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Come winter, and it becomes important to stock up on vitamin C to boost immunity and keep flu, cold and other viruses at bay. You don’t need to buy exotic, expensive fruits; amla, or Indian gooseberry, will do. Besides being a rich source of vitamin C, amla also helps increase the absorption of iron and calcium from foods. So have this fruit in combination with iron- and calcium-rich foods like raisins, apricots, poultry, sesame seeds and dairy products.

Ayurveda advocates amla for a host of health benefits, from improving digestive health to easing cough. Modern science recognizes its benefits too. “Amla is basically an alkaline food, so it helps to balance the stomach acid levels and make the gut alkaline. An alkaline gut is essential for overall health and vitality. Amla, in fact, alleviates the symptoms caused by indigestion, flatulence, etc.," says Seethalakshmi R., a senior dietitian at Mumbai’s PD Hinduja Hospital. “It also supports liver function, fortifies the lungs and helps detox the system, besides boosting our immune system and increasing the white blood cell count, the main line of defence for the immune system," says Kanchan Patwardhan, consultant nutritionist, Arogya Hospital, Mumbai.

Amla is believed to be beneficial for the skin and hair too, thanks to its high iron and carotene content. “The antioxidants amla packs in help reign in free radicals that are known to cause damage to skin cells and hair follicles and premature skin ageing and hair loss," says Patwardhan. A study published in 2011 in the Journal Of Cosmetic Science actually shows how amla works against the sun’s ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation, which breaks down the skin’s collagen and leads to wrinkles and sagging skin.

“This berry is, in fact, packed with multiple antioxidants and has more ellagic acid and gallic acid (potent antioxidants) than any other fruit," says Seethalakshmi. “Plus, it’s great for our eyes, as carotene has been shown to help strengthen vision and prevent age-related degeneration," adds Patwardhan.

Amla also packs in chromium, a mineral that humans require only in trace amounts, but is nonetheless essential for normal bodily functions, such as digesting food.

It also enhances the effect of beta blockers, which help reduce “bad" cholesterol levels. Amla has therapeutic value for diabetics too.

A 2011 study, published in the International Journal Of Food Sciences And Nutrition, showed that just having 3g of powdered amla a day for 21 days could be more beneficial than a prescription drug to help reign in blood sugar levels.

You can consume amla in various ways—grate it and add to your vegetables and salads, or just eat one every day. If you find it sour, then boil it with little salt and turmeric, and consume it as chutney. Amla pickle and juice are also popular, so is amla murabba for those who prefer it sweet.

Here are some ways in which you can incorporate it in your diet.

Amla, Prune and Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

400g amla

50g butter

100g prunes

3 tbsp honey

200g rocket leaves

150g romain lettuce

60g goat cheese

Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

2 tbsp lemon juice

3tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 60g sliced almonds

Method

Deseed the amla and boil in salted water. Bring to a quick boil and discard the water. Sun-dry the amla till it is reduced to half its size. This can also be achieved by placing the fruit in the oven at 40 degrees Celsius for 6-8 hours. Heat the butter in a pan and toss the amla in it for a couple of minutes. Then add honey and coat the amla in it. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a bowl, mix the amla, prunes and rocket and lettuce leaves. Toss the ingredients with salt, pepper, freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Serve topped with goat cheese and sliced almonds.

Amla and Rosemary Chutney

Serves 4

Ingredients

500g amla

300g sugar

200ml water

1 bay leaf

1 star anise

5g rosemary fresh

A pinch of salt

Method

Deseed the amla and boil in water. Discard the water when boiled and repeat the process again: this time, boil the amla in 200ml of water along with sugar, bay leaf and star anise. Keep stirring constantly on low heat, till the water has reduced and the mixture is thick (8-10 minutes). Blend the residue and add chopped rosemary leaves and a pinch of salt. Let it cool and then store in an airtight glass jar. It will keep for a couple of days.

Amla Anjeer and Apple Juice

Serves 4

Ingredients

500g amla

1kg red apple

3 fresh figs or two dried figs

Method

Deseed the amla and core the apples. Press both amla and apples through a juicer. Add chopped figs to the juice. You can also add freshly chopped mint.

(Recipes by Vishal Atreya, executive chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar.)

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