By Aastha Saluja
Manjari Chandra decided to become a nutritionist the day she realized that “almost all of the cardiometabolic and metabolic disorders occur due to unhealthy food and that a nutritious and well-balanced diet can reverse the progression of these disorders.”
Now a functional nutritionist, wellness coach, speaker and author, Dr Manjari Chandra practises nutritional medicine and has recently written a book called Eat Up Clean Up to help people on the path to wholesome nutrition and wellbeing. “It is a well-known fact that the food on our plate plays an 80 percent role in our health. Genetic factors and the environment we live in contribute to the other 20 percent,” she says.
We asked her about her new book and how eating the right foods can fix most health issues.
What inspired you to write this book?
I think it’s the cumulative experience I have had with foods growing up in the suburbs, learning from my grandma, and preparing meals for my family. It’s my two lovely daughters and a very supportive husband who have encouraged me to walk on the paths I have not trodden on before. One revelation that readers will find in this book is that almost all the ingredients of healthy eating are already there in their kitchen. I have shared not just the nutritionist’s point of view but also grandma’s hacks for nutritious eating.
What do you mean by eating clean? Do you have any tips for what one should include in their daily diet?
It’s the kind of food that is unprocessed. Eating clean involves a combination of natural and wholesome foods that have not gone through a factory for refinement, adding preservatives, or even nutrients. I am a big fan of nuts and seeds as they contain densely packed micronutrients.
Additionally, one should include green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, such as spinach and cabbage. Use whole grains for making rotis and prepare home-cooked dishes of legumes and beans. These are the foods one can add to its diet on a daily basis. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables from the market to prepare the nutritious mixed salad.
Today, on social media there are many influencers promoting “healthy eating” or various weight loss products. What is your advice?
I would advise to keep it simple as nutrition in its entirety is all about keeping it simple or “Sattvic” as we say it in Ayurveda. I would reiterate eating wholesome and natural foods. And that’s about it. Foods like green leafy vegetables, avocado, coconut oil, pulses, millets, and nuts and seeds will provide you all the good lean fat, protein, and complex carbs you essentially need to promote weight loss.
Weight-loss supplements might help you lose the baby fat but will not remove the deposition of fat layer on your organs inside your body. On the other hand, natural foods will not only help you lose extra kilos but also prevent or reverse the progression of other metabolic disorders.
Everybody’s body type is different and different foods will react differently to each individual. So, when it comes to weight loss or adopting a healthy lifestyle, is there any common mistake you have noticed your clients making?
One thing people usually lack is strict compliance. They start eating the recommended foods I tell them to. But they are not able to avoid having sweet or sugary stuff here and there. And I don’t blame them. It’s the way their body has been conditioned over the years, and it takes time to recondition them. However, if one strictly follows the low-carb/high-fat diet with intermittent fasting, one can usually see significant results within a week.
Yes, sticking to a diet is tough. So, how do you motivate your clients to follow them? What is the trick to curb the temptation to deviate from the diet?
I do not explicitly mention any strict diet in my consultation. I simply discuss the food one should have and avoid. Then I share with my clients the list of the benefits and risks of those foods in detail. I believe it’s the risk versus benefit analysis that encourages them to follow what’s been recommended.
Of course, you have to strike an emotional chord to let them know that they can do it. A few tricks I always share with my client to curb the temptation are to drink water at regular intervals and do healthy snacking with almonds, walnuts, and raisins. Further, I encourage my clients to practice mindfulness to differentiate between craving or temptation and actual hunger.
Can you suggest some simple ways in which people can tide over common nutritional deficiencies?
Dry fruits, nuts, and seeds are the answer. These include walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and raisins. They contain a broad spectrum of densely packed micronutrients offering a comprehensive nutrient profile. A fistful of a mix of nuts and two tablespoons of seeds can meet your daily nutritional requirement. You can add them to your smoothies, desserts, and yogurt and keep them handy for evening snacking.
Can having a healthy diet elevate a person’s mental health?
For sure! People don’t talk about it much. But cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce boosts the production of serotonin – aka the “feel-good hormone”. Berries also play a helping hand in this context.
Serotonin affects how happy we feel about ourselves and contributes to our overall mental wellbeing. However, it is virtually impossible to cure major depression or general anxiety disorder by food alone. One should always consult a psychiatrist for the treatment of moderate-to-severe psychiatric issues.
What according to you are some of the biggest misconceptions about food and nutrition?
That nutritious food is expensive, not delicious, and takes a lot of time to prepare – this is entirely a myth and not true. All you need is half an hour to one hour in the kitchen. For starters, you can always quickly prepare mixed fruit-and-vegetable salt and sprinkle over it some lemon or pour over some yogurt.
Simple home-cooked dishes of cabbage, legumes, and beans are as delicious and healthy as anyone can get. You can actually save thousands of rupees a month, or even more, depending upon how much you eat from outside, if you only prepare fresh and wholesome food at home.