Tag Archives: nutrition

Oil-free and Plant-Based Food Serve Up A Healthy Desi Diet

Two years ago, I could not imagine cooking and eating oil-free food. Cooking good food was synonymous with a liberal splash of cooking oil in everything from simple sabji to biryani.

I loved cooking all my recipes  with lots of oil, though I knew it was bad for my health. Every dish began with a bottle of cooking oil right beside me.  As a foodie I relished food glazed with oil.

Homemade chakalis were my favorite. As a vegetarian, I assumed that oily snacks were okay, given my healthy vegetarian diet of fruit smoothies, brown rice, sambar, vegetables and beans.

But I often wondered why I was putting on weight despite my plant-based diet. In Atlanta, I met Shobha, and my perspective drastically changed. Shobha is an advocate of plant-based foods, inspiring folks to thrive on plant-based fare with zero oil!  That simple conversation with her had a profound impact on me.

I joined Shobha’s WhatsApp group and my plant-based health education began.

I discovered that the persistent ache in my knees was inflammation from the excessive oil in my diet.

I was shocked to find out that all cooking oils, from soybean to canola oil are highly processed. High temperature and chemicals are used to extract oil, a  process that make their nutrients go rancid.

When I learned that one tablespoon of oil has 120 calories, I nearly fainted. I felt so guilty! All that processed oil in my everyday food!

The more I discovered, the more I realized how little I knew about how cooking oil affects the body.

Processed oil is responsible for so many health issues – obesity, constipation, inflammation, heart attacks, and more.

And yet, the information you read on websites and news articles is really so confusing and overwhelming.

Are cold pressed sesame oil and coconut oil safe? Is olive oil as healthy as  nutritionists claim?. And what about using “just a little oil’. Vloggers and sharers of recipes suggest 4 to 5 tablespoon of oil per pound of vegetables. Doctors and nutritionists urge folks to include oil in their diets, as oil fat is essential in the absorption of some vitamins, and the healthy functioning of cells and tissues.

So what’s the truth?

Our modern diet and lifestyle is driving the upsurge in diabetes, heart disease, and blood pressure. The reality is that oils have extremely low nutritive value. Both the monounsaturated and saturated fat they contain is harmful to the endothelium, the innermost layer of the artery, and that injury is a gateway to vascular disease.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s olive oil, coconut oil, or canola – my takeaway is to avoid all oil. And since diabetes and heart disease run in my family, I made an intentional decision to drastically cut back on oil in my everyday cooking.

At first, it was hard. I automatically reached for the oil when I started cooking. I had to really make a conscious effort to stop myself!

Magically, my WhatsApp group delivered. They shared amazing pictures  of oil-free recipes and dishes.

In the span of few months I was cooking up a storm of  tasty, zero-oil dishes, from upma to masala vadas, and cookies to cakes. No unhealthy oil!

Now, I’m on a roll. Here’s how.

In delicious cakes and cookies, I substitute applesauce and banana for oil .

I get healthy fats from fresh coconut, guacamole, almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds. My zero-oil channa masala and rotis are delicious. To sauté onions, I just use a tablespoon or two of water instead! Going oil-free has helped me to explore so many interesting food items and cooking techniques .  Fortunately, my family loves it too!

I’m simply awed by the tasty and nutritious dishes I can make without a drop of oil!

Growing up, I loved deep-fried peanuts and spicy lentils. Now I simply roast sprouted green gram, channa dal and peanuts in the oven, and while it’s still warm, I mix in chili powder and salt. Yummy! My husband couldn’t believe it had no oil at all!

Studies show that Indian Americans have high rate of heart disease. In fact many vegetarians assume that they are thriving on a healthy diet, even though their food is rich in carbohydrates, fats, cholesterol and sugar. Sugar and all-purpose flour are white poison. I realize that cooking oil is colorless poison.

Once or twice in a week, I  use cold-pressed sesame or peanut oil as they offer a healthier option than highly processed vegetable oils.  Occasionally, I have a deep fried treat, during festivals and on special occasions, but no longer need to open my chakali box!

My mindful eating habits have produced a happy result – fortunately, I no longer suffer from knee pain  and my weight has stabilized.  I know my new plant-based diet with zero oil, and thirty minutes of exercise, is playing a pivotal role in my leading a healthy lifestyle.


Kumudha Venkatesan is based in Atlanta and often writes about the vegan lifestyle and spirituality.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash
Photo by Jo Sonn on Unsplash

How to Build a Healthy Plate – Indian Style

Sukham Blog

My article  All That You Need to Know About Nutrition for South Asians introduced a framework to develop individualized, varied and nutritious meals that you would enjoy every day. This sequel provides suggestions to develop and sustain nutritious, healthy eating habits on a South Asian diet, distilled from conversations with Dr. Ranjita Misra, Editor of the 2nd edition of the AAPI Guide to Nutrition, Health and Diabetes, and Dr. Padmini Balagopal, Editor of its first edition. Dr. Balagopal – a Clinical Nutritionist with a commitment to community education in preventive health – is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) who practices both in the United States and in India.

This is a practical guide to help you get from where you are to where you want to be.

Dr. Balagopal recommends the ABCD approach: use Anthropometric, Biochemical Clinical testing as the starting point to develop your Diet plan. Anthropometric measurements include height, weight, BMI, weight-to-height ratio, and waist-to-hip ratio. Biochemical includes metabolic, blood chemistry and other tests your physician would order, and Clinic stands for the examination he or she would perform – blood pressure, reflexes, heart and lungs etc. These measures, a customized interview and your physician’s guidance provide the basis to develop and sustain a nutritious, healthy diet optimized for you and your health condition.

Drs. Misra and Balagopal stress the role of a lifestyle change. “People would do better to focus on all aspects of their health – the whole chakra – and not just their particular health condition,” says Dr. Balagopal.” Physical activity, relaxation and mental health are also critical.  “No diet is complete without physical activity, and chronic stress can create a lot of damage.” Meditation, exercise, yoga are essential supplements to your dietary plan.

How you implement your new diet is also critical. Dr. Misra suggests you begin where you are and make a series of small, incremental and sustainable changes to your diet. She points to rice as an example. Most Indians are used to and like white rice. “If I asked my dad to switch to brown or red rice, he would throw a hissy fit,” she says. Instead, start with an equal-parts mixture of rice and quinoa or millets (available in India and in some stores in the US).  If you must, have just a little white rice at the end of your meal to satisfy your palate. “Cut your portion sizes and eat in moderation”, she advises. Allow yourself to indulge once in a while. “Food should be an enjoyable experience and you don’t have to give up everything you like.” Train yourself to take a balanced approach. A small cup of ice cream for comfort food after a bad day is okay if it makes you feel better and helps with your mental wellbeing, as long as you get back on track the next day. “Be aware of what you eat!”  A slice of pizza once a week is better than one every day.

The first step in adapting the Dietary Guidelines for South-Asian cuisine is to address grains. Less processed is better. Use brown or red rice. Consider alternatives like quinoa, bulgur wheat, and millet as substitutes for rice, or use a combination; they provide more protein with less carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates “end up in the belly area” as triglycerides. If you must, have a very small quantity of white rice at the end of the meal to soothe your palate.  Many South Asians have hypertriglyceridemia resulting from high refined carbohydrates – the white rice factor. Use whole wheat flour for chappatis and rotis.  Ensure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Introduce more color in the diet. Fresh is best, frozen is the next alternative. Canned food should be a last resort.  Add non-fat or low-fat yogurt to your meal for probiotics that are good for digestion and gut bacteria. The DASH meal plan is a good model to follow, especially for low sodium diets. Eat at least three hours before going to bed to aid in digestion and keep your blood glucose in check.

A plant-based diet comprising fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is the ideal way to go. It is also consistent with the Sattvik diet described in the Bhagavad Gita and other Yoga Shatras.  Furthermore, studies have shown that the prescribed plant-based diet  diet can help prevent and treat diabetesheart disease, some cancershigh blood pressure, and other long-term conditions. A recent article provides evidence that this kind of diet  also helps with Crohn’s’s disease,  and it’s not difficult to reach the Guidelines’ goal of nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

‘Tadka,’ or ‘Oggarane’ – tempering – is a fundamental step in South Asian cooking; it provides those mouth-watering flavors by liberating essential oils in spices and condiments. Drs. Misra and Balagopal encourage this – we must enjoy our food – but urge us to minimize the quantity of oil, and suggest that canola and olive oil are better than other options, since they have lower trans- and saturated-fat content. Avoid saturated fats and limit ghee to occasional use. Avoid deep-fried food.  Above all, never reuse oil left over from deep frying. “When you heat oil to a certain temperature, it generates acrylamides – chemicals known to be carcinogenic,” Dr. Balagopal warns.

Another  essential key is portion control.  “Set your tummy thermostat to half-full and get up when you get there,” Dr. Balagopal urges. A high-fiber, whole-grain diet, while good for other reasons, also makes you feel fuller, and helps in this context.

We’ve given you a plate-full of suggestions to get started.  Future articles will focus on the health benefits of certain spices and condiments, and eating with chronic illnesses.

With sincere thanks to Anna Pelzer at Unsplash for the use of her beautiful photograph.

Sukham Blog – This is a monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.  

Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community.  Sukham provides information, and access to resources on matters related to health and well-being, aging, life’s transitions including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death in the family and bereavement. If you feel overcome by a crisis and are overwhelmed by Google searches, Sukham can provide curated resource help. To find out more, visit https://www.sukham.org, or contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com.  

 

All That You Need To Know About Nutrition For South Asians

I typed the word – nutrition – in the Google search bar. About 1,480,000,000 results (0.63 seconds) appeared with a display of the first 11 links.

Whoa! I paused, then I typed –  Nutrition for South Asians. About 97,700,000 results (0.60 seconds) was the result.  I let this number sink in. What could I tell readers about nutrition in 1000 words or less that would actually be useful?

I narrowed my research to four questions.  What are the principal do’s and don’ts for nutrition and healthy eating? What restrictions do health conditions pose? Are credible, well-researched guides available to help us develop individualized plans? Can we adapt these guidelines to cuisines we enjoy?

This article is about healthy eating using Indian, South-Asian and other preferred diets. In a nutshell, abide by these overarching rules:

  1. Follow a heart-healthy diet

  2. Reach and maintain a healthy body weight

  3. Always eat breakfast

  4. Stay hydrated

  5. Don’t follow fad diets

  6. Don’t skip meals

Next, download your free copy of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 published by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA. This authoritative guide provides an in-depth discussion on diet for proper nutrition and good health.

Its key recommendations are: daily consumption of foods and beverages should be within a caloric level appropriate for you. Adopt a healthy eating pattern that includes:

 (1) a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other

(2) fruits, especially whole fruits

3) grains, at least half of which are whole grains

(4) fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages

(5) a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products

(6) Oils (fats that are liquid at room temperature and high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats).

These recommendations for healthy eating patterns should be applied in their entirety, given the interconnected relationship that each dietary component can have with others.

The Dietary Guidelines suggest that we get about half of our calories from carbohydrates. Fruit, vegetables, all grain-based foods and dairy products all contain ‘good’ or ‘whole’ carbohydrates in the form of sugar and starch and fiber (as opposed to refined or processed carbohydrates). Most carbohydrates get broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy; they can also be turned into fat (stored energy) for later use.

“Good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet; they lower risk of disease. Most of the dietary fat should be of this kind and is found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils (corn, olive, soybean, etc.). Saturated fats found primarily in meat and dairy products should be limited. The trans fats created by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils should be eliminated.

A healthy eating pattern also limits added sugars and sodium. The Guidelines suggest that less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake should be from added sugars and less than 10 percent from saturated fats. Sodium consumption should be less than 2,300 milligrams per day (slightly less than a standard teaspoon of salt). Your daily diet should include 4,700 milligrams of potassium which offsets sodium’s effect on blood pressure and has other health benefits. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, leafy green vegetables, and potatoes. For example, a medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium, 8 oz of plain non-fat yogurt contain 580 mg and a baked potato about 600 mg. The dietary guidelines provide a detailed listing of foods containing potassium.  Meat, milk, and some cereal products contain potassium but in a form that is difficult to absorb. Alcohol consumption by adults should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men.

A Harvard Health publication points out that “one of the first principles of healthy eating is to choose nutrient-dense foods that pack, calorie-for-calorie, the most amount of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. That’s why the Guidelines say that the 2,000-calorie-a-day reference diet should include nine servings of fruit and vegetables.”  (this can be made up by including 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day) It recommends including a “good” fat with every meal and urges limiting dairy intake (noting that dairy products are fairly high in calories) and choosing fat-free and low-fat dairy products to avoid cholesterol-boosting saturated fats. The Nutrition Source at the Harvard School of Public Health patterns the Healthy Eating Plate© on these Guidelines.

To help Americans of Indian origin better manage diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension, obesity and hyperlipidemia, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) commissioned Dr. Ranjita Misra, now Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at West Virginia University, to edit the second edition of the book Indian Foods: AAPI’s Guide To Nutrition, Health and Diabetes. This excellent resource on nutrition and healthy eating with Indian cuisine includes chapters on East Indian, South Indian, Maharashtrian, Gujarati, North Indian and Nepali cuisine as well as diet and lifestyle recommendations to prevent heart disease, and tips for those living with diabetes and kidney disease.

Dr. Misra recommends the Dietary Guidelines “as the Bible to go by,” and advocates following it to build a personalized eating plan, using the AAPI Guide and similar sources to tailor it to your cuisines of choice. I spoke with Dr. Misra at length, and she offered several tips that you’ll soon see in the sequel to this article.

In conjunction with a healthy-eating plan, everyone – children, adolescents, adults, and older adults – should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Consult your doctor to account for your specific health requirements, and get on the nutritious and healthy-eating bandwagon with these few simple rules.  Develop your own healthy eating plate and enjoy varied, tasty, healthy and nutritious meals every day!

Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community.  Sukham provides information, and access to resources on matters related to health and well-being, aging, life’s transitions including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death in the family and bereavement. If you feel overcome by a crisis and are overwhelmed by Google searches, Sukham can provide curated resource help. To find out more, visit https://www.sukham.org, or contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com.  

The Healthy Eating Plate copyright © 2011 Harvard University. For more information please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,  http://www.thenutritionsource.org and Harvard Health Publications, health.harvard.edu.”

“Copyright © 2011 Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, http://www.thenutritionsource.org and Harvard Health Publications, health.harvard.edu.”