The Telegraph
| Sunday, May 8, 2016 |

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INDIA ON HER PLATE

Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar’s new book is about spreading the word that Indian superfoods like ghee and rice are great for you, says Aarti Dua

Rujuta Diwekar is on a crusade. The nutritionist who famously gave Kareena Kapoor her size zero is raring to take on the hallowed world of nutrition science and bust all those myths about food. She has taken up the cause of ancient food wisdom in her new book, Indian Superfoods, which has just released on the Juggernaut app. So move over acacia seeds, goji berries and kale. Diwekar’s set to prove the goodness of ghee and rice and yes, cane sugar too —eaten, of course, in the right combination and in the Indian way.

“Dal-rice is our heritage as much as our forts and palaces and as Yoga and Ayurveda are. It’s high time that we restore our foods to the heights that they deserve to be at,” asserts the straight-shooting Diwekar, who’s also a big proponent of the suryanamaskar.

  • Stars like Karisma and Kareena Kapoor are devoted believers in Diwekar’s nutrition advice and Alia Bhatt’s a big fan of her superfood, kokum sherbet

  • Photo: AFP

The ancient is the new modern, and Diwekar firmly believes that grandma — and grandpa, too, in her case, as she learnt a lot about food from her farmer grandfather — knows best. She has even just launched a Senior Internship Project with four seniors who’re documenting their oral food wisdom.

The bestselling nutritionist, who has delivered blockbusters like Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight — her first book has sold over three lakh copies — is also excited about breaking fresh ground in other ways. Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath’s Juggernaut Books is aiming to transform publishing by creating digital books for the mobile screen. Indian Superfoods is only available on the Juggernaut app for now though a physical book will follow. And Diwekar’s thrilled with the new format. “It’s very exciting because phones are one of the best ways for messages to spread today,” she says.

No doubt, Diwekar has long been propagating the goodness of foods like ghee and rice — and Yoga and exercise. “I’ve been thinking about this book for the longest time. I think I write a part of it in every book I’ve done so far,” she admits.

But, now she has put 10 Indian superfoods on the menu, which were once celebrated for their therapeutic, weight-loss and well-being properties but are now undervalued or forgotten. It’s the shift from local to industrialised foods that has led to the lifestyle scourge of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, says Diwekar in her sharp yet easy writing style. She shoots straight from the hip —and laces her beliefs with sufficient bite. There’s humour and sarcasm, and science too.

“We’re replacing our grandmothers’ wisdom with websites that know nothing about us. We’re believing all these random things as truths and dismissing every homegrown wisdom as superstition or as ridiculous. Fifty years later, we’ll be proved wrong. Meanwhile, we’re losing out on health, on diversity, our forests and our local economy. And this behaviour is not even making us thin,” she says passionately.

Apart from ghee the fat-burner and rice the grain of life — it’s full of the essential amino acid, lysine, which triggers the human growth hormone — there’s sugar with its “anti-ageing secret”. There’s also cashew the anti-depressant, coconut the calmer, and the banana and her favourite jackfruit. Plus, she has picked lesser-known ambrosia such as aliv or garden cress seeds, which is a great beauty pill; ambadi, a local red-stemmed leafy green that’s a stomach soother; and kokum or Garcinia indica.

  • Photo: Gajanan Dudhalkar

“We know broccoli more than ambadi today. And we’ve demonised our food and elevated processed foods to glories that are completely undeserving,” rues Diwekar. She’s eager to smash the misconceptions about ghee, coconut and cashew being full of cholesterol and of rice, jackfruit, sugarcane and banana packing in too many calories. So, ghee’s the fat-burner because of its short-chain fatty acids and deep frying in ghee is better than air frying, she says, backing ancient wisdom with science.

And yes, Alia Bhatt’s a big fan of the super-cooling kokum sherbet — Diwekar ensured she packed enough of it while shooting for Udta Punjab.

“We think that actors are so glamorous that they don’t eat local foods. But one of the best ways to look glamorous is to keep true to the local food,” says Diwekar, whose daily regime includes Yoga and weight training.

Of course, globally too, local is the new super as she discovered at the Future Foods Seminar she attended in Germany last year. But then, nutrition science is always way behind ancient food wisdom. “Degrees don’t teach us anything about food,” asserts Diwekar.

So, her superfoods are superfoods because of their therapeutic, weight-loss and well-being properties. And
because they’re ecologically smart, local foods. “Each one of them is comforting, versatile and easy to procure. And each one blends into the environment,” she says.

It’s this multi-disciplinary approach to food that Diwekar wants people to get if they’re to stop thinking of it as only “carbohydrates, fats and protein”. So, she has gone beyond her book and launched the Sonave Community Farming Project at her ancestral farm in Sonave near Mumbai.

The idea is for a family to spend one day a month for a year, working on the farm to promote a better understanding of food. It’s based on a project she saw in Belgium and it also matches her grandfather’s vision that people should know where their food comes from.

“Everyone who has been to a native place resonates with commonsense wisdom about food,” she says. She
began the Sonave project in January with 30 people. “If we can do it successfully for a year, we’ll expand it to the rest of the village,” she says.

  • Diwekar’s top superfoods for Indians include ghee, cashew, jackfruit and rice

Now, Diwekar’s constantly expanding her food empire in new directions. If she’s nutritionist to stars like Kareena, Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan, she’s also a celebrity herself.

There’s a three-month waiting period to consult her today. A two-month, eight-session package with Diwekar costs Rs 2.25 lakh. And she consults clients from everywhere,  Pakistan to the UK to Australia, over the Internet.

Kareena famously said: “Rujuta has not just changed my body but also my mind and soul. She is the best thing to have happened to my life.” And now Diwekar admits: “Kareena has been a life-changer for me. Until her, all my clients came by word of mouth. But now, we have clients from across the globe. It’s all because of her appeal.”

The business is only growing and she’s doubling her nutritionist team to eight. So you can see her team if you can’t wait for her. Or her popular Rs 36,000, two-month program-me combines a one-day workshop by her and follow-ups with her team.

  • Diwekar is also a strong advocate of fitness and she played a big role in getting industrialist Anil Ambani on the road to running the marathon
    Photo: Ramakant Kushwaha

Amit Rathi, managing director, Anandrathi Financial Services, who has been consulting her for a year, believes that Diwekar’s “cutting-edge knowledge about both Indian food and sports fitness” differentiates her.

“Most dieticians work with Western diet plans. But Rujuta combines her knowledge of Indian food with the diet plans,” he says. Besides, her plans are “sustainable because you don’t need to alter your diet significantly”. “I’ve never discussed what to give up with Rujuta. It’s more about what to eat when,” he says.

Diwekar is also hugely popular on the lecture circuit. She’s always dashing about holding workshops for everyone from Goldman Sachs to Ficci. In March, she did workshops in Bahrain and Kenya. And two weeks ago, she was in Surat and Baroda. She charges Rs 3.25 lakh for a 90-minute session in India but she also holds free Open Days regularly.

She has smartly extended her brand in other ways too. So, she has combined her passion for food and trekking by offering three wellness holidays a year with her partner Gaurav Punj’s company, Connect With Himalaya. Last month, she was in Darjeeling and in August, she’ll head to Kullu. She even does a marathon training programme.

  • When Diwekar gives a talk about food and nutrition, people listen

Back in 2004, when she trained Anil Ambani, he taught her “that the only way to make time for everything is to plan ahead”. “So, I always plan for everything a year ahead,” she says. That includes blocking time to write her books, which are regular bestsellers.

Indeed, Indian Superfoods comes just after The PCOD-Thyroid Book, released by Westland Books in March. Deepthi Talwar, managing editor, Westland Books, feels that the nutrition books genre has only “taken off” after Diwekar wrote her first book. “Rujuta’s tremendously popular. That’s because what she says makes sense to people and they see it work,” says Talwar.

Diwekar’s farming background — she spent all her vacations working on her grandfather’s farm and also grew up doing Yoga daily — gave her insights into food early on. Her mother taught organic chemistry and her father’s an engineer. Since she was “very athletic as a child”, she did her post-graduation in sports science and nutrition from SNDT College in 1999.

But from the outset, she questioned conventional nutrition science. “I realised that what you see in real life is not what’s taught,” she says. So, she founded her own practice straightaway. Her early clients included film director David Dhawan’s wife, Lally, and the actress, Farha, who recommended her to others. In 2007, Kareena sought her out while filming Tashan, and there was no looking back.

Now, Diwekar’s clear that she’ll stick to her core beliefs and won’t expand “at the cost of diminishing the work I’m doing”. She’s working on a book on children next. And she’s intent on promoting her superfoods — they’re best had through our regional food culture — and on tapping India’s ancient food wisdom.

“Today, Google’s a big deal because it’s open data. I feel our grandmothers were the first ones to adopt open data. We all want our grandmothers’ necklaces and diamonds. No one wants her recipes. But this collective wisdom is our heritage and it’s time we all worked to save it,” she declares.