When we think of superfoods, we expect them to be exotic and out of reach. But more often than not, the world’s healthiest herbs and spices grow in our own backyards. The thumb-rule of eating healthy is to eat local. Still, we eschew the simple stuff for foods that are hard to get and increase your carbon footprint. After all, chaga mushrooms from California do require a lot of air miles to come all the way to your pantry. But, most importantly, why make the effort when some of the healthiest, most potent superfoods are already available in your kitchen? We spoke to Dr Sudhindra Adiga Uppoor, Ayurvedic doctor and founder, Ayurshree Clinic, Goa, about the five Indian foods that can transform your health and beauty.
The best anti-inflammatory: Ginger
Most people think of this rhizome as an effective treatment for coughs and cold, but ginger is so much more than that. “It’s the best anti-inflammatory in the world—in Ayurveda we call it vishwasbeshajam, meaning universal medicine,” says Dr Uppoor. Add it to stir fries or curries or simply make a tea out of it. Just boil a few chunks of ginger in hot water and sip it through the day to reduce inflammation in your body. Inflammation is the root cause of all disease. In modern-day lifestyles, it is on the rise because of stress, junk food and environmental toxins. Just increasing your ginger intake can help you bring inflammation under control.
The best catalyst: Pepper
This pungent spice (maricha) is loved for its ability to add bite to any dish. But did you know that pepper helps any herb get absorbed into the body? “Even turmeric cannot get absorbed by the body if it’s not accompanied with pepper.” But that’s not all, this spice contains many important minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, and even calcium. It’s known to improve digestion and also melt away fat that is stuck inside the body. “Trikatu churna—a combination of ginger, pepper and long pepper is excellent and safe for everyone to take.” Dr Uppoor suggests sprinkling this churna over salads, sandwiches, mixing it in lemonade or hot water. “This potent combination can prevent the body from inflammation—this is even better when taken along with turmeric.” But too much intake can have an anti-aphrodisiac affect as per Ayurvedic texts, so don’t go overboard in its consumption.
The best antioxidant: Long pepper
It cleans the blood, boosts digestion, increases circulation, improves skin quality—in fact every Ayurvedic compound has a bit of pipali (long pepper) in it. In ancient Ayurvedic texts, it’s hailed as a rejuvenator, boosting immunity, cancer patients and containing anti-ageing properties. “The best way to take this again is in trikatu churna.” You can mix a quarter teaspoon of trikatu churna in hot water and sip it 45 minutes before lunch and dinner to clear the digestive tract and reduce inflammation.
The best immunity booster: Turmeric
By now, everyone knows the benefits of this wonderful Indian spice. “It can be used as an immunity-booster, liver cleanser, and is also one the best alternative herbs for people undergoing cancer treatment.” But, as mentioned earlier, it cannot be absorbed by the body without black pepper. If your immunity is low, or liver function is poor (because of too much medication or alcohol), or if you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, then you need 1000mg of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) to reap its full benefits. “But do check the ingredients in your supplement—if there’s no pepper, there’s no use of it.”
The best blood-purifier: Neem
“When the blood is acidic, it results in skin diseases like acne, pimples and dermatitis; neem makes the blood alkaline,” says Dr Uppoor. The best way to take this herb is right after meals. “Just take two neem leaves, crush with your fingers, put them in a cup of water, infuse for two minutes in hot water and then sip it.” Dr Uppoor also talks about a complex Ayurvedic preparation called the panchanimbadigulika, which contains five neem elements (bark, leaf, fruit, flower and root). “It is the most effective way to take neem, however, consult an Ayurvedic physician on how to take it so it suits your personal composition.”