Dec 15, 2008

Food - Make-fit, feel-good food

Syeda Farida

Commercials scream about the goodness of oatmeal while fruit juice majors promise to pack in more vitamins in every fruit-vegetable blend tetra pack. A dekko in any supermarket around the country shows sugar-free racks with orange marmalade, cookies and other products attracting shoppers just like the other stock around, which reads anti-oxidants, natural, healthy …

Earlier there was the pill-popping health-conscious wave — spirulina, calcium, beta carotene, cod liver oil and multivitamins were purchased more from concern of not getting enough nutrients thanks to the skip-breakfast schedule.

Exotic stuff

Today newer nuts, exotic fruits and isotonic drinks are set to offer replenishment to a stressed-out body. So avocado, now available in stores closer home, promises a healthy heart and potassium to keep the blood pressure in check. Team it with a delicious aloe vera juice with crunchy aloe cubes that make you fresher. The beauty plant now finds itself on the food rack of stores. Multi-grain bread is the new brown bread as even biscuits come in oats, rye and other cereal-rich avatars.

C.A. Andrews, a regular at an upmarket super store label, shops for Stevia powder, the new herbal sweetener, and other sugar-free cookies. It may not be delicious but the health factor drives this NGO trustee to pick these products. “We need to watch the cholesterol and sugar levels and keep tabs on health,” he says.

An increasing number of health conscious people is hopping on to the ‘eat exotic’ bandwagon especially young executives, says B.V.K. Raju, partner of Q-Mart, an upmarket store in Banjara Hills area of Hyderabad. “It is mostly younger generation that shops for the exotic cranberry and spinach juices. Primary reason is awareness. Earlier people related a juice with something ill people had. Now it is an essential part of breakfast. The more exotic, the better. Pomegranate and noni are selling more for their health benefit,” he says. The Tahitian and Hawaiian noni, extract of a tropical fruit, are said to have great carbohydrate and fibre value apart from boosting the immune system.

“Variety has increased thanks to free imports,” he says pointing to the fruit juice blends and grape-flavoured yoghurt, celery and rolled oats with honey cluster, wheat germ bread etc on the shelves. Reason? “Primarily globalisation. People are following western trends and eating habits. With the advent of western food rich in fat and cheese people are developing gastro-intestinal problems; this is balanced by multi-grain cereals. There was never such problem with our traditional Indian food. Oats is big now,” says Raju.

So oats, apart from its plain rolled avatar, is available in flavoured and fruits variants. Enter muesli, sugar-free if you please, that most of us seem to wake up to along with a slice of multi-grain bread and a glass of beta-carotene heavy carrot, beetroot and other vegetable juices. Back in the kitchen the olive oil replaces the kardi and other bran oils. And home-made dahi faces tough competition from its pro-biotic packaged cousin.

Placebo effect

Most labels have a placebo effect, says Dr. B.D. Khurana of Mahavir Hospital. “If you are well nourished, taking vitamin-heavy juices and other products may not be of much use. And to have an impact you need to consume them in a large volume. Oats is said to fight cholesterol. Much like garlic being a remedy for blood pressure. It works but you need to have it in large volumes. We are witnessing a lifestyle change with ready-to-eat products coming handy for those hard pressed for time. But traditional Indian food has it all. Dal makes for good protein content. There is carbohydrate, fat and greens too. A meal of dal, roti, sabzi with greens and fruits is definitely a balanced food.”

Agrees Bharati Subrahmaniam, who lived abroad for several years before returning to India, “You can’t follow a fad for the heck of it. Also the newer product promises do not make much of a difference. Given the Indian conditions, you need to have a bit of everything to be fighting fit against viral and bacterial infections. I’d rather have my idli for breakfast.”

“The products are expensive and the upwardly mobile can afford to indulge,” adds Andrews. Cranberry over orange juice and muesli over corn flakes, the urban breakfast may take a refreshing spin but it does burn a hole in the pocket. But the have-money-will-buy folks don’t mind shelling out a bit to buy a bagful of make-fit food off the rack. There are high stress levels that need to be balanced with some feel good buys.

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