Dal Chawal is even better than your Momma told you | brunch | Hindustan Times
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Dal Chawal is even better than your Momma told you

Because it’s not a coupling of convenience but a scientifically backed fact. Certain foods like dal chawal draw out the best in each other when eaten together, writes Kavita Devgan.

brunch Updated: Apr 21, 2012 16:42 IST
Kavita Devgan

Our elders did not tire of telling us to ‘eat everything’, repeatedly. Actually the point they were making was: ‘Get variety’. They followed a simple logic – our body needs all sorts of nutrients. Also some foods are always paired with others; they are just eaten that way. But these aren’t blind pairings, there’s a methodology at work here, and as experts the world over are now realising, this hides a simple truth – nutrient optimisation.

It is clear enough now that instead of isolation, some foods work better – for the body – in combination with others. Every food that we eat has its own profile of nutrients, which do the body good, but when combined judiciously with other foods, the benefits get squared – thus delivering better health.

The simplest example is the dal-chawal combination, which has been a staple in Indian homes forever. The wisdom here is that both fill in the missing essential amino acid (protein building blocks) in the other – making the protein complete. Similarly in some parts of the world sliced almonds are added to lentil soup (this again boosts the protein quality). These are age-old, widely practiced examples of what experts today call ‘food synergy’ or optimised food combinations.

Researchers have for years been looking beyond the basic food groups (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals) to try and arrive at the perfect diet. And fortunately, along the way they have also unearthed ‘best partners’ that together maximise goodness.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Here are some ‘super combinations’ for you to follow:

Salad and dressing
We thought the smartest thing we did was to switch to fat-free dressing? Well, we and the experts were wrong then. It’s been found (in an Iowa State University study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) that eating salads with full or low-fat dressings helps absorb lutein, a micronutrient, which prevents age-related vision loss. (Good sources: corn, egg yolks and fruits like oranges and raspberries).

It’s common news that some fat is essential for efficient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Case in point: peas, carrots, bell peppers, sweet potato and broccoli are loaded with A and E vitamins. So a drizzle of heart-friendly oil (like, say, olive) will absorb better. Or add some good fats to your salad by throwing in some nuts (great good fat source). And use butter – even if in small amounts – like on roasted bhutta. Grilling your fruit with a dotting of butter makes for a healthier dessert than other calorific options. Also, tomatoes cooked with some oil help absorb the carotenoids (vitamin A when in the body) in their skin.

Haldi and kali mirch
Turmeric contains an antioxidant called curcumin, which has been linked to a lower risk of some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Adding black pepper – which our mothers did to curries and other spicy dishes for years until chilli came and edged out the local pepper – may boost curcumin absorption. So switch back to kali mirch – ayurveda approves too, as its milder heat doesn’t irritate internal membranes like chilli’s capsaicin does.

Apples and green tea
W hen you snack on an apple (keep the peel on), sip green tea right after. Apples contain a flavonoid called quercetin and green tea contains catechin. Studies show that pairing the two stops platelet clumping (trouble for your heart). You could even ditch tea for red wine (maybe try a few apple slices before that glass of wine!). And the next time you’re chopping for a fruit salad, include both grapes (they have catechin) and apples. Pairing apples with dark chocolate also gives the same benefit.

A to Zinc
To soak up enough infection-fighting vitamin A, make sure that you have a good zinc source along with it. That’s because the body cannot use the A unless there is enough zinc present. So have some Vitamin A-loaded baked sweet potato fries (instead of potato chips) along with grilled chicken, add some roasted wheat germ or sesame seeds to your lettuce and carrot salad, or simply snack on dried apricots with these crunchy seeds.

Green tea with lemon
What makes green tea a rock-star superfood? It’s the anti-oxidant: EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) in it which boosts metabolism, reduces the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and rheumatoid arthritis and also keeps our cholesterol numbers in control. But when you add a dash of lemon to your cup, then the vitamin C in the citrus powerhouse increases the absorption of EGCG manifold – making an already good thing even better.

Peanut butter on whole wheat bread
Yes, the good old peanut butter sandwich is a nutritional powerhouse. Research says so too. Pairing peanut butter with whole wheat bread enables the body to get the proper sequence of amino acids (a similar principle like dal-chawal). When our body is synthesising proteins, it needs all the amino acids there at the same time. Wheat lacks some amino acids. Peanuts have the amino acids lacking in wheat. Together they make a whole – a synergistic whole. That’s fabulous news for vegetarians. So garnish your green veggies or potatoes with some roasted mungphali like nani used to, and enjoy with hot phulkas. Now do you understand why peanuts are added so liberally in the poha cooked extensively in Maharashtra and Gujarat? They are there not just for taste you see!

Khatte chhole anyone!
So you’re a vegetarian and depend on plant sources to get your iron? Then get ‘C’ smart. Often plant foods are choc-a-block with iron (such as spinach and chickpeas), but not in a readily available form. When paired with a vitamin C-rich food though, the availability improves (some studies say up to six times). So add some orange segments to your beet salad, bell pepper to your chhole (chickpea), or cook it with tomatoes, top the cereal with strawberries, make a tamarind-based curry with spinach. Uncomplicated really!

There’s more!
You already know that having a lot of broccoli is a super smart choice. Now eat it with tomatoes as together they offer better protection against prostate cancer, a study has demonstrated. Similarly cholesterol-beating effects get a boost when fish is eaten with garlic, and some rosemary sprinkled on red meat steaks helps keep the free radicals (which cause cancers and ageing) in check. Pair your salmon dish with red wine to increase omega 3’s absorption and have cheese with egg, or whip up a broccoli frittata (vitamin D in the yolk helps absorb calcium better).

Or just listen to our elders: eat a little of all, rotate what you eat, pair unconventional stuff – just what the body needs.

Tzatziki
A traditional Greek dip, tzatziki makes a tasty addition to sandwiches and hamburgers.

Method:
Place 1 cup grated cucumber on several layers of paper towels.
Sprinkle with a little salt. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Combine drained cucumber with 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1 tbsp chopped pudina, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 2 crushed
garlic cloves. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving
(Recipe by Manidipa Mandal, a food writer and blogger based in Kolkata)

Kavita Devgan is a Delhi based nutritionist and writer

From HT Brunch, April 22

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