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The poor food habits that we can do away with

Diet and lifestyle choices account for 80% of the health issues, ailments and chronic diseases. The International Diabetes Federation states that every sixth diabetic in the world is an Indian. Such staggering figures scream for a change in our dietary habits.

Obesity is a common diet and lifestyle disorder which has penetrated deep into our family. Somewhere between 5.74 percent and 8.82 percent of schoolchildren in India are obese.

This is despite ours being the land of yoga Ayurveda, Siddha and ancient wisdom.

Some of the choices have been a part of our system, handed over from one generation to another. While others have been the result of indiscriminately following western food habits and lifestyle. The world has connected well, but we have disconcertingly fallen away from healthy eating habits and dinacharya (a concept in Ayurveda that looks at the cycles of nature and bases daily activities around these cycles).

Most alarmingly over half of all Indians, especially women, eat an unbalanced diet devoid of fresh fruits, green vegetables, pulses, meat and milk products that are needed to lead a healthy life, new figures show.

The recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 by the health ministry revealed that fewer than half (47%) of all women consume dark green, leafy vegetables daily and another 38% eat them only once a week.

The NFHS-4 showed that only half (45%) of women eat pulses or beans daily and an equal percentage consume them weekly. Milk or curd is consumed daily by 45% of women and weekly by 23%. Seven percent never have either milk or curd and 25% consume these dairy products only occasionally.

The junk food phenomena do not help either and even the educated families are falling prey without understanding the long-term implications of such debilitating diet. Fried food and carbonated processed beverages possess major threat as they trigger chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity, that are growing rapidly in India.

Let’s examine some of the poor habits and try to find what can we do to improve. It is not a lonely battle but a ticking time bomb for many. Only timely action can help prevent the massive health scare we are staring at today.

Eating like clockwork-

Ayurveda defines body type and sub-body types. The rate of metabolism is different for different body types. E.g kapha person has a low metabolic type meaning they have moderate digestive fire in comparison to Vata body type who needs to consume 5-6 minor meals to support their metabolism. But we all have a very routine heavy 3 meals a day grossly disregarding the uniqueness of the individual.

Understand your body, recognize your digestive fire, and eat accordingly.

Carbohydrates and carbohydrates only

Our food is traditionally centered around carbohydrates, rice, roti (wheat), idly, wada to name a few. The concept of protein is relatively new and somewhat unknown in our diet. Some of our food combinations are inadequate in nutrition. E.g rice/ roti with potato subji, deep fried poori with potato/ pumpkin subji, biryanis with yogurt, potato wada pao, dosa with potato filling, deep fried snacks such as samosa, pakora, refined sugar and refined flour pastry, rich Indian sweets etc.

A sharp increase in the consumption of refined carbohydrates and high glycemic food has contributed to the epidemic of obesity in India.

Change the mono diet to a balanced diet including all the 5 food groups such as vegetables, fruits, lean meat and fish, unrefined or minimally processed cereals and low-fat dairy. Eat carbohydrate in moderation complementing well with good servings of vegetables and lean meat/fish/ eggs.

The inadequacy of Indian vegetarian diet

The Indian vegetarianism hasn’t resulted in the desired health benefits. In fact, most of the vegetarian diet in India lacks in good quality protein and instead indulge in unhealthy consumption of carbohydrate. This is in stark contrast with the westerners who follow a vegetarian diet and reap the benefit in terms of balanced body weight, low lipid profile and a healthy heart.

You will be surprised to know that the incidence of diabetes is higher in Indian vegetarians notwithstanding the wonderful array of vegetarian recipes in all the regional cuisines. Vegetarian does not mean healthy unless the cooking choices are healthy also.

Most plant proteins are incomplete, which means that they are missing at least one of the essential amino acids.

However, some plant-based foods, such as quinoa and buckwheat, are complete sources of protein. But these are not part of our Indian diet, or not sufficiently.

Lack of good quality protein in our diet is one of the reasons why we cannot succeed in physical sports such as athletics, swimming and other outdoor sports.

Avoid deep fried carbohydrates only food. Include complete proteins like quinoa, soy and buckwheat. Also, include a variety of plant proteins to derive essential amino acids from different sources.

Bad meal timings and heavy snacking

When it comes to timing of the meals, we are not adequately disciplined. Our timings are very inconsistent on a daily basis and we often end up eating at the time when it is the time for the next meal. We never maintain the gap of 2-3 hrs between dinner and sleep, as a result, most of the calories end up converting into fat deposition around our waist.

This is not limited to poor timing only, we never respect the Ayurvedic way of eating 50-60% food, 15-20% water and rest empty to optimize digestion. We hardly chew food and eat until we feel the need to go to the toilet to relieve ourselves.

The tradition of snacking made sense when we did heavy physical work. Now we sit idle all the time before the TV, computer or mobile phone but still indulge in snacking, thus gathering calories which are not required at all.

No fasting at all

Fasting used to be the common phenomena in the Indian household. This point, in fact, is well emphasized in the fasting observed during various festivals and rituals. Of late, that’s not the trend. In our society, fasting is often viewed as a type of denial or deprivation, but you can instead choose to see fasting as a gift to yourself: a much-needed rest from the constant barrage of foods and experiences you take into your body. Ayurveda recognizes the viewpoint that fasting realizes the assimilation of metabolic toxins which are not good for health. It is also stated in Ayurveda that fasting encourages digestive fire with the exclusion of blockage in the channel which helps in reducing of effects of any disease.

Fasting does not help if the subsequent meal is heavy and large. It nullifies all the benefits of fasting.

Start with intermittent fasting or skipping one meal or substitute a solid meal of the day with liquid food like soups and watery khichdi. Avoid deep fried food before, during or after the cleansing process.

Food wastage

The colossal wastage of food in Indian marriages or celebrations asks for introspection. In every Indian celebration, food takes the center stage both for the pomp value and also for the wastage. It is estimated that almost 25-30% of food ends up in the waste bin. This is shameful as the neo rich Indians indulge in an extravagant display of food to show off their newfound affluence. It is estimated by a blogsite that food wasted each day at weddings and family functions in Mumbai alone would be enough to feed the city’s vast slum population.

Many Indians do not finish the food on their plate either which in turn cannot be recycled. The next time you savor a wedding feast, spare a thought for the masses which go without two square meals a day. The Indian culture was about sharing and caring, the current scenario does not augur well for upholding our value.

Indulge consciously, eat mindfully and share generously. Remember the food is free in a feast but your health is not.

More in the second blog detailing similar habits that we can try to work on. Remember a country can change only when every citizen vow to make a change in their habits and attitude, and embrace positivity wholeheartedly.