Health Topics

Healthy Living

January 2011
10 New Healthy Trends
Ishi Khosla
Scientific research,traditional food practices, and an increased interest in the healing power of food together have led to some exciting new trends in foods in the last decade.

Some of these like probiotics and functional foods are novel findings; some reinforce traditional beliefs like the goodness of whole grains. Others like nuts have busted long-standing myths around them.

1. Whole Grains
Whole grains are a foundation of diet worldwide. They contain no cholesterol, are low in fat, high on dietary fibre, complex-carbohydrates, provide plant proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

A diet rich in whole grains is associated with several health benefits. Complex carbohydrates help meet energy requirements while proteins are essential for growth and development. The key vitamins and minerals which are present in whole grains include vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant), iron (necessary for the formation of haemoglobin), zinc, selenium, B vitamins including vitamin B6 and Folic acid. Vitamin E, B6, Folic acid, zinc and selenium are not only vitamins and minerals but also powerful antioxidants and help in prevention of several diseases including heart disease.

Whole grains include wheat (roti, parantha, whole wheat bread, dalia), brown rice, oats (porridge, oatflakes, oatmeal), barley (sattu), ragi, buckwheat, millets etc.

Whole grains being high in fibre and low in fat are also a good choice for weight watchers.

2. Probiotics
A series of probiotic foods have been recently introduced to the urban Indian consumer. Not many have much of an idea of what these are. From probiotic ice-creams to probiotic dahi, lassi and chaach, what to choose and how they are different from regular versions need to be understood.

Probiotics is a Greek word, which means "for life". Probiotics are friendly bacteria which have important health benefits. They reside in the digestive tract (especially the colon). They are also found in food items such as yogurt and fermented milk. Probiotic organisms like lactobacillus and bifido-bacterium are friendly bacteria, They limit the growth of disease-causing bacteria and other harmful organisms like yeasts and fungi which are responsible for digestive problems including diarrhoea, constipation and flatulence.

Besides protecting us from digestive disorders, these friendly bacteria also boost immunity and promote overall health and wellbeing.

Probiotic foods include fermented milk, kefir, yogurt, buttermilk (chaach), lassi.

3. Functional Foods
Functional foods are defined as foods that provide special health benefits, which go beyond their nutritional components like energy, vitamins, minerals etc. They are natural or formulated foods that enhance physiological performance or prevent diseases. The promise of functional foods has emerged at a time when limitations of modern medicines is palpable and consumer interest in diet and health is at an all-time high.

Some of the functional foods are garlic, onions, whole grains, legumes, flaxseeds, soy, broccoli, grapes, berries and nuts. 

4. Organic
Organic is no longer a fashion statement. The indiscriminate use of fertilizers and plant protective chemicals to increase yields and save crops from pests and diseases, has undoubtedly escalated food production, and improved food security but has also resulted in a number of health hazards. Furthermore, it has deteriorated the agro-ecosystem badly. This situation has spelled the need to switch over to organic farming to cultivate valuable crops for healthy and safer foods.

Organic food is grown without pesticides and chemical inputs. Organic is not a “product” but a “process”. Organic farming significantly reduces external inputs by avoiding the use of chemo-synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Instead, it works with nature and natural systems to increase both agricultural yields and disease resistance. It builds healthy soil and prevents chemicals from entering into earth and water. It helps in protecting top soil, water and air.

5. Nuts
Perhaps one of the most unexpected and novel findings in nutrition in the past decade is that nut consumption offers several health promoting and protective properties. Contrary to popular belief, nuts are among the healthiest natural foods. With concerns ranging from high cholesterol and high fat content to its ability to cause obesity, the truth is that nuts are actually cholesterol free, and in fact useful to lower cholesterol levels. Besides this, they are cardio-protective (they protect us from heart disease) and help in weight reduction. Owing to their fatty acid profile, nutritional properties and bioactive constituents, nuts have been found to be useful in the prevention and treatment of several disorders and in the maintenance of good health. Nuts help in preventing heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity and asthma. They also help in delaying aging, promoting skin and hair health, vision and mental alertness.

6. Green Tea

Green tea is non-fermented tea and undergoes minimal oxidation compared to black tea, which is more oxidized, and generally stronger in flavour. Several studies have suggested that drinking either green or black tea may lower blood cholesterol concentration, blood pressure and inhibit clotting of blood, thereby providing some protection against cardiovascular disease. While green tea benefits arise from catechins, black tea benefits arise from tea flavins - both of which stop the oxidation of bad cholesterol (LDL).

7. Cold Pressed Oils
Cold Pressed Oils are extracted at room temperature without employing high temperatures and chemicals. They retain the natural goodness of the oil. The traditional methods called Kachi Ghaani is one such example. Olive, mustard, sesame are cold pressed oils used in traditional households. Part of the popularity of olive oil stems from the fact that it is cold pressed oil.

8. Fish
Fish is a unique source of essential fats (omega-3 fats). Omega-3 fatty acids, found in the fat in fish oil, actually help keep the arteries open and allow blood to flow smoothly. Many studies support the cardiovascular benefits of eating fish and its benefit in the reduction of the risk of fatal heart attacks.

Regular fish consumption helps lower blood triglyceride levels (blood fats), increase blood HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce the tendency of abnormal blood clot formation. They also prevent irregular heartbeats or “arrhythmias”. In addition, fish fats help to lower blood pressure in hypertensives. Regular fish consumption can be suggested to those suffering from high blood pressure.

9. Aloe, the Wonder Herb
The goodness of aloe rests in its impressive nutritional composition.  It contains vitamins (B1, B2, B6, choline, folic acid, C etc.), enzymes, minerals (calcium, sodium, chlorine, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium, etc.), sugars, lignins, saponins, salicylic acid and amino acids.

Known for healing burns, skin infections, reducing blood lipid and sugar levels, aloe gel has also been emphasised to have anti-inflammatory properties, thus protecting people suffering from arthritis, asthma and other disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis (that causes inflammation in the lining of the rectum and colon), Crohn’s Disease (inflammation in any part of the digestive system between the mouth and anus), etc.

10. Sprouts, the Nutrient Capsules
Almost, any whole bean, pulse, seeds or grains can be sprouted. The most common sprouts remain moong bean, black gram (kala chana), chickpeas (safed chana), alfa alfa, sunflower seeds and fenugreek (methi). Soybean, sesame seeds (til), millets are all good for sprouting.

Sprouting generates vitamin C upto an amount that one serve is enough to meet the recommended adult’s daily needs of 40 mg. One cup moong sprouts for instance, provide an impressive 70 mg of vitamin C, (100 gm. orange provides 40 mg vitamin C). The B vitamin content of the grains increases phenomenally almost by 20-30%, particularly B1, folic acid and B7 or biotin. Vitamin B6 and folic acid are useful in prevention of heart disease.
Ishi Khosla is a Clinical Nutritionist, and Director – Whole Foods India.