Tag Archives: #wellbeing

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

Ask Yourself 4 Key Questions Everyday: Redesign Your Wellbeing

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on South Asian health and wellbeing.

“Goodbye,” said the Fox. “Now here is my little secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” … “It is the time you lavished on your rose that makes your rose so important.” … “Men have forgotten this basic truth, but you must not forget it. For what you have tamed, you become responsible forever. You are responsible for your rose.”’

With these simple words, the Fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1941 classic tale The Little Prince reveals that which makes life truly worth living: appreciating people for who they really are, building relationships based on deep and meaningful connections, and understanding the misplaced value most of us give to superficial and material things.  Hearing the Little Prince recount this story, the pilot who has crash-landed his plane in the desert realizes the need to re-evaluate his own life.

Have you crash-landed in your own desert, your plane’s engine broken, and nowhere to go? Are you hoping for your own little prince to share his secret and guide you to a marvelous world?

How would you begin to design, or re-design your life and your well-being?

The application of design thinking – an approach used in product development to incorporate the end user’s needs and perspective – is not new. A good example is found in the book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dale Evans, both professors at Stanford. They guide working professionals through this process to build balanced, productive lives while finding joy and satisfaction in work, love, and play.

We are creatures of habit.  We do many of the same things every day, from the moment we wake up until we go to bed at night, because we’ve trained ourselves – with or without intention – to be that way. It stands to reason that if we are to redesign our lives for better well-being, we will have to retrain ourselves to form new habits. Eleni Hope says that it is much easier to create the changes you crave when your habits empower and support your soul, values, and vision.

My friend Chaplain Dr. Bruce Feldstein, a board-certified chaplain, has developed a compelling approach to implement this re-design for well-being in a gradual, transformative process.  He was an emergency medicine physician for 19 years before deciding that his true calling lay elsewhere, and trained to become a chaplain. He now serves as Founder and Director of Jewish Chaplaincy Services serving Stanford Medicine, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Services, and is an Adjunct Clinical Professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Drawing on the rich perspective he developed from decades of tending to the medical and spiritual needs of people, and additional insights from research and teaching in medicine, he developed what he terms spiritual fitness exercises to help us form these new habits and re-design our own well-being. 

The key, says Chaplain Feldstein, is to “build practices that increase our capacity for meaning, purpose, and connectedness,” three essential determinants of well-being, and then “engage in these practices to fill our living with well-being.”  Building these practices through repetition creates new habits.

Chaplain Feldstein recommends you begin with Four Questions a Day — inspired by the work of Rachel Naomi Remen MD, professor and pioneer of holistic and integrative medicine, and from research on gratitude. At the end of each day, spend 10 minutes of quiet time to contemplate and ask yourself: 

  1. What surprised me today?       
  2. What touched me today?
  3. What inspired me today?
  4. For what am I grateful?

Consider each question separately. Ask yourself the first question, reflect back on your day until you come to the first thing that surprised you, and jot it down. Then ask the second question, look back for the first thing that touched you, and make note of it. Do the same for something that inspired you, and for which you are grateful. Continue this exercise for three weeks and review your answers to see what you can learn about yourself.  This foundational practice of discovery, wisdom, and well-being gradually “teaches us to live with open eyes and an open heart,” says Chaplain Feldstein, “it increases our capacity for well-being as we develop new ways of recognizing that which is positive and meaningful.”

Through this process, you will learn for yourself what the Fox taught the Little Prince!

The next step in this practice is to reflect on each of these questions as you go through your day. Set aside moments during your day to stop, reflect on the questions, and jot down your response. In doing so, identify and notice the particular response – surprise, being touched, inspired, and grateful. As you continue, you will gradually progress to the stage of noticing these reactions while in the experience, and from there to be able to voice an appropriate comment such as “that’s remarkable,” “I’m touched,” “you inspire me,” or “I’m so grateful you did that.”  In this manner, you improve your ability to focus, sense, notice, allow, appreciate, wonder, reflect and find meaning. You interact with authenticity. This is a pathway to “fashion a world that is increasingly filled with well-being,” asserts Chaplain Feldstein. In addition to the Four Questions a Day practice, he recommends three other exercises to explore: Where Are You? Living Your Questions helps you discover the ‘aliveness’ within yourself; Key Relationships helps you stay emotionally buoyant; and Four Things I Want You To Be Sure To Know assists in healing relationships, finding peace, and dealing with the prospect of losing someone.  

Access Chaplain Feldstein’s Spiritual Fitness Exercises© and begin to redesign your own life today!


Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents. He is also President and a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area that advocates for healthy aging within the South Asian community. Sukham provides curated information and resources on health and well-being, aging, and life’s transitions, including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death, and bereavement. Contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com

Spiritual Fitness Exercises ©2020 Chaplain Bruce Feldstein MD, BCC.

With sincere thanks to Chaplain Feldstein and the Jewish Family and Children’s Services for this inspiring resource.

Why Should You and I Care About Palliative Care?

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on South Asian health and wellbeing.

My wife’s oncologist recommended a palliative-care consultation during one of her checkups. This was the first time we heard about it and my wife, subsequently, received beneficial palliative care alongside her ongoing treatment for cancer. Since then, I’ve continued to learn more about palliative care and how it helps patients living with various kinds of serious illnesses. I’ve also realized that most people know very little, or are misinformed about palliative care. We need to understand this relatively new medical specialty; it can do a lot for us and our loved ones in the event of a serious health issue. 

Palliative care is specialized care for people living with a serious illness. It is a type of care focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of different kinds of serious and chronic, progressive illnesses, and is provided in addition to, and concurrent with, ongoing medical care. It supports the patient’s ability to feel better while undergoing treatments which could be intense and sometimes not well tolerated. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

To palliate is to make something – for example, a disease or its symptoms – less severe or unpleasant. Palliative Medicine is relatively new. It has its roots in the work of Cecily Saunders and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s. The term Palliative Care was coined in 1974 by Dr. Balfour Mount, a surgical oncologist at The Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada. It was recognized as a field of specialty medicine in Great Britain in 1987, the same year that Cleveland Clinic started the first Palliative Medicine service in the United States. It became a board-certified subspecialty of medicine in the United States in 2006, just 15 years ago.

Let me repeat: Palliative care is specialized care for someone living with a serious or chronic progressive illness, focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness, to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. It is based on the needs of each individual patient and can be provided at any time during his or her illness, along with the treatment he or she is already receiving, regardless of the prognosis, expected trajectory of the disease, or age of the patient.

What, specifically, does palliative care do? It provides relief from pain, nausea, constipation, neuropathy, shortness of breath, or other side effects and symptoms caused by the illness and/or treatment. It helps when patients and their families have trouble coping with the illness and are anxious, depressed, stressed, or fatigued, and enables them to better carry out their daily tasks and do the things they want. Palliative care can also improve the quality of life for both the patient and his or her family. 

What is meant by quality of life? That depends on the patient! He or she defines what is important at that moment and in the future. The palliative care team works with the patient and his or her family to understand what’s important and what matters most to them, and takes that into account to formulate a treatment plan and provide the best possible support to help realize those goals.

I used the phrase palliative-care team.  Care is provided by a specially-trained, multidisciplinary team that typically includes doctors, nurses, medical assistants, social workers, chaplains, and other specialists. This is because palliative care extends beyond a patient’s physiological and medical needs and addresses other factors that may be affecting their quality of life, including psychological, spiritual, and social needs. These needs vary from patient to patient. In addition, they can vary over time for a given patient.

Needs could include: help with figuring out what medications should be taken and when; thinking things through, and weighing options when faced with decisions on a suggested next step in treatment; help navigating the complexity of a large hospital when referred to different specialists or when various tests are ordered. Sometimes stress can overwhelm the patient, caregiver, or another family member, and they could benefit from having a caring listener, or just a hand to hold for a while. The costs of treatment are a huge concern for many of us, so the assistance of a qualified individual to sort through financial questions might be valuable. When serious illness brings up existential and spiritual questions, trained chaplains could provide answers, solace, comfort, and a compassionate presence. Nutritionists who understand the patient’s diagnosis and condition can help address dietary concerns.   

Palliative-care specialists treat people living with many types of serious and chronic illnesses, regardless of their age, stage of the disease, and whether or not they are still receiving curative treatment; these include cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and other life-limiting diseases. Pediatric palliative care is an upcoming specialty. During the current pandemic, it’s an essential part of treatment for those who have contracted COVID-19.

Many confuse palliative care with hospice and believe a recommendation for palliative care implies the patient has a condition that will imminently end his or her life. This is not correct. Palliative care can be very useful for those managing a long-term illness. Quality research provides evidence that the early introduction of palliative care provides all the benefits described above, and results in fewer hospitalizations, a reduced burden on the family, and greater satisfaction overall. Hospice is a form of palliative care for those patients judged to be approaching end of life – and typically have six months or less left to live – who decide to focus on comfort instead of prolonging treatments.

Most private insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative-care services in hospitals and nursing homes. However, you should always consult with your insurance provider to understand your coverage in detail.

I hope this has helped you better understand Palliative Care and dispel any related misconceptions. 


Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents. He is also President and a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area that advocates for healthy aging within the South Asian community. Sukham provides curated information and resources on health and well-being, aging, and life’s transitions, including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death, and bereavement. Contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com

Sincere thanks to Drs. Neelu Mehra at Kaiser Permanente, and Kavitha Ramchandran & Grant Smith at Stanford Health Care – Palliative Care Physicians who have contributed greatly to my understanding of Palliative Care.

With sincere thanks to Trung Nguyen at Pexels for the use of her beautiful photograph.

Sunset

Pause and Look Back: 2020 Wellness Themes

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.

As we draw the curtains on a tumultuous year and look forward to better times in 2021, we should pause to take stock.  Let’s reflect on the year we’ve endured; acknowledge and accept the tough, troubling, earthshaking times we’ve lived through – buffeted by the pandemic, and the economic, social, and familial hardships so many of us have endured.  Grieving for the loss of a loved one and for the forfeiture of a way of life, while living through a rising tide of social and racial injustice, intolerance, and hate. Let’s acknowledge these difficult times and accept them. Accept, acknowledge, then look forward.

Let us prepare ourselves for the better times ahead with a new sense of purpose. Determine to look after ourselves and those whom we love better than we did this year. Let’s not make another New Year’s Resolution that is sure to fall by the wayside in two weeks; instead, let’s make an implementable plan we can follow every day.

Each of you knows where you must look to develop your own personal, tailored wellbeing plan – one that addresses Body, Mind, and Spirit.  To get you started, I offer some learnings from the Sukham Blog articles I wrote for India Currents this year for your review and reflection.

Article: Mitigate Chronic Inflammation (Image by Hal Gatewood at Unsplash)

In Love Your Body: Mitigate Chronic Inflammation (February 2020), I described how inflammation is part of our immune system’s defensive mechanism, playing an essential role in healing and controlling infection. However, when this immune response is constantly and repeatedly triggered, this chronic inflammation can cause cumulative damage that could lead to diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and depression. I described what we should do to prevent chronic inflammation or mitigate its effects. Social isolation, psychological stress, disturbed sleep, chronic infections, physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity, and exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to increased chronic inflammation. Review this article, consult your doctor, and create your own 2021 roadmap to combat chronic inflammation and make lifestyle changes for a better tomorrow.

Article: Just Write, It’s Good For You

I discussed writing as therapy in Just Write, It’s Good for You! (July 2020). Research tells us that writing can improve physical wellbeing by boosting immune functioning as well as mood. Writing about your thoughts and feelings for just 15 to 30 minutes a day, three to four days a week can ease stress, grief, and loss. The benefits include better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among both adults and children.

The following month, in Learning to Embrace Aloneness (August 2020), I described the difference between Loneliness and Aloneness. While loneliness is a manifestation of missing someone or something, aloneness is a state of mind where one takes advantage of being by themselves and uses the opportunity to draw strength, peace, and connectivity with oneself and with nature, to seek our own inner light. Take steps to explore your aloneness!

Article: Lonely In a Crowd (Image by Aziz Acharki at Unsplash)

Loneliness that is left unaddressed, on the other hand, can be harmful. It is an epidemic in our society, as discussed in my second February 2020 article: Lonely in a Crowd. We now understand that loneliness is an emotional state created when we have fewer social contacts and meaningful relationships than we’d like; when we feel no one knows and understands us.  We feel disconnected from people even though they are all around us.  Research shows that it is a risk factor for many illnesses.  Understanding this and learning to watch for signs of loneliness both in ourselves and in those around us should be part of our wellbeing action plan for the coming year, paying special attention to both the young and the elderly in our lives.

An increasing number of us are becoming caregivers for a family member or a friend, as I describe in my May 2020 article The Caregiver Crisis, becoming responsible for his or her physical, psychological, and social needs. While caring for a loved one can be an enriching and rewarding experience that brings out the best in us, long-term care demands sustained attention and is physically exhausting and emotionally draining for both the giver and receiver of care. This leads to increased stress and anxiety and affects relationships.  Understanding this, and planning ways to get respite and avoid burnout is an essential part of any wellbeing roadmap.

Article: Can I Find Happiness? (Image by Zac Durant at Unsplash)

Finally, an upbeat note to round out this brief survey. Earlier this month, in Can I Find Happiness? (December 2020), I talked about my own quest for this elusive state of being. While it is different for each of us, happiness is a combination of frequent positive emotions, plus the sense that your life is good. Each of us can develop that sense by seeking to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond just surviving to flourishing. By building practices into our lives such as cultivating kindness, regular exercise, healthy eating, pursuing goals, discovering spiritual engagement, staying positive, and showing gratitude, we get improved life satisfaction and wellbeing, and learn that the happiness we seek is not out there – it is within ourselves, waiting to be found!

Notice how it’s all interconnected? 

I wish each of you peace, joy, good health, and success in developing and implementing your wellbeing roadmap. See you in 2021!


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. He is also a columnist for India Currents. 

With sincere thanks to Dawid Zawila at Unsplash for the use of his beautiful photograph.

Take the Time, Check In

WHO reports suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally, with a total of 800,000 lives lost every year. This data was compiled pre-pandemic and the assumption is that this year the data is going to look worse. 

As an actor and storyteller, I wanted to capture mental health in a short story, focus on one of the potential solutions, and drive that point home. It was an active decision to remove focus from the underlying reasons for depression. As of late, we’ve learned that depression can happen without an obvious trigger, as in the case of Deepika Padukone.

As one would expect, initially it took time to find people who wanted to invest time in a project about mental health but I found my key collaborators – Christina Perez and Emmanuel Vega. Christina Perez directed, edited, and created the background score. Emmanuel worked the sound and lights, among other things. The shoot was done in one location and completed in 3 hours.

In these trying times, the relevance of the message has increased and the collective consciousness has been almost forced to develop empathy to understand it. However, the message was relevant even before and will remain relevant even after. The ending of the short was designed to be something that lived online given the ubiquity and the growing relevance of the Internet in the current world. 

As a volunteer project, my team and I have nothing to gain from this video other than spreading a beneficial message. Please take the time, just 96 seconds, to watch the short film below!

Since the release of the short, the response has been very positive. A young musician from Kerala was inspired by the short and composed a song using the visuals from the short film. A doctor messaged me and said how this movie had impacted him; he started making calls to his coworkers to check in on them as they are working 80 hours/week.

Almost everyone who watched the short has loved the art and has had a key takeaway from it, however, not many have watched it. While it may seem that 70k views are a lot, remember that 800,000 people die due to mental health every year. We are just getting started!

Uday Krishna is an actor, writer, and data professional. Uday has acted in a bunch of shorts, plays, commercials and has written/directed plays and shorts.