Luke Coutinho: Giving your diet a strong foundation with pulses and seeds
If there’s a constant in most Indian meals, it has to be the presence of cereals and pulses. Rice and wheat are collectively the largest source of complex carbohydrates for most of us while pulses help out with the intake of protein, fibre and other essential nutrients. The diversity of grains and pulses grown across the country enables us to enjoy a variety of tastes and gives our bodies wholesome nutrition.
Unfortunately, most grains have got a bad rap today because they are thought to be fattening; however, there are other factors at play here. The main culprits are large portion sizes of rice consumed at wrong times, sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, lack of sleep and unhealthy habits in general. Just cereals in our diet cannot be blamed. In fact, most people lose out by excluding them.
Fad diets with zero carbs or zero grains may surely help shed a few kilos; however, this weight loss is followed by mineral and nutrient deficiencies, mood swings, carb cravings, grogginess and difficulty in falling asleep.
Remember: It's never about losing weight; it's about losing weight while gaining health and feeling happy at the end of the day. Fad diets simply deprive us of that.
Grains with carbohydrates are important for our moods as they help produce the right amount of mood-boosting hormones like serotonin. This hormone also impacts quality of sleep. Lack of it can make us feel snappy and irritated. In fact, this is one of the major side effects of Ketogenic diets that unfortunately people adopt for quick weight loss.
The combined use of grains and pulses in dishes such as dal-chaawal provides our body with complete protein that includes all essential amino acids. It also provides necessary complex carbohydrates, fibre, B vitamins and trace minerals.
Let’s take a look at some common foodgrains, pulses and seeds found in the Indian diet and the nutrition they provide:
As a food grain, rice is part of the diet in every corner of the country. Be it dal-khichdi or rasam-rice, the foodgrain makes its presence in several dishes. Though commonly believed to be fattening, it is not really so if it is consumed in moderation while living a balanced lifestyle. The key is to pay attention to the portion size and combine it with another food to ensure complete nutrition.
(i) Rice is a rich source of B vitamins and serves as a great probiotic source when fermented under the right conditions.
(ii) It is an instant source of energy for ailing individuals.
(iii) It is easily digestible and suitable for all age groups, right from infants to senior citizens.
(iv) For those looking to get rid of digestive issues, resistant starches in rice fermented overnight in a clay pot can help restore gut health. This rice is rich in probiotics that aid in the digestive process.
(v) As rice is low in potassium, it is a suitable grain choice for most kidney patients.
(vi) One can also opt for a preparation with lentils, vegetables and rice; this preparation has the right mix of carbohydrates and fibre.
(vii) As rice has a high-glycaemic index, diabetics should practice caution. It is recommended to have unpolished rice over the polished variety because unpolished rice retains the bran and helps lower its overall glycaemic index.
Furthermore, one must add enough fibre through vegetables to slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Pulses, which are derived from legumes, make for a great source of plant-based protein and dietary fibre. They are made in a number of different preparations and are combined with rice to make for a complete protein meal. Rice or wheat, like most grains, is low in the amino acid lysine, which will probably make you protein deficient because it doesn’t have a complete amino acid profile.
Lentils and legumes, on the other hand, are wealthy in lysine; however, they are low in tryptophan, cysteine, and methionine which are abundant in rice. The grains fill in for the lack of these three amino acids. Together, they structure a total protein, thereby making preparations like dal-rice and khichdi a perfect nourishment to supplement protein needs.
It is important to choose the right variety of dal though. Moong Dal by Tata Sampann is unpolished and is full of natural goodness. The dal goes through a 5-step purity process that leaves the grains uniform, cleaner and superior.
Here are some other pulses along with the nutritive value they possess:
(i) Moong dal (green gram) is light on the stomach and has high protein content. It also helps boost metabolism and subsequently, control weight. Moong dal also nourishes the body with potassium and iron.
(ii) As masoor dal (red lentils) has a good amount of dietary fibre, it prevents sudden spikes in blood sugar level. Thus, it is very beneficial for those with diabetes and sugar regulation.
(iii) Lobia (black-eyed beans) is high in nutrients such as folate, copper, thiamine, iron and phosphorus. This variety of pulses helps also promote digestive and heart health.
(iv) Toor or arhar dal (split pigeon peas) is rich in folic acid and iron, which makes it a great fit for pregnant women. It has a low glycaemic index and is helpful in getting rid of gastric issues.
Bajra (pearl millet) is one of the most commonly grown grains in India and is consumed as bajre ki roti as well as a paste with some condiments. Along with providing warmth in the winter, this food grain provides a ton of benefits:
(i) Bajra is easily digestible. It helps slow down the release of carbs in the body and makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
(ii) It is gluten-free and rich in insoluble fibre.
(iii) With a low-glycaemic index, it is an ideal grain for diabetics. After a meal with bajra, the blood sugar level doesn’t fluctuate as much.
(iv) It is highly rich in Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B9. Along with this, it also contains potassium, manganese boron, phosphorous, iron, zinc, copper and selenium.
Til (sesame seed)
Though this isn’t a foodgrain, this seed is prized for its nutritional benefits. Having a handful of sesame seeds can have loads of health benefits, especially during winter.
(i) Sesame seeds, especially the unhulled variant, is packed with fibre and helps out with better digestive health.
(ii) Sesame seeds are one of the best sources of plant-based calcium.
(iii) The seeds are rich in copper which plays a major role in converting iron into haemoglobin, formation of RBCs and keeping hormone levels balanced. It also protects arteries from inflammation and free radical damage.
(iv) Adding sesame seeds to one’s diet can also help relax cramped muscles during the menstrual cycle.
(v) Regular consumption of sesame seeds can help reduce high cholesterol and triglycerides, two factors for heart disease.
(vi) For those looking to increase their protein intake, sesame seeds provide methionine and cysteine, which are two important amino acids.
Khapli (Emmer wheat)
This ancient wheat dates back to around 10,000 years and is grown in the western and southern parts of India. Compared with the usual variety of wheat, khapli is tastier, reddish in colour and has a longer grain size. Consuming this food grain comes with quite a few benefits:
(i) Khapli is rich in protein.
(ii) It is low in gluten, easily digestible and most people with gluten intolerance can have it.
(iii) It has also been linked to lower blood sugar levels and LDL aka bad cholesterol levels
(iv) Khapli also has complex carbohydrates that boost immunity, making it a great fit for children and senior citizens.
The humble peanut has a ubiquitous presence in the Indian diet. Peanuts are consumed in raw and roasted forms and they are also powdered to be added to a variety of vegetables.
(i) Peanuts are a great source of protein, manganese, folic acid, zinc, selenium and fats that are good for the heart, skin and hormonal health.
(ii) With their nutritive value, peanuts are very filling and help out with weight loss.
(iii) It is a better option to consume peanuts roasted at home. A lot of commercial variants contain high levels of salt and artificial additives.
Those with peanut allergy should not have food items with peanuts. Those with thyroid conditions should also watch their consumption as peanuts contain goitrogens.
Now that you know the benefits of some key cereals, pulses and seeds, hope you make the most of them and carry on with your health resolutions for the year.
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