diet be the cause of all this?
A lot has changed and continues to change, in terms of lifestyle. We all know that change in inevitable, but then, there is good change and bad change.
Here is how Dr David L Katz, Director of Yale University Prevention Research Center, explains it, “As for the traditional Indian diet, I love it. For starters, it is all about nutritious food, mostly plants, — just what we should all be eating. Fascinating medicinal properties have been ascribed to many native Indian spices, and science is confirming most such claims. As Indians have abandoned their native diet for a more Western diet, they have started succumbing en masse to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. India should go back to embracing the culinary delights and health benefits of one of the world’s great traditional .”
That’s what happened and is happening. Our lifestyles have changed.
We began to use white refined sugar instead of the traditional and highly medicinal gur (jaggery).
We embraced the cleverly marketed olive oil and did away with super-nutritious local oils like rice bran, groundnut, mustard seed and coconut oils.
Margarine and butter replaced the extremely medicinal desi ghee.
We started adding more cream and oils to traditional recipes to make them “richer” and taste better.
Whole grains like wheat, barley and millets were replaced with highly refined white flour to make Indian breads and snacks.
Rich desserts made with jaggery and nutritious dry fruits were replaced by “sugar-coated” or “chocolate-covered” delights.
We moved from sea or rock salt to the highly refined table salt.
We began to feed our animals GM foods and inject them with hormones and antibiotics to increase their size and for mass production.
To grow crops faster, the amount of fertilizers used on them increased.
The import gates opened, flooding our markets with the very foods that Western nations were trying to get rid of.
Fast food joints sprung up all over the country, destroying the health of people nationwide.
The TV and video game culture hit us hard, robbing millions of people of valuable time that could have been saved and used to exercise, build relationships, sleep, properly and just relax and enjoy the finer and more important things in life.
People who grew up on Indian foods have now transitioned to foods like pastas, noodles, pizzas, etc, there is nothing wrong with these foods when eaten once in a while and in moderation, but they should not replace the Indian diet, as they cannot provide the same kind of balanced nutrition Indian food can.
As lives got busier, the need for quick fixes increased. Instead of resting out a headache, people began to indiscriminately pop pills, leading to the widespread abuse of medicines like painkillers, antacids, antibiotics and other pharmaceutical products.
The whey protein and supplement market boomed, cleverly, and in many cases falsely, “educating” people about the uses and benefits. The increase in the number of kidney- and liver-related diseases could be related to the incorrect use of such products.
Change is good, but at what cost?
Some things listed above are not controllable, and the ever-increasing pollution levels in India do not help either. To manage our weight, cure and prevent diseases, feel and look good, and over and above just exercise and sleep well, we need to adopt healthy and balanced nutrition.
The great Indian diet can provide just that.


Birthday last while I was enjoying my hot crisp tandoori roti and bhindi in kasaundi sauce at the Taj Vivanta’s Latitude, I meet Asheek Prabhakar who introduced me to a piquantly delicious mango wine — christened Pomar De Frutas. It’s something new in the wine market in Goa. It’s no gharelu or home-made wine but a fine mango wine crafted from alphonso mangoes by passionate microbiologist Dr Archana Thakur (managing director of Codon Biosciences, she collaborates with Wine Research Institute ISVV, University of Bordeaux, France, and Technische Universitat Dresden, Germany, to develop wines and other exotic products from tropical fruit.
The golden yellow wine is mildly redolent of alphonso mango and is off-dry on the palate. It may be enjoyed as an aperitif or with many an Indian meal. Asheek (who is a friend of my friend Chef Sameer at the Fortune Miramar) tells me they buy alphonso mangoes from Devgad when they’re ripe and pulped, processed at low temperature to get a qualitatively ambrosial juice. The juice is then fermented using special wine yeast to make the wine rich in aroma, texture and finish.
All that Pomar De Frutas alphonso mango wine is. Do check it out and drink it nicely chilled. It is available in 750 ml and 375 ml bottles, priced at 850/520 respectively. Try the wine shops at Panaji market — Diamond Raviraj or Tom Wines. One of these days I must meet up with Dr Archana Thakur! It is interesting to learn that wine may be made of many a tropical fruit and of course the art of wine-making dates back to Goa’s Portuguese days when after tea-time the evening began with a glass of wine…there are several Goans families who make home-made wines in small quantities to retail locally at fairs and private parties

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