Fourteen reasons why Indians are not as healthy as they should be
I’ve written a fair amount articles on diet and talked to dietitians and doctors about the ailments which plague Indians. Heart disease, Diabetes, AIDS and Cancer. What seems clear is that all of these diseases are related to lifestyle and at least three to diet. One can never pinpoint the exact cause of any disease as many complex factors come into play including that of the genes.
However there is no doubt that diet and lifestyle have been proven to be linked to disease. I have made my own conclusions after talking to experts and have also made some observations of life around me. I believe that problems today with our lifestyle and diet habits are the following:
1) Eating too many fried foods, ranging from pakodas and jalebis to namkeens
2) Eating a lot of sweets, which are soaked in ghee and often fried as well. This increases fat intake. Sugar is also consumed alongwith the fatty foods.
3) A high consumption of white polished rice which is devoid of nutrition
4) Faulty wrapping of food by consumers and hoteliers. Using non food grade plastic to store food, and also eating food off newspaper which causes lead poisoning as well as ingestion of phthalates. This is extremely common, even in educated households. Often fried food is left on newspaper to soak, and this is very dangerous and fat absorbs lead the quickest. Acidic foods also absorb more of the poisonous agents. Lead is a cancer agent. Newspaper as food packaging is banned in developed countries.
5) A strong belief that desi ghee (clarified butter) can be consumed in large quantities. This is saturated fat and has to be consumed in limited amounts, depending on one’s physical activity.
6) Increased consumption of white bread and baked products, a concept imported from the west. Dangers of white flour are plenty as this is basically food stripped of all goodness. People have also started to use a finer ground wheat flour for making rotis. This is bad for health.)
7) Trans fats are now recognized to be very bad for health, and cause heart disease. Even a small amount of trans fats are bad for health. Transfats are found in vegetable shortening and margarine and thus in all bakery products including biscuits unless the product is advertised as made with pure ghee. (Updated). Yes, pure ghee is better than fake ghee, but ghee is pure fat so limit it.
8. Lack of exercise
9) Overcooking our veggies and other faulty cooking habits.
10) Heating oil to high temperatures so that it smokes before frying and then actually re-using this oil! This causes toxins and cancer agents to form in the oil. Heating oil until it starts to smoke creates toxins and poisons in oil.
11) High uncontrolled pollution in our cities.
12) Increasing presence of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in our food including milk
13) Intake of chemicals through processed foods. Chemicals like preservatives, colours, and other chemicals. (Update) Read this post: Youve consumed this Chemical Cocktail
14) Pesticides and pollutants on fruits and vegetables. Ensure that you wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly. (Update)
A lot of these habits are the result of our past. As a nation we are rising from poverty. We were a deprived nation and today when someone comes into money he feels that to laze around and eat is a great way to live! Many people believe that using a lot of oil in food is a sign of prosperity. Because as a nation we were poor for so long, and were forced to do hard labour, either in the fields or at home, we never developed a taste for sports. Overall, we Indians are not the sporty kind.
What is seriously required is a separate subject to be taught in school about healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. Today, even educated people do not understand the dangers say from faulty packaging of food. When I used to work for the Times of India I remember that in the office canteen stacks of recycled newspaper were kept for food to be wrapped up in. The highly educated journalists used to casually pack their pakodas in this and take it up to their seats. When I mentioned to a few people that this was dangerous all I got were amused smiles! This was in the year 2000. I do not know if this is still the situation there. I find it strange that we cover our noses at a burst of lead filled smoke from a poorly maintained bus but consume lead directly this way! Its much worse, this direct intake of lead.
Well, we have to pay the price for how we live and what we eat.
Note: A reader, Seran, wrote a comment on another post and mentioned a point that was added to this post. This is about pesticides on fruits particularly on grapes and apples which is very dangerous to health. Many fruits are covered with pesticides and need to be washed with soap or scrubbed throughly with water (soaked and rinsed several times) before they are safe to consume.
Our farmers rarely follow the norms laid down on these pesticides mostly due to illiteracy. Fruits are not supposed to be sprayed after they are ripe and ready, but Indian farmers do it on a regular basis. Also they use a far greater quantity of pesticide necessary on the crops before they are ripe, and this causes a harmful amount of pesticides to grow within the fruit, and this can never be washed off. They do this either because of faulty reading of instructions or because they want to ensure that they do not suffer any losses or to maximise the crop.
I have been washing fruits thoroughly for several years because like Seran, I too have an uncle who is a farmer. I have also read stories about some Indian farmers who grow separate crops for their own use (some educated farmers know the dangers) but sell the poisonous pesticide stuff in the market.
However, when I tell people how I clean my fruits, no one takes it seriously!
Related Reading: Are we eating healthy food?
Faulty cooking habits results in loss of nutrients
Why oils can be bad for health
How to live with Diabetes
What’s in your biscuit?
Chemicals you eat everyday
Health Insurance in India
Tobacco causes cancer
Insurance for heart disease
Are we eating too much?