What are Diets
People’s Diets are Fundamentally Patterns of Foods
“Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.” William Shakespeare
In the following paragraphs, I will describe a pattern of foods constituting a regular diet that is both Indian in nature and also healthy. To get the most out of reading this article, you must ultimately select foods that you like and fit the profile of the healthy Indian diet. I keep the definition of the healthy Indian diet fairly general. You will not catch me saying, “Eat more red dal,” but you will catch me describing why dals and other legumes are good for you. Ultimately, I want you to pick and choose what legumes and other foods are to your liking. The only way you will adopt healthy Indian meals over the long term is if you find these meals tasty.
I keep the advice general for another reason. I don’t believe any diet completely prevents disease. No specific set of foods eaten every day is a magic bullet. After all, we haven’t ever been able to fully control our food supply, environment, or the genes we are born with. Our diets, no matter how healthy, can’t make up for all the potential problems, big and small, in our environments and genes. Yet, all things considered, our diets can influence our general state of health and improve our chances, sometimes dramatically, of having a better quality of life well into old age.
The third reason I keep the advice general is to convey the idea that the sum of the parts is better than all the parts in isolation. There are all kinds of synergies in nature, and thus in traditional diets, that science doesn’t fully understand. This synergy is best demonstrated by pondering these two observations:
(1) A daily multivitamin does not reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and
(2)Plant-based diets, which contain the same vitamins but usually in smaller amounts as well as other phytonutrients, are associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Some diets have a magic-like effect on the body. The modified Atkins diet, which is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, can help many people lose an incredible amount of weight quickly. The high-natural carbohydrate Ornish diet, when coupled with intense lifestyle changes, can reverse atherosclerosis. My desire is to describe a healthy diet that is different in philosophy to the Atkins and Ornish diets in that the healthy Indian diet can be followed every day, where your body gets all the nutrients it needs, and offers health benefits without making any dramatic changes to your lifestyle (though I do encourage exercise, yoga, meditation, and socializing).
The Healthy Indian Diet
Historically speaking, nutrition researchers and physicians who had the right resources did not study Indian diets in the same way they studied American and European diets since the 1950s. This situation has improved recently, and discoveries about elements of different Indian diets are coming to light.
The healthy Indian diet I describe is based on traditional cuisines and is reversed-engineered from what we know thanks to modern science (e.g., eating brown rice regularly helps to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, while eating white rice raises it). Many times, tradition and what experts advise based on science overlap. For example, people in India traditionally ate brown and wild rice; white rice, as doctors in colonial Indian pointed out, was an adoption of Modern diets.
In crafting a healthy Indian diet, I considered what foods, traditionally speaking, are common in all parts of the Indian subcontinent. The most obvious element is spices. Since ancient times, India has been known for spices. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribed combinations of spices to help people get better, and this way of thinking made it into daily cooking. Spices are a unique cultural heritage for all Indian people, and although the spice mix used differs between Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, or Bengal and Himachal Pradesh, they are made of the same spices: asafetida, cumin, black peppercorn, red chili pepper, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, and so on.
One foundation of all Indian diets is the emphasis on plant foods, another is that everyone eats dals and other legumes, and to varying extents fermented dairy products like Dahi and pickles. These basic similarities constitute the healthy Indian diet. Here are the foundations of the healthy Indian diet.
- High consumption of vegetables and some fruits
- Spices are used in all dishes
- Legumes are consumed regularly with whole grains for complete proteins
- Fermented dairy products and pickles are eaten often
- Meats are consumed in low quantities
- Very low consumption of refined grains and sugars
There you have it! These are the only guidelines you will ever need to craft your own healthy Indian diet, or simply healthy Indian dishes.
Basic Principles of The Healthy Indian Diet
- Base your diet on plant foods like leafy greens and fruits. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help the body keep inflammation and insulin levels normal.
- Cut out trans fats such as those found in partially or fully hydrogenated oils.
- Cook using moderate amounts of foods rich in saturated fats like ghee and coconut oil.
- Have legumes like dal and protein-dense tree nuts regularly. Combine them with whole grains to get complete proteins.
- Fill your dishes with spices, especially turmeric, ginger, garlic, and peppers.
- Remove refined grains like white rice and bread, finely ground flour, and table sugar. They offer the body easily digestible carbohydrates and nearly zero nutrition. This also means do not eat too many starchy foods like white potatoes.
- Have whole grains like brown rice and coarsely ground grains like millet and sorghum. They offer the body abundant nutrition and fiber.
- Include fermented foods like yogurts (Dahi and perugu) and pickles regularly.
- Create a daily diet that is varied and, above all else, tasty.