India, with its rich culinary heritage, has seen its diet evolve dramatically over the years. Let’s explore how modern diets in India compare to the more traditional ones, the impact these changes have had on overall health, and how simple dietary shifts can pave the way for healthier lives and brighter genetic legacies for both current and future generations.
Tradition: The Wholesome Indian Diet
Traditionally, Indian cuisine was a colorful tapestry of whole grains, lentils, vegetables, spices, and an array of regional specialties. A typical meal was a harmonious blend of various food groups, each contributing its unique flavor and nutrition. It was a diet steeped in heritage and wisdom.
Transformation: The Modern Indian Diet
Fast forward to the present, and we find a transformation in Indian diets. Urbanization, globalization, and the fast-food culture have introduced diets rich in processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats. The traditional thali has made way for quick, convenient meals that often lack the diversity and nutrients of their predecessors.
What are these new foods?
Processed foods are a staple of modern diets but often contain additives, preservatives, and excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. Here are some examples of processed foods in India, to help understand what they are:
1. Instant Noodles (e.g., Maggi, Top Ramen): These convenient snacks are quick to prepare but often contain high levels of sodium and unhealthy trans fats.
2. Packaged Potato Chips (e.g., Lay’s, Bingo): While they’re tasty, these snacks are typically fried in unhealthy oils and loaded with salt.
3. Sugary Breakfast Cereals (e.g., Corn Flakes): These cereals often contain high amounts of added sugars, lacking the fiber and nutrients found in whole grains.
4. Sweetened Yogurts (e.g., flavored yogurt cups): Many fruit-flavored yogurts have added sugars, which can exceed the health benefits of yogurt.
5. Fast Food Burgers and Fries (e.g., McDonald’s, KFC): Fast-food chains often use processed ingredients and unhealthy cooking methods, contributing to the high-calorie content of their meals.
6. Instant Soups and Gravies (e.g., Knorr, Maggi): These products may contain excessive salt, preservatives, and artificial flavors.
7. Processed Meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs): These meats often contain additives and high levels of sodium, and they’re associated with health risks.
8. Sugary Soft Drinks (e.g., Coca-Cola, Pepsi): These beverages are high in added sugars and offer little to no nutritional value.
9. Canned Foods (e.g., canned vegetables, ready-to-eat curries): Canned foods may contain added salt and preservatives to prolong shelf life.
10. Instant Packed Snacks (e.g., biscuits, cakes, pastries): These snacks are convenient but can be high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives.
It’s important to note that not all processed foods are unhealthy, and some are minimally processed and can be part of a balanced diet. If you must use these, it’s essential to read labels and choose products with fewer additives and less added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. It’s important to note that a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy, is generally a healthier choice for overall well-being.
What about Oils?
In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards using modern highly processed oils such as vegetable oil and refined sunflower oil.
While these modern oils may be more affordable and easier to find, they are also less healthy than traditional oils and fats. Modern oils are often high in unhealthy fats such as omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation and chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Traditional oils and fats, on the other hand, are a good source of healthy fats such as monounsaturated and saturated fats. These fats are essential for good health and can help to protect against chronic diseases.
Ghee is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Mustard oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health.
Sesame oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Coconut oil is a good source of saturated fats and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are easily digested and absorbed by the body, and they have been shown to have a number of health benefits, including boosting metabolism and reducing inflammation.
Advantages of using traditional oils:
- Traditional oils are a good source of healthy fats, which are essential for good health and can help to protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Traditional oils are less processed than modern highly processed oils, which means that they retain more of their nutrients and beneficial compounds.
- Traditional oils have a distinct flavor and aroma that can enhance the taste of food.
However, it is important to note that all oils are high in calories, so it is important to use them in moderation.
The Impact on Health
This shift has not been without consequences. The prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease has surged. A diet once celebrated for its balance has become one that contributes to chronic health issues.
Epigenetics: Your Genes &Future
Now, let’s connect the dots between diet and genetics. Check our discussion on epigenetics, the science of how lifestyle choices affect gene expression? Well, here’s the twist: your dietary choices play a significant role in this genetic symphony.
Simple Shifts, Profound Impact
The good news is that you can make a difference. By reverting to some of the traditional dietary practices that have nourished generations for centuries, you can positively influence your genes and the genetic legacy you pass on.
Embrace the Rainbow
Traditional Indian meals often feature a kaleidoscope of vegetables and fruits. By including a variety of colorful produce, you provide your body with an array of nutrients and antioxidants, keeping your genes in harmony.
Rediscover Whole Grains
Swap refined grains for whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, and millets. These grains have more fiber and nutrients, which can help manage weight and blood sugar.
Spices and Herbs
The spice rack isn’t just for flavor; it’s a treasure trove of health benefits. Spices like turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help protect your genes.
Traditional Indian cooking methods involve slow cooking, which retains nutrients better. Cooking at home allows you to control the quality and quantity of ingredients, ensuring a healthier meal.
Balance and Moderation
Traditional Indian diets emphasize a balance of flavors and food groups. This approach keeps your genes humming with vitality.
The Future Awaits: A Healthier Legacy
By making these simple shifts in your eating habits, you not only improve your current health but also contribute to a healthier genetic legacy for your future generations. Just as modern diets have influenced genetic health, simple changes can have a profound and positive impact on the health of your family tree.
- A study published in the journal Nutrition found that ghee helped to improve cognitive function and memory in older adults.
- A study published in the journal PLoS One found that ghee helped to reduce inflammation and improve gut health in people with inflammatory bowel disease.
- A study published in the journal European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ghee helped to improve bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in women.
- A study published in the journal PLoS One found that people who regularly consumed ghee had lower levels of inflammation and a lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
- A study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that mustard oil contains a number of bioactive compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.
- A study published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease found that mustard oil helped to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol.
- A study published in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice found that mustard oil helped to improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of complications in people with type 2 diabetes.
- A study published in the journal Nutrition found that sesame oil helped to reduce inflammation and improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
- A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that sesame oil helped to lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health in people with high cholesterol.
- A study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research found that sesame oil helped to prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells in laboratory studies.
- A study published in the journal Lipids found that coconut oil helped to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
- A study published in the journal Metabolism found that coconut oil helped to boost metabolism and promote weight loss in people with obesity.
- A study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that coconut oil helped to improve cognitive function and reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, we are not doctors or nutritionists. This information is from publicly available articles and studies. Please check with your physicians/doctors before you make drastic changes to your nutrition. The gist of the article is to encourage everyone to eat healthier traditional foods with minimal or no processing.