A couple of days back I was eating broccoli poriyal for lunch and thought to myself ‘Damn! This tastes pretty bad!’. My cook is pretty good at what she does (if given sufficient time and the right ingredients, of course) and generally cooks delicious food. But when it comes to unfamiliar vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, avocado etc, she’s not quite the MasterChef.
So I’m thinking ‘Why is this broccoli dish so average?’ and I come up with –
- The quality of the broccoli is pretty bad
- Her way of cooking broccoli, doesn’t quite gel well with how I’m used to eating broccoli.
- The broccoli stands out as a tongue-sore in an otherwise Indian meal.
So why even eat broccoli? Why even buy broccoli in spite of it being not great in quality, hard to source, expensive and tough to pair with a typical meal? Because we are told it’s
(Image credit: http://www.info.novu.com)
I’m going to go out on a limb and bust a little bubble here for you. Nutritious food is not what the Americans eat. Or what the Japanese munch on. Or what the Kitavans lived off of. Or what cavemen gobbled up. Nutritious food is food that is high in nutrition, period. Nothing more and definitely nothing less. But Since most of the nutrition related information and data we are exposed to are from the US or Europe, we tend to believe that a nutritious diet is one dominated by salads and broccoli and quinoa and salmon and avocados and kale and berries and other ingredients we Indians had no idea about even just a couple of decade ago. Obviously that makes no sense considering how our ancestors thrived merely and purely on foods that were easily and locally available.
The fact is that in order for you to thrive you need to feed your body the required micro and macro nutrients namely protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. Where these nutrients come from can vary greatly based on geographic location, availability and cooking methods but what matters it that you nourish your body with these nutrients. Where you get these nutrients from matter less.
Let’s break this down a little bit. Why is broccoli such an ambassador of health? Because it is low in calories and high in a few vitamins (C & K) and is rich in fiber. See WHFood image below.
Sure, this is an impressive spread for a vegetable but this really isn’t something we can’t get from foods that are more local, easy to source, less expensive, better in quality and lend themselves to traditional cooking. In the region where I currently live in (Chennai, India), there are quite a few alternatives. Let me name a few.
Okra, the vegetable that we’re told improves ‘brain power’, has a long list of health benefits and wonderful spread of nutrients for almost negligible amount of calories. Read more.
Bitter gourd, the weirdly textured, bitter and hated vegetable, is excellent for gastrointestinal issues, ulcers, intestinal worms, kidney stones and is protection against diabetes.
The banana flower and stem from the banana tree are so nutritious I won’t be doing justice writing just a couple of lines about them. Read more.
Add to that the various different types of spinach and the humble and simple fruits like the many types of bananas, guavas and oranges and we have pretty much every nutrient any green leafy vegetable or berry can provide you with. And why do I not have a fancy chart like I did for broccoli? Because these foods are specific to a part of the world that isn’t the US or Europe and, since it isn’t global enough, no one cared to showcase their awesomeness in a legitimate fashion. Not yet.
So is the case with other celebrated foods like quinoa, berries, kale, olive oil etc. They are truly rich in nutrients and have the potential to make you ‘healthier’ but they are not a need or a necessity. Trying to make these foods a regular in your diet makes it unsustainable and hence useless at some point of time.
So what is the take away here?
- Understand what healthful eating means and do that based on where and how you live. There is no one blanket recommendation for health. Not everyone needs to eat broccoli or drink kefir or cook in ghee. Form your pantry with ingredients that you like, are readily available and sustainable.
- Identify local and seasonal foods that are healthful. Eating local produce that is in season reduces the need for pesticides, doesn’t depend on being preserved during transport, is less expensive, is more sustainable, easier on the environment and will nourish you with the nutrients you need for that particular time of the year.
- Keep your food life simple with a few celebrated meals. For some of us in India carrot, beans, tomatoes, tubers, gourds and spinach are on our plates year around with a few special appearances every now and then. For some of us in western countries broccoli, kale, asparagus, brussel sprouts and berries may be regulars with banana stem, bitter gourd etc being specials. It doesn’t matter. It only matters that you eat foods that promote health and stay away from foods that don’t.
- You can’t and shouldn’t try to eat everything that is healthful but you can and should work on reducing consumption of foods that are detrimental to health.
At the end of the day, health is a concept and the only way to make it a part of your life is to understand it. Following plans and going out of your way to source exotic vegetables won’t work for too long. Live off what your part of the earth gives you. Don’t obsess. Don’t overthink. Don’t mess with it.