It is not what we do occasionally that matters but what we do habitually that tells in the long runMajor Austin
There is a direct correlation with what goes into our bodies and what state our bodies are in. So we have no choice but to look at the backend of these inputs. Our kitchen is the production house, and the raw materials that we store in this house are what will find their way into our bodies. The assumption here is that most of what we eat comes from your own kitchen.
Over the course of the last two years, I have changed some of the inputs to my kitchen. Some changes happened by accident, but most by deliberation.
1. Storing water differently
It all started when a friend gifted me a copper bottle, because to her, antique was the new exotic. I got nostalgic remembering how my father drank and still drinks his morning water from a copper vessel. The rest of the day he drinks water from an earthen pot.
My water too today comes out of a copper and earthen vessel. Here is the caveat though: my father, who lives in Chandigarh, directly pours his tap water into these vessels and drinks it. I live in Gurgaon, so let it pass through an RO, and then store it in copper and earthen vessels. Water treated by reverse osmosis (RO) is not just killing the bacteria and germs but also removing essential minerals needed by the body. Minerals like calcium and magnesium and trace elements like copper, fluorine are all deficient in RO-ed water (https://bit.ly/3vPsfpn).
Drinking out of copper vessels helps restore some of these minerals.
Earthen pots are alkaline in nature and help to maintain/restore the pH balance in water. It also has natural cooling properties due to its porosity (which is why we always need a plate under them). This natural coolness makes it more thirst quenching. It was early last year that I stopped drinking water from the fridge, as I understood that the body digests best what is at the body’s temperature, i.e. nothing too hot or cold.
2. Replacing white sugar
This came easy. I was already beginning to add sugarcane jaggery/gur or palm jaggery to my tea. And once honey and dates found their way into my kitchen, the replacement seems complete.
Firstly, I eat as much sweet as my body asks for and have never gone a single day without it. It is not something that my body has issues with and I eat it as per need. I don’t ever remember craving it which tells me that it is well balanced in my system. Today, 90% of my sugar is of the unprocessed variety. The only exception is the occasional chocolate or sweet that comes in from the market.
Why are we replacing the white sugar? Because it is a big drain on our calcium reserves. The processes that are used to make sugar white end up making it a very acidic substance and the body needs to use its calcium, which it pulls from the bones, to neutralise this acid. So the more white sugar we put in our body, the more we are depleting our calcium reserves, while also making the body more acidic.
3. Replacing fine flour and white rice, and diversifying grains
I don’t bake much except for the occasional banana bread and orange cake, which I now have friends who supply. Best to barter with people whose passion it is to bake. Hence white flour was never an ingredient in my kitchen but as a roti/bread eater, I had lots of wheat and no other grain.
Pastas, breads, pooris made of white flour stick to our intestines like glue to paper and stay there for years, providing a sticky environment for waste products that should ideally have left our bodies in a day’s time. So if you are wondering what is causing your constipation, go look at your kitchen shelves.
Like RO water, over processed wheat and white rice without the bran is nutritionally deficient. Low vitamin levels and constipation are a result of these foods. I add additional bran to my wheat (100 gms for every 1 kg). Wheat bran is available at all big departmental stores now.
I also realised that eating only rice or wheat does make us nutritionally deficient. So I made friends with millets and other grains. Soya flour (I mix it in with my wheat) and ragi or foxtail millet are always in the kitchen and I am now trying my hand at eating barley (Jo, in Hindi). My rice is brown and occasionally a friend will drop in a pack of red rice or beaten brown rice.
4. Diversifying salts
Most people know that if you have bloating or edema, a history of high blood pressure or heart disease, the harmless looking table salt is not your friend. So I have befriended sendha namak (the closest in English is pink salt) and kala namak (rock salt). Why? Because while white salt is mainly sodium, the other two have a fair amount of potassium and magnesium in them, two minerals that balance fluids in the body and help stabalise blood pressure.
The trick is to have all three in a day: rock salt is best when sprinkled on raw fruits and vegetables or added to buttermilk or curd. At naturopathy facilities, white salt is never found, but if your blood pressure is on the lower side, keep it in your kitchen.
5. Diversifying oils, adding cold pressed
As I look around my kitchen and storage cabinet, I can see a bottle of cold pressed flaxseed, coconut and mustard oil, olive oil, ghee and regular sesame oil. That’s six in total. This is up by four since last year, when I did all my cooking in some regular vegetable and mustard oil. So what changed this?
One, as I started eating more sprouts and salads, the need to have good cold pressed oil automatically came up. Raw food does that: it makes us taste things more consciously. You need some, if not all your oils to be cold pressed, as all other techniques of extraction kill nutrients because of heat.
Two, I understood that oils follow the same principle as grains and lentils, no single one can give us all the nutrition that the body needs, hence diversity is the norm here too.
6. Getting in some seeds
I was used to eating nuts: roasted almonds and peanuts were my favourites. But getting around to eating sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, fenugreek seeds, all soaked overnight, was a gradual process. Today if I go to bed without having done some soaking then I wander back into the kitchen, knowing that something is missing.
If you are north Indian then you must have heard your parents or grandparents often refer to ‘paanch magaz’ loosely translated as five seeds. These were a regular feature of the kitchen until some years ago, being sprinkled over drinks, yogurts, and chutneys/dips of various kinds.
Seeds, once a common kitchen item, today get categorised as ‘superfoods’ in the aisles of big stores. I add them to dips, smoothies, yogurts or salads, making sure I eat different kinds of them each day.
Seeds are hard and tend to pass out of the body not fully digested. Soaking them overnight not only ensures better digestion, but also releases some of their fat. This is especially true for cashew nuts. I’m not a fan of the sliminess of flaxseeds post soaking, so I grind them and add to my dips or flour.