For your Monsoon Munchies
Though western diets have quietly taken centre-stage, we mustn't forget the true benefits hidden in our own traditional recipes that are both lip-smacking and mindful of boosting immunity
Records state that June was the driest month of the decade in 2019 for Delhi! Delhiites continued to experience multiple episodes of heat waves and high temperature, compelling the Delhi Government to also extend the summer vacations for younger school-going kids by a week. Finally though, the monsoon has arrived and there is some respite from the sweltering heat.
There is something so magical about the skies turning grey, before coming down upon you as soft drizzle or a downpour – it evokes a myriad of emotions. For the eternal romantic, the pitter-patter of rain drops rings the soothing melody of rimjhim gire saavan and the romance of huddling under an umbrella is quintessential. On the other hand, the daily commuters dread the rain for its traffic congestion and waterlogging. But, whatever the case, gastronomically, rains are a reason for celebration.
If we go by rule books of the food and fitness industry, we would all be eating the same food along the length and breadth of India, all season round, including monsoons. And yes, you've guessed it right, it would be masala oats and green tea!
Thank God for our rich food heritage and culinary wisdom that provides us options to not only satiate our tastebuds but also soothe our soul during monsoons. Furthermore, all these recipes have been diligently developed to nourish the body during a time when our immunity stands compromised and we are at a risk of catching infections.
Ayurveda, the ancient system of medicine and holistic healing, states that health is a balance of three doshas, namely – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These represent the elements of air, fire and earth that are a part of our being. According to Ayurveda, in Varsha Ritu (rainy season) our body's digestive capabilities are compromised due to aggravated Vata. It is referred to as a decrease in Agni. This is the cause of sluggish metabolism and low energy levels. At the same time, accumulation of Pitta is manifested as acidity, heart burn and acute inflammation in the body and joints. This is the reason why people who suffer from arthritis complain of increased pain and soreness during monsoons.
With this predominant physiological response to rains, it becomes important to learn to eat right during this season. More that eating right, I would emphasise on eating on time. As I have mentioned earlier, the body's digestive fire (Agni) is diminished during monsoons; and, if we train our body to eat at specific times based on a routine, it will be better prepared with its digestive juices, enzymes, bile and other neurological pathways to work upon the ingested food. This will ensure not just better digestion but better absorption and assimilation of nutrients. These nutrients then will serve towards nourishing the cells and boosting immunity.
Guidelines to eating right
Eat small and frequent meals: Long gaps between your meals will not only cause acidity but also translate into larger appetite at the time of the next meal. Owing to poor digestion, this will cause gastric issues like bloating, flatulence and heart burn. Eating every 2-3 hours regulates portion and allows for easy digestion.
Start your main meals with pickled ginger: This is a ritual I have grown up with. Before serving a meal, my grandmother would serve a few slivers of pickled ginger to my grandfather and father. They would chew on it while their thalis were being set in the kitchen. Ginger is known to stimulate saliva, digestive juices and aid in digestion. If you thought this was only some random gastronomical tradition of my family alone, think again, it is also well documented in European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Eat freshly prepared warm food: Forget the anaaj ka nashta out of a box. Eat food that is freshly cooked at home, served hot. Indian traditional recipes are time tested and wholesome. Eating these ensure a higher nutrient profile and lesser toxic load. The ultra-processed cereals do the exact opposite. They increase the toxic load without even nourishing the body. Fresh food has greater prana, it's this life-force energy that runs the body and boosts our immune system.
Eat food that is easily digestible, avoid raw: Bid goodbye to salads and raw vegetable juices. During the rainy season, most ground worms come to the surface and find refuge in green leafy vegetables. It is, thus, best to avoid eating greens during this time. The creepers like ghia, karela, pumpkin, tori come to rescue. Well-cooked food not only has less chances of microbial presence but is easier on the body. Traditionally, Indians go off meat and fish during the rains and many avoid eggs during Saavan. This , again is indigenous food wisdom at work. Lean meat and eggs are heavier on the system to digest as compared to pulses.
Include probiotics in your meals: Probiotics are good bacteria that are housed in our intestinal tract. Nutrition science in the past couple of years has been obsessed with their role and the research findings have ascertained that not only does gut microbiome assist in digestion but also contributes significantly towards our immunity. Nearly 80 per cent of our immunity lies in our gut. Home-set curd is a common probiotic. However, many people avoid curd during the rains because it tends to flare up inflammation causing muscle and joint pains. This is where homemade pickles come handy. The vegetables along with spices, herbs, salt and oil under controlled conditions convert into probiotics through a process of lacto-fermentation. Thus, if you avoid curd, you could include pickles or papads to assist your gut bacteria during monsoons.
Attend to your cravings the right way:
Pakodas are synonymous with monsoon. The rainy-day experience is never complete without chai and pakoda. Our body's craving is its communication with us – we have to interpret it and attend to it the right way. I am sure you have noticed that the rainy season makes anytime a snack time. We feel hungry because of the cooler temperature outside. This increased hunger with reduced ability to digest is a deadly combination for the body. Hence, the fatty food. Now, let me explain this better! Fat is the best nutrient to send sharper satiety signals to our brain, this means that when we eat fat-rich (read: good
fat) food, we feel fuller faster. The brain comprehends this and reduces the taste experience through the tastebuds to discontinue the act of eating. The trick here is to listen to this signal and stop rather than overload the body out of greed. So, enjoy your fritters and bhajias, but again, use only cold-pressed regional oils like mustard, groundnut, sesame, coconut or ghee. And yes, olive oil bhajias neither qualify the taste nor health tests. I am sure you can guess why even air-fried pakodas do not make it to the list!
Masala chai is health in a cup. With the perfect blend of Indian spices (see box), nothing comes close to this elixir. Chai is an ideal companion to hot snacks in this season. With the therapeutic properties of added herbs, it is a potent digestive aid, immunity booster, perfect therapy for congestion, headaches due to cough and cold and a great relaxant.
Our very own indigenous variety of corn, bhutta, a produce very specific to the rainy season, is an ideal monsoon snack. The delectable aroma of roasted corn and the tangy flavor of nimbu- namak masala is enough to make one salivate in anticipation. If you fear that this will ruin your 'weight loss' diet, think again. The corn is harvested after it has matured. At this stage, all the sugar has been converted into complex starch.
Regional recipes: In the words of the Vice President of India, M Venkaiah Naidu, "Indian food heritage is a mixture of art and science and is exceptionally vast and diverse. Rich cultural diversity, native ethnicity, unique flavour of each region and different customs are best encapsulated by Indian cuisine." So be it the vada or karakadaka kanji of Kerela, surti locho of Gujrat, khichudi of Bengal, mirchi bada of Rajasthan or patode of North India, each regional delicacy is highly evolved in its nutritional benefits, something that modern nutrition science is only studying to understand! So, while restaurants entice you with their elaborate monsoon menus, delve right into your traditional monsoon food, guilt free, because what is being cooked with love at home can never match what is cooked for profit!
And, to conclude, as we near Independence Day, I urge you to free yourself from the bondage of food myths, short-term health solutions, quick fixes and fad diets. These are some of the ways the profit-driven food industry keeps us caged. Embrace swadeshi (local and regional) food and allow the shower of rich Indian food wisdom to enlighten you and help reap fruits of a healthy life.
(Madhavi K Sharma is a nutritionist & certified diabetes educator)