A Surprising Health Secret From India
India, as the world knows, is a nation of staggering numbers. In the apartment complex where I live, the lanes are about as wide as flutes—that’s because this neighbourhood was built more than two decades ago, when Delhi’s biggest vehicle used to be a Maruti Suzuki 800, fondly called ‘the soapdish’ for its petite size. Nobody anticipated the leaps and bounds by which our economy would grow!
Today, the picture is dramatically different. In this cluster of 1000+ homes, almost every household owns three to four cars—hatchbacks, sedans and SUVs. They don’t even make the Maruti 800 any more! Which means that when I climb down my top floor apartment and walk up to the milk booth—just about half a kilometre away—I am often stuck in a traffic jam! And that’s when I’m on foot.
Now while all this prosperity is very welcome, the truth remains that you always lose something to gain something, and that big something for us has been the simplicity of life. To be able to make this much money, millions of people are now running and rushing through their day—indeed their lives.
In simpler times, not absurdly long ago, most families—at least in Delhi and its neighbouring areas—used to buy field-fresh wheat grains, meticulously dry them out on jute cots, and then lug them to the nearby miller who would pound them into real, hearty whole wheat flour.
Today, most of us simply grab flour packets that sit on supermarket shelves on our way home from a long tiring day.
And yet. And this is such a happy yet, I think!
Buying packaged flour is one of the few concessions we have made to modernity. Indians still don’t enjoy packaged, frozen, ‘ready-to-eat’ foods. We have, for centuries, been so accustomed to eating our meals freshly cooked, that we cannot bring ourselves to succumb to the convenience of something that has been sitting inside a packet or can for who-knows-how-long. No, even the knowledge that care has been taken to maintain freshness until that pack or can is opened. In our minds, it is the whole idea of eating something ‘unfresh’ that won’t be welcomed with open arms—or mouths—any time soon.
So, a certain Mrs. M-who-lives-in-a-faraway-East Delhi-suburb-and-braves-the-hour-long-super-crowded-Metro-commute-to-be-at-work-by-9-am will still wake up at the crack of dawn and chop and cook her vegetables fresh and knead the dough for her chapatis (Indian bread) while brewing tea and getting the kids to wake up and darting into the balcony to water her plants. She will pack these freshly cooked subzi (vegetable) and chapatis for her spouse, children and herself. Even if it is just sandwiches she is packing, the cucumber and tomatoes for the bread will be chopped in the morning. There’s no way she’s going to pack and tuck everything in a foil and shove it into the fridge at night.
This deeply ingrained love of—and yes, even obsession with—fresh, aromatic meals might be just another habit for us in India, but it is, happily, one of the best favors we do for our health!
Ayurveda believes that leftover foods are devoid of ‘prana’ or ‘essential life-giving energy.’ Even if you reheat food that has been sitting in the fridge overnight, it is no longer a source of ‘prana’—the long hours in a cold environment make it more difficult to digest and assimilate. Eating such food regularly can cause undigested matter called ‘ama’ to accumulate in the digestive system, causing weight gain, loss of energy, and in the long run, more serious health problems.
Our great-grannies and grandmas absorbed this advice until it became part of our DNA. It is my belief that in the middle of all the chaos in our lives, this single good habit keeps us going strong. Strong enough to wake up in the morning with enough energy to chop all those onions and potatoes.
And when the aroma of crackling mustard seeds and dancing curry leaves hits your nostrils, how quickly the taste buds come alive, and how readily the digestive juices flow! Can any frozen/reheated food ever compare?