Peek into India’s favourite nutritionists’ pantries
We spied powerful superfoods that boost immunity and help deal with sugar cravings
You secretly look forward to it. You sorta dress up for it. You probably even wear a swipe of lipstick under that mask. But then you step into a grocery store with that stiff smell of sanitizer wafting through the air, and another mask-clad human manning the aisles tells you that the one ingredient you’ve been hunting has been cleared from the shelves, and suddenly it’s not such a good day anymore.
While some of us are channelling our inner chefs this lockdown, the rest of us are barely holding onto leftovers and more leftover recipes. But wherever you fall on the epicurean scale, you surely don’t want to drown in a tub of ice cream and tears. What you can perhaps do in this state of uncertainty? Maximize on your grocery runs, and stock up on the superfoods.
So, we asked two top-notch nutritionists to give us a sneak-peek into their pantries! What are they stocking up on their grocery runs? How are they dealing with cravings? What’s their stand-in for cake?
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For starters, we asked Dr Vishakha Shivdasani, Bollywood’s favourite nutritionist, to set our pantry priorities straight this pandemic. “The goal of your lockdown pantry should be to build immunity since it’s your best bet against fighting any pathogen – bacteria or virus,” she says.
So what food groups are we talking about? She lists it out.
Protein: Especially the kind with branched chain amino acids, like eggs and sprouts. You’re going to need all the antibodies you can produce, and antibodies are made up of – you guessed it – protein.
Zinc: Simply because it helps protein enter cells, zinc plays a crucial role. Most meats, nuts, and seeds are high in this nutrient, and double up as high-protein foods.
Omega-3: Foods rich in omega-3 reduce inflammation, which in turn, increases your immunity. So, stocking your fridge with seafood if you’re non-vegetarian, or flaxseeds and walnuts if you’re vegetarian, is a great idea.
Vitamin C: This one’s vital for what we call phagocytosis, i.e. engulfing those viruses and bacteria, so make sure your diet includes plenty of coloured fruits and vegetables, like lemons, amla, peppers, oranges, and sweet lime.
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How do you satisfy those sweet cravings? “Eat some dark chocolate or a whole fruit along with its fiber,” she advises. “Think of food as medicine first in these difficult times.”
Which is interesting, because Shonali Sabherwal, a macrobiotic nutritionist, chef and gut guru, seemed to echo the exact sentiment herself. “Food for me, is medicine,” she states. Her pick of superfoods aren’t just great immunity boosters, but they also elevate the flavour profiles of your meals.
Spirulina and seaweed
“It’s basically concentrated chlorophyll, high in protein, which is great for vegans like me, and brings the energy of the sea, taking you back to your primal self. I always make sure to include a sea vegetable in my diet to keep my trace minerals up, like nori seaweed in sushi, or as a powder sprinkled on my brown rice.” Can this be an alternative to greens then? “Absolutely not. They’re only a supplement to your land greens, so have it as a capsule or as a powder added to your smoothies and green juices,” she offers. Well, we tried.
Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny it’s a winner on the nutrition charts. “I’m using a lot of shiitake mushrooms in my soups and stocks. You can also make shiitake tea by soaking them, and then boiling for a couple minutes.” Why shiitake? Considering it’s known as a medicinal mushroom, the superfood has a long list of credits to its name, not counting the family it comes from, including maitake and reishi. “Shiitake is high in fibre and copper, and low in sodium, so it boosts immunity and lowers cholesterol, amongst other things like helping with eczema and high blood pressure,” she elaborates.
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Amla and haldi
Good ol’ vitamin C resonated with both experts. “I have either vitamin C powder or amla powder dissolved in water. I’ll sometimes do fresh amla (gooseberry) shots. I also love raw, whole haldi (turmeric), either grated and had with honey or fermented as a pickle with mustard powder and salt, kept out for a day. It’s especially great for your lungs this monsoon.”
Another top superfood packed with antioxidants? “Olive oil. And this is the vegan cheat I use in my homemade cakes and cookies because it’s also neutral in flavour. I’m constantly switching between good quality cold pressed super oils, so you’ll always find sesame, coconut, mustard, and olive oil in my pantry.”
“Millets are whole grains that give you sustained sugar through the day, so they keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent cravings. Besides being a great source of fibre and antioxidants, the energy of this food is very grounding. Eating a millet, like bajra in the morning in a cooked poha or in a cutlet, sets the tone for the day. Brown rice has the same nutrition profile too, so they’re both the staple start to my day,” she divulges.
To conclude, take a tip from Dr Vishakha. “It’s also important to know what you should toss from your pantry during this time. Get rid of the simple carbs first–they significantly reduce immunity by increasing inflammation. Also, sugars, fruit juices, white bread, biscuits–say goodbye to anything processed that comes out of a tin.”
Photograph: Abhay Singh