Sunday, May 13, 2012

Don't eat potatoes, to banish casteism and other ills

Came across this request-for-advice post on Reddit:
"Posting from a throwaway... My gf is (27) , me (28) both working in high end IT jobs in Bangalore. Me a hindu (bengali) she a muslim from kerala.. Both atheists. We have been living together for the past 1 yr (relationship for 3 yrs) While we both love each other very much ,the families are completely against it. We have been fighting to convince my parents for the last 1.5 yrs. (snipped ...)
Edit: my parents are 65+ , have high BP etc so their health is one concern I always have."
The last sentence caught my attention.  Maybe I have seen too many movies, but in a lot of Hindi films, people get into bad marriages, choose bad careers, and give up on their dreams because ... their parents might die of a heart attack if they do anything "shocking".

Indian parents owe it to their children to be shock-resistant during their fifties and sixties, the age during when their children will make important life decisions.  That is, they should have healthy hearts.  And this shock-resistance can be achieved only by changing one's diet and by keeping fit.

That is what this article is really about, in case you were wondering.

I find, to my obvious distress, that lifestyle diseases are gaining epidemic proportions in Indian affluent classes.  An earlier modest proposal has been subject to widespread ridicule from feminists and their bloviating ilk.  Never mind; hopefully my present suggestions will find kinder ears.

I believe that Indian affluent classes live an unhealthy life.  Our parents' generation (those born before the 1960s) did not, in general, have exercise and a healthy diet as their priorities.  They were more focused on providing a stable and healthy environment for assholes (like yours truly) to grow and become good human beings.  Whether they succeeded in their goal is anybody's guess.

A few points to note:

  • The West did not give us junk food, even though we might like to believe it.  We already had fried nutrition-less food (samosas, pooris, dosas, pakodas, parathas, aloo tikki, halwa, jalebi and so on) which we used to consume with gusto.  An Indian sweets shop (halwaai ki dukaan) is full of junk food, and has nothing but junk food.
  • Food cooked at home is much healthier and has more vegetables in it.  But even there, rotis and rice are a major ingredient.  Salads are generally only a puny, side dish and desserts and fruit at the end of the meal make sure one can do little else but sleep after the meal.
  • Exercising for small-town folks is to take a lumbering walk in the suburbs.  For the 14th floor Gurgaon literati, it is to do "sooksham vyayam" (micro exercises) and some yoga stretching.  Nobody likes to break a sweat or to lose their breath.  
  • We like to think Yoga and Ayurveda are the word of God when it comes to exercise and tonics, but sorry, they are both thoroughly pseudo when it comes to cardiac health.  Yoga Asanas are, beyond the rudimentary stretchy ones, are useless exercises in contortion, and Ayurveda, as my dad likes to say, has just Amla (Indian Gooseberry), a rich source of Vitamin C, in its arsenal.
  • North Indian street food (Dhaba food) is not much better than American fast food.  It is in many cases, worse. Try to find a green vegetable dish in a dhaba menu.  The major dishes are either wheat (parathas, naans), cheese and fat (paneer dishes), potato (aloo matar, dum aloo, etc.), or nutritionally-destroyed and color-added spinach (palak dishes).  Salad usually means a few pieces of cucumber, tomato and onions.  
  • In the south rice is overwhelmingly the main calorie contributor in one's food.  However, south Indian thali (combo meal) is somewhat better than its north Indian counterpart, having yogurt and unfried vegetables, and sambar, chutney and rasam.
  • Indians don't drink, they get drunk. 
After surveying a lot of literature on diets and exercises, I have come to the following conclusions which I consider worthy-of-consideration by my fellow Indians who are sick of their diet and are wanting to have a healthier heart and body:
  • Do not eat out.  If you go to a party, have lemonade and some peanuts for starters, and dal (lentils), a portion of fish or chicken if available and if you eat meat, and some salad for dinner.  Everything else is junk food.
  • If you don't have anything to eat at home, try Subway 97% fat-free sandwiches (without the cheese, please, and no mayo-based sauces in the end).  They are available in almost every town I think.  If you are vegetarian, try the Veg Shammi sub.  For your own sake, please don't go to a fried fast food joint.
  • Give up on sugar, rice, maida, potatoes and soft drinks.  These will make you fat.  If you cannot give up on sweet things and like to have tea or coffee with sugar, switch to using Sucralose (Indian brands: Sugar-Free Natura, Splenda, Relish).
  • Drink lots of water.  A half-liter a half-hour before a meal works wonders.
  • At home, eat meals which are up-to 500 K-calories, having almost no carbohydrates in them, have a lot of raw food (low-sugar fruit, salads, sprouts and nuts), and eat slowly.
  • Lose your breath at least three times a week, for sustained periods.  Brisk walking is a good exercise, but it needs to be really brisk (7km per hour).
  • If you are not fond of gyms, and want to condition your body, do body-weight exercises like squats, push-ups and sit-ups.  Pull ups too, if you can manage.  Surya Namaskar is not really Yoga but is an extremely good exercise.  A western kind-of-equivalent, much harder for a beginner, is the Burpee's.  If you do ten repetitions of Burpee's, I guarantee you will be out of your breath.  If you can do three sets, bravo, your son can finally marry that Ethiopian hottie!
  • Do not drink beer.  Water is really the best drink, but if you have to have alcohol for social reasons, have a drink or two and enjoy the conversation and the social lubrication, not the drinking and the effects of alcohol.
  • Curd/Yogurt is good for you.
  • Be moderate (it is okay to eat the forbidden stuff every once in a while), and be quiet about your diet. Don't bore others.
  • Be regular in your exercise.  After a while, it will become a habit and you will curse the day when you haven't been able to break a sweat.
  • Keep standing a lot.  And up till five floors, always take the stairs.  It takes less time than waiting for the elevator, and you hear interesting stuff (elevators are usually quiet, stairways are usually buzzing with gossip).
I assure you, if you follow most of the above guidelines, you will live to be ninety, and will have multicultural grandchildren!

Of course, if you didn't have any kids, neither will they.  Logical, no?


Vippa said...

Michael Pollan's own summary of his book In Defense of Food is about as succinct of advice as it gets:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Food is defined to be things found as close to their natural state as possible (contrasted with the majority of pre-packaged foods with a dizzying array of obscure ingredients).

Add some calisthenics or sport every-other-day and you're a healthy human. Just being a healthy weight and able-bodied is reward enough once you 'get there'.

Modernity's abundance is a curse to the lazy (me), but those with wisdom and restraint enough, can be fit and free and focus on problems other than their base animal nature. Here's hoping I can too!

Anonymous said...

South Indian diet always combines rice with some kind of lentil. Pongal,dosa,idli etc are not just rice dishes. Southerners consume way more protein rich lentils than Northerners. This is the main reason the Southern vegetarian diet is healthier than the North Indian one.

Jogeshwar said...

Sridhar said...

In theory, South Indian Veg food is better than its north indian counterpart, however, the tendency of south indians to consume rice in excess negates the effect of the wide variety of vegetables that are part of the diet. Diabetes, Obesity etc are as much a problem in the south as in the north.

I think Indians in general have an aversion to food that is uncooked. Vegetables have to be bathed in oil and spices to be edible. Salads with fresh greens are dismissed as uncivilized diet of the 'goras'. This should change.

Sanjay Srivastava said...

If you are into body weight exercises don't just settle for push ups and squats. Follow some structured program. I have been doing weight lifting exercises for about 7 years, but I still find Paul Wade's Convict Conditioning real ass kicking:

Sanjay Srivastava said...

"If you go to a party, have lemonade and some peanuts for starters, and dal (lentils), a portion of fish or chicken if available and if you eat meat, and some salad for dinner. Everything else is junk food."

BTW, your advice above is not just wrong. It is even dangerous.

This is not US man. When you go to an Indian party, please remember that given our mass cooking conditions, food poisoning is a real possibility. So avoid all non-cooked items like salad and curd like plague. If you want to eat anything, choose something deep fried. Poori and samosa are quite safe. Most of the pathogens get killed at that temperature. If you want to be extra safe, choose something that is deep fried and dipped in concentrated sugary syrup. Even the most die hard pathogens don't survive in that environment.
So choose Jalebi over salad and you won't regret later. Do not go by the advice cut pasted from American health websites.

Jogeshwar said...

Thanks for the advice. About fitness, kettle-bells provide good workout combining cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training unlike most western muscle isolating workouts. Griveks( kettlebell lifters) claim that kettlebell swing is the single most effective exercise.