This week, I had no trouble deciding what to write on. With the air quality in the national capital reaching hazardous levels, one can hardly think about or see anything else. For those who can afford it, air purifiers, face masks, and perhaps even travel plans, are measures to stay safe.
Besides these external measures, I would like to take you through the ways in which particular foods and dietary choices can help mitigate the effects of these toxic air pollutants. We are led to believe that it is the only the exotic superfoods like blueberries and avocado that can come to our aid in such situations. But there are enough foods that are easily available everywhere, and can do the job just as well.
A balanced diet remains the foundation for any protective diet. The brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can save the day. The red-orange ones include tomato, carrot, pumpkin and watermelon. The greens are abundant in nature and you will find plenty of region-specific greens, too. The top slot in the colour palette goes to the purple-blue produce – pomegranate, aubergine/brinjal, beetroot, grapes and purple cabbage. These foods are commonly available but may not yet have formed an integral part of the daily diet.
Here are some exceptionally powerful foods that can serve as an antidote to the toxicity in the air:
Bay leaf (Tejpatta): A study in Korea tested over a 100 fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, for their ability to reduce oxidation within the body, and bay leaf topped the list. Make it a point to add this wonder dried leaf to the gravies that you cook.
Egg yolk: The yolk of the egg is often discarded because we fear its cholesterol content, but it is actually a great source of Vitamin A. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance, of great value in these times.
Lemon rind: Yet another often discarded part of a food, lemon rind adds not just a fresh flavour, but it also offers loads of antioxidants. Remember to grate the rind of lemons before squeezing out their juice.
Jaggery: Our ancient medical texts had prescribed jaggery for blood purification and cough. Modern science has endorsed that smoke-induced lung lesions can be countered with the regular consumption of jaggery, which is made from sugarcane juice and is loaded with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Moringa: Every part of the Moringa tree offers invaluable benefits. You could prepare a saag with its leaves, or relish a dish prepared with its long, fresh pods commonly known as drumsticks.
Pomegranate: This fruit brims with disease-fighting antioxidants. The antioxidant capacity of pomegranate juice or its seed extract is three times that of green tea. Eat the fruit at the start of the day or add it to salad and raita preparations.
Indian gooseberry (amla): Although we have always known the benefits of this fruit, not many of us manage to include amla in our daily diet. Adding it to chutney preparations, or chewing on amla candy, are some ways to incorporate the fruit in the diet.
Matcha green tea: Prepare a jug of this antioxidant-rich tea and sip it through the day, just as you would drink water.
Leafy vegetables: Raw or cooked, make sure to eat ample amounts of leafy vegetables. You can pick from the wide variety of spinach, kale, mustard, methi, lettuce and amaranth.
Lemongrass: This herb can be used in stews and gravies not just as a flavour enhancer, but as the perfect antidote to the pollution because of its high polyphenol content.
I cannot conclude this piece without mentioning the powerful and beneficial effects of the three T’s – tulsi, turmeric and triphala. These humble foods can act as the armour against the current onslaught of pollutants.