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Think local, eat local

FOOD MATTERS Celebrity nutritionist and author Rujuta Diwekar at Museum Theatre Photo: R. Ravindran

FOOD MATTERS Celebrity nutritionist and author Rujuta Diwekar at Museum Theatre Photo: R. Ravindran  

In the city to launch her new book, Rujuta Diwekar tells people to turn to Indian superfoods for a healthier lifestyle

An elegant woman, decorously draped in silk, opens the car door. Author and nutritionist to the stars, Rujuta Diwekar beams from inside. Six of the woman’s friends join her, pushing, giggling and squealing in exuberant glee. One holds up a phone, and they turn sideways and pout in unison. Selfie with Rujuta: Check.

At the Museum Theatre for the launch of Rujuta’s latest book, Indian Superfoods, by Juggernaut Books courtesy FICCI FLO, it quickly becomes clear why the nutritionist has developed a cult following over the past few years. In a diet culture defined by ‘No’, she urges people to eat. At one point during her talk, when she tells the mostly-female crowd to eat rice, there’s an unscripted wave of enthusiastic applause. Two women in the front row turn to each other and grin excitedly: “Finally! I can eat carbs again.”

Looking around the gracious old Museum Theatre building, Rujuta says, “Like this building, diets also need to be timeless and sustainable. We have to stay fit and healthy for the rest of our lives.” She adds, “The problem is that for weight loss, we keep looking for an answer in places we will never find it: in tabloids, at parties, during weddings and even divorces.”

The answer, she says, lies in our kitchens. “The one place we don’t like going into any more.” Getting healthier, she adds, is not just about becoming skinny. It’s about eating better in a holistic fashion. It’s about completely rethinking food. “Stop talking about food groups, like carbs, proteins and fats, and start thinking about food systems. Food systems are about not just looking after your health, but also promoting local economy and global ecology.” She adds, “When we diet according to food groups — we gain weight again and again. When we eat according to food systems, we live long, fulfilling lives.”

Indigenous, locally-grown super foods are an ideal way to begin this change. Rujuta picks three well-loved, easily-available foods to rest her talk on, much to the delight of the audience: rice, ghee and sugar.

“Rice is truly nice. Whether you come from Kashmir or Kanyakumari it’s the first grain you eat. Our schools got it wrong when they taught us rice is just carbohydrate. It also contains minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.” She adds, “When we go off rice, our stomachs jut out. Then we’re lying in bed before leaving for a party, desperately trying to zip up our jeans. You know that feeling, right?”

Amid a ripple of laughter, she continues, “That’s because our gut eco-system gets disturbed when we go on a diet. These micro organisms influence everything from our moods to our health. Rice has prebiotics, which is food for probiotics, and will nourish the necessary good bacteria in the body.” She goes on to talk about how it is safe for diabetics. “Most local rice has a glycemic index of 50 to 60. Add curd or pulses and you lower it. Add ghee, and it’s lowered further. Add pickle and it gets lowered again. So in India, when you eat a traditional meal, rice becomes safe.”

Ghee is next on Rujuta’s list of favourite foods. “It’s great because it is full of fat. It gives good gut integrity... And I’m not the only person saying this. Two days back, Cleveland Clinic released a poster about the benefits of ghee. The Canadian Heart Association says saturated fat is good for the heart. Now, doctors are saying that cholesterol is a nutrient and no longer a concern for over consumption...”

She adds, “Everything your grandmom said is rooted in common sense. If you have issues of thyroid, memory loss, weight gain — it could be because of a lack of essential fats. Eat idlis with podi and sesame oil. When you have coffee, eat murukkus. When you eat curd rice, eat pickle. If you want papad — fry it.” But remember to source everything carefully. “Make it at home. Or buy from a small co-operative. It’s better than buying from an industry that is banking on your fears. An industry that creates a new food hero and a new food villain every year.”

Then, there’s sugar. “I bought and ate Mysore pak as soon as I landed in Chennai,” Rujuta smiles. “We have become a population that abuses sugar. The kind we should avoid is what comes out of packaged food: the chocolates, biscuits and cereals that promise weight loss... Instead, eat jaggery in winter. Have sugar cane juice when you want to detox.”

Finally, she tackles the obsession with weight loss. “All women want to do is lose a little more weight. We wake up thinking of this... If I was thinner my life would be better. That’s not true. A better fulfilling life comes from many other things. Never ever from losing weight.”

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