Monday, March 16, 2009

Rambling thoughts on diet etc.

After a chat with my grandparents on what they ate when they grew up, there seems to be no great difference between diets 50 years back and diets 80 odd years back. The big difference seems to have been the addition of milk (usually meant owning a cow then) as people become "richer".

Now, what that means is that over one or two generations, our dietary habits have changed considerably.

Some of it is because of availability of "foreign" vegetables. Some of it is because, people stopped growing stuff in their own backyard (backyards became smaller to non existent too) - which meant that vegetables that need to be consumed pretty much "on site" would get relegated in favour of vegetables that had better shelf life. If there was a migration to the cities in this generation, then that meant packaged foods like bread, biscuits were introduced (and back then, bread was supposed to be good as was vanaspati). A lot of items that were made at home, were mass produced.

Then, a generation later (now) maida was recognized as a health hazard, vanaspati has been mostly banished outside home kitchens, packaged foods changed their appearance to appear healthy and with less sugar, transfat and what not...leading to what can be called the great comeback towards health - which is why an attempt at tracking the diets about a 100 years ago.

And seeing that, food, obviously, was not such an important of their lives - clearly not on a day to day basis! Food also was not a recreational activity unless there was a feast someplace. Eating out? What was that?

Over the past few generations, the difference is that as our diets get worse, our activity also levels go down. Or, as we progress up the social ladder, our activity levels go down. Now its not as straightforward as that. Somewhere along the way, we catch up with our health - and decide that we need to change our diets, increase our activity levels etc.

In general, you can eat anything and get away with it - if your activity levels are high. That means, you walk about 6 kms a day on an average (!) - thats a brisk walk for an hour.

Otherwise, we are eating way more than what our body requires which then accumulates in all the wrong places blocking arteries and what not. More later...

A lot of this learning as come from my own personal experience. Shun packaged foods - even juices. Shun anything that has flour and/or hydrogenated vegetable oil. Prefer fruits over juices. Try to get rid of fried items, pickles from your diet.

And live by this article the starting lines of which (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants) seems to have been the mantra of our healthier ancestors.


Jam said...

I completely agree with the point that as we move up the social ladder (read financial position and social status in life) we start using our bodies lesser and lesser. We are constrained to our chairs, staring at an LCD Screen for a major portion of our days.

Blessed are the ones who notice these changes in physical activity and manage their day to day dietary habits accordingly.

This post renews my pledge to start exercising regularly, if not for anything else, at least to maintain some flexibility in my muscles and joints.

Kavi said...

Agreee. Agree Agree !

But how much can we change. Can avoiding the pickle and the bottled can be enough ?!?

Am not sure !

Whats perhaps required is comprehensive change. But thats like a whole mouthful. Of processed food !

Jennifer said...

Great post. Would like to know more about your grandparents thoughts on diet, the particulars. What is vanaspati?

You may like to read this post on English Vegetables written by a Tamilian

Fascinating stuff!

Jennifer said...

Hi... I saw your reply on the life in Pondicherry blog.. only thing is I am a bit confused... that blog is not authored by me :) I just happen to like that blog alot!! Hope I have not confused you more- my blog is at

Neelakantan said...

Thanks for clarifying Jennifer. I really thought that was your blog too :)

Kavi, yes, we need to do much more than that. Start walking, to begin with.

ggop said...

You will really enjoy In defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The latter is quite voluminous. The former is a short read.

Rama said...

i'm surprised that you say one hour of brisk walk (about 4mi, 250 calories) as high activity level. then what would you say about the marathon runners, super human!

in any case, that amount of exercise per day cannot compensate for a liberal food intake---you certainly cannot eat anything and get away with just one hour of brisk walking. this level of activity only gives you a cushion of 250 calories, which is about 2 table spoons of oil or fat, one small piece of dessert, two small pieces of samosas or vadas.

if anybody is still reading this, i'll encourage you to run, for one hour at the pace of 6 mph.

nice article otherwise,

Neelakantan said...

I guess Rama is right on the money.

Eating in moderation and a decently high activity level will help!