The food habits of Indians have undergone a sea change in the last 50 years. Unfortunately, the changes are not healthy. Traditional Indian diet consists of less processed ingredients and more of natural ingredients. The concept of sit-down meal with family and friends is slowly losing grounds with the hectic lifestyle and the influx of ready to eat processed food flooding the shelves of departmental stores that have sprung up covering the length and breadth of the country. The younger generation is following the Western style of grabbing a meal-on-the go rather than rustling up a healthy meal for themselves. More recently with the influence of Western products which are now readily available across the country and along with it the modernization and industrialization of food production process the people find it more convenient to pick stuff of the shelves or dine out on junk food rather than take the pain of cooking traditional meals at home. The result is not favorable at all. These new age practices are saving time in the kitchen no doubt, but people are ending up spending more time and money towards their medical expenses due to this unhealthy eating habit that has slowly taken over the majority of the population particularly in the metropolitan areas and amongst the younger generations.
One of the most surprising and sad reality is how easily we Indians have let the Western world influence our age old traditional way of life. It has impacted almost every part of our lives, the food we eat, how we have started living our lives, and the clothes we wear down to how we even design our homes. Somehow, a vast majority of the population and it is not just the younger generation but many from the older generations too feel a great sense of pride to be westernized in the way they lead their lives. Why and when we slowly kept moving away from our own roots is kind of hard to decipher. Why do we not feel great about our own culture, our food habits? Are the older generations to be blamed? Why are most Indians unable to answer the reason behind the age old rituals and practices? Why did grandma’s make certain food during certain seasons, why did the older generation always emphasized on having a healthy breakfast but we did not understand the underlying meaning till the American author and nutritionist Adelle Davis came out with her caption “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”.
One of the major negative impacts of the Western world on our Indian food habit is the introduction of “Junk Food”. What are Junk foods? Junk food simply means food with empty calorie. these are ready to eat food that are high in calorie but lack micronutrients that are essential for a healthy body like vitamins, minerals, fiber or amino acids. Junk food is an informal term applied for those foods that have little or no nutritional value, and can cause health issues if consumed regularly. Most of the packaged "junk food" like chips, biscuits, and various snacks contains high level of refined sugar, white flour, Trans fat, poly unsaturated fat, high amount of salt, various food additives like monosodium glutamate (known to be carcinogenic) tartrazine and other preservatives that are used to enhance the shelf life.
Across the length and breadth of India there has always been the tradition of preparing specific type of tasty yet healthy sweets and savories for different seasons of the year. During summers it would be lip smacking mango drinks spiced with herbs like mint, black pepper, and sugar that helped to combat the peak summer heat and act as coolant. Homemade snacks like pappadams, different pulses made into nuggets sun dried to last throughout the year were made in most of the households which had no preservatives. During winter after the harvest was done a different type of sweets made of sesame seeds, flax seed, puffed paddy, parched paddy known as laddus were made, which are not just tasty but have great health benefits. However, slowly these things have taken a back seat and the new generation are more accustomed to chocolates laden with sugar and other off the shelves high calorie sugary delights that have very little health benefits. Children of this generation are lured by the clever and colorful advertisements and have slowly got addicted to this unhealthy junk food. Worst case is school canteens dishing out burgers and white bread sandwiches and aerated drinks that have not only got the children addicted to these foods but it has affected the health of this new generation in a very negative way. Intake of such nutritionally weak foods have already sown the seeds of infirmity and debilitating disease like clogging of arteries at an early age , risk of prostate and breast cancer linked to bad eating habits during the puberty, hypertension and osteoporosis at an early age. Vulnerability to slow growth, dental problems like decaying tooth and obesity.
It is high time we woke up to this epidemic that is slowly engulfing us and the coming generation. If we want to build a stronger and healthier nation we must create awareness of going back to our roots and start eating the local produce. We need to go back to our original ethnic diet that is what is best suited for our climatic conditions as well as our physiological built. We need to understand that imported fruits, vegetables or different types of grains that are not indigenous to our location will not necessarily make us healthier or smarter. Good news is many nutritionist like celebrity nutritionist Rutuja Diwekar are trying their best to make people understand that we need to eat the local produce, quintessential Indian ethnic diet in order to stay fit and healthy and shed those extra weight. We do not have to depend on imported grains to make us healthy, lean and attractive.
On the 19th of June the Health Ministry issued a circular making it mandatory to stop serving food like cookies, biscuits and other unhealthy fast food during meetings and these unhealthy foods are to be replaced with dates, roasted chana, almond and walnuts. It is definitely a good move, however, this kind of circular should be sent out to schools making it mandatory that no school should sell or serve unhealthy food in their canteens or premises. On the contrary the schools should the first to inculcate the habit of eating healthy and imbibe the sense of pride amongst children about the benefits of our healthy Indian diet and food. Government and private schools across the country serve breakfast, lunch and evening snacks to children. What a great platform it is to showcase the rich diversity of ethnic healthy Indian meal and snacks. Not only will children get to know about the rich food culture of this great sub-continent but it will also help bring out the recipes that are gathering dust and many that are on the verge of getting lost as few know about them.
Let us go back and find the recipe books of our Grand moms’ dust them and delve into the rich culinary history and start savoring the food that is locally produced, which is not just healthy but equally tasty. Lets tingly our taste buds with some long lost recipes, healthy local ingredients and revive the food habit that is slowly getting lost under the flashy neon billboards and myriads of other advertisements.
Let us start advertising our very own healthy Indian food.
By: Madhuchanda Saxena
Posted By - Assistant Editor