There’s a rising trend of Diabetes in India that is taking the country completely by storm. As I travel around the country almost everyone I meet in the 40+ age group or someone they know, a relative or close friend has some form of Diabetes.
Gandhi’s message was to return to nature through our diet, eat whole grains, unrefined foods, natural foods prepared organically.
If I look at the modern Indian diet, there are a few clear alarm bells that should be addressed and this national diabetic crisis will be come to a rapid close.
1. Eliminate all refined foods from your diet
This means white flour and white sugar mostly but also any food that is processed or refined excessively. Favour whole grains and whole natural ingredients. For example take organic raw jaggery rather than white sugar, not only is it more delicious for cooking and baking but it is laden with all trace minerals and nutrients that the body needs. There’s a tradition to take sweets made from jaggery and sesame seeds as winter begin to fall in India and this is based on the clear understanding of the wonderful health benefits of whole raw sugar. Unfortunately most of the non-organically produced jaggery is laden with chemical pesticides so please try source all your jaggery, and your whole-grains from an organic supply.
Refined foods have little or no nutritive value and cause weakening of the body’s vital organs. There is plenty research showing the ill effects of continued usage of white sugar, white flour and other refined foods.
2. Kick the tomato and potato habit.
While the Italians are convinced of the health benefits of tomatoes, Ayurveda and naturopathy view them differently. Tomatoes and potatoes (also brinjals and chilli) are all part of a family of vegetables called nightshades. Nightshades are not at all good for our long term immunity or good health. Ironically these vegetables are not at all indigenous Indian vegetables but have been imported from South America since European contact with India and at the same time altered by cultivation dramatically from their original plants. Continued usage of nightshades compromises good digestive and overall health. From my experience when I have instructed people to stop eating the nightshades in India I am met with long fallow faces as these foods are consumed daily virtually as a staple. Actually you have so many Divine indigenous and delectable vegetables such as various types of saag, karela, bindi, pumpkins and gourds of various kinds. I always suggest to people that if you want the souring effect of tomatoes go for kokum, sweet lime or tamarind (in small quantities), if you’re crazy about potatoes then simply replace them with sweet potatoes or yams which are even more delicious and highly medicinal foods. All nightshades are slightly addictive in quality so it might take some motivated effort to change this part of your diet but in the interests of your health you will not be disappointed at all.
3. Tea is fine but make it herbal.
The daily consumption of the over sweetened tea which has now become ubiquitous with ‘Indian’ culture has also caused a decline of general health and is one of the root causes of the increase in Diabetes. The fermented tea dust / black tea that is used is also slightly toxic for our system and long term usage causes compromised health. Sure there are studies showing the marvels of green tea but the fermented black tea has almost all most of these immunostimulating qualities. To top it off the copious amounts of sugar that are generally included in cups of chai is simply too much for the system to handle. Tea is highly addictive and moreish due to the stimulating effects of the caffeine within it and the addictiveness of white sugar, and it’s a difficult habit to kick. I suggest people accustomed to it who wish to serve their greater health, replace their daily cups of tea with a herbal masala blend with milk and jaggery. This makes for a delicious malty drink which has many health benefits. Actually the best part of the tea in India is the masala as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper all have wonderful health giving qualities so keep the good part which is the masala and replace the sugar with jaggery and the tea with any herb of your choice. Dried tulsi leaf or dried peppermint leaf would make a good start and are absolutely delicious. This makes a lovely malty, milky drink which can be enjoyed by all anytime. Make your own masala with saffron, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and long pepper or black pepper, grind it to a fine powder and use whenever you require. This way your tea habit will become a daily dose of rejuvenating and anti-oxidant ingredients.
4. Eat those bitter greens.
India is blessed with a large variety of bitter green vegetables such as all the various leafy greens one sees in the market, also karela and Neem leafs. Make these foods part of your daily staple as they have been for thousands of years in India. I’ve noticed that people are not using them daily and have lost the custom is some parts to eat green vegetables. When I lived in Nepal, I was touched by the tradition to have saag or green vegetables with every meal. This accounts for the lower incidents of diabetes in Nepal. Eat the greens and bitters daily. Neem leaf chutney is a beautiful digestive and blood purifying compliment to any meal. Neem has so many wonderful purifying and cleansing effects on the human body. For this very reason this tree has been sacred in India since many ages.
5. Bring back good oils.
One of the most health destructive trends I’ve noticed in India is the prevalence of ultra-refined oils in the kitchens today which have replaced the wholesome cold-pressed whole oils of yesterday. In Nepal still most people use raw mustard or sesame oil and also some people are still using cow’s ghee for cooking. The oil one uses while cooking should be cold pressed and unrefined. Europe is famous for its cold pressed olive oil and clearly the countries that consume more cold-pressed oils enjoy wonderful health benefits and much recent research shows the connection between good oils and good health. Pure cow’s ghee (if you can get a good supply of organic cow’s butter) is the king of all oils in the views of Ayurveda. Sadly the modern medical community has little understanding for ghee and assumes that it is an unhealthy oil. This is the furthest from the truth, ghee, if it’s pure, is detoxifying the entire body and a panacea for good health and especially the development memory and intelligence. Sadly a lot of the ghee on the market is no longer pure and thus if you want to gain the benefits of eating cows ghee, please make it yourself from a reliable source of cows butter or find a good organic supply of cows ghee. Mustard and sesame oils if raw and unrefined are also very good cooking mediums and have great health benefits. Take care not to heat your oils too much when cooking them, use lower heats for longer times rather that high heats for quick cooking. Also add oils afterwards to meals and salads. Make sure your oils are natural and cold pressed and have no additives. Sesame oil is an excellent choice in India too, it’s easily available too. Olive oil is great but expensive as it must be imported, make sure you choose a cold-pressed olive oil if this is your oil of choice.
6. Sweets are fine but keep them natural.
People in India have so many beautiful sweets which are magnificently made and decorated. In the ancient times sweets were highly medicinal having raw sugar, grains, milk, spices and other medicinal ingredients. Today the wonderful tradition of sweets in India has lost most of its good effects due to the excessive use of white sugar which has been proven world around to be a slow poison for the entire system and a root cause for Diabetes in India today. By all means enjoy sweets as the sweet taste in Ayurveda is responsible for building the body and giving strength but please choose sweets that are sweetened only with natural sugars such as dried fruits (dates or figs for example) and natural jaggery and you’ll be safe. Most sweet shops have dried fruit sweets and also some sesame sweets made with jaggery. These are medicinal and good for health. Avoid the sweets that are made using white sugar and any other refined substances.
I was touched to recently discover a completely sugar free sweet wallah in Bombay which made their sweets entirely from dried raisins, figs and dates and decorated and spiced them lavishly with exotic spices and nuts. Even pure gold foil was used for the winter cold preventing sweets. Gold has long been heralded in Ayurveda for its tonic qualities. The sweets were not only delicious to the stomach and eye but also deeply satisfying and energy giving. The shop was always popular and this is a sign of the times that India needs more natural sugar free sweet shops today.
If you make sweets in your own home, use natural sugars, natural oils such as ghee, pure cow’s milk and spices and you’re in for a delicious and healthy treat. There is no need to feel guilty using such sweets, you can feel proud, such sweets are particularly good for children and students too.
7. Where’s the brown rice gone?
Rice is such a gift to the entire planet, it is a blessed food which nourishes and satisfies heart and mind. I am saddened to see that people have forgotten what rice really is and now younger generations are growing up to think that this white fluffy substance is indeed rice. How far from the truth this is. When living in Nepal we got rice from a friend’s plantation and this was raw and unrefined brown rice with the husk, grain and all the goodness and taste inside. Just this rice by itself was a satisfying meal to the mind and heart. White rice is very convenient as it cooks a little quicker but it void of nutritional value and has little taste. Please try find an organic brown rice and prepare it today and notice the difference. If you’re concerned about time then pressure-cook it and there is almost no time difference to prepare this dish. Make it your daily staple. Brown rice has so much healing and goodness in it. There was a Japanese nutritionist healer who founded Macrobiotics who was called Mr. George Oshawa, he used to cure people of so many ailments by simply putting them on to a plain brown rice diet for just a few days. This is a clear example of the wonderful health giving effects of brown rice. India must start again to eat the rice that your great-grandparents were eating, this is not only nourishing and fulfilling but a clear Amrit for the good health for all.
These seven points are just a starting point for avoiding Diabetes but they will help you to move solidly in the right direction for sure. If all India can listen to the wisdom of their generations past and return to these eating habits, not only will the rising trend of Diabetes be stopped but so many other diseases too. India is blessed to have abundant wholesome grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. It has the world’s greatest vegetarian cuisine. It is time for India to become a living model of a wholesome and healthy diet again. In the philosophy of Yoga, food creates the mind and body and thus the thoughts and actions of the person. Let your diet be wholesome, natural and pure and enjoy optimum health, vitality and peace.
Martin Gluckman is founder of International Vedic Society, a foundation promoting conscious ways of living and applying ancient wisdom in daily living for increased happiness, peace and joy. Vedic Society is presently establishing a centre in India you can visit us online at www.vedicsociety.org for more information.