Whoever said “good things come in small packages” perhaps meant superfoods, the nutrient-packed powerhouses of good health. Mohit Khattar, managing director of Godrej Nature’s Basket, says the growth of superfoods across cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru has been stupendous. “There has been a dramatic change in consumer patterns over the past two years. Today, many more consumers are aware of superfoods. There is a desire to opt for ingredients and grains that provide credible alternatives to regular food and sustainable results,” says Khattar.
The popularity of superfoods has been growing. “Presently, 20 per cent of our sales are from flax seeds, goji berry, amaranth, etc. Chia seeds are fast catching up too. People who buy these foods do it for nutritional or health benefits,” says Mamatha, co-owner of Vriksh: The Organic Store at Vyalikaval in Bengaluru.
Under the broad spectrum of superfoods fall spirulina, amla (gooseberry), green coffee, black beans, moringa leaves, sesame seeds and others. Chennai-based dietician Dharini Krishnan says, “Today, since people do not eat home-cooked meals, they end up tucking in carbohydrates and fats throughout the day, sidelining other essential nutrients. Inclusion of superfoods in the daily diet plays a key role in adding the missing nutrients to the everyday food intake.”
A word of caution, however. “I would not recommend any kind of superfoods that come as tetra packs, powders or energy bars. When a nutritionally sound, proper meal that the body requires is consumed, it will give super results,” says dietician Gomathy Gowthama in Chennai.
The fabled black rice (‘Emperor Rice’ in ancient China) comes with antioxidants, fibre and iron. “It is a cereal low in sugar, packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds. Black rice brings in the cancer fighter and memory booster antioxidant anthocyanin, keeping heart diseases away,” says dietician Richa Anand at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. Head Chef Roberto Zorzoli at Romano’s, J W Marriott, Mumbai Sahar, says black rice is the perfect pick for a gluten-free diet. “As carbohydrate level in black rice is far lower than in white rice, it is perfect for weight watchers. Antioxidants in it maintain the pH-balance by creating an alkaline effect. This is very beneficial in calming down acidity,” says Zorzoli.
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“Replace pasta, noodles and white rice with black rice. Sauté black rice with ginger, garlic and rosemary for a flavourful accompaniment with seasonal stir fry vegetables, or make a black rice pudding,” says Zorzoli. Dr Pritisha Jadhav, Nutritionist, SRV Hospital, Mumbai, advises combining rice with bread crumbs, herbs, spices, celery and stuffing it in chicken and baking it.
Called shatavari in India, spirulina is an algae found in alkaline lakes and freshwater bodies. It has the highest protein content among natural foods. “By bringing spirulina into your daily diet, you can address weight loss, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and premenstrual syndrome,” says Mumbai-based whole foods nutritionist Kajal Bhatia.
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“Hawaiin spirulina powder can be sprinkled on home-made whole wheat pizzas or on a cold salad. Add a teaspoon to peppermint iced tea for an energy boost,” says Chef Rakhee Vaswani, who hosts food show Rewind with Rakhee.
BERRY BERRY GOOD
Good old amla (gooseberry) contains an astounding level of vitamin C, protein and antioxidants. Amla, with it’s 26 per cent fibre content, helps prevent colon cancer. “It is multi-functional, lowers bad cholesterol levels, reduces pain and swelling of pancreas (pancreatitis), improves skin and hair health, and keeps diabetes away,” says Kajal Bhatia, a specialist in whole food nutrition. Then why wait to have plain old amla juice? “Add a few crushed amlas to any other juice that you are having for a citrusy punch and maximise the health benefits,” suggests Chef Amrita Raichand of food show Mummy Ka Magic.
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“You can have fresh juice or eat amla powder. Buy amla in bulk and salt it, bottle it, slice it and add to salads, or have as pickle with food. Honeyed amla pieces added to blackcurrant ice-cream makes a tartish dessert,” says Rahul Dhavale, Executive Chef, Westin Mumbai Garden City.
Dubbed a racy flab-buster, green coffee is the hot new entrant in the superfood marquee. Prepared from unroasted coffee beans, green coffee carries chlorogenic acid (missing in coffee obtained from roasted beans), which helps in regulating diabetes. Bursting with antioxidants, green coffee is an ace at neutralising free radicals in your system. In effect, this slows down the ageing process and prevents malignant tumour formation. “Doses of between 140-720 mg of green coffee per day have been known to lower blood pressure, although it is not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and children,” says Anand.
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“You can add green coffee bean powder in smoothies and in desserts like cheesecakes or cookie dough for a unique flavour,” says Vaswani.
When Gargi Munjal was dangerously low on vitamins, it was amaranth that saved her life. “My medical tests revealed dismal readings of Vitamin B12, D3 and calcium. At one point, I was taking 16 injections every 40 days. After I read about the benefits of amaranth, I began mixing these seeds with bajra, as I was eating bajra roti everyday. After doing these for a few months, vitamin and mineral readings improved tremendously. I was not keen on popping tablets, as post-menopause we experience so many biological changes. I am glad that this super food worked for me,” says the 48-year-old Mumbai-based entrepreneur. The traditional ramdana or the tiny rajgira (amaranth) forms a gluten-free option for many. Packed with protein, amaranth is also rich in potassium, magnesium and fibre. It improves immunity, digestion and regulates blood sugar.
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Make pudding, muffin and porridge using amaranth or use it to replace rice or chapati, says Anand. Amaranth flour can also be used to thicken soups. “Stir fry amaranth with broccoli and mushroom,” says Dhavale. Make an amaranth pilaf to eat with dal or boil and combine with veggies to make cutlets, suggests Vaswani.
MORE IN A LEAF
Moringa leaves are a fabulous source of energy and nutrients as the leaves of drumstick trees are packed with vitamin C, beta carotene and calcium. “Moringa lets you deal with anaemia, arthritis, joint pain, constipation, diarrhoea, blood pressure, kidney stones, headache, diabetes, dandruff, gum disease and warts,” says Anand. “We have many such superfoods, and all are locally grown in India: moringa, chia seeds, goji berry, amaranth, quinoa, spirulina and flaxseeds. We would also consider turmeric, neem, wheatgrass, sunflower seeds, apple cider vinegar, cold pressed coconut oil, etc., as nutritionally superior foods,” says Meera Maran, the owner of Terra Earthfood stores in Chennai.
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Moringa leaves can be cooked, dried, powdered and added to dal, soup and stew. “The leaves can be blanched and stuffed in chapattis, lasagna base, salads, tossed in Spanish omelettes and in baked gravy items,” says Deepalekha Banerjee, Chennai-based dietician heading 360 Degree Nutri Care. Taking three grams of moringa twice daily for three weeks reduces asthma symptoms in adults.
When she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, Manpreet Singh was 65 years old. This prompted her to change her diet and include four tablespoons of sesame seed powder in it every day. Within a year, her blood pressure was normal. The natural oils in sesame seeds reduced hypertension, and magnesium content functioned as a vasodialator. Crunchy and superb, sesame seeds are the best warriors to combat osteoporosis. “These tiny oilseeds come laced with high concentration of Omega 6 fatty acids, which lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. Sesame aids in collagen production, giving your skin more elasticity and helps repair damaged body tissues. These miracle seeds boost bone mineral density,” says Anand. Rana Barua of Bengaluru’s Tru Weight, which promotes weight loss through superfoods in daily diets, says her R&D team is developing combinations of superfoods to facilitate weight loss. “One such concoction is the seeds cocktail made with sesame, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, watercress, watermelon and muskmelon seeds. It is a rich source of Omega 3, phytochemicals, fibre, zinc and other micro nutrients,” she says.
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“Sprinkle liberally on your salads, stir fries, soups, daily cereals and yogurts. Add toasted sesame seeds to fruit smoothies and shakes for that zing” says Chef Surjan Singh ‘Jolly’, Executive Chef, J W Marriott, Bengaluru. Zorzoli says, “Black sesame seeds carry more magnesium and calcium than a cup of milk and make for a superb sprinkle on sushi or shrimp fritters.”
Social worker Natasha Dutta came to know about superfoods on the Internet. “In one of those moments when you pledge to start your diet, I chose black beans from a million options as it was held in high regards by many,” says Chennai-based Dutta. “I enjoy beans with lime juice, tomato and chilli, or in soup or salad every day.” This has lent a punch to her energy levels. Low in fat, cholesterol and strapped with amino acids, black beans are full of energy-boosting iron. “They help in maintaining healthy bones, lowering blood pressure, managing diabetes, warding off heart disease, preventing cancer, bettering digestion and favouring weight loss,” says Bhatia. “Black beans carry Omega 3 fatty acids and are an excellent source of calcium, iron, the trace mineral molybdenum and folic acid.”
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“Add black beans in burrito fillings, taco salad or make warm black bean soup. Make a salad dip using the beans,” says Bhatia. “You can boil and add black bean patties to burgers or cook them like other pulses in dry or gravy preparations,” adds Anand. Vaswani suggests munching a smoky black bean dip with Mexican seasoning with lavash, as a spread on canapes or even teamed with quinoa for a super healthy punch.
If Noni (Morinda citrifolia or Indian mulberry) drink is a $2.5 billion market in the US, it is still picking up in India with more than 36 companies manufacturing Noni fruit extract here. “Compared to other superfoods, Noni fruit extract has a long tradition and history of extensive research in various countries, and therefore it stands ahead of other superfood products,” says Chandra Mohan, R&D head of ValYou Products. There is more health with every sip of Amrit Noni Power Plus, but this superfood company began seven years ago when Ambuja Sreenivasmurthy’s husband A K Sreenivas Murthy (now the MD of this company) was bedridden with severe arthritis seven years ago. A doctor advised him to drink Noni juice. After drinking it for six months, he started walking. Overwhelmed by its curative powers, Ambuja decided to make it available to people at affordable prices, and started the company in Hosahalli in Shivamogga district of Karnataka. “The major health benefits for a wide range of diseases, from cancer to arthirits to obesity to depression, is because of Noni’s capacity to enhance the production of Xeronine in the body,” says Mohan.
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As good as the health benefits of noni juice may sound, it defiantly isn’t a fragrant solution to one’s health problems. Best way to consume Noni juice is to mix it with other juice and make a new version of a health cocktail.