As I reflect on this year, one thing stands out as a strong theme. I spent quite a bit of time reimagining the foods we eat as a family. I will summarize the changes we have made to help others who want to eat healthily.
It all started with me first coming in touch with a Deepak who has managed to reverse diabetes and lead a healthy life for 6-7 years without any medications. So I decided to dedicate a lot of time listening to podcasts and youtube videos to understand the science behind this. Coincidentally I also was in touch with an Ayurvedic doctor who suggested the diet is the root cause of all ailments, and we can correct all health problems, including diabetes, with the proper diet. So I read four books on this topic and came up with five basic tenets of good food. These are the summary of suggestions from different authors.
- Reduce Food intake and Follow Intermittent Fasting – We dont need to eat and drink more than 2-3 times a day, and we need to allow the body to fast for at least 12-14 hours so that the organs have time to recover and repair themselves.
- Avoid Processed Food -Our bodies are not tuned to handle mixtures of food not found in nature. The deadly combination of fat, sugar, and processed carbs is the main base of all processed food. We should discover healthy alternatives to processed foods.
- Sugar -The human body is not designed to manage the constant onslaught of sugar. We need to get off all forms of sugars and switch to consuming sugar found in nature.
- Use Whole Grains(Native Grains) – The third tenet we should focus on is consuming whole grains and cold-pressed oils. As much as possible, use native grains instead of hybrid ones as they have a better insulin response profile when compared with hybrid versions of grains.
- Vegetables – Try and get to a stage where 30-40% of your food is vegetables (cooked or uncooked does not matter). The higher, the better, but they are not satiating, so a 40% mark is a good balance in my experience.
Intermittent fasting may be a trendy word, but I look at it as going back to the older way of living. Remember, before electricity arrived, most of us would complete our dinner by 6 pm before it got dark and broke fast the next day morning at around 8-9 am. The body had a good 12-14 hours of fasting daily to digest the food and repair itself. Scientific research has proven that we need at least 10 hours of fasting before the body gets to a stage of burning fat, so in the olden days, we gave the body time to get to the fat-burning stage. But with our current lifestyle, we eat and drink for more than 15 hours, never getting to the fat-burning stage. An intermittent fasting program of 16 hours (fasting):8 hours (eating) tries to solve this by allowing the body to recover. I have been following the 15:9 plan for the last seven months. This practice has helped me lose 5-6 kgs of weight during the previous seven months. I feared that staying hungry for 15 hours was challenging, but it was a breeze for me after 1-2 days of acclimatization. If you need more details on what intermittent fasting does to your body, I recommend reading “The Obesity Code.”.
100 %Off Sugar
The most dangerous form of food is sugar, as it is the main reason for the increase of insulin supply in our bodies as the body tries to deal with excessive forms of sugar. We went off sugar around 1.5 years ago, and it is the best decision ever; however, I think being off sugar is the biggest challenge in eating healthy. Sugar is addictive, you will realize this only when you stop having sugar for 2-3 weeks, and then you eat a sweet. After that, you get an instant high and crave for more. Out of all the changes for eating healthy, getting off sugar is the most challenging due to its addictive nature, but we have managed to fight it off many times now by finding alternatives.
- We occasionally order sugar-free (date-sweetened) sweets and from Sampoorna Ahara.
- Have replaced jams with sugar-free versions (date-sweetened) from Sampoorna Ahara.
- We restrict consumption of sugar/jaggery to only festivals.
Whole Grain and Avoid Processed foods
The fiber in the cereals that we eat is an essential aspect of food. It helps balance the sudden sugar rush in the body due to eating carbs. By eating whole grains (native variants when possible), we ensure enough fiber supplies for the body. The fiber helps manage the insulin spikes and thus helps in preventing us from accumulating more fat. The native variants of cereals have more fiber and less starch, so try and use native variants when feasible. My secret weapon in finding organic native produce is the Farmizen App. We order more time from this app than Amazon!. Based on the insights, we changed the following.
- The infinite visible supply of dry fruits is available on the dining table so that the kids prefer to eat those vs. eating biscuits or other junk foods.
- We have switched to healthy, whole grain,oil-free & Sugar-Free snacks, power bars, and cakes from SampoornaAhara and other brands. It is heartening to see many snacks and condiments made with less(or zero) oil and whole grains. I can’t recommend Sampoorna Ahara enough!
- We switched to a Native variety of Wheat (Jave Godhi/Emmer Wheat) for chapathi and upma.
- We switched to eating Red or Brown Rice (Raja Mudi/Kempu Sanna)
- We switched to whole grains or native in all legumes ( Whole Moong, Whole Urad, Native Tur Dal) for Idly, Dosa.
- We have been using cold-pressed oils for the last 1.5 years to have a better nutrient profile and lower fat conversion than refined oils.
We need to reduce the quantity of carbs that we eat because we dont need as many carbs as our ancestors. There are many ways to reduce carbs, like eating more animal proteins and fats. But there are other implications of these diets; the main one is that animal-based protein (milk, eggs, meat, or cheese) causes additional stress on the kidneys and causes other inflammation in the body. But there is near consensus among experts that a plant-based diet is good for us. Therefore, many experts suggest that we need to increase vegetable mix in our diet to reduce the carbs and increase the amount of proteins we consume. But after some experimentation, I found having a large portion of your meal as veggies is not satiating, so I have settled for a mix close to 30-40 % of what I eat. To achieve this target, we are doing the following.
- As many of you have seen my daily posts on Facebook/WhatsApp, we start our breakfast and dinner with a big bowl of stir-fried (less oil) veggies on all seven days. I buy fresh veggies daily and cook them in the morning. We mix many legumes in the vegetables to make them tasty and exciting.
- We experimented with recipes on many everyday breakfast items like Upma, Kichadi, Idly, Dosa, Nuchina Onde by adding finely chopped veggies. Try and get to 20%-30% volume of these recipes to have veggies. This trick also helps me get Ishaanvi (elder one) to eat veggies!
- We discovered healthy recipes with high protein content and fewer carbs – Nuchina Unde, Chila, Pesarutu, etc. Here too, we try to use whole grains to get enough fiber intake.
Overall when I look back at it makes me wonder how we made so many changes and sustained it. I believe the pandemic and work from home for the last 2 years have helped me a big way. The foundation of this was laid in the first wave of covid and have used 2021 to build a comprehensive routine around eating healthy. As a friend suggested I decided to write it down so that it can help develop awareness. Hope my little effort in penning this article has inspired at least a few of my friends to experiment with eating healthy. I would be more than happy to share insights and pointers based on my learnings. Feel free to message me or call me for specific questions that you may have!