Going on holiday can put a strain on your diet, you have to keep head strong and make the right choices. It’s hard to keep within your limits when you are out of the house let alone being in a different country. I went on holiday to a country known for its unhealthy diet with food being high in fat, salt and sugar, India.
It was a family trip to visit family and relatives and while I was there I got my eye laser surgery done as well, so I’m getting used to life without contact lenses and glasses. Yay!
As it was the first time I have gone back to India as a nutritionist, I was more aware of the food and eating habits. I made lots of observations and got chatting to some locals as well about trying to be healthy eating. They told me what they ate in their typical day and I gave them realistic changes to make in the following week. I was a little bit amazed that they were interested in trying to be healthy, as I am all too familiar with their motto of: eat, live and die. So, how did I keep healthy in a place which is known to be laden with oil, fat and sugar?
Well, first of all I didn’t go empty handed, I made sure I took my healthy supplies of herbal teas, soup packets and even cereal was a life saver. My breakfast is so important to me and it has to be healthy so I know and I have that feeling that I have started my day right. I had my cereal and green tea as usual and got some fruit from the market to snack on. If I didn’t I would have ended up having extra sweetened Indian tea made with full fat milk and fatty fried savouries, like samosas, fried chapattis, chevda (Bombay mix) and puris (puffed Indian bread which is of course fried!).
I am used to having a light lunch, such as, sandwiches, jacket potato or pasta. But not in India, their lunch consists of a heavy three course meal based on rice, and sometimes with sides. I usually stuck to the main course and kept control on my portion size. If I didn't want rice I simply had one of my soup packets or simply made a fruit salad, which went down nicely in the lovely heat.
Dinner was always a several protein filled dishes with chapattis. I noticed the way they cooked the chapattis were different to how we cook it in the UK. They shallow fry it slightly adding more oil and fat where it is not needed and they tend to be thicker than what I am used to, making it more energy dense. Luckily, salad was always on the table, so I made sure I took a generous serving of salad with the main meal. Water was always my choice of drink, being 30-40⁰C I needed to keep well hydrated.
Indian food can be healthy if prepared and cooked the right way. We oven baked some fish instead of frying it, which significantly reduces the amount of fat and retains the nutrients in the fish. There is a vast amount of fresh food available to them but they spoil it by added unnecessary amount of oil, salt and sugar to their food. Their lifestyle doesn't help either. Exercise is seen as a chore which can be said for some people in the UK as well. However, we used to go for walks after dinner as it was nice and cool in the evenings and to my delight we weren't the only ones. There were many other groups of families and friends who seemed to be out for a walk too.
In India there is a dual nutritional burden with under-nutrition being prominent in the rural areas and over-nutrition in the urban areas, both men and women are at risk. The prevalence and risk of malnutrition depends on age, education and wealth. Due to their habitual diet being high in fat, sugar and salt, it puts them at risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
I visited a newly opened hospital in my town and asked them if they have a nutritionist or dietitian working on site. They said they did have someone come in a few times, but didn't have anyone regular. I told them I was a nutritionist and they were very enthusiastic to have a healthy eating event, but sadly my trip was not long enough, as they needed more time to advertise and promote the event, but we exchanged contacts and hopefully in the future when I plan my next trip I will definitely make time to offer my nutrition services to my local town and hopefully help to make a difference.
So, what could you do to keep healthy in India; avoid creamy curries like korma have madras style curries or vegetable and dhal dishes. Try to minimise the fried extras, like samosas and poppadoms and ask not to have butter smothered over your chapattis and naan breads. Have boiled rice rather than fried rice or pilau.
Maybe the Indians are getting aware of the consequences of their traditional diet and actually doing something about it. I’ll probably go back in a few years time and I’ll let you know how much it really has changed.
A H Nutritionist
5th December 2011