Looking for healthy food to eat during Pandemic times?
Healthy eating is the basic requirement for health, strength and longevity.
But in these tough times how do we guarantee our bodies the macro and micronutrients they need?
These simple, down-to-earth, and natural foods below might be just the answer. Furthermore, they might be superfoods that can help you stay healthy, especially during these difficult pandemic times and beyond.
Healthy Eating in Trying Times
Healthy eating in times of insecurity such as these locked-down days is tough. Besides, it’s easy to feel hopeless about the future and to despair. As a result, we sometimes succumb to negative thinking which affects even the way we eat.
It is in times such as these, however, that human resilience also rises beyond the ordinary, devising practical solutions with astonishing alacrity.
The reason for this is instinctively we know that, as individuals and societies, we are responsible for our future and that there cannot be a future without the present. So, we have to craft our future in the present.
This means that it's up to us to to take proper care of ourselves daily and look out for each other diligently. As such, we can know and say, with conviction, that we’re creating the chance to overcome the ongoing challenge to reach the other side safely and in the best possible shape.
But sometimes, to bring out the best in ourselves, we need triggers. Unfortunately, this time around, the trigger is the dreaded coronavirus.
So let's make use of this time as a blessing. A blessing that has come with the opportunity for us to try new things that we couldn't in our usual lives.
Healthy Eating Windows of Opportunity
There's a scarcity of commodities in the market, we know. We do have, however, common items that are permanent fixtures in most kitchens that we may call superfoods. These ingredients are the spices and herbs, natural appetizers and enhancers of taste that we use in minute quantities. But did you know these small ingredients also help build strength and immunity from disease?
Superfoods: What Are They?
You have probably heard the term before but if you think there are such foods that are super, well, think again. All foods can be superfoods if they are nutritionally dense and thus be a wholesome diet for one’s health.
The term "superfood", however, is more of a marketing gimmick than anything else and may not be necessarily good. What constitutes a good diet, according to research after research, is one that’s an assortment of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, animal and dairy products.
So, the term superfood really has no official recognition or definition by major regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Nevertheless, we’ll use the term here. Be reminded, however, that in order to stay healthy, the only sensible thing for us to do is to forget fad diets, follow the government health advisories and:
- Exercise daily for at least half an hour as well as keep a tab on our weight
- Eat more of vegetables, healthy fats and oils, and whole grains
- Include protein products, nuts, seeds, and beans or lentils, but in lesser quantities
- Eat even smaller quantities of dairy products
- Eat sparingly: red meats, butter, processed grains, white rice, and bread
This Healthy Eating Pyramid below will give you an ideal graphic of what to eat and how much:
Healthy Eating Pyramid (Source: Harvard School of Public Health)
As a result, here’s what your healthy eating plate should be like:
(Source: Harvard Medical School)
Little Foods with Great Benefits
As an example, we bring you the healthy food components of the Khasis. Theirs is very simple food, with none of that highly evolved cuisine of the rest of the country. Cooking methods are the 'slow food' type, unhurried, and down to earth.
What’s striking about Khasi food is the use of the ingredients of the soil in the way it is presented, with the minimum of cooking, and so, with least destruction of nutrients. As a result, the meals come out as a natural extension of the raw materials themselves – almost unchanged in texture and composition.
For example, the rice powder for making 'kpu' or cakes is pounded raw from, usually, red or black rice and then steamed for just the optimum amount of time. That leaves the original organic composition largely intact.
Ordinary Materials for Healthy Eating
In this locked-down scenario, there's this real concern:
what ingredients should I stock to make healthy meals?
I have good news. You don't need extraordinary raw materials. The ones in your kitchen will do.
This golden spice is a wonder in the kitchen, imparting distinctive colour and earthy aroma to the food. That's because of its bioactive curcuminoid compound, curcumin that gives turmeric its awesome healing power. Traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda and Unani have been using it for disease management and turmeric is actually among the most researched plants in the world. Research findings confirm turmeric's curative effects on about 581 diseases with curcumin alone having an impact on over 560 of them!
You can say turmeric is a superfood with wide-spectrum therapeutic properties such as:
But turmeric isn't easily "bioavailable", that is, it can't be absorbed by the body, so you have to mix it with some fatty substance or, better still, black pepper to render bioavailability.
And if you can get Meghalaya's high-curcumin Lakadong turmeric, you've got the best in the world.
We all know garlic is such a common spice, no kitchen is found without it. Food doesn't quite have that "zing" without garlic, you’ll agree. But apart from seasoning your curries, soups, and stews, or make great and pungent pickles, garlic also has indispensably amazing medicinal properties such as for...
- Protecting intestines from damage
- Healing wounds and haemorrhoids
- Resistance against diseases and stress
- Treating colds, fevers, and toothaches
- Reducing bad cholesterol
- Lowering of risk of cancer
Garlic has antifungal, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, it helps build strength and, as a result, immunity.
The speciality about Meghalaya garlic is that it’s of the "rocambole hard-neck variety" that gives out a sharper punch and pungency and is easier to peel.
Something's missing in the food if ginger isn't there. Add it to curries or to teas you'll immediately detect its unique flavour.
What else does it do?
It helps cope with coughs, colds and sore throats, and keeps the body warm.
Ginger's volatile and non-volatile compounds are the reason for its health-protective properties. It is antioxidants, antiviral, antimicrobial and helps regulate blood pressure. Besides, it has potential for treating a number of ailments including:
- Arthritis and rheumatism
- Indigestion, constipation, and ulcer
- Heart disorders and hypertension
- Vomiting, diabetes, and cancer
The Khasis also use a special type of ginger, Ing Makhir (Zingiber rubens). It is mostly medicinal and helps in toothache, body ache, joint pains, and fever. In Khasi traditional medicine, ing makhir is a necessary component, especially in "dawai Ñiangsohpet", an infantile jaundice medicine.
In cooking, the intensely flavourful "tungrymbai" (fermented soya bean chutney) has to have pieces of ing makhir to counteract the formation of gas that may upset the stomach.
Ing makhir also makes excellent tea (along with other herbs), or you can add it to your normal cup of tea.
Much loved since ancient times, this most expensive spice is also a health hero, especially in coughs, colds and viral attacks of the throat.
In foods, it marinates meats and preserves them as it adds to the taste.
Black pepper's active ingredient, piperine, is the reason for the spice's versatility, imparting not only pungency to food but also imparting health benefits on the nervous system and the digestive tract.
Black pepper is also known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Use your black pepper to spice up your broths, meats, and vegetables. Of course, your omelettes taste better with pepper.
Winged Prickly Ash
Also known as Szechuan pepper, this mildly bitter, tongue-numbing and pungent wild berry is more of an underutilised food item. Even so, it is one of the culinary stars in the Chinese Five-Spice combination.
Furthermore, its health benefits are as impressive, to name a few:
- Appetite increasing
- Cardiovascular health
- Immune system booster
- Antimicrobial, antioxidant and free radical scavenging
In Meghalaya, they call it "Jaiur" and healers use it to relieve toothaches and treat gum problems as well to cure smallpox in combination with other herbs.
"Tungtap", the famous fermented dry fish chutney tastes infinitely superior with a few jaiur berries.
Bay Leaf, Cinnamon, and Cardamom
The essential ingredients of the Indian "garam masala". Perhaps nothing can transform food taste so much as a few pieces of these spices can. Bay leaf, or "latyrpad" in Khasi, infuses its own fragrance wherever it is placed: rice, curries, and teas; as much as even as a pod of cardamom or a chip of cinnamon does.
These three spices are amazing; add a little of them and you'll discern their subtle, individual hints. Add too much, they'll overwhelm.
They aren't, however, only dispensers of flavours.
Bay leaf : is a super spice that spices up your food and beverages; helps cure you of ailments such as those that spring from bacteria, fungi, or inflammation, or diabetes, and more. Even its wood (the laurel tree) makes excellent furniture and stringed instruments!
Cinnamon is a culinary gymnast, fitting into every cuisine. Soup, bread, ice-cream, or shake...cinnamon works. What about its health benefits? Well, it clears brains and bowels, acne and bladders and more.
Cardamom: if black pepper is the king of spices, cardamom is queen. It never fails to lend its sweet scent – deep and soothing floral hints - to any dish it's added to. But culinary uses apart, cardamom also has rich healing properties.
For example, it helps stop bad breath because of its odoriferous essential oil cineole that fights mouth bacteria. Cinnamon's bioactive compound, Terpenes, gives the flavour; while the Flavonoids and Propanoids are major components with antioxidants and other health-giving properties.
If you haven't tried bay leaf tea, learn how-to here. Add cinnamon and cardamom too. See what happens!
Beloved nectar of the gods, honey is the ultimate food: complete and healing. Whether to sweeten your beverages or add to your bakes, meats, and sauces, there's a lot you can do with honey. As for its healing properties, it's a powerful antibacterial, anti-allergen and antiseptic agent. In addition, it's an energy booster, a skin healer and a cough suppressant. In fact, honey, ginger, pepper and turmeric are potent enemies of coughs and colds.
Honey's bioactive compounds, the flavonoids, and phenolic acids are the primary components with powerful antioxidant, anti-bacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, nutrition-wise honey also has micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and manganese, besides vitamins and enzymes.
Jamyrdoh – the Chameleon plant
If there's a wonder "wild" plant that makes a delectable but "different" salad and an awesome healer it is Jamyrdoh ( Houttuynia cordata Thunb.), commonly known as the chameleon plant or Chinese lizard tail.
Jamyrdoh is endemic to the Northeast region of India and China and the Khasis of Meghalaya have long been eating it as food as well as treat diseases such as stomach troubles, skin disorders, and snakebites. It tastes quite unlike other herbs– a little on the pungent side but not quite acidic, with a strong, metallic kind of odour.
There are ways to eat. For example, chomp on the leaves by themselves or cut and toss them with chopped tomatoes and onions. Not only are the leaves edible but so are the roots: they grind to make piquantly tangy chutney. In case you add roasted pumpkin seeds or any seed for that matter, the sauce thickens further. Additionally, you get the goodness of the seeds.
Jamyrdoh's health benefits are outright astonishing. Here are a few:
- free radical scavenging
It also helps relieve chronic sinusitis, reduce nasal polyps and regulate blood sugar.
Scientists say that the plant's wide-spectrum healing capability is due to its bioactive flavonoids. Interestingly, recent scientific studies, found Jamyrdoh to have activities that are
- anti-severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV)
- anti-influenza, herpes and dengue virus
So, you want to have tasty food and lose weight too? Naturally, without side effects?
Sohdanei (Garcinia pedunculata Roxb) or Elephant's apple is a wild, underutilised fruit found widely in Bangladesh, Northeast India (particularly Assam) and the Ri-Bhoi region of Meghalaya. It might prove to be good news for weight watchers because, as per scientists, the plant's rind contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA), a natural anti-obesity agent.
Khasi traditional healers use it to combat food poisoning, detoxify the body system affected by the wrong use of drugs as well as to protect internal organs such as kidneys, liver, and pancreas from damage.
Sohdanei also has a high content of polyphenols, flavonoids and ascorbic acid which are natural anti-oxidants and anti- aflatoxins and also help prevent coronary heart diseases and atherosclerosis. There are claims that it has a number of medicinal benefits – right from being an anti-diarrhoeic, to anti-diabetic to anti-cancer and to anti-flatulent.
You can get convenient dried slices of sohdanei which will keep for years. Drop a slice or more into your dals and curries and sense how the taste takes on a sourish hint. Besides, having sohdanei tea every morning can be a healthy eating habit. That's a combo of Garcinia slices, honey or sugar, turmeric, ginger slices, and black pepper: awesome foods by themselves!
For some people, nothing is more noisome than the smell of dried or fermented fish. But once you are hooked to Tungtap you are hooked forever.
Even if there's nothing else to have with your rice, tungtap will serve as an unfailing appetiser. Along with tungrymbai (fermented soya bean), lungsiej (fermented bamboo shoots), it is one prebiotic food with high nutrition value. Tungtap is obtained by fermentation of small flatfish in earthen pots and salted to preserve it for longer shelf life. This Analysis showed that tungtap has:
- Proteins – 40.6 grams/100 grams
- Calcium – 5040 milligrams/100 grams
- Phosphorus – 1930 milligrams/100 grams
- Sodium – 6.26 milligrams/100 grams
- Potassium – 53.18 milligrams/100 grams
Fermentation enhances the nutritional quality of a product. For example, it increases amounts of vitamins and, enhances protein solubility and also improves amino acid patterns.
A word of warning: there might be faulty processes during fermentation, so pathogenic organisms may also enter. Hence it is advisable to procure from known sources. While preparing, roast the fish thoroughly.
Tungtap is easy and quick to make. Roast two or three fish on a Tawa, and then add slices of one small onion. Add chillies as required and eight to ten grains of jaiur and salt to taste. If you wish you can add ginger and garlic. Grind all ingredients together to a paste on a grinding stone or mixer.
Enjoy with your rice or with boiled potatoes.
Mint and Coriander Leaves
Undoubtedly mint (Mentha spp) and coriander (Coriandum sativum) chutneys make your food taste better. Their punchy, aromatic taste can really tickle your taste buds so you enjoy eating more than normal.
But did you know they are as healthful as well?
Yes. Research says coriander is packed to the gills with beneficial plant chemicals. Some chemicals are, for instance, phenols and flavonoids that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and many other properties.
Mint is also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and insecticidal. It helps stimulate digestion, treat stomach ache and chest pains, gastritis and flatulence, and even obesity.
Both these herbs can, singly or in combination, to make appetizing chutney. In general, you grind with the usual accompaniments: onion and garlic. Add chillies if you like it spicy. Squeeze in a dash of lemon juice for Vitamin C and to keep the colour bright green. Voila! You have the perfect appetite enhancer plus loads of health benefits.
Black Sesame and Perilla Seeds
Black sesame or "nei-iong" (Sesamum indicum) is popularly called the "Queen of the oilseeds" because of its high degree of resistance to oxidation and rancidity. Its oil (til oil) is rich in PUFA or polyunsaturated fatty acids which are heart-friendly. There are also phenolic compounds sesamin, sesamolin and tocopherol which are natural antioxidants. These high-quality oils make up 50-60 % of the seed. No wonder you get that wonderfully flavourful aroma when you roast them.
You'll often find Khasis munch away their famous comfort food, "sohphlang" (Flemingia vestita), accompanied by grounded Perilla seeds or "nei-lieh" (Perilla frutescens). These seeds are rich sources of phytochemicals and essential fatty acids such as alpha-linoleic and linoleic acids which showed anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and heart-protective properties.
You'll sense, as you roast to get the seeds ready, the flavour exudes and swirls –black sesame's sweet scent, and perilla’s aroma of earth and wood – heady stuff!
"Nei-iong" fits into every dish – rice, meats, or veggies – lending its ethereal midnight blue hue. Whereas nei-lieh makes over the taste of every salad you plan – cucumber, radish or cabbage – enhancing, at the same time, its nutritional value.
I tell you, nothing transforms food from ordinary to extraordinary like black sesame and perilla seeds!
We should make use of these ingredients and eat healthy food always not just during the lockdown. We don't need extraordinary raw materials to create extraordinary, and healthy, meals for yourself and your family.
If you are in Meghalaya, so much the better! You get your ingredients local, pure and natural. Even if you aren't, no sweat! Look for genuine stuff, or look us up. We'll get back to you ASAP!
Stay safe and stay healthy!