Fruit and vegetables: Learning health benefits

Vegetables are important part of healthy eating and provide a source of many nutrients. Including fruit and vegetables in our daily diet can drastically reduce risk of many chronic diseases

Rainbow salad prepared by one of my friends is a big hit among us, and we never miss an opportunity to request her to prepare it whenever we have a gathering at her place.

Previously a consultant with the Asian Development Bank, the friend, Sharada Gyawali, is now working on a book which talks about foods with health benefits. The book also

carries tips on how to avoid common health problems caused by unhealthy lifestyle.

After a recent discussion with Sharada, I have been thinking as to how we can provide knowledge to the members of the general public on using foods as a medicine.

A general saying goes: “Your food is your medicine.” This stands very true and I myself have tried some foods to combat age-related health problems. Diabetes runs in my family but I have been able to avoid it even at the age of 60. Deep-fried foods and junk foods are off my menu, and I hope this will help me avoid diabetic problems for a long time to come.

Like every other Nepali household, vegetables and fruits land every day in my kitchen also. But there are some types of vegetables which some members in the family don’t even want to see.

One of them is eggplant. Though it’s generally considered a vegetable, eggplant actually is a fruit. Many people don’t like it, but eggplant is a nutrition-rich vegetable (fruit) with medicinal properties. It contains high level of potassium and calcium and is good for bone health. It also contains Vitamin A that is needed for good eyesight, healthy skin and hair. At the same time it also contains iron which helps in fighting anaemia. Hence, it is useful for pregnant women and malnourished children.

Like other fruits, eggplant is a high-fiber food. Some studies have shown that natural plant compounds, found in foods like eggplant, may reduce sugar absorption and increase insulin secretion and can help lower blood sugar. Like most vegetables, eggplant virtually carries virtually no fat.

Eggplants can be eaten in many ways. I remember my mother making an interesting dish with eggplant and yogurt, which we would call “raita”. It’s tasty and healthy. It can be eaten with rice or chapatti, or with beaten rice.

Yogurt not only adds a special zing to the dish but also enhances the nutrition value. I am surprised that many people consider eggplant a cheap and tasteless vegetable.

After touching 60 and with 32 years of work experience as a public health professional, I feel that when we depart from our healthy traditions, we seem to depart from science and from practices that are good for our health.

Yet another food that we should have on our menu on a regular basis is banana. People eat banana while they are fasting. It is a weaning food for children. It is a regular on the breakfast tables. Banana is a potassium-rich fruit and is good for people suffering from high blood pressure. My grandmother used to give us banana

and yogurt whenever we had diarrhoea.

Similarly, potato is yet another vegetable with lots of health benefits. It is the most used item in our kitchens. As a matter of fact potato can be eaten raw also but many people might not like the idea. Usually, we take out the skin before cooking potato, but roasting or boiling potato with skin is a good way to go.

This way the nutrients are retained. Lots of fried potatoes that we see all around have actually tarnished the image of this humble vegetable. One needs to avoid over-frying to enjoy the health benefits of potato. Boiled and smashed potato can be used for children of any age. It is a good weaning food, as it contains carbohydrate, Vitamin C,

Vitamin A, potassium and fiber.

In some European countries, potato is a staple diet. Potato is an extremely friendly vegetable, as it goes well with almost every other vegetable.

Chukauni, a famous recipe said to have originated from Palpa, is made from potato. It is tasty and healthy.

Nonetheless, people who are overweight or those with diabetes should not eat too much of potato.

Onion is yet another a must item in our kitchens.

I have learned from one of my friends that onion juice if used in a very small amount (a few drops) helps clear blocked nose when we have common cold. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but it does clear the nasal block in a jiffy.

I have tried this and found it to be very useful. However, many people might not like to choose this remedy. Onion contains anti-inflammatory power and anti-oxidant properties.

Eating raw onions during summer helps beat the heat. In the Tarai region, when lunch is served, one is most likely to find a slice of onion nicely set on the plate. Both green and dry onion has Vitamin C and fiber. It also contains micro-nutrients like Vitamin A, zinc and magnesium.

Since vegetables carry lots of nutrition and have medicinal properties, we should be including more of them on our menu.

Yes, our food is our medicine; we just need to pay a little extra attention while choosing what we eat.

Vegetables are important part of healthy eating and provide a source of many nutrients.

Including fruit and vegetables in our daily diet can drastically reduce risk of many chronic diseases.