In spite of becoming more conscious about the importance of eating healthy, most people don't realise the full potential of food as a healer and often fall prey to half-baked information on social media and other platforms and this needs to be corrected, says functional nutritionist, wellness coach and author Manjari Chandra of her new book, 'Heal With Foods - Magical Ingredients That Will Change Your Life' (Rupa).
"Though people these days are becoming more conscious about the importance of eating healthy, they haven't still realised the full potential of food as a healer. Even informed and well-read people don't know or believe enough about the power of eating right. They might have the concept of food as medicine but they don't believe it is possible. So the concept of healing with food is there but real impact is lacking," Chandra told IANS in an interview.
"At the same time, a lot of these people who are consciously trying to eat healthy become prey to incorrect or half-baked information that is coming from somebody who sometimes has no expertise in functional nutrition. While a perception on healthy eating may be built by Instagram or Facebook influencers, TV commercials, and other digital and print platforms, it is not always the right information. So the idea of writing this book is to establish credible and research-based information about what is wrong with the food system, and how we can get our facts right," Chandra added.
To this extent, the book is not about telling you to spend hours preparing some alien dishes that would take hours. It's just about replacing some unhealthy eating habits and patterns with a few healthy ones.
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For instance, "first and foremost, you must change your cooking oil... By removing refined oils and packed stuff from your kitchen, you are eliminating 95 per cent of the sources through which artificial trans fats can enter your body", Chandra writes.
"And secondly, you need to start taking time out to prepare your food and stop ordering from restaurants as an easy way out. It is because you are inadvertently causing inflammation in the body, which is the root cause of all cardio-metabolic conditions," she adds.
The book is the outcome of her two decades of experience in advocating changes in lifestyle and consumption of nutritious food.
"In my day-to-day clinical practice, I have been treating and helping people manage even some of the most serious clinical conditions such as early-stage cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, and hypertension with functional foods.
"It's not just that we are using food as an additional thing to complement medications or other modes of treatment. We are using it as the main line of treatment, which is a clinically-proven therapeutic approach backed by a huge body of research and work," Chandra said during the interview.
While writing the book, she made sure "every piece of information is backed by clinical evidence".
"For example, there is enormous research to prove that you can reduce blood sugar levels by eating healthy foods. So when saying 'Heal With Foods', it means it is a well-established fact as other popular treatment approaches are," she explained.
The book does not include any animal-based food. Does this imply that she is encouraging veganism, a trend that is fast catching on?
"First, it doesn't depend on my personal preferences. But, I don't shy away from saying that it is always better to eat plant-based food than animal food. And, the recommendation is guided by the fact that plant-based foods are far cleaner and far more beneficial. At the same time, they have less burden on the earth's ecological system, create fewer carbon footprints, and are more ethical.
"But the best thing about plant-based foods is that they have far more healing effects than animal-based foods being rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals and plant based enzymes. So, the entire book hasn't included any animal-based food. Animal foods may boast of certain nutrients like proteins, vitamins, and minerals but they have very less therapeutic potential as compared to plant foods," Chandra elaborated.
"And again, there is satisfactory data, science, and research to support the claim. Also, it's more sustainable to eat plant-based foods than animal-based food. That could be the reason more and more people across the world are becoming vegan," she added.
What are the changes in food habits that Chandra observed during the pandemic and what are the changes required as the world goes into the 'new normal'?
"If you ask me I would say the only good thing about the pandemic is that people returned to their kitchens. In the absence of 'convenience food' that was doing more harm than good, they had to eat home-cooked food more.
"And, I want this trend to continue as the world goes into the 'new normal', as you mentioned. Eating freshly made home cooked foods with seasonal, local ingredients is a powerful way of healing the human body. Eating and preparing our own food also makes us appreciate and not waste our food and helps re-establish our bonds with our family members.
"As people got back to home-cooking during the pandemic, it became more of an entertainment activity with people trying fancy recipes and splurging in cakes, desserts and fried snacks.
"The idea is to keep cooking primarily in our kitchens and at the same time simple and natural like our grandmothers used to do. Remember they knew every spice, every millets and their sources," Chandra elaborated.
At the bottom line, she said, staying healthy is a combination of multiple factors, some of which are not in our control.
"But even if we have the slightest chance of living a fulfilling life by just allowing a little more time to our health and food choices, we should go for it. Mark my work you'll only end up on the winning side," she maintained.
Chandra's previous book is titled "Eat Up, Clean Up". What next? What's her next book going to be on?
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"The next would always be the health and well-being of the people.
Since I know nutrition has to do a lot about it, I will continue to come up with anything that could help people live healthy and disease-free life. I am actively involved in seminars, events, and other activities to spread awareness on how the traditional ways of cooking are still relevant.
"At the same time, I am trying to help underprivileged people on an individual level as well as in collaboration with corporates and other social communities to bring some cheer to their lives.
"I am already working on a project on healing cancer with functional foods. While it's too early to tell anything more about it, all I can say is this project focuses on different aspects of cancer that are still unknown to people - such as what is cancer and how it originates and how food as a medicine can help minimize the risk of cancer or improve its prognosis. So, hopefully, that might take the shape of a book soon," Chandra concluded