Eight traditional Indian fruits and vegetables which we don’t eat anymore
In the last few years, I have seen teenagers and young adults increasingly reach out to me for improving their diet. Most of them are up-to-date on trendy fad diets and new-age ideas of diet planning, but there is one huge knowledge gap: they have no idea about the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available in India and the different benefits of vegetarian diet they can gain.
India is lucky to be a country with a rich culture of traditional fruits and vegetables, many unknown to people in other parts of the world. We should be proud of ourselves for just the variety of green leafy vegetables we have here, from raddish leaves (leaves of mooli) to purslane leaves (paruppu keerai). From broad beans (known as ‘same’ in Hindi) and plantain stems (‘kele-ka-tana’, also called ‘vazhaithandu’ in Tamil) to Padwal and ash gourd (‘pethakaddu’ or ‘neer pusinikai’), many youngsters don’t even know that vegetables like these exist. When I ask them what vegetables they eat, they name a few common ones like aloo, bhindi etc. Parents always say their kids only like potatoes, and in fried form.
One of the stated reasons for people not liking vegetables and some fruits is that they do not taste good – it is not “yummy” enough. As a person who cooks all kinds of vegetables regularly, and as a foodie myself, I can say with confidence that if you cook your vegetables the right way and with the right spices, they can be really yummy. The right amount of black pepper and heeng can really turn the taste around on any of the gourds; add some extra chilli powder and salt to it and you can never have enough kamrakh.
Not eating enough vegetables and fruits also has to do with where we shop for vegetables these days – at air-conditioned supermarkets, instead of the mandis. At the supermarkets, there are no seasonal differences and usually only 8 or 10 varieties of vegetables are sold throughout the year. We have forgotten to buy from local vendors, and hence miss out the seasonal variety and freshness of their vegetables. Our fruit consumption has also fallen due to the high cost of fruits and myths related to some fruits as to how they increase sinus during winter etc.
The richness of fruits and vegetables
The result of this is lack of nutrition in our body. There are umpteen benefits of a vegetarian diet. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fibre and vitamins and minerals. Vitamins such as Vitamin C which gets affected by heat can be provided by fruits as we eat fruits fresh and without cooking. Vegetables provide a host of phyto-nutrients which have many health benefits because of their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Fibre helps control blood sugar, reduces cholesterol, and also allows the good bacteria to grow in the gut - which helps in developing B 12 for vegetarians. Beta carotene in orange-coloured fruits and vegetables provides the precursor for Vitamin A. B carotene itself is an antioxidant. When we live amidst a lot of pollution, there are free radicals generated in the body, and antioxidants help to reduce the free radicals. Vitamin A, which can be produced from B carotene, helps in immunity, vision and maintains skin health.
Vegetables containing small quantities of Vitamin E are green leafy vegetables and broccoli. Fruits containing Vitamin E are Mango, kiwi. Vitamin is also an antioxidant, it helps boost the immune system; it also helps reduce the blood clotting inside the blood vessels.
Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables and bananas. Magnesium is important for immunity, bone and heart health. Pomegranate, guava, apricot and peach are rich in zinc. In vegetables, green peas, spinach and bhindi are the ones rich in zinc. Zinc is required for immunity, cell biology, smell and taste, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Folate has many functions in the body such as developing proteins along with B 12 and Vitamin C, in cell biology, prevention of B12 related anaemia. Folate is found richly in asparagus, mangoes, green leafy vegetables and oranges.
So, where can you start if you want to bring more variety into your diet? Right here! I am listing down three vegetables and five fruits, you can start with these and start yourself on a journey to discover more such fruits and vegetables.
1. Jungli Jalebi or kodukkapullikai: The white fruit pulp is eaten raw, or made into juice similar to lime juice. Vitamin C and Vitamin B. They also contain antioxidants and flavonoids and quercetin.
2. Wood Apple or bael: Can be taken raw mixed with jaggery or made into juice or jam. Rich in fibre, highly nutritious with calcium, Phosphorous, iron and beta carotene. Rich in antioxidants.
3. Carambola or Star Fruit or Kamrakh:Sour fruits used as pickle or ripe ones can be taken with salt and chilli powder. Rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants.
4. Chakotra or Batabi Lebu, or Pomelo: It is a citrus fruit very similar to grapefruit. Rich in Vitamin C with antioxidant properties, potassium which is good for heart health and fibre rich which prevents constipation. It can be taken as a fruit.
Japani Phal or Persimmon Rich in fibre, Vitamin C, B6, Potassium and manganese. Healthy carbohydrate as it has fibre also. Taken as a fruit, juice or make smoothies.
1. Broad beans or same: Rich source of dietary fibre which is a good laxative. Phytonutrients like isoflavone and plant sterols. Some phytosterols lower cholesterol levels and others showing in animal research to prevent breast cancer.
2. Plantain Stem or kele ka tana or vazhaithandu: The stem is rich in fibre and potassium. A tender banana stem can be used as a salad also. Make dry curries or gravy. Banana stem juice is used to flush out kidney stones and is a good food for gout or high uric acid levels.
3. Parwal or pointed gourd: All gourds are rich in soluble fibre. Add bulk with less calories. They have small amounts of Vitamin A. Rich in antioxidants. The seeds are recommended for relieving constipation as they are rich in fibre also.
Remember, just by improving the variety of fruits and vegetables you eat, you will be improving your overall health and well-being; such are the benefits of a vegetarian diet! Go to your local mandis every week to look for new fruits and vegetables and try them out. Ask the elders in your family about them, their knowledge in these things will be useful, and they can also give you tips on how to cook them well. If you cook vegetables the way they are meant to be cooked, and with the right spices, you will not shy away from eating them.
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