"Take the bitter with the sweet" need not necessarily be a metaphoric piece of advice. Bitter foods are not just healthy but can be delicious too and it is just as well that they seem to be now trending the world over with the hipsters. In India, Ayurveda-based food traditions have always recognised bitter foods as part of a complete meal. Of the six tastes that this "science of food and medicine" ostensibly recognises, bitter is an important one - said to be "airy and light", especially benefitting people with dominant pitta and kapha, and lowering these "doshas". Bitter, however, is different from pungent foods, which are a class in themselves in Ayurveda and include the likes of chillies and mustard, both of which also have elements of bitterness.Since bitter foods are thought of as cleansing and important to boosting metabolism in many regional food traditions, they are mandatorily included in traditional meals. A fine example is Bengali food, perhaps the only cuisine in India eaten in courses. It is always the bitter - shukto - made up of ingredients such as bitter gourd or neem leaves that is served first as a palate cleanser of sorts and as a course to boost appetite.
In different parts of India similar preparations and traditions using bitter flavours abound. In fact, neem leaves with a little honey and black pepper mixed into them to cut the bitter and have a juxtaposition of different flavours are supposed to be the first thing you eat on new year day in many regional cultures. The symbolism is obvious-imbibing all the different flavours of life in the year to come. But it's also true that neem bitters are supposed to have a therapeutic effect in folk medicine and are hence eaten to ward off disease.
Bitter Gourd or Karela
One of my favourite vegetables is the bitter gourd - karela. One of the oldest "Indian" vegetables around (it is thought to have originated in the subcontinent), the bitter gourd belongs to the melon/cucumber family and is a typical summer vegetable in many parts of the country. In Kerala, it can be stir fried with the sweetish coconut to cut through the bitter, and be included as a side dish. But in UP and other parts of northern India, it is a delicacy in its own right.
Karela, with its skin scraped off and salt rubbed into it to leech out the bitterness, is stuffed with mince in many Mughalai-based traditions. The vegetarian equivalent of the Bharwan Karela, stuffed bitter gourd, in my Kayasth home has always been the gourd stuffed with browned onions. This is carefully spiced with fennel and amchoor, spices and flavours that tone down the bitterness (the sourness of the amchoordoes that and fennel has a faintly sweet aroma) but don't drown it. This is exactly the way so many Indian dishes are artfully constructed - with contrasting flavours that highlight one particular one in a delicate balance.
Bitter gourd, of course, is also thought to be medicinal. It is low in calories and good for weight loss, it has antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins like C and A. Folk medicines ascribe almost miraculous benefits to it - from anti-ageing to cure for cancer though none of this has been conclusively proven. Finally, there are also the anti-diabetic properties of Karela. A hypoglycemic agent called Charantin present in it is supposed to be able to regulate blood sugar levels and act as a substitute for insulin.
A host of other bitter foods like chocolate, leafy greens like nettle, turmeric and so on are all equally thought to be superfoods boosting our metabolism, preventing ageing, fighting infections and improving moods and vitality. Nettle soup, now being rediscovered as a lost recipe in many parts of the world, in fact is common in the Himalayan belt. Cuisine from Garhwal has it as a nutritious part of its repertoire.
Then there is fenugreek, used both as leaves and as dried seeds in many cooking traditions. As the name suggests, it came from Greece to the Subcontinent, where we found good and varied uses for it. Not only are methi greens a cheap and common source of nutrition in northern India in the winter months but the dried seeds - methi dana - is a favoured spice in many curries.
Sour and bitter as a flavour combination works in many Indian dishes. The typical old Delhi potato curry is an example, tangy with a hint of bitter that is imparted through the use of methi seeds. The use of this spice distinguishes the curry-scooped up with hot bedmi of old Delhi from its cousins in other parts of India, where the dominant spice may be different.
Many bitter foods such as these greens, cacao, and bitter melon contain sulfur, along with fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). All these are thought to benefit the liver and help in the production of bile, the enzyme that helps us digest food. It's just as well that modern food trends too are no longer shying away from the bitter.
Multiple studies have indicated a link between diet and nutrition and the mental health of a person. Now a new study has said that tweaking your diet even for a brief period can help relieve symptoms of depression. The study has indicated that a shift in dietary habits of young adults may be an effective strategy to alleviate symptoms of depression. Clinically, depression is defined as a disorder that is characterised by persistently low mood and a loss of interest in daily activities, which may or may not cause impairment in daily life. There is a lack of clarity as to whether depression is a result of poor dietary habits or that it drives a person to have a poor diet.
The results of the radomised controlled trial were published in a study report titled, "A brief diet intervention can reduce symptoms of depression in young adults" in the journal PLOS One. The study was aimed at determining whether or not young adults with depression could derive benefits of a shift in their diets for a period of three weeks. Additionally, they wanted to know whether the participants could stick to a dietary intervention for the prescribed period. The study was conducted with the participation of 76 young adults aged between 17 and 35. All the participants had between moderate to high levels of depression and all of them had diets rich in sugar, saturated fats and processed foods.
Also Read: 25 Signs of Depression in Teenagers: Don't Ignore The Problem
The participants were divided into two groups- "diet change" group and"regular diet" group. The participants were tested for levels of depression, mood and anxiety disorders as well as for logical and reasoning abilities at the beginning and end of the study. The people in the diet change group were encouraged to stick to a healthier diet by promising them a gift card. The people in the diet change group showed significant improvement in depression, anxiety and stress scores at the end of the three-week study. On the other hand, there was no difference in depression scores in the other group that stuck to their regular diet. The study was conducted by researchers at the Macquarie University in Australia.
When it comes to dietary sources of protein, there is always a lot of curiosity. This is because it's not just the supply of this essential macro-nutrient that matters for you, but the packaging or the nutritional profile of the source food also impacts your health. This is why red meats, despite being rich in protein, may not be considered good sources of protein, because they're also rich in saturated fat. Any good and healthy source of protein should not just have good amounts of it, but it should also have a wide range of healthy and beneficial nutrients. Additionally, healthy sources of protein must have low levels of cholesterol and saturated fats. This is why there has been a lot of talk about the need to switch from animal to plant-based sources of protein.
Fruits are rich in a rainbow of nutrients, right from all the essential vitamins that play a part in maintaining the health of various body functions, to energising natural sugars and satiating fibre. Fruits are not traditionally rich in protein and they're generally not expected to be- they have higher levels of other important nutrients including fibre and carbohydrates. But they still offer some amounts of protein and when paired with other healthier sources of lean proteins, may still be included in a healthy diet. However, you cannot rely on consumption of even these protein-rich fruits to fulfil your daily Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for protein.
Here are some protein-rich fruits for you to consider:
1. Raisins: This humble dried fruit is a fixture in all the festive offerings and is also added to a whole range of desserts. The golden raisins are nothing but de-hydrated or dried grapes. A 100 gram portion of raisins contains 3 grams of proteins, as per the data by United States Department of Agriculture.
2. Guava: This Vitamin C-rich fruit is savoured raw or in salads, and is even added to juices and drinks for a flavourful punch. Guava is rich in fibre as a 100 gram portion of the fruit contains 5 grams of it, according to USDA, and the same portion contains 2.6 grams of proteins.
3. Dates: This sugary sweet fruit has been consumed in Middle-eastern countries as a staple for centuries now. Pitted dates are stuffed with a variety of ingredients and are even consumed in the form of a sweetening paste for milkshakes and baked goods as well. A 100 gram portion of dates contains 2.45 grams of protein, along with 8 grams of fibre, as per data by the United States Department of Agriculture.
4. Prunes: Another dried fruit that is relatively rich in protein is the prune. These are made by de-hydrating ripened plums and it contains a wide-range of essential minerals and vitamins, along with some important macro-nutrients. This includes 2.18 grams of protein per 100 grams, along with 7 grams of dietary fibre.
You may consider adding these fruits to your diet, more for deriving other benefits from them, rather than looking at them as reliable sources of protein. Consult a certified dietitian or a nutritionist for a diet chart that helps you meet your dietary protein requirements.
Beware of hogging on your favourite delights despite the temptation to do so before the winter sets in.
Izzy Cameron, nutrition and weight management specialist at Diet Chef, an online business that delivers calorie counted meals, gives some tips to ensure a healthy diet.
During autumn, healthy root-vegetables and fruits help keep you fit, reports femalefirst.co.uk.
Apples - The nutrients in apples can prevent spikes in blood sugar and reduce the risk of many diseases.
Pears - Recent studies show that the skin of pears contain phenolic phytonutrients, essential compound which enhance one's health.
Winter squash - Butternut and Pumpkin are some varieties of winter squash which have rich flavour and are high in nutrients.
Cabbage - Cabbage has cholesterol-lowering benefits, and is also rich in fiber particularly when steamed.
Wild Mushrooms - Mushrooms influence blood lipids, blood glucose, immunity, and weight control. They also offer many essential nutrients and antioxidants which the body needs.
Pomegranates - Apart from being a good source of Vitamin C, pomegranates are a rich source of soluble and insoluble dietary fibers.
Root vegetables - Carrots and turnips are a must in autumn and winter.
Fresh produce in the form of fruits and vegetables form an important part of a healthy diet. There are multiple studies and abundant research evidence to prove that eating fruits and vegetables everyday can cut risk of several chronic diseases as well as risk of mortality and make you healthier. From helping regulate weight to maintaining optimum levels of blood pressure and blood sugar, fruits and vegetables have numerous benefits for the human body. Due to the plant compounds present in fruits and vegetables, consuming them regularly can keep inflammation at bay. One of the best ways of making sure you eat your fruits and vegetables is to make a meal out of them.
Indians are lucky to have dishes that automatically add ample amounts of vegetables to their meals. But if you are looking to cut carbohydrates from your diet, then salad bowls make for excellent facilitators. They give you a whole range of nutrients while cutting calories from your diet. There is some debate as to exactly how much fruit and vegetable serving one must consume every day. A 2017 study published in The Lancet said that eating three to four combined servings of fruits and vegetables a day could cut risk of death by 22 per cent. If you are in-fact planning to make a meal out of your salads, you should ideally add sources of lean protein to it as well.
Here are some good sources of protein (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian) that you may add to your salad meals:
Going by 2,000 calorie diet, men and women need around 56 and 46 grams of protein per day in their meals and poultry is a good way of meeting this dietary requirement. A 100-gram portion of cooked chicken contains approximately 25 grams of protein (as per United States Department of Agriculture). Boiled or grilled chicken pieces go really well with salad greens. Here's a recipe of chicken salad that you can try.
Turkey is another poultry meat that is one of the healthiest options for non-vegetarians looking to load up on protein. A 100 gram portion of turkey meat delivers a whopping 29 grams of protein (as per USDA data). Diced cooked turkey meat can be mixed with red onions, low-calorie mayonnaise, lemon juice and a range of herbs of your choice to make a delicious protein-rich salad.
3. Egg Whites
Cooked egg whites are an excellent addition to salads. Chicken eggs are one of the cheapest, most widely consumed dietary sources of lean protein. They taste delicious and add a nice and different texture to a bowl of greens. You can simply toss egg whites in dressing of your choice or place a whole poached egg as topping for your salad. One whole boiled egg contains as little as 6 grams of protein, so a better way of using egg in salad is to use good amount of whites, possibly with other forms of non-vegetarian lean protein.
Nuts also go extremely well with salads, be it the warm or the cold kind. Almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, cashew nuts are all great additions to salad meals, as these add a nice crunch, a delicious flavour and of course nutrition to the meals. It's better to throw in a mix of your favourite nuts instead of just sticking to one, provided that the recipe allows for it. However, it is again advised to throw in some other form of lean protein along with the nuts, to make your meal sufficiently rich in protein.
5. Dairy products
Some of the best vegetarian sources of protein come in the form of dairy products, the best among which is cheese. However, cheese also contains good amounts of fats and hence it is advised to have it in moderation. Cottage cheese or paneer is relatively low in fat, a 100 gram portion contains 11 grams of protein (as per USDA data). Yogurt is another relatively good source of vegetarian protein and can be used in the dressing to lend a creamy taste. Here's an example of a low-fat paneer salad recipe that you may try.
6. Chickpeas and Lentils
Chickpeas and lentils are two other vegetarian sources of dietary protein that you may add to your salad bowls, although these may again have to be used in combination with other protein-rich foods. Chickpeas are better than lentils as they are more abundant sources of protein (a 100 gram delivers 19 grams of protein, as per USDA data) and go well with greens. Here's an example of a chickpea salad recipe you may try.
Your daily protein requirement may vary depending upon your daily calorie-intake and your levels of physical activity. It is advisable to consult a dietitian or a nutritionist to better understand your individual protein requirements.