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Updated: June 2, 2013 17:31 IST

Combo deal

PARVATHY R. KRISHNAN
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Why do we Indians eat dal with chaaval, the Italians their salads drizzled with oil or the Japanese their sushi with vinegar?
The Hindu
Why do we Indians eat dal with chaaval, the Italians their salads drizzled with oil or the Japanese their sushi with vinegar?

Traditional food pairing has more to it than taste. The nutrients in one complement those in the other, making the meal healthy and wholesome

Ever wondered why certain foods are combined so traditionally? Why do we Indians eat dal with chaaval, the Italians their salads drizzled with oil or the Japanese their sushi with vinegar? Though we don't know how these combinations came into being, we do know now with modern day studies that these are smart pairings because nutrients in them complement each other helping one another get better assimilated and utilised by the body. This is known as food synergy, the power of nutrients, when combined, to nourish and protect against diseases.

Innumerable chemical compounds (phytochemicals)—8,000 compounds and counting—are present in plants with a new discovery made every decade. Find out how these and other nutrients complement each other.

• When we combine dal with rice, the amino acids missing in one but found in the other mix to provide us with a complete set of amino acids to build our body. The same works for the urad dal and rice combination in dosa or idli batter, the puttu and channa meal or the quintessential kappa and meen (tapioca and fish) of Kerala.

• Swedish researchers found that vinegar reduces Glycemic Index (GI) of starch when added to it. Vinegar reduces GI of sushi by 35 per cent, the lowered GI making it a healthier food.

• The iron in a plate of greens gets better absorbed if there is some Vitamin C alongside. So lime it generously or better still add green peppers, tomatoes or orange segments to the salad.

• Now why do we oil the salad? Because iron, carotenes and lycopene (a phytochemical in tomatoes) are absorbed in a fat medium. So if you want to get the best nutrition out of the carrots, tomatoes or greens, moisten the salad lightly with a healthy oil like olive oil or alternative fat sources like nuts or avocado chunks.

• And why whole grains to get our fibre? Because fibre and certain other phytochemicals found in whole grains work together to protect us better against diseases.

• Oats is popularised for its heart healthy fibre. Truth is oats also contain some personalised phytochemicals “avenanthramides” that are strong antioxidants. When taken with Vitamin C, they augment the cardioprotective power of oats.

• Researchers at the University of Illinois found that broccoli and tomatoes when eaten together showed a blast of antitumour activity, than when either was eaten alone. A Cornwell University professor has coupled cranberry and apple as an antioxidant packed punching pair against inflammation.

It is not the fish alone, the olive oil or the nuts in the Mediterranean diet that act as vigilante against diseases. It is the whole package deal—the whole grains, beans, fish, nuts, olive oil, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy—acting synergistically as one unit to fight diseases and protect our body.

(The author is a nutritionist)

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