One-On-One With Kavita Devgan: A Talk About Foob Habits

by October 28, 2018 0 comments

Navneet Mendiratta says that Kavita Devgan has compiled time-tested food habits from various sources that help us develop a healthy lifestyle.

The grandmother knew best. Most of us who lived in joint family setups with traditional kitchens would recall gharelu nuskhas that our grandmothers had for us every time we slipped in health or by way of introducing us to new food habits. This age-old wisdom is still the best bet when it comes to food and nutrition. Ultimate Grandmother Hacks by nutritionist and holistic health consultant, Kavita Devgan, is a perfect guidebook to those gems instilled in her by her grandmother in the form of eating habits and troubleshooters. These traditional habits, if adapted into the lifestyle, hold the key to a fitter self for the current generation.

How did you think of writing the book?

I believe, like fiction writers, non-fiction writers too tend to write about things they are familiar with. Ultimate Grandmother Hacks is a compilation of habits that I have grown up with and consider super healthy. The book compiles time-tested food habits to help us develop a cohesive healthy lifestyle and rediscover the joy in eating. It lists the many nuggets of wisdom and discusses the various foods and habits that our parents and grandparents followed that are still relevant today. I basically did not want us and the next generations to forget them, hence the book. That was the motivation behind the book.

Your first book, Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People quelled the idea of dieting and promoted nourishment. Tell us a bit about that book and how Ultimate Grandmother Hacks is a progression from your earlier work?

The first book, Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People, was actually a compilation of the lessons I had learnt from my patients during my practice. And this one, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks is a compilation of habits that I have grown up with and consider healthy. This book had been brewing in my mind for a long time, so there was no trouble at all in penning it. The only complex task I faced was to make the old-age hacks sound inviting and doable to the present generation. I wanted to break the myth that old advice is impractical, time-consuming and difficult to follow, so I chose very carefully the habits that I felt the current generation would not reject outright. And that was not difficult as there was a treasure trove from which I cherrypicked the 50 habits I finally wrote about.

Essentially, both books talk about habits. Because I believe that the only sustainable way to gain health and prevent illness is by changing our habits. And trust me, it is easier and more permanent than following one fad diet after another and messing up your health every successive time. Our food habits are not final and fixed, but adaptable and open, if we only give ourselves half a chance.

What have been your top five takes from your grandmother’s kitchen?

Difficult to pick just five, that is why I wrote about 50. But here are some:

Have one or two crushed garlic pods with water on an empty stomach every day. Garlic, with 70 active phytochemicals, including allicin in it, helps cut cancer risk, cholesterol and prevents formation of plaques in the body to keep our heart in the pink of health.
Eat some foods in their pre-digested forms to ease the stomach; for example, consume almonds soaked overnight.
A fruit should be had whole — with the fibre that comes in it. Juice was earlier reserved only for times when one was sick, or for those who could not chew because of old age or other issues. Fibre in fruits and vegetables helps the body use their goodness at the right pace, unlike in the case of juice, which only delivers a jug load of concentrated fructose that our body scampers to use up, and ends up messing its insulin resistance along the process (besides hastening diabetes along the way).
The smartest one pit dish of all times — khichdi — is a perfect comfort food too. For most of us, not just does it evoke comforting childhood memories, but eating rice also raises serotonin levels (a chemical produced by nerve cells that affects our mood and social behaviour, appetite, sleep, memory and sexual desire) that has a soothing effect on us.
One day, my grandma taught me how to prepare ajwain water (boil two teaspoons of roasted ajwain seeds in water and then, strain this mixture), for treating the gastric attack that, I remember, was triggered by eating way too many golgappas! After overindulging in a party or two, she would suggest I have multiple cups of fennel (saunf boiled in water) tea during the day to cut bloating. These gharelu nuskhe, or my grandma’s home remedies, have been my go-to ever since, for stomach bugs, and even for the overdose of unhealthy foods.
What is the biggest mistake we make vis-a-vis diet and food habits?

Following fads is a big mistake that a lot many people make. Somehow we tend to throw our common sense in the bin when it comes to our diet, which is a dangerous way to live. Dieting has been given a wrong connotation. According to me, the word ‘diet’ does not mean giving up food, it means replacing bad with the good. The fact is that we need to stop focusing on calories alone, and focus on nutrients instead. The moment we do that and begin plating ‘good for us’ food, calories actually take care of themselves, and you lose weight automatically.

My advice always is: Follow common sense and only believe information that comes from a professional with recognised medicinal and nutrition qualifications, and which agree with your individual needs and common sense. Most important, take it up only if it agrees with you enough for you to be able to follow it for the long term.

What tips would you hand on gut health?

Begin your day with a freshly-squeezed half lemon in warm water. This simple drink restores acid-alkali balance of the gut.
Include fermented foods in the diet as they can help restore the natural state of health that a diet of excess sugar, meat, processed foods and prescription drugs destroy on a daily basis for us.
Eat primarily alkaline foods. I am talking green (vegetable) juices, lots of fresh, seasonal vegetables, and fruits. Top five alkaline foods: Eggplant, spinach, cucumber, watermelon, and lemon.
Have lots of sprouted foods as they battle against the acids. Green leafy vegetables and sprouts have Vitamin B an E, which help in digestion and also aid in excreting acid from the body.
Have chlorophyll-rich spirulina and barley grass every now and then, as these help correct the alkalinity and also boost the metabolism and immune system.
Is detox the new fad? How to detox right?

Everyone wants to detox today. Actually let me rephrase that statement: Everyone is obsessed with detoxing. And thanks to this obsession, multiple stringent detoxing diets are doing the rounds, and people realise only after doing them that they don’t really work. While most people do it to drop pounds fast, I advocate detoxing for health reasons, and doing it right is also important. And yes, it works if done right.

First, cut out what is clearly toxic from your daily diet. This includes smoking, excess processed food, chocolates, and obviously alcohol. Also skim off sugar from your diet and cut down on those endless cups of coffee now! Second, focus on fruits and vegetables to up the supply of antioxidants (like Vitamins E and C, beta carotene and some trace minerals like selenium etc). These will help detoxify the body by getting rid of the free radicals (which make you feel unhealthy and fatigued and, in the long run, also lead to myriad diseases like heart problems etc). But instead of opting for a stringent liquid regimen of fruit and vegetable juices, go for a food based detox of fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, and fish, all natural foods, raw or cooked very simply. Third, switch to a low fat diet, with lots of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. It would also help immensely to go vegetarian for a while, or at least cut down heavily on non-veg foods. Finally, hydrate and then some more.

Any other suggestion that you have for the readers?

I have written this book to remind my generation of the good things about our traditional way of eating and living (so that we don’t forget), but even more for the next generation because I am afraid they are looking Westwards so much that they will soon find all these good habits unfamiliar. That, I feel, would be a huge loss. I really hope that the habits mentioned in my book can serve as a checklist for parents to help them steer themselves and their children towards a better, healthier way of living.

Writer: Navneet Mendiratta

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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