Food for thought

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By Sabrina Almeida

With weight loss and health becoming top priorities for most consumers, any food that claims to provide even a miniscule percentage of these benefits can expect to take centre stage. What’s more, buyers are willing to give up an arm and a leg for them.

It is interesting to note that many of today’s superfoods like turmeric and coconut for instance, have occupied an unglamorous position in the Indian pantry for years. We have only taken a shine to them after the health food industry has touted their amazing benefits.

The latest craze in Britain and America, turmeric latte, brings back memories of grandma trying to get me to drink a rather nauseating concoction of turmeric, ginger and milk (I abhor milk) when I had a cold. What we wrote off as old-fashioned then, has now come back to bite us in the wallet in a big way.

Let’s look at some of the fads that would make grandma or even mum say “I told you so!”

Growing up in India it was hard to get away from turmeric. Not only was it liberally used to flavour (more like colour) main dishes and snacks, but as a beauty treatment for women (and especially brides) and an antiseptic and pain relief for wounds as well. Any war you tried to wage against turmeric would end up with you as a marked individual.

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Today the discovery of the health benefits of curcumin, which turmeric contains, has put it back on the world map.

Research reveals a 300% increase in Google searches for turmeric lattes in the past five years, thanks to the endorsement from celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who have hailed the drink (with turmeric, ginger, coconut sugar and coconut oil) for its health benefits.

A friend who works in a senior home in Scotland also shared how curries with turmeric were now a part of senior meal plans to boost their curcumin intake.

The availability of turmeric pills just seals the deal.

Living in a coastal area like Mumbai with roots in Goa, coconut was another staple. From coconut milk to coconut oil, coconut water and freshly grated coconut, it was consumed in variety of forms and used in almost all foods. In fact coconut oil was and still is an integral part of haircare in India.

Surrounded by coconut, we didn’t think much of its pros and cons at the time.

Yet around ten years ago coconut fell out of favour because of concerns that consumption (especially the milk) could raise cholesterol levels. I remember reducing usage of coconut in my cooking because I was so afraid of the potential effects.

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Fast forward to present day when coconut products occupy a prominent position in the health food section. From coconut cream to coconut oil, coconut sugar, milk and water—consumers can’t seem to get enough of it. Market research shows Walmart, Costco and Starbucks have pumped up sales of coconut products in a big way totally sidelining its negative effects on your health. Well it’s definitely good for them, even if not for you.

Bone broth
Here’s another one that grandma and mum would shake their heads at. In fact, bone broth (chicken, beef, goat, etc.) has been around for centuries. An essential part of the winter menu, bone broth consumption was also encouraged during recovery from a serious illness to gain back your strength. While the delicious broth warmed up your taste buds, heart and soul, it was hard to ignore the fat content.

In 2015, bone broth received an unexpected boost and become a huge health fad thanks once again to athletes like Kobe Bryant and Hollywood stars Salma Hayek and Gwyneth Paltrow who gave it the thumbs up. Yet a fad is a fad is a fad, and bone broth has quickly tumbled from its health food status to land back at its humble position as a base ingredient.

Banished ghee or butter from your pantry? Go bring it back! According to reality star and model, Kourtney Kardashian, a spoon a day is good for your body. It nourishes body tissues and the nervous system, translating into calm energy and clarity of the mind throughout the day.

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While you might quickly dismiss any health advice from Ms. Kardashian, it’s hard to ignore healthcare professionals who say it is a healthier choice when compared to refined oils. Especially in Indian cooking which tends to heat oil to high temperatures. Refined oils aside even heart-healthy olive oil has received mixed reviews for cooking because of its relatively low smoke point.

So I guess ghee was once bad, but now it is good? How long before it becomes bad again?

With natural and organic becoming the buzz words, virtually any product or food has the potential to become “superfood” or “health food” when marketed the right way.

Moreover, with the global market for organic, functional allergen-free and better-for-you foods expected to reach a record $1 trillion in 2017, it makes perfect business sense for every food company to try and cash in while it can.

After all what is in today is out tomorrow.

However, our health might be best served when we remember to take a balanced approach with everything in moderation, because too much of a good thing can end up being bad.

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