Celebrity dietician and nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar's recent claim describing Sabudana/ sago as a helpful ingredient for women facing menopausal, fertility, or pre-menstrual syndrome issues was challenged by nutrition expert Dr. Nandita Iyer on Twitter. Iyer said that the celebrity nutritionist was misleading people about the advantages of an ingredient that is purely starch.
The article calling Sabudana a superfood was shared by all the major media outlets such as NDTV, Hindustan Times, a few days ago. Listing the benefits of these sago balls, Diwekar claimed that they help women experiencing menopausal issues or even during pregnancy, or before the onset of the period.
While Iyer said there is no evidence supporting Diwekar's claims, BOOM also spoke to Dr. Eileen Canday, PhD Nutrition, HOD- Nutrition and Dietetics at Sir HN Reliance Hospital, in Mumbai to verify the claims. Dr. Canday denied any study or linkage between sabudana and women's menstrual health along with highlighting that sabudana is purely starchy with very few nutritional benefits.
Endocrinologist Dr. Ambarish Mithal and diabetologist Dr. Anoop Mishra also corrected Diwekar's claims and stated that she was spreading misinformation.
BOOM contacted Diwekar's team to seek her response but is yet to hear from her.
This is however not the first time that Diwekar's advice has been termed contentious. The nutritionist who became well known after she helped Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor achieve her 'size zero figure' in 2008 has written over nine books. Earlier, her claims that mangoes which have really high sugar content should be recommended for diabetics, microwave food should be avoided due to the possibility of them contaminating food have been questioned by experts. The World Health Organisation has stated that the radiation levels found in microwaves are not heavy enough to impact the food cooked in it.
Is Sabudana Naturally Produced?
Diwekar claims that the tapioca balls consumed during fasts or 'vrats' are nutrition rich. Iyer as well as Canday say otherwise.
Sabudana, sago, or tapioca as the product is called is purely starch and rich in carbohydrates. It is a processed food and is not a natural product.
"Sabudana is a starch derived from the cassava plant. It is extracted from the plant, then the roots of the tapioca are crushed, juice is converted into a paste, and then a machine is used to convert the paste into tiny white balls," Canday told BOOM.
Iyer also tweeted a video showing how sabudana is actually produced and may not really be as nutritious as claimed by Diwekar.
Iyer who has also written a book called Everyday Superfoods told BOOM that sabudana does not fall in the category of superfoods. "A superfood is a product that is very high in nutrients. Sabudana is so different from the original tapioca root and devoid of any nutrients other than carbohydrates," she said.
The tapioca or cassava root vegetable is used by many families in Kerala for regular consumption and sabudana which is not a grain is derived from it. As it is not a quintessential grain like wheat, it is recommended to be eaten during fasts.
What Nutrition Does Sabudana Provide?
As it is a starch, sabudana has really high carbohydrate and glycemic index. Glycemic index determines the sugar content of an ingredient.
Rich in calories, sabudana is devoid of any other nutritious components.
"It is devoid of vitamins and minerals, and also has lower levels of proteins and nutritious fats such as omega-3- fatty acids, " the doctor at HN Reliance told BOOM.
Iyer, based in Bangalore who has written several books and runs a blog called Saffron Tail, also tweeted that she does relish sabudana but keeps its calorie content and carbohydrate rich nature in mind.
"Its fibre is stripped off while processing making it even more nutrient deficient, " Iyer explained.
Does It Help During Pregnancy, Menopause?
Dr Canday denied that there is a link between sabudana and it helping alleviate pain during menopause, or any time in the menstrual cycle.
"Being carbohydrate rich, there is no established link that sabudana helps in pregnancy or even fertility issues, " Dr. Canday concluded.
BOOM also went through several articles, blogs, and papers that talk about diet plans for different stages of the menstrual cycle. However, we could not find any of them recommending sabudana as part of the diet charts.
While there is no established study linking sabudana to menopause, fertility, and pregnancy, both the experts mentioned that calorie and carbohydrate rich foods with such high glycemic index are known to affect the body's uptake of insulin leading to insulin resistance. This resistance further builds up to people developing type 2 diabetes.
"Insulin resistance and diabetes are key issues that affect women with PCOS, PCOD, and even menopause. A product which is a simple ultra-processed starchwill only worsen the situation ," Iyer concluded.
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