December 4, 2023

Food Bazaar

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Guest column by Dr Nandita Iyer: Sabudana as a superfood?

It has been a year since I wrote my second book, Everyday Superfoods, to give some scientific heft to this much-abused term in the space of nutrition. Recently, a celebrity nutritionist posted about sabudana khichdi as a superfood for women’s health and hormones while calling sabudana a plant food. The misinformation did a real number on my hormones, particularly the stress hormone cortisol!

Sabudana is considered pure and nutritious as it is used to cook fasting foods, without understanding its origin. It is not even a traditional food in a historical sense. The first sabudana factory in India was setup as recently as 1943. Many people even consider it a grain from a plant when it is actually a highly processed, factory-made product from tapioca root. Chemicals like concentrated sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid and bleach are used in the processing of the tapioca root to obtain tapioca pearls or sabudana.

Tradition of food

There is no grey area when it comes to denouncing highly processed ingredients that no longer qualify as food. Several studies have proved that regular consumption of ingredients like sugar and ultra-processed simple starches plays havoc on insulin levels which in turn dysregulates the delicate hormonal and metabolic balance of the body. Using continuous glucose monitoring, I have personally studied the impact of eating sabudana khichdi on blood sugar levels and the results are not pretty. Sabudana is pure starch.

In India, foods that have been a part of our culture have immense sentimental value attached to them. Considering these healthy for our current lifestyles by default or disposing of modern foods and current scientific studies just because they contradict traditional wisdom are both wrong.

Know your roots

A lot of our ancient wisdom holds true, and it is a good practice to examine our roots. No one is happier than me to see the resurgence of millets or ancient varieties of grains. But it is always a good idea to have a deeper understanding of food and ingredients, to read labels and to be educated so we don’t fall for marketing campaigns or influencer-talk.

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). There is no truer phrase in the space of nutrition. Social media these days is a big bazaar of health information and anybody with a follower count is happy to spew health advice. During the peak of Covid, a famous YouTuber doled out information on how to treat Covid at home and as of now, the video has over two million views.

It is up to the public to know where to find the right advice and fact check the veracity of claims if it sounds too good to be true. If misinformation is rampant on the internet, so is information. It is up to us to not look to Bollywood celebrities or influencers for advice on health and nutrition. Even my grandmother would agree with that.

Dr Nandita Iyer is a Bengaluru-based food writer and the author of Everyday Superfoods and The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian

Dr Nandita Iyer is a Bengaluru-based food writer and the author of Everyday Superfoods and The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

From HT Brunch, March 20, 2022

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