Cuisines and Health

Like most of you, and as a gastronome, I often like to try different cuisines. Despite being reared on an Indian palate, I often find other cuisines scintillating. I especially gravitate towards Mediterranean, Ethiopian, TexMax, Majicano (not Spanish as is commonly called), Vietnamese, Nepali and Indian cuisine. Especially, I still have to develop taste for Sushi, though I haven’t taken a taste for Italian for its overwhelming Cheese and High Carb content. Maybe I am wrong and possibly, I have to try better restaurants.

Indian Cusine

As mentioned, I often bounce back to Indian cuisine after eating the different varieties. To admit frankly, I succumb to somnambulance from the food served at the Indian restaurants, mainly because of the high-fat content and the chef’s inadequate understanding of the composition of the ingredients. Often I tell my non-Indian friends that –

Home Cooked Food is the best:

Indian cuisine that is cooked at home is way different than what is served in Indian restaurants across the globe irrespective of the chef who cooked it. Mother’s handmade food is best, irrespective of where your mother hails from. There is more love and less of commerce admixed in that food.

The cuisine has various influences:

Cuisine varies from home to home but a regional pattern is pretty much common. Cuisine recipes differ every so many kilometer (Kilometer is the standard used in India, not miles). State and National boundaries have little impact on these varieties. These patterns have loco-regional influences that are intricately related to the weather, availability, and non-availability of ingredients and the culture of the region. In my view, the last aspect reflects our variations and a longing for identity.

Cuisines vary as you travel a few miles:

Indian subcontinental cuisine has differing shades as you traverse from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Generally, the Indian Continental Food served in restaurants here in the US or Europe is dominated by polar varieties that include either North and South Indian cuisine as the main (or multi) course meal that ideally terminates with either a dessert either from Bengali or North India.

Taste is developed in childhood:

Taste buds are developed until 5-7 years of age. I call it a native taste for cuisine. Though we all long for variety, eventually we all fall back to our native cuisine. Restaurants are thus dominated by the population it serves. As an example, here in Dallas, we have a dominant Telugu population and consequently, you see Telugu, North Indian and Tamil style food (Idlis, Dosas, etc.). Not sure if you folks have had an opportunity to taste Nepal, Ladakhi, Sikkimese of Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) food, but it is deeply rooted in the subcontinental style. We all know, Awadhi, Dakkhani, Punjabi, Marwari, Kachi, Goan, Bengali, Odisha, Assamese flavors. The list is endless and it is best to taste authentic local food when we are in the region.

Cooking has more influences too:

The cooking style is heavily influenced by the affluence, culture, nature of the work, religious and regional practices. This last aspect has not changed and though affluence and availability of ingredients are rising, we haven’t truly modified to our current lifestyle. Thus ghee, sweets, and dominance of high glycemic index foods that are destroyed by microwave heating, adulterants and high heat from Gas (stove) burners as against slow cooking on conventional chullas), has destroyed the true value of food.

Commercialization has an adverse impact:

Commercialization of crops like fertilization, high productivity pressure, faster Go To Market, our own need for picturesque rather than little blemished fruits and vegetables are adding a significantly damaging angle. When a vegetable or fruit grows naturally, it soaks all necessary ingredients from the soil. It grows slowly but gets all the necessary micronutrients while it is taking the time to ripen or mature. Vegetables or fruits grown on fertilizers, boost productivity, shorten the time to ripen/mature and thus, has fewer ingredients as compared to those that are not fed fertilizers. Also, often I observe my own behavior while at the grocery shop or farmers market. I tend to choose absolutely picture-perfect fruits/vegetables. Any blemishes by insects are discarded by me. Only retrospectively, I realized that those blemishes are a mark of quality because the insects tried eating those because of its quality. Have you tried feeding a dog or cat any sweets or milk with sugar? Try feeding some treated grains to birds and you will realize they all despise those feeds. We humans are different though. Our tongue dominates our satiety and we hardly realize that what is tasty and that which tickles our tongue is not good. Thus we end up with indulgence. We call ourselves intelligent creatures but we hardly know how to differentiate good food from not so good.

That which does not decay may not be good for health:

Most Vegetables and Fruits have a short shelf life. I often say, if a food does not decay, that’s not good food. If a pizza is seating at room temperature for more than a few days, without being spoilt or without any fungal growth, that is bad. I don’t mean we should eat food with microorganisms growing on it, I instead mean that pizza is not worth those fungi/algae than is it really good for humans? Natural decay is also influenced by weather conditions and this cannot be an ultimate gauge of quality. Unfortunately, we humans who bask on our intelligence can’t discriminate between good and bad, whereas the entire flora and fauna can.

Do you want to mix Cuisine:

You lose the authenticity, that signature of the food. A great example is Chinese-Indians. We cannot adopt best practices from other cultures. YouTube recipes are a great way to start learning but we have to mold those recipes to our lifestyle. We have to adopt authentic cuisine to our needs. Kids and pregnant/lactating mothers may need different food as compared to a father with a sedentary lifestyle. I still remember, when my wife was carrying our child, I too 😋 put on weight, it was right for her but for me 🤭. Someone recovering from illness may need different food as compared to normal healthy people. Our busy lifestyle does not offer us the liberty to adopt so much and consequently, food falters.

Spices have Special Value – Use those wisely:

For antiquity, Spices were exported from India across the Silk Route to Europe, Eastern Europe, China, and South East Asia for their medicinal and gustatory value. Kerala is the hotbed for spices though many are grown across India. Spices have been a reason for much of the Gold that accumulated from across the world into India. To avoid making this as a compendium on spices, I will cite two examples to emphasize the importance of spices.

Turmeric (curcumin) as an ingredient, is part of most Indian cuisine. As a fellow in molecular oncology, we learned in early 2000 that Indians have the least incidence and prevalence of colon cancer. One reason that was strongly associated with this finding was the vigorous use of turmeric. It has a Cox 2 inhibitory action that suppresses colon cancer progression.

Another spice that is well known is Capsaicin (Chillies). Capsaicin has a documented effect in modulating (decreasing) pain through its action on Substance P, a neuromodulator involved in the pain pathway. Amelioration of the neuropathic pain using topical capsaicin is an established remedy for Osteoarthritis and other acute pain. In addition, capsaicin is known for its gastroduodenal mucosal defense.

Animal studies suggest that capsaicin may merit clinical evaluation with respect to the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetics, angina, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiac hypertrophy, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, obesity, and gastric ulceration. In addition to the many studies assessing capsaicin’s impact on metabolic rate and adiposity, the trial of topical capsaicin in patients with angina, and the studies documenting capsaicin’s gastroprotective effects represent initial efforts in this direction. Assessment of the dose-dependency of these effects could provide useful insight into capsaicin clinical dosage to provide systemic metabolic benefits (Reference below).

Nepalese Cuisine

Summarily, there is no problem with Indian cuisine, and by no means, I wish to indicate that Indian cuisine is the best. All cuisine is excellent, be it Icelandic or Afghani food, the problem is with us. Let us fix that and add an adequate dose of exercise and activity.

Ultimately, what and how we eat as well as our activities (physical, emotional and spiritual) will influence us within us and outside world. Below guidelines are best to keep a simple balanced diet that is rooted in our regiono-ethnic practices. I say this because our genome has a memory of the food we have been eating for millennia and it has built a repertoire of identifying good and not so good. The industrial revolution has brought too many changes too fast that our body hasn’t had enough time to adjust and assimilate those changes.

Grain Bowls

My 10 Commandments of Food: Keep a simple diet

  • Eat fresh and eat in moderation. Occasional bingeing is fine.
  • Possibly try to eat less of meat and non-vegetarian food if your protein demands are not high. Initially, try to cover protein demands with a mix of grains and pulses with high protein content.
  • Keep a healthy balance of gut biota (Gut bacteria). Fresh yogurt or curds are best. Those at the grocery stores usually have killed the lactobacilli and consequently, don’t provide the probiotics that we so much need for a healthy GUT.
  • It is needless to say do not eat sweets, but try eating those at the beginning of the meal to reduce your satiety.
  • Keep a balance between the three broader categories of food, namely carbs, proteins, and fats. Imbalance of any has a strong potential for adverse health effects.
  • Remember to keep changing variety as there are multiple micronutrients required by the body and those are spread across various forms of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Do not eat the same food every day, as a habit. Always try to eat seasonal grains, fruits, and vegetables from multiple sources. Understand, the body does not know it needs a particular micronutrient, an e.g. being Cobalt. All it knows is that it is craving for a specific micronutrient. If you observe craving, try swapping varieties rather than increasing the volume.
  • Once in awhile bingeing is not bad, do not be strict disciplinarian with yourself, I am afraid, you will bounce back and drop the practice of dietary restraint.
  • Avoid inordinate use of stimulants such as Tea, Coffee, and even carbonated drinks. The later one has a tendency to dissolve the bone calcium if indulged over a period of time.
  • Do not fool your system by taking aspartame or sweeteners.
  • Intermittent fasting is always good but it cannot be universally applied. A senior leader from the Industry started Intermittent fasting. Eventually, he developed acanthosis nigricans and I suspected glucose intolerance. I made him change to a normal diet and his acanthosis disappeared. Similarly, I saw some senior leaders adopting a ketone diet. Of course, ketosis resulted in the loss of weight, however, the weight bounced back after resuming a normal diet.

Trying to reduce weight – 

If you are trying to reduce weight, increase your metabolism by recruiting various activities including resistance training, aerobics, proper sleep and reducing the Sugar PLUS Salts. Remember, the receptor for Glucose and Salt are shared receptors. The same pump (Sodium Potassium ATPase pump) facilitates the movement of salt and glucose inside the intravascular compartment. It is this principle that is leveraged in Oral Rehydration Theory while giving fluids to those with severe diarrhea.

I will keep updating this blog as and when I can. Meanwhile, please provide your suggestions.

Note: The above is based on my understanding of the principles of nutrition, medicine and observation/experience across a cross-section of the society with whom I interact. At this moment, I have little knowledge about spiritual food. So I have not made any comments about those.

 

‘Indian food is terrible’ tweet sparks hot debate about racism – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-50550735

https://www.consumerreports.org/frozen-meals/grain-bowls-the-new-super-bowls/

A comparative chart that offers a good insight on the Scoville Scale of the different varieties of Chillies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3462993/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/capsaicin

Different ethnic Cuisine from China – Hunan, Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong, XinJiang Cuisine, visit below link. https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/regional-cuisines.htm

 

 

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