Note to readers: Ancient Wisdom is a series of guides that shines a light on age-old wisdom that has helped people for generations with time-honoured wellness solutions to everyday fitness problems, persistent health issues and stress management, among others. Through this series, we try to provide contemporary solutions to your health worries with traditional insights.
Come winter and our appetite for warm and delicious foods naturally go up. Jaggery or Gud is one such winter superfood that is synonymous with the season and effortlessly finds its way to our diet be it the morning cup of tea or peanut chikki. Some people also like to team it with Makki ki roti and sarso ka saag. Gud or jaggery is also an integral part of harvest festivals of Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Baisakhi, Pongal among others, which are celebrated around this time of the year, and is included in many recipes like til ke laddoo, jaggery rice (meetha bhaath) and different kinds of sweets and puddings. (Also read | Ancient Wisdom Part 27: Eat dates soaked in ghee for these wonderful benefits)
Jaggery has been around for at least 5,000 years and finds mention in several of our ancient texts. It finds mention in various chapters of Garudpurana as ingredient of many Ayurvedic medicines. For instance, a combination of ghrit or ghee, honey, sugar, jaggery, salt and dried ginger with black pepper was believed to be beneficial in most of the diseases and was referred to as ‘sarv-rogvinashak’. Bhavaprakash Nighantu, another ancient text written in 1600 CE by Bhav Mishra, talked about medicinal properties of gur, sharkara (khand) and mishri (sita), made from sugarcane juice. Jaggery also finds mention as stone honey in Yang Fu, a Cantonese’s book YI Wu Che during Qin and Han Dynasty (100 BCE).
Jaggery, the winter superfood
“Winter is the perfect time to indulge in warm, comforting foods, and one such winter delight is jaggery. This natural sweetener, also known as ‘gur’ in Hindi, is widely enjoyed across India for its unique flavour and numerous health benefits. Jaggery is a powerhouse of nutrients, boasting several health benefits. It is rich in iron, which aids in preventing anaemia and boosting haemoglobin levels. It is also known to improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, cleanse the body of toxins, and provide relief from common winter ailments like cough and cold. There are countless delicious ways to incorporate jaggery into your winter diet. From traditional favourites like gur ki roti and gur ka halwa to modern twists like jaggery-infused hot beverages and healthy jaggery granola bars, the options are endless. Add a small piece of jaggery to your piping hot tea, coffee, or milk for a comforting winter drink. Try the traditional Indian beverage ‘gur ka sharbat’ for a rejuvenating experience,” says Nutritionist Sakshi Lalwani.
Benefits of jaggery
“Jaggery is made out of sugarcane juice or palm trees and 70% of total consumption is manufactured in India. It’s picking up more importance because it certainly has more advantages than sugar. Not to forget that this is also a carbohydrate, and it has to be taken in moderate amount so that it doesn’t interfere with insulin and other things. It has a lot of additional substances in it, which means calcium, iron, magnesium and their food, making it favourable for a lot of reasons including mental relaxations including clearing the lungs, including improving the oxygen delivery including intestinal function including bone health. Also, the potassium in it helps in number of cases with some kind of cardiac issues. Please do remember that it is also a kind of carbohydrate and has significant caloric value, so the consumption must be done in a reasonable amount only,” says Dr Rajiv Dang, Senior Director and HOD – Internal Medicine and Medical Director, Max Hospital, Gurgaon.
Sakshi Lalwani says jaggery can be helpful for immune system and is high in iron content which could keep one energised during winters.
1. Boosts immunity: Jaggery is rich in antioxidants and essential minerals that help strengthen the immune system, protecting you from winter illnesses.
2. Natural energy booster: The high iron content in jaggery aids in increasing haemoglobin levels, combatting fatigue, and keeping you energized throughout the winter season.
3. Digestive aid: Jaggery stimulates digestion, eases constipation, and promotes healthy bowel movements, which is essential during the winter when digestion tends to slow down.
Dietitian Vidhi Chawla, the creator of Fisico Diet and Aesthetic Clinic, lists more benefits of eating jaggery during winter season:
4. Rich in iron: Jaggery is a natural source of iron, making it an excellent dietary addition, especially for those prone to iron deficiency. Regular consumption can help combat winter-induced fatigue.
5. Regulates body temperature: Jaggery is believed to help regulate body temperature, contributing to a sense of warmth and comfort during colder months.
6. Rich in Nutrients: In addition to iron, jaggery contains essential minerals like magnesium and potassium, contributing to overall nutritional well-being.
Who shouldn’t have jaggery?
“People with diabetes should be aware of the possible effects jaggery’s sucrose content may have on blood sugar levels. The calorie count of jaggery is something to think about for people who are trying to lose weight. After taking jaggery, certain people may have discomfort in their gastrointestinal system. These individuals may have fructose malabsorption or irritable bowel syndrome, for example. Additionally, because of their still-developing digestive systems, it is usually not advised for children under the age of one,” says Dr Dang.
Sakshi Lalwani says diabetics or those on weight loss journey should limit consumption of jaggery.
While jaggery has numerous benefits, it may not be suitable for everyone:
Diabetic individuals: Due to its high sugar content, individuals with diabetes should consume jaggery in moderation and under medical guidance.
Weight watchers: Jaggery, although a healthier alternative to refined sugar, is still calorie dense. It should be consumed mindfully if you are on a weight management journey.
People with digestive issues: Jaggery possesses laxative properties. While this can be beneficial for those with constipation, individuals with chronic digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), may experience aggravated symptoms by consuming jaggery. It’s advisable to seek advice from a healthcare professional before incorporating jaggery into their diet.
Best ways to eat jaggery in winters
Dietitian Vidhi Chawla says one can incorporate jaggery into a diet in a number of ways:
1. Jaggery and nut mix: Create a satisfying snack by combining jaggery with an assortment of nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews. The nutty crunch complements the rich, caramel-like sweetness of jaggery.
2. Warm jaggery milk: Make your bedtime routine cozier by adding jaggery to a warm glass of milk. This soothing blend not only aids relaxation but also provides a sweet and comforting end to the day.
3. Jaggery-infused tea: Elevate your tea experience by dissolving a small piece of jaggery into your favourite tea. The subtle sweetness of jaggery pairs well with the warmth of tea, creating a delightful beverage for chilly evenings.
4. Jaggery in winter desserts: Enhance your winter desserts, such as gajar ka halwa (carrot halwa) or sesame seed laddoos, by incorporating jaggery. The depth of flavour that jaggery adds makes these traditional treats even more indulgent.
5. Spiced jaggery elixir: Craft a warming elixir by combining jaggery with winter spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Dissolve jaggery in hot water, add the spices, and savour a beverage that not only tantalizes your taste buds but also provides a comforting respite from the cold.
How jaggery was consumed in ancient times
“In ancient times, jaggery held a sacred place in various cultures for its dual role as a sweetener and a medicinal ingredient. Ancient texts, including Ayurvedic scriptures, recognized the therapeutic properties of jaggery. It was commonly used in tonics and elixirs to treat various ailments and promote holistic well-being. Jaggery was not merely a culinary delight but also played a significant role in religious rituals and ceremonies. It’s pure and unrefined nature symbolized offerings of prosperity and auspiciousness in many cultures,” says Chawla.
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