Modern epigenetic science proves that our health depends on traditional foods. This is because our genes expect the nutrients that traditional foods provide us with. We are getting sick because our genes aren’t getting what they are expecting to get, not once, but over and over again.
Dear Readers, before you read this column, allow me to ask – how many of you are experiencing early signs of ageing? These signs can be the first signs of arthritis, joint aches and pain, wrinkles, grey hair, hair fall, short term memory loss, poor eye sight, back pain and many more. Now have a look around you. Are you ageing far earlier than your grandparents? It all comes down to your genes, how you are nourishing them.
In this 21st century, long before the covid 19 pandemic we had already hit another pandemic; the amalgamation of lifestyle disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, dyslipidemia and obesity. It is unreal to see a thirty-year-old, suffering from degenerative issues like arthritis or gout or a thirteen- year-old suffer with metabolic disorders like diabetes and insulin resistance.
If modern medicine is blustering on about longevity by providing us with countless medicines, vaccinations, ambulances and hospital facilities, it means that we failing abjectly in the prevention model of health care.
Our grandparents were probably the first generation to receive antibiotics. But the generations before didn’t receive any antibiotics or medications to overcome any health issue, they relied totally on traditional medicine. They knew the traditions well and followed them. They were much wiser about their health than most of us now.
Lifestyle factors like food, stress, living in cities and a degraded environment play a significant role in shaping our health today. This indicates that we have to come to an agreement with ourselves and that we must prove our longevity to our coming generations. And leave them a worthwhile healthcare model to follow.
Looking Back to Find a Way Forward
The Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 17, verse 8 states that “Food that enhances longevity, mind, strength, health, happiness, joy that which is juicy, oily, stable, pleasant, is dear to me, who is saatvic.”
Food is not only about energy; it is a source of life. When we eat food, our bodies don’t only receive information about the food, we also absorb its source of origin. For example, if you consider eating an egg, you aren’t only eating the egg. In addition to the egg itself your body will receive information about the hen’s health, the grains she fed on, and the soil on which that grain was cultivated and the environment of the region it grew in including the water and the air. Look back at the bottom of the food chain – how long ago was that food alive, you will get your answer – if it’s the right food for your genes.
We also need to understand that the food we eat now, can change the health of generations to come. What we eat as parents can change everything about our children. Modern epigenetics science proves that our health depends on traditional foods. It proves that this is because our genes expect the nutrients that traditional foods provide us with. We are getting sick because our genes aren’t getting what they are expecting to get, not once, but over and over again.
Food is just like a computer programming language; it is a chain of unbroken information that connects every cell in our body. The better the source and more undamaged the message when it arrives to our cells, the better our health will be.
The good news is irrespective of our age, if we meet our genetic expectations, we can considerably improve our health.
The Wonder of Diversity
Our land is diverse. We hear about Tamil cuisine in the South, Bengali cuisines in the West, Kashmiri cuisine in the North, Gujarati cuisine in the West and so on. It is fascinating to me as a dietician because each cuisine has its significance for health and is naturally suited to the geographical region it belongs to.
When we travel to Rajasthan, we find the delicious Rajasthani thali with green chillies, lehsua(garlic) achaar, ker sangria and gatte curries and when we travel to the South, we replace our thalis with banana leaves laden with coconut chutneys, kuzambhu, rasam, poriyal, puttu and many more regional delicacies.
Did you know that green chilies protect us from heat waves? And lehsua prevents aging and colic pain? And that most curries prepared in curd keep our guts healthy and strong in intense heat? The use of banana leaves is of utmost significance; when we prepare our meals with banana leaves, antioxidants get absorbed into the food which have anti-ageing benefits. Banana leaves are traditionally used in the preparation of food in south India. They add aroma and antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate. The use of tamarind in rassam protects the body from humidity and coconut boosts the immune system.
If you get a chance to visit the East, you will savour – Eromba – a chutney made with red chilies and fish paste, served with fish curry and steam rice. People in the East catch fish in ponds or from local running rivers and grow vegetables in their kitchen garden. Similarly, they use herbs that grow in that particular geographical region. Some indigenous vegetables include mustard leaves, water spinach, and endem.
Interestingly, our geography or location helps us decide our local foods and designs our menu. My Sundays are Kashmiri lunch days. My Kashmiri friends cook vegetarian versions for me with haak saag, dum aloo, monjhe saag and muji chatin. Believe me as much as they are mouth-watering, they have amazing health benefit too. And I always look forward to my Sunday lunches.
If we look at drinks – noon chai (made with bicarbonate of soda, salt, milk and black tea) and kahwa (made with aromatic saffron) gets replaced with filter coffee in the south and lassi in Punjab and Buransh (Rhododendron) juice in Uttarakhand.
Kahwa, full of almonds, saffron and cinnamon protects the body from cold waves and prevents flu. Buransh flowers are full of antioxidants and lassi is a complete probiotic drink in itself.
Cooking Traditional – Tried and Tested Culinary Techniques
Those ingredients which have been part of our traditional cooking practice, maximize the delivery of nutrition to our cells. How many of us eat according to our culinary traditions now? Many of us depend on pasta dishes mixed with Indian spices and ketchup, or noodles which have shifted base from the East and become unhealthy with chemical laden condiments like green chili sauce and MSG (which is linked to Alzheimer’s!)
The pasta prepared in Italy, with homemade handmade pasta from durum wheat just like our chapati’s, is made fresh in most Italian homes. The wheat is hand pounded and then ground using traditional methods, ensuring that it retains many nutrients including vitamin B. This is unlike the processed pasta we have been eating in India.
We have also started sautéing idlis in chili sauce and adding preservatives. By doing this we are just satisfying our taste buds and indulging our culinary skills. Idlis which were fermented and nutritious are no longer nutritious. The fermentation of the idli batter improves the nutritional and protein efficiency value. Micro organisms produce vitamin B12 and the b- galactosidase enzyme, which enhances probiotic activity and promotes our gut health.
Certain cooking practices like sprouting, malting and fermentation increase the nutritive values of foods unlike grilling, baking and deep frying which we use mostly in modern times with the use of electricity instead of bio-fuel.
Quick and Easy Fixes to Kickstart Our Journey to Gene Health
- Let jowar, ragi and bajra be our staple food.
- Why shall we look for blueberries which have travelled 1000 miles when we have phalsa, ber, karonda, rasbhari, amla and chironji.
- Why use olive oil when we can have our own mustard oil and ghee.
- Let’s use jackfruit seed chutney, amla chutney, green chutney and garlic chutney to enhance taste make our food super nutritious.
- Let’s swap aluminium foil and butter paper with mustard leaves, turmeric leaves and banana leaves wherever possible. Our traditional leaves helped build our immune system.
Following the Moon
In many parts of India, on a full moon night, rice is pounded and made into a gruel with cow’s milk, and jaggery or sugar. This is then put in copper vessels and placed out in the moonlight. After a while it is eaten on an empty stomach. During the full moon, the distance between the earth and moon is less and therefore the moon demonstrates its effect on all earthly materials. The radiations absorbed by the gruel activate the antibiotics and immunoglobulins present in the milk thus making it good for health.This super moon milk sounds amazing right? This milk is said to benefit our lungs, make our skin glow, reduce anxiety and help our bodies heal.
These are some amazing practices, followed by our ancestors. Our genes have been nourished through ancient foods, our culinary techniques and local foods. Every bite we eat, changes our genes a bit. If not for yourselves, for the next generation, eat local, eat traditional.
Editor’s Note: This weekly column,”Slow Diet with Swati Bathwal” is a part of our Slow Foods initiative. To become part of it, contact us at email@example.com or @slowfoodsindia on Twitter and instagram
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