Guest column by Dr Nandita Iyer: Sabudana as a superfood?

It’s been a year since I wrote my second book, Everyday Superfoods, to give scientific weight to this much-overused term in the nutrition space. Recently, a famous nutritionist posted about sabudana khichdi as a superfood for women’s health and hormones and called sabudana a plant food. The misinformation really affected my hormones, particularly the stress hormone cortisol!

Sabudana is considered pure and nutritious as it is used to cook food on an empty stomach, without understanding its origin. It is not even a traditional food in a historical sense. The first sabudana factory in India was established in 1943. Many people even consider it to be a grain from a plant when in fact it is a highly processed product made in a factory from the tapioca root. Chemicals such as concentrated sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, and lye are used in tapioca root processing to obtain tapioca pearls or sabudana.

food tradition

There is no gray area when it comes to reporting highly processed ingredients that no longer qualify as food. Several studies have shown that regular consumption of ingredients like sugar and ultra-processed simple starches wreaks havoc on insulin levels, which in turn throws off the body’s delicate hormonal and metabolic balance. Using continuous glucose monitoring, I have personally studied the impact of eating sabudana khichdi on blood sugar levels and the results are not good. Sabudana is pure starch.

In India, the foods that have been a part of our culture have immense sentimental value. To consider these to be healthy for our current lifestyle by default or to dismiss modern foods and current scientific studies just because they contradict traditional wisdom are mistakes.

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Know your roots

Much of our ancient wisdom is true and it is good practice to examine our roots. No one is happier than I am to see the resurgence of millet or old grain varieties. But it’s always a good idea to have a deeper understanding of foods and ingredients, read labels, and educate yourself so you don’t fall for marketing campaigns or influencer talk.

Caveat emptor (buyer beware). There is no truer phrase in the nutrition space. Social media these days is a huge bazaar of health information and anyone with a following is happy to give out health advice. During the peak of Covid, a famous YouTuber doled out information on how to treat Covid at home and so far the video has over two million views.

It is up to the public to know where to find the right advice and to check the truth of claims if they sound too good to be true. If misinformation is rampant on the Internet, so is information. It’s up to us not to look to celebrities or Bollywood influencers for health and nutrition advice. Even my grandmother would agree with that.

Dr. Nandita Iyer is a Bangalore-based food writer and author of Everyday Superfoods and The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

Dr. Nandita Iyer is a Bangalore-based food writer and author of Everyday Superfoods and The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

From HT Brunch, March 20, 2022

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