Indian food and diet patterns: pros and cons
India is a big and diverse country, therefore the term ‘Indian Diet Patterns’ may seem like an unfair generalization. Also the two sides of India the relatively underprivileged ‘Bharat’ and the affluent ‘India’ behave quite differently, in lifestyle and food choices
But, some commonalities do exist in Indian food habits: the most predominant are ‘roti/chawal and dal’ based diets and vegetarian eating habits (even non-vegetarians eat much less meat on average than their western counterparts)
What are the benefits of Indian dietary habits?
- Vegetarian food habits result in lesser intake of bad fats than western populations
- Good intake of pulses and vegetables, result in adequate dietary fiber consumption
- Use of vegetable oils for cooking results in good intake of good fats MUFAs/PUFAs and lower intake of bad fats
- Less consumption of ready to eat /canned food result in less salt and TFAs (Trans Fatty Acids) and food preservatives etc. , but this is changing rapidly
- Less dependence on breads and pasta make it easier to consume more than 50% total grains as whole grains or their products, for people who are not heavy rice eaters
However due to changing dietary patterns, especially in affluent classes, these benefits are getting diluted in the current Indian context
What are the bad effects of Indian food habits?
- Indian diet is too heavy on carbohydrates, which predisposes to insulin resistance/diabetes, blood lipid derangement and weight gain. This is due to following reasons:
- Milled rice, which is eaten heavily in eastern and southern India, has higher glycemic index, much less fiber and vitamins than brown rice or wheat
- Pulses, which are a major source of protein in Indian diets have high amount of carbohydrates and less density of proteins when compared with meat, tofu etc.
- Table sugar is freely consumed in tea/coffee and milk adding to the carb burden
- Indian diet is predominantly vegetarian, which predisposes to deficiency of certain nutrients: Vitamin B12, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin A and Iron. This is due to the following reasons:
- Some nutrients such as vitamin B12 are not found in vegetarian food and some are found in lower concentrations or are less readily usable (Iron, vitamin A etc.)
- High amounts of dietary phytates and oxalates in pulses and vegetables, which leads to decreased absorption and bio availability of some vitamins and minerals
- Paucity of fortified foodstuff further predisposes to vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Limited availability and preference for low fat milk means that heavy milk consumers get high amounts of bad fats (SFA and cholesterol) in everyday diet
- Less consumption of protein dense foods such as meats, soy products, nuts etc. means that Indians get less protein in their diet than westerners but whether the diet is deficient in protein depends on dal, milk consumption etc.
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