Be a food scientist

Be a food scientist

The definition of food has changed rapidly in the past decade. While once good food was qualified purely by taste, these days it is scrutinized by its nutritional count. A study published in the August edition of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that eating a larger variety instead of having a large quantity of one or two types of fruits and vegetables may lower many health risks, particularly lung cancer. Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita, project director of this study at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the Netherlands, suggests eating not only the recommended amounts of five-a-day (fruits and vegetables), but also adding a rich mix of bioactive compounds in different types of food products by consuming a large variety. Even though it may sound simple, there are very few people who really follow a richly varied diet. Says Shikha Sharma, a Delhi-based wellness consultant, “People in cities mostly consume a diet based on wheat, milk and potatoes with few other fruits and vegetables." Other nutritionists also agree with Dr Sharma. Suggests Rupali Datta, chief, clinical nutrition and dietetics, Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital, New Delhi, “When you eat the same food over and over again the body gets fed up, just like doing one set of exercises day in and day out reduces its efficacy. The moment you add variety, it keeps your system on its toes and helps it absorb the nutrients better." Jyoti Arora, team leader, nutrition and dietetics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon, says: “By adding different foods like beans, nuts, seeds, salads and fruits to your plate, you cut down on carbs and also reach satiety levels faster." So forget complicated diet plans, when it comes to food, experiment with new colours, tastes and textures. Our experts, Dr Shikha Sharma, Rupali Datta and Jyoti Arora, tell you how.


If you think a cup of milk every day is enough to ensure strong bones, you’ll be surprised to know what the daily requirement is. A healthy adult needs 600-750ml of low fat milk daily. This equals two glasses of milk and two bowls of curd, an amount that’s far more than what a person usually consumes. If you lead an active life and exercise regularly, you can replace a bowl of curd with a slice of cheese or 30g of ‘paneer’ (cottage cheese), which is equal to 150ml of milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, replace the milk with curd, buttermilk or soy milk. Get additional calcium from ‘ragi’ (finger millet) that can be added to flour or eaten as ‘daliya’, or sprinkle sesame seeds on muesli/leafy greens.


Carbohydrates should come from many sources. Rice, ‘roti’, multigrain breads, ‘poha’ (flattened rice) and wholegrain cereals contain different types of vitamins and minerals. For instance, ‘poha’ contains iron, while puffed rice does not. Even wheat flour for ‘rotis’can be alternated every few months with different types of grains. Dr Sharma suggests that summer flour should have half part wheat and equal quantities of barley and ‘chana’ (chickpea) flour; this makes for a “cooling" flour. In winter, use whole corn flour and packaged soy flour in the same proportion. It’s important to use packaged flour because soy contains a tripsom inhibitor (which prevents the tripsom enzyme from breaking down proteins for use by the body) that needs to be processed professionally. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your ‘roti’ flour every couple of months. Add grains such as ‘ragi’, pearl millet or sorghum every month in rotation to your regular ‘atta’.


Oils are powerhouses of essential fatty acids that the body cannot synthesize itself and that must be consumed through food. They also help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Keep two oils handy at one time or rotate between saturated (coconut, palm oil), polyunsaturated (sunflower and soy) and monounsaturated oils (olive, canola) every couple of months. Warmer oils, such as peanut and mustard oil, are great in winter, while rice bran and sunflower oil work best during summer. Olive oil can be used all year round. Mustard oil should ideally be used once daily as it is high in saturated fats and may be too fattening if used as regular oil. Canola and soy oil can also be used for a change. Dr Sharma suggests that ideally two teaspoons of cooking oil should be used per person in a meal and the rest should come from seeds and nuts.


Proteins are the biggest component of our body after water. We need to eat one serving in every major meal. 1g of protein per kg of body weight is required every day. Vegetarians must consume 60g of ‘dal’ daily, including bean varieties such as kidney beans, ‘lobia’ (black-eyed beans), ‘chana’, and soy once every alternate day. To increase the soluble fibre in your diet, consume whole ‘dal’ such as whole ‘masoor’ (red lentil) and green mung, once every two days. For variation, sprout pulses, toss beans and chickpeas into salads or fold into burritos. Non-vegetarians should limit red meat to twice a week and chicken or fish to thrice a week. The recommended dietary guidelines by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advise 100g of mutton, or 200g of chicken or lean meat, or 100-120g of fish in each serving. Combine meats with salad and greens to help digest them better and enjoy a few bowls of ‘dal’ or beans along with the non-vegetarian fare to add more protein.


These are packed with vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids and each type does something different for your body. For example, pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, vitamin E and amino acids, while prunes are loaded with vitamin A, potassium and iron. In summer, eat two teaspoons of flax, pumpkin or melon seeds and in winter, add sesame and sunflower seeds in combination with the summer seeds. Eat five walnuts or almonds along with 8-10 raisins, a fig, a dried apricot and three or four prunes every day. You can soak walnuts overnight and peel them before eating. Those with a weak digestion should grind flaxseeds before eating them. Seeds can be used creatively to add crunch to baked goods and ‘raita’, they can be rolled with ‘rotis’, and added to salads or sprinkled over cereal.


While many Indians benefit from a vegetarian diet, there are still many ways to add variety. You can include fruits and vegetables in rainbow colours that represent the different antioxidants present in them. For example, the orange in carrots and papaya denotes cartenoids and vitamin A. Similarly, anthocyanins found in purple fruits such as grapes, blueberries, etc., have been shown to prevent obesity. Always remember to eat more seasonal produce. Summer is lush with mangoes and the melon family, green vegetables such as ‘bhindi’ (okra), the gourd family and leafy greens such as ‘chaulai’ (Amaranth). In winter, get an extra shot of vitamins from root vegetables, cruciferous varieties such as cauliflower, cabbage or leafy greens such as spinach, ‘methi’ (fenugreek), ‘bathua’ (pigweed) and mustard greens. Or simply eat two new fruits and three new veggies every day. Wherever possible, eat the skin and seeds too. For example, pectin, a soluble fibre that keeps your skin and heart healthy, is located just under the skin of the apple.

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