A handful of groundnuts.

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Research has shown that nuts are good for you. And the best nut for you is our good old moongphali or shengdana- the humble little groundnut.

Shengdana is not native to India. This ancient nut was first cultivated in South America almost 8000 years ago. It was introduced to India by the Portugese, possibly during the 17th century. Today, India is the second largest producer of groundnuts.

Technically, the groundnut is not a nut, it’s actually a bean. And what’s the difference? A nut is a dried fruit. A bean is a seed. Unless you’re a botanist, the details are unimportant.

What is important is the fact that Shengdana packs a whole lot of nutrients in one cheap, compact package. It is truly a remarkable super-food.

During my corporate days, I did a lot of R&D on groundnuts. These little fellows are rich in antioxidants. Until recently, expensive strawberries and blueberries were considered prime sources of antioxidants. But, our desi shengdana has been shown to be superior to these exotic nuts. Groundnuts are also a source of resveratrol. This phytochemical is a hot item in nutraceuticals. Resveratrol is linked to increased life-spans and reduction in cardiovascular disease, but there’s no conclusive evidence yet.

Moongphali has nutrients like niacin (good for your brain), vitamin E (good for your heart), co-enzyme Q10 (potent antioxidant), magnesium (good for your bones) and a high amount of protein. Groundnuts, in fact, have the highest protein content compared to other nuts, including costly almonds and pistachios.

Groundnuts are high in fat but they are free from trans-fats that are linked to cholesterol problems. Groundnut oil is a healthier cooking medium than Saffola and rice-bran oil.

There are many ways to enjoy shengdana – roasted, boiled in salt water, as a chutney, as a curry, in the form of peanut butter, and my favorite, as chikki. Traditional chikki, that is chikki made with molasses, is much better for you than videshi chocolates and candies.

Peanut_Chikki
CC image by Zeel Patel

Roasting groundnuts increases their nutrient value. But avoid branded roasted peanuts. They are all high in salt and contain preservatives. Best thing to do is to roast them at home, and add a pinch of salt or chat masala. Or better yet, add chopped onions, coriander leaves, green chillies, and really enjoy. Same applies to branded chikki. Usually they contain glucose syrup and that’s not good for you. Make them at home in the traditional way – and send me some!

Cheers… Srini.

Important note: If you have a peanut allergy, please disregard this entire blogpost. If you think you might have a peanut allergy or if someone closely related to you does, please talk to your doctor first.

Another important note: Badly stored peanuts can get infected with fungi and produce aflatoxins that can make you really ill. Peanuts must be stored in their shells, away from light, in a dry place. Raw unshelled peanuts are susceptible to fungal infection, if they are kept in the open in humid conditions. As a rule, avoid buying raw unshelled peanuts that are not sold in sealed packages.

The Great Nutraceutical Tamasha

Tamasha:  A word known across India. It means “farce”.

Nutraceutical:  Modern catch-word used to describe a confusingly wide range of allegedly healthful products that are allegedly derived from food, or from medicinal plants disguised as food, or offal, glandular secretions, organs, tissue and heaven-knows-what-else, and are allegedly safe and allegedly efficacious.

Note the repeated use of the word “allegedly”.

There are other catch-words that sound impressive but mean nothing – functional food, pharma-food, dietary supplement, nutrimedicine.

If the claims made by those who peddle these nutraceuticals are entirely true, then we just need to gulp their products every day, and we would be blessed with eternal life, thick black flowing hair, slim waists, muscular bodies, surging libidos, and huge throbbing dicks.

After twenty years in the nutraceuticals line, I have none of the above.

The problem with nutraceuticals is money. Nutraceuticals are a multi-billion dollar business, notably in the US of A.

There’s a lot of money to be made if one has sufficient money to start with, understands the regulatory loopholes in the law, can hire some clever lawyers, and knows how to package and present his “miraculous” nutraceuticals to a gullible customer.

That gullible customer of course, is you.

It’s “science” they thunder at you. We have “evidence”, “research”, “time-tested proof”. We have patents, government approvals, license to sell. Yeah sure.

What they’re selling to you, and what you’re actually buying, is not Science but … Hope.

Nothing more than Hope in a bottle.

Come with me then, as I take you into the world of Nutraceuticals.

Let’s talk real science and let’s talk the truth. Then you will understand how you go out of your way to make millionaires out of snake-oil merchants. Admittedly, they’re not all snake-oil merchants, but many of them are.

After that, you can decide what’s good for you.

Stay tuned.

Up next: The Fantastic Antioxidant Hoax.

Herbs can cure. Herbs can kill.

centella
Centella asiatica. Better known as Brahmi.

Medicinal plants are useful. Indeed, many modern drugs have been derived from plants.

However, there is far too much quackery in herbal medicine. Far too many rogues. Far too many “scientists” with dubious PhD degrees from cut-rate institutes. Far too many self-styled experts.

Here’s how the quacks and the “scientists” will con you:

1) “It’s herbal. No side-effects”.

Bullshit.

This is an utter lie. If any herbalist tells you this, no matter how many PhD degrees he has, please run. Run far and run fast. Only a genuine quack would make this claim. The belief that herbs do not have side-effects is the most common and most dangerous myth out there.

Reality check: Most plants are in fact toxic to humans. Very few of them are edible, and very very few of them are useful as medicines. By “useful” one does not mean that these few herbs are harmless. Far from it. There is no such thing as a safe herb. Doesn’t exist.

2) “It’s time-tested, over centuries, over thousands of years, used by millions of people. Do you think millions of people across the world are fools”?

Bullshit.

Just because a herb has been in use since centuries, it does not mean that it is safe or even useful.

As an example, here’s a very popular herb that has been in use since 6000 BC. It has been in continuous use since eight thousand years. WHO says that across the world, one billion people consume it several times a day, every single day. That’s one-seventh of the world’s population. The herb provides a living to millions of farmers world-wide. Trans-national corporations have built their multi-billion dollar empires because of it. Wars have been fought over it.

How can such a herb be anything but safe and useful? Do you think that one billion people across the world are fools? The answer is yes. Because the herb we are talking about is tobacco.

See what I mean?

3) “It’s guaranteed”.

Of course it’s guaranteed. So is a visit to the hospital. “Guaranteed” is not a scientific term. You will not find the word “guaranteed” in any peer-reviewed scientific publication. This word is specifically used by door-to-door salesmen, by street-side peddlers, by snake-oil merchants, by smooth talkers in expensive suits with MBA degrees hanging on their walls – and by certain “scientists”.

If the herb has been studied by real scientists, using accepted methods of science, written about in research papers that have been critiqued by other scientists, and then approved for use by national-level regulatory agencies, there would no need to “guarantee” its safety and efficacy.

4) “It’s a gift to mankind from Mother Nature. How can you dare question Mother Nature? What are you, an atheist?”

I love this argument. Herbalists and “scientists” throw these phrases at me all the time. As if it is blasphemy to use one’s common sense.

Plants, like all other life-forms, have evolved over a few billion years into what they are today. Do you really think they exist for your sole benefit? Plants produce phytochemicals for their own use, for their own survival, for their own metabolism needs. Not for you. Any effect those phytochemicals may have on your body is totally co-incidental.

Do you really think any plant on this earth cares about your diabetes or blood pressure or your cholesterol or your dysfunctional dick? Plants do not get diabetes. Why would any plant produce phytochemicals to treat your diabetes, then?

As I said, these effects on your body are entirely co-incidental. Be thankful for that co-incidence. And don’t believe everything you hear or read. Be thoroughly skeptical.

5) “Several published studies have proven that…”, “The latest research shows that …”

This is a dangerous trap, that deceives even qualified people. It’s called Argument from Authority. To quote Wikipedia, this is a “logical fallacy that argues that a position is true or more likely to be true because an authority or authorities agree with it”.

Simply put, people will believe anything if they hear it from someone who looks like an authority. And this is exactly where the catch is. How do you know that the quoted authority is really an authority? How do you know the scientific journal that published that research study is in fact a reputable journal? How do you know the research study is itself not a total fake?

About fifty percent of research papers published from India are either outright fakes or riddled with dubious data, erroneous results and unreliable conclusions. Did you know that?

Many “reputable” journals are in fact published by semi-literate nitwits operating out of their homes. Any body with a PC and an internet connection can create a scientific journal with an impressive name. Mind you, anybody.

If I were tell you that my research study was published in The International Journal of Advanced Herbal Medicine and Plant Science, you would be suitably impressed. Except that this journal does not exist. I thought it up just now.

The real question you should be asking is, who sponsored that research study? If a research study on a herbal product is sponsored by the manufacturer himself, do you really think it will be totally honest and unbiased? Really?

6) That eminent scientist and his fellow eminent scientists have set up an international research foundation for this herb. Do you mean to say those eminent scientists are liars?

Yes, sometimes they are.

Adolf Hitler recruited one hundred physicists, including Nobel laureates, to write a book refuting Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein’s only response to that book was, “Why one hundred? If I am wrong, just one would have been enough”.

Just because a whole bunch of “scientists” gets together and says the same thing, it does not always mean they are correct – or telling the truth. Many such research foundations that have been set up by such “scientists” are sponsored by companies with a strong profit motive.

In fact, the more the number of “eminent” scientists mentioned in a research foundation, the more skeptical you should be about what they’re telling you.

7) “No need for “allopathic” medicines. They are poisonous chemicals. Stop all chemicals, and use only my herbs”.

Yeah sure. Please write up your will before you do that. Phytochemicals are chemicals too. And they are just as toxic as any other chemical, if not more.

Get this into your head. Pharmaceutical companies make drugs specifically for you, designed for your ailments, tested for you, certified as safe for you. And they spend millions of dollars and many many years to bring those life-saving medicines to you.

Plants do not produce phytochemicals for you. They do not even know you exist. They don’t care about you and your multiple ailments.

Got the picture?

As I said before, a few herbs are certainly useful. If you do want to use herbs for your health, that’s your choice. But first talk to the right people, get your facts right, and use your own judgement.

Do not ever take herbal remedies along with your regular medicine. Ever. Even a simple condiment like turmeric interferes with many life-saving drugs.

And do not ever, ever stop taking your regular medicine, without talking to a real doctor first.

Mother Nature has not made plants for your exclusive benefit. Mother Nature, however, has definitely given you something for your exclusive benefit. It’s called a brain. Use it.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. As Nature intended.

Srini.