Imported blueberries or home-grown custard apple? Here’s why going local is good for your health and well-being
Would you choose imported blueberries or home-grown sitaphal? Here’s why going local is good for your health and well-being
When it comes to making food choices would you choose imported quinoa or locally available ragi? Whether it means choosing millets and ragi, sitaphal or pumpkin, opt for foods that are grown in local farms before they reach your table, says our nutritionist
Local versus global has been a debate for a long time in the nutritional world. Decades ago, when I was studying Sanskrit, we were translating a chapter in an Ayurvedic text in my class. Th entire text was all about the importance of eating local foods and foods that are in season.
Back then, global foods were not available anyway. Much later, the world became smaller and suddenly, we had access to global foods throughout the year.
The question is, do you want to eat global foods throughout the year, irrespective of the season that they traditionally appear in? Or do you want to stay connected to local foods, that are available at specific seasons, for a specific reason, which nature designed so perfectly?
What are the benefits of eating local foods?
Local food is good for your health in many ways
There are many benefits to eating local, and here are all possible benefits….
- During these times, when there is deep financial impact on the world globally, it’s also important that food is easy on the wallet. Eating local foods is definitely easier on you financially, than buying expensive global foods.
- Think about buying ragi versus quinoa. Ragi can be purchased from local vendors at close to Rs 100 per kg. Quinoa can go up to Rs 1000 per kg in elite stores. There is simply no comparison. It is the locally available ragi that creates the delicious flavour of ragi mudde in Karnataka!
- In terms if farming, eating local supports local farms and encourages local economy. You could also find out about the farmer or supplier and understand the situation. Eating local is environmentally friendly as it reduces the need for transport globally. You end up supporting the environment in whatever way you can.
Local foods have great flavour! Think of eating a local fruit which might have been picked a few days before you bought it. Think of eating a fruit that has travelled thousands of miles and has been in storage for a large part of that time, before it reaches you. Which is better for you?
- The local fruit is probably bursting with moisture, flavour and nutrients when compared to fruit which travelled many miles. When was the last time you ate ber, water apple, ramphal or sitaphal, all available in your local market? They are full of so much flavour that I sometimes feel like I am eating an ice cream!
- Eating local is also a way to ensure safe food for yourself. When food is freshly produced and does not stay in storage for a long time, chances of pathogen invasion and a potential risk of infection for yourself is greatly reduced.
If you struggle with frequent infections, one of the ways you can begin to protect yourself is by eating more local foods. If you buy local leafy greens and whatever vegetables the street vendor brings to your doorstep, such as dondekai or avarakai, then the time it takes from farm to you is much less. Get back to buying often from a local vendor rather than stocking up from the supermarket.
- The local farmer will rarely have access to fancy seeds of foods that are out of season. This will ensure that you are also eating seasonal. Nature originally created certain foods at certain seasons for certain reasons. Cooling foods appeared in the summer and heating foods appeared in the winter.
- This ensures that your body gets what it needs at the right times, to preserve homeostasis or balance, and a better ability to cope with seasonal fluctuations. Most often, the times that you fall ill, are when seasons are shifting, as your body takes times to adapt to those external changes.
How can eating local help your body?
Eat foods that are in season
- Your microbiome is an ecosystem that exists within your body. A large part of this is within your gut. Research has found that the microbial diversity shifts between seasons, providing your body with the right terrain to breakdown the foods that seem to appear traditionally during those seasons. This microbial shift actually happens from messages that the body receives from the soil microbes.
- This means that eating local foods is far more beneficial to your body, as it provides the right microbiome to digest what you eat. Lentils are great for the microbiome. Every tradition has certain dals that are used in certain ways that feed the gut bugs. If you are in the south, then sambar, if you are in the north, then dal. There are numerous ways to make both! Just changing the sambar with different vegetables that you get locally at that time, is a great way to alter taste and bring in more nutrition.
- Perhaps it is pumpkin and brinjal today, and beans and arbi tomorrow. What are the vegetables that your grandmother used before which you have missed for some time? Recall them and add them back into your diet.
Your immune system responds much better to eating foods that you have traditional access to rather than foods that seem new to your body. Your body has a deep inner intelligence to understand this difference. When you eat local foods, you provide your body with ingredients that boost your immune system and protect you.
- Every local tradition has some kashayam (decoction) which is made with spices like turmeric, coriander, clover, pepper and tulsi. How did your family make it? I’ll bet it had a unique flavour which you can still recall today! Usually it was made with ingredients plucked from the garden.
Local foods and your health
- Detoxification is an integral part of good health. Optimal detoxification ensures that your body is also working optimally. Local foods that appear season to season are usually those that support this. Think of neem flowers coming in April for a Tamilian or Malayalee New Year. Those flowers are used in preparing a pachadi (curd-based dish) or condiment, which supports detoxification. Think of eating local greens instead of lettuce. Local greens provide your body with all the nutrients required for optimal detoxification.
Phytonutrients are wonderful! You might have heard of blueberries as brain food. They are loaded with anthocyanins that support brain health. But can you afford to use two boxes of blueberries a day when it is Rs 400 a box? I cannot! Jamun is available in season now. It is a local food loaded with the same anthocyanin. My smoothie last night had a handful of jamuns. It was a glorious purple colour and it hardly cost me anywhere as much as blueberries!
Bring back that glorious yellow pumpkin. I don’t mean a fancy butternut squash, but an old-fashioned
yellow pumpkin. Use that in olan or in sambar. It will taste delicious and is rich in beta-carotene
Sambar can be made with many locally available vegetables
- Digestion is much better when you add some foods which are already broken down. Making chutneys and powders are great ways to get local foods into your diet. Remember the ridge gourd chutney made by your grandmother? Or how about a coriander and mint chutney loaded with taste, nutrition and local ingredients? Combine it with a ragi dosa or millet dosa, and you have more ways to bring in local produce into your diet. Chutneys are simply the essence of eating local. You can include any local vegetable!
Why should you eat more local foods?
As you can see, I gave you plenty of reasons to eat local.
Beyond that, it benefits your body in multiple ways, it’s easy on you financially. That for me is a very big deal! I also appreciate the local foods that appear only sporadically and for short bursts of time.
I cherish them fully and then, when they go away, I embrace the next local food that arrives. This makes eating a whole lot more fun, than having every food available to me, every single day!