Diet

Our health is getting worse. Is the Indian diet to blame?

The Indian diet is known for its flavour and the dazzling variety of herbs, spices and cooking methods that have been known for generations. So how did India become the Diabetes capital of the world? What went wrong and is the Indian diet to blame? Find out the answers, identify mistakes you may be making and learn how you can start fixing your diet.

Kannan
Aug 23, 2020

The first line of the title above is Our health is getting worse. I do not make that statement lightly.

 

I knew that my health was getting worse as I got deeper into my 30s.  Nothing dramatic happened, but the signs were clear.  I weighed at least 5kgs more than I used to when I started work 10 years earlier, bending to tie my shoelaces took some effort and I had the occasional acid reflux flare up.  All small but important signs that things were not all right.

 

A lot has changed for me since and I’ve learned many things in the journey to founding Daily9.  But what took me most by surprise and became the cornerstone to starting Daily9 was this - it was not just me or some people who were struggling with their health.  It was most people, including an increasing number of children.

 

Here’s 3 data points that make this clear:

 

  • India now ranks in the top 5 countries in the world in terms of obese adults. 30 million obese adults. That is about the same as the population of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru combined.
  • India has the second highest number of obese children. 14.4 million obese children. That's about the same as the population of Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad combined.
  • The equivalent of the population of Mumbai + Delhi + Bengaluru + Pune + Chennai + Hyderabad is now obese.

 

And this has consequences.

 

India is now widely recognised as the ‘Diabetes capital of the world’.

Diabetes is reaching potentially epidemic proportions in India. It is predicted that by 2030 Diabetes may afflict up to 80 million individuals in India.  That’s about double the numbers expected in China (42m) and the United States (30m). 

And it looks like India is not too far behind in the number of people with hypertension (blood pressure) either.

 

These might seem like just numbers, but think about your family and friends.  Do you know someone with either diabetes, fatty liver, blood pressure, thyroid problems or excess weight?  It’s likely you know one or more such people.  We all do, and these numbers add up to a lot.  And it’s starting to have an effect on the next generation too.

 

And if we see a little of this, doctors see a lot of it.  I’ve spent a lot of time talking to doctors, many of whom recommend Daily9 health coaching to their patients.  Their stories are sobering.  In short, this is what I hear from them:

 

Diabetes, thyroid, fatty liver and other lifestyle diseases have become the new normal.  These and other diseases that usually occurred after the age of 50 are now appearing from the 20s.

 

So the next time you hear that healthcare is a booming sector in India, you know why.  We have an increasing number of sick people.  And it’s only getting worse.

 

What went wrong?

 

There are many factors here - food, exercise, sleep and stress all have a role to play.  But food has arguably had the biggest impact.

 

Is the Indian diet to blame?

 

My diet is mostly Indian and I’m guessing yours is too. So let’s find out if that’s part of the problem here.

Is the traditional Indian diet to blame?


No. Let’s explore why.


Clearly there is no one diet that we can call a typical Indian diet.  Due to its sheer size and diversity, India offers a large variety of cuisines and foods.  Most of these cuisines have a number of common themes:


  • Use of grains like rice, wheat, millets etc (dishes include idlis, rotis, dosas, parathas).
  • Incorporation of lentils and legumes (dishes include dals, channa, rajma, sambar).
  • Creative use of seasonal vegetables across a range of dry or gravy dishes.
  • Use of oils and fats for cooking – butter, ghee, coconut oil, sesame seed oil, mustard oil, etc.
  • Dairy products like milk, paneer and yoghurt play a significant part in many cultures.
  • Seafood and meat are used in many cuisines.
  • Significant use of herbs and spices – turmeric, ginger, cardamom, clove, cumin, coriander etc.



All of the above are high quality foods that provide nutrients to our body including carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

We also get the unique health benefits that come from the use of various herbs and spices.

Calorie counting mistakes to avoid-The Daily9

All of this makes for what is arguably one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, and one of the tastiest too!  It’s no wonder that an Indian dish appears to be the long-standing national favourite even in the UK – the chicken tikka masala.


What went wrong?


The world has changed in the last few decades and nowhere is this more evident than in India.  As someone who grew up in Mumbai (Bombay at that time), I barely recognise the city I grew up in. This seems to be the case everywhere we go across the country.  All this change has made its way into our lives and the food we eat too.  


There have been big changes in our eating patterns in the past decade and this has impacted every single meal we eat in a day.


Let’s take a look:


Breakfast


Our busy lives mean that the first meal must be quick, convenient, easy to pack etc. This means no more cooked food and the choices now seem to be quick fixes like corn flakes or other sugary cereals, instant oats, bread (jam or a sugary spread is never far away) etc. Check if you're breakfast is a healthy one.

Lunch


Office canteens are convenient for many, or you can order in.  Neither option is known for fresh high-quality food.

Snacks


Usually come in a packet or box (biscuits etc) that have a long shelf life.  Or there are the oily options (samosas, puffs etc).

Dinner


This is the golden age for food delivery apps and anything you desire is a few clicks (and a 30 minute wait) away.  Restaurant food is almost always extremely oily.  You may not be able to tell, but we know that this is true from talking to professional chefs.

All day


Sugary beverages are everywhere.  Also, the sugar in all the coffee/tea that you drink during the day adds up.


Our diet is no longer mainly the typical Indian diet.


Do any of the above meals sound familiar?  Or have I just described your typical day?  If so, you are not alone.  Whether it is one or more of the above meals that have changed, it means that our typical day’s eating:


  • Is significantly higher in carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Has much lesser fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Contains a lot of oil and fat (not the good kind).
  • Is significantly lower in protein.
  • Includes more processed foods which come with artificial ingredients and processed oils.


Here’s a fact you won’t forget:


The average Indian consumes more than 10 teaspoons of sugar – in a single day.


Overall, when we look at the food we eat in a day, we don’t seem to be eating the typical Indian diet anymore.  There lies the problem. The average Indian today eats too much carbohydrates, sugar and junk, but not enough protein or vegetables.

 

The result?  Excess weight & obesity and deficiencies in important nutrients that the body needs like protein, calcium and vitamin B12.  All of these contribute to health issues like diabetes, hypertension etc.

Diet to reduce blood sugar-The Daily9


How can you fix this?


Should you only eat home-cooked meals? Or only eat traditional Indian foods?


While that seems simple in theory, I know that real life is complicated and messy.


In practice, there is a way to strike a balance that will promote health without you having to sacrifice convenience.


We’ve worked with over 1,500 people at Daily9 and showed them simple yet effective changes that they can make to their daily diet.  We know what works in practice and what does not.  Based on this experience, I would recommend the following 3 rules you can apply right away:


  • At each meal, fill 1/3rd of your plate with vegetables (choose local and seasonal options, organic if possible). If you can do half your plate, go for it. Learning to eat more vegetables is a skill for life.
  • Eat a fist of protein with every meal (measure the protein against your fist).
  • Aim for 2 medium-sized fruits a day (any fruit that is in season is ok).


Whether it’s a home-cooked Indian meal or you’re ordering in, if you follow these 3 rules you will be on the right track.  You’ll see and feel the difference within 2 weeks and weight loss is a common side effect.

Don’t get distracted

The Internet is rife with misinformation.

Everyone and anyone with an opinion or a thought can put it out there.

From “I tried this and it works, and so should you” of regular folks spouting falsehoods to cherry-picked articles by journalists and established media that are trying to cause some sensationalism, rather than guide you.  As a result, information often gets published without being verified, or facts are conveniently ignored.  You need to watch out.


I’ll leave you with the following thoughts:


  • Think hard about what you put into your body.  We did not have to think hard about our diet in the past and that was ok - back then.  Times have changed and you need to do the same.

  • Simple stories are convenient, but rarely the truth.  It’s convenient to avoid the thinking and believe the stories of good and evil foods, magical diets and quick fixes.  Belief & hope are not a substitute for fact.  Every diet you hear about today has been around for over a 100 years, nothing is new - other than money-making scams.  Don’t fall for it. The best diet is the one that slowly and steadily improves your health and takes you towards your goals.

  • You know enough, get going.  It will never be the perfect time to do this ‘getting healthy’ thing.  You’ll always have busy lives and plenty of commitments.  You need to make the time for yourself.  Get started with what you know, you’ll figure out the rest along the way.


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