Are superfoods the superheroes we've been looking for?

In conversation with Nandita Iyer who helps us break down everyday foods that can help improve health, elevate your mood and build immunity.

Are superfoods the superheroes weve been looking for?

You've probably already heard about superfoods. Predominantly a marketing term, superfood is used to describe nutrient-dense foods, and though most experts and nutritional scientists have steered clear from the term, it continues to be a huge rage among health enthusiasts. Think of them as food multitaskers, brimming with nutrients and antioxidants that find a new lease of life in Everyday Superfoods (Bloomsbury), author and nutritionist, Dr. Nandita Iyer's latest book that seeks to shed light on 39 superfoods that can be easily found in Indian kitchens through 60 simple recipes that have been curated by Iyer.

On this World Health Day, we spoke to the author to understand more about superfoods in the Indian context and the role they can play in ensuring better lifestyles, be it improving our mood or boosting immunity, all of which Iyer encapsulates in her book, too.

Edited excerpts from an interview

Medically, superfood is not accepted as a term. So, how can one trace its genesis?

The term "superfoods" was first used in the beginning of the 20th century. The oldest record of the term came from a Jamaican newspaper during World War I, where it was used to refer to wine's intoxicating effects that added a little something extra to life. The second usage came after World War II, when a Canadian newspaper praised the nutritional qualities of a healthy muffin.

What according to you, is a superfood?

Superfood has now become a buzzword and a marketing ploy more than an actual food group. Every health food brand and store has adopted a strategy where they woo people with the term. But if I had to describe superfoods, it would use it to refer to foods that are rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Because of their nutrient density, these foods help boost general health, immunity and longevity.

What are some immunity-building foods that you swear by?

The pandemic has made us aware that health is indeed the greatest wealth. We have taken all the measures to stay safe, be it washing our hands at regular intervals, wearing masks, practising social distancing or eating better to keep our immunity in good shape. However, the strong connection between superfoods and immunity is what has put a renewed spotlight on them.

A strong immune system is vital when it comes to the body's ability to fight illnesses and diseases. It is what helps us to heal naturally. Superfoods often have a few things in common such as, being high in antioxidants or antibacterial properties that aid in building one's immunity. This would include proteins, omega three fatty acids, vitamin C and zinc. Adding them to your diet will help build immunity. My go-to superfoods are turmeric, black pepper, amla, garlic, onion, nuts and seeds.

Like superfoods, a lot has been said about mindful eating. Your thoughts?

The importance of mindful eating and self-care is multifold. Before eating, ask yourself if you are really hungry or is it boredom? Plate your food so that it looks appealing. Serve yourself a smaller portion to begin with. Sit down to eat – be it a full meal or a snack. Take a moment to be grateful for the food in front of you. One should take small bites and chew well. This intentional slowing down will allow you to enjoy your food better and consciously.

How do you choose the correct superfood for yourself?

The key to a healthy diet is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods in the right quantities. It's also important to remember that simply because something is considered healthy, you don't have to go out of your way to procure it and rather, emphasise on eating locally available foods, which are less processed.

What are some superfoods that are underplayed and should be in the limelight?

While trends like local, seasonal and sustainable are being embraced globally only now, they are not new concepts in India. For instance, foraging was a way of life in the country. However, it has sadly gone out of fashion now, and people buy their vegetables from a market. And I think we should bring the practice back. Similarly, the use of drumstick leaves or dark green leafy vegetables like, bathua which are gaining currency in the world today as superfoods, have always been part of our cuisines. These are all lesser-known ingredients that are seasonal and nutritious and that should be given due importance.

Tarvene Shahpuri

Tarvene Shahpuri

Tarvene is a chocolate and chai fiend who is constantly on the hunt for cute cafes. You can catch her baking some Biscoff cheesecakes or binge-watching Netflix shows. She likes filling up her free time painting, listening to music or going on long drives.

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