I love you India but… Your breakfast sucks (Part 1)

Note: I was born and brought up in India and I care about what my people eat and their resulting health. So moving forward I’ll write some posts that are specific to the Indian diet, lifestyle and activities.

My international readers, rest assured that the information contained will be very valuable and interesting. You will get to learn about a culture that hails vegetarianism but also houses 60% of the world’s heart disease patients.

What’s on the menu?

This post is all about breakfast. Specifically, Indian breakfasts and breakfasts Indians eat. What’s the difference?

Indian breakfasts – Foods that are traditionally eaten for breakfast in India like…

  • Idly/dosa with coconut chutney + coffee
  • Poori/roti with potato
  • Pongal with sambar and chutney
  • Upma with chutney/sugar

Breakfasts Indians eat – The foods the modern, new age, wannabe healthy Indians eat for breakfast like…

  • Cereal/granola/oats with fat free milk and sugar + Fruit (juice)
  • Bread and jam + Fruit (juice)

None of us have the time to get into great detail about how these foods are made and their exact macro and micro-nutrient compositions. So this is what I’ll do for each meal.

  • Hyperlink each food item with it’s recipe so you can see the ingredients if you care.
  • State the dominant ingredient in each meal.
  • State the dominant macro-nutrient in each meal.
  • State the major nutritional benefits of each meal.
  • State the major nutritional deficiencies in each meal.
  • Leave the comments section open for healthy discussions/arguments.

1. Idly or dosa with coconut chutney

Dominant ingredients: Rice, lentils

Dominant macro-nutrient: Carbs

Nutritional benefits: Negligible

Nutritional deficiencies:

2. Poori/roti with potato

Dominant ingredients: Wheat, potato, vegetable oil

Dominant macro-nutrient: Carbs, fat from deep fried vegetable oil ( = bad)

Nutritional benefits: Negligible

Nutritional deficiencies :

  • Little to no protein
  • No vegetables whatsoever and hence no vitamins and/or minerals. (Potato is hardly a vegetable due to it’s high starch content and minimal micro-nutrient content).
  • Super high carb load (= high blood sugar = high insulin secretion = fat deposit)
  • Poori is deep fried in highly oxidizable/oxidized vegetable oil. Vegetable oils are high omega 6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory and vegetable oils at high temperature release pretty nasty toxins. Click here for scientific proof.
  • Consumption of gluten from wheat. Read here for why gluten is bad.

3. Pongal with sambar and coconut chutney

Dominant ingredients in meal: Rice, lentils

Dominant macro-nutrient: Carbs

Nutritional benefits: Negligible

Nutritional deficiencies :

  • Little to no protein (No, lentils are not full of protein)
  • No vegetables whatsoever and hence no vitamins and/or minerals.
  • Super high carb load (= high blood sugar = high insulin secretion = fat deposit)

4. Upma with chutney

Dominant ingredients in meal: Rice/wheat (depending on type of upma)

Dominant macro-nutrient: Carbs

Nutritional benefits: Negligible

Nutritional deficiencies :

  • Little to no protein (No, lentils are not full of protein)
  • No vegetables whatsoever and hence no vitamins and/or minerals. (The tiny bit of carrot doesn’t count folks!)
  • Super high carb load (= high blood sugar = high insulin secretion = fat deposit)
  • Consumption of gluten from wheat.

5. Cereal/Granola/Oats with fat-free milk and fruits.

Dominant ingredients in meal: Cereal grain (depends)

Dominant macro-nutrient: Carbs

Nutritional benefits: Minimal vitamins from fruits.

Nutritional deficiencies :

  • Little to no protein.
  • Little to no good fats. Read this for list of good fats.
  • No vegetables whatsoever and hence no vitamins and/or minerals.
  • Super high carb load from the grains and sugar and fruit (= high blood sugar = high insulin secretion = fat deposit).
  • Fat free milk is super processed.
  • Sugar from fruits add to the carb load and basically undoes the benefits of the micro-nutrients it provides.

6. Whole wheat bread with jam and fruits (juice) on the side.

Dominant ingredients in meal: Cereal grain (depends) and sugar

Dominant macro-nutrient: Carbs

Nutritional benefits: Minimal vitamins from fruits.

Nutritional deficiencies :

In a nutshell husk…

Let’s assume the best case and say one guy (let’s call him Mr. Grainitarian) never eats the same meal twice in the same week and eats each one of these meals on different days of the week. So all breakfasts combined, Mr. Grainitarian…

  1. eats meals that are grain dominant and he is now grain dependent.
  2. gets hardly any protein from any of these meals.
  3. gets no good fats from any of these meals.
  4. eats a tonne of carbs which (as in most cases) he doesn’t need.
  5. includes literally no vegetables in any of these meals resulting in a huge nutrient (vitamins and minerals) deficit.
  6. possibly consumes considerable doses of gluten 4-5 mornings/week.

Big picture…

Each year has 52 weeks and if Mr. Grainitarian has been eating this way for 30 years, that’s 1,560 weeks of such sub-par, mediocre, protein-less, sugar/starch filled, nutrient deficient eating.

Now it’s your turn to talk – Are you a Grainitarian? What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s time for a change? Let me know in the comments section. In the mean time, I’ll write about why grain dominance is bad, how to change and what to change in Part 2. Stay tuned.

Peace out.

33 responses to “I love you India but… Your breakfast sucks (Part 1)

  1. subbulakshmistoned December 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    We are one big, fat Grainitarian country. Can’t wait for Part 2.

  2. Oleti December 18, 2010 at 4:32 am

    oh…dint know these details.
    just recommend a list of “nutritional” breakfast items in your part 2. ensure that you only list those items which we get in our country…no musli stuff and all. only tasty items please.

    • RG December 18, 2010 at 11:19 am

      FYI – If I wrote an article on the american breakfast that would be equally messed up if not more. So will not recommend american franken foods. All my food recommendations are cuisineless but delicious. Part 2 will be up in a couple of days.

  3. Rahul December 18, 2010 at 7:14 am

    I think you can include a glass of milk with all the breakfast items you have listed.

  4. Mahesh December 18, 2010 at 10:47 am

    60% heart disease, but largest diabetic..Hurray!! We are the world’s largest diabetic population!! What a shame.. Can you believe, people of our age have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes? Thankfully, I never had these for breakfast as a kid but my food was still dominant in grains and less veggies, protein. But college made it worser with absolutely no nutrition during the prime time (17-21).. no nutrinion meaning no food at all from starving or no nutrition from lots of junk. Funny, that many indians wonder what this protein is, and they dont know if one should be having protein with every meal. Come on everyone..please start changing your diet now or else we will die sooner.. not peacefully but miserably with diabetes (i know that it means!!!) and other sister and brother complications..

  5. Mahesh December 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Raj, what about the north indian breakfast..which is equally worse than the south indian one.
    what about the parathas with butter, cooked with aloo sabji (Potato-carbs) and with sweets like jelabi, halwa, and milk. Thats sugar, sugar and sugar everywhere!

    • RG December 18, 2010 at 11:20 am

      Yes. North Indian breakfasts are equally bad if not worse. Unfortunately I can’t analyze every single breakfast item… considering India has so much variety. But the fact still remains – all Indian breakfasts are carb dominant and nutrient deficient.

      Your point is noted. I’ll address it in the next post.

  6. Srinath December 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Nice article Raj. Look forward to an addendum where you recommend what to actually eat.. 🙂

  7. Bons December 20, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Yes, I so totally agree…and guess what, it is extremely difficult to change elders’ view about the typical Indian breakfasts. I have stopped trying.

    • RG December 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

      Definitely difficult. But that’s not going to stop me from trying again… and again… and again!

      • Bons December 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm

        🙂 I agree; my adamant audience is limited to my dad and in-laws (though the in-laws are definitely more receptive I should say). I try too, but have periods of deadlock and wars just over health-eating.

        OK, 1 question – I am a proponent of unprocessed oats (steel-cut) and brown rice… IMO, at least few meals which need to include grains should be whole and unprocessed ones.
        What do you think of that?

        And typically I make dinner grain-free but after reading your blog, I am making more meals grain-free…

  8. Pingback: I love you India but… Your breakfast sucks (Part 2) « Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

  9. RG December 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm


    About including grains, if you have the need to include them stick to rice. Rice, though is all starch and nutritionally empty, had little to no negative effects. Rice right after a workout is pretty useful in glycogen repletion. Again, this is just rice… not biryani 🙂

    Great job on making more meals grain free! If you would be kind enough to email me some pictures and recipes of your meals I’ll put it up on the blog (crediting your of course). I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from it. Thanks!

    • Mamatha January 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm

      I’m not being facetious, but isn’t biriyani a better option? It has meat and ghee.

      • RG January 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm

        Biryani = little ghee + little meat + lots of masala + crap tonne of rice! Basically too much rice and very little of the rest.

        If you can make biryani with 8-10 oz meat, 2 tbls ghee, 1 cup of vegetables and 1/2 to 1 cup cooked rice that’s a legit meal. Still close to a 1000 cals… but a legit meal.

  10. Fritz December 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Nice post and totally agree. I cut out a ton of grains from my diet and improved dramatically.
    Sounds like we are of the same mindset. I wrote an article of my thoughts on the subject if you like here. http://tinyurl.com/2dda737
    Keep up the good work.

  11. Anand Srivastava December 29, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Great article.
    Just one point of disagreement.
    Potatoes do not have less micro-nutrients than fruits (not counting berries) per unit calorie. You can compare on nutrition data. Vegetables in general have higher nutrients. Potato is at the lowest end but it still is better than most fruits.

    Potatoes are also cheap, so if you want to increase your nutritional value then potatoes will provide a better substitute.

    Potatoes are also protein complete, although provide little protein. If you are not building muscles, they have enough to sustain the existing muscles.

    • RG January 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      Potatoes are not literally devoid of nutrients, but are extremely high in starch as I’m sure you know. The problem with including them in the diet is that they are over used. Even if you dropped the poori and ate just the potato subzi, you will not get much nutrition out of it. Also keep in mind, people never ever eat plain baked potatoes. When you say potatoes people think subzi or fries or sauteed potatoes in veg oil etc.

      Potato > fruit – I’d have to agree cos of the fructose load in fruits. But some berries are superior wrt to fiber and anti-oxidants.

      Potato has negligible in protein. 10% of it’s calories come from protein.

  12. Pingback: What does a Grain-free Indian Eat? | jugalbandi

  13. Diana March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    I have one question regarding the fermented idli/dosa! I believe (white) sourdough bread is way better than multigrain or any other kind of bread purely because its fermented. So don’t you think idli/dosa is better that way as fermentation breaks down the carbs and helps in giving a longer satisfied feeling by not hiking your blood sugar level!
    I agree with all other aspects of this post. Somehow cant understand why fermented carb food can be bad!

    • RG March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      You’re right in that fermented grains are not as bad as fast cooking. But it is at this point that quantity comes into play. How much is too much? A typical south indian breakfast can have 4-6 dosas (or idlies) with chutney (or just chili powder) on the side with vegetable oil. Also keep in mind that the dosa is made using vegetable oils… which at those cooking temperatures becomes toxic. That’s why the recommendation to eat just one dosa… but top it with eggs, cheese and vegetables to make it more nutritious and satiating.

  14. Uma March 21, 2011 at 4:19 am

    I agree with the fact that it is all high in calories… The choice should be made consciously… If one is sitting facing the computer all day and still eat what a farmer eats/ate there is no balance here… these are breakfasts that our ppl have been eating since God knows when… and they burned them all out during the day in working under the sun or at home in strenuous/continuous activities… I would say ‘apply your brain and choose the right food… if you eat something heavy then work it out’

  15. Vikram July 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Not sure where to start……or when to…..probably once by blood stops boiling….the “nutrition experts” usually stem from U.S. with new ideas every 5 years…..Most of these “specialists” know they are talking bullshit but are just interested in making a quick buck until the fad is over or someone falls over and dies (remember Jim Fixx…..but to be fair he believed in his “extreme jogging”…didn’t save him though…)…fair enough they are making money, and its like any other business and Americans are known for it, but I feel sorry for those who come up with very skewed diets, genuinely believing that they are on a breakthrough, like this chap….
    Accepted the incidence of heart disease and diabetes in India is rising at startling rate, but Indians have been eating this diet for ages….so something else must have changed, which as well know is the lack in exercise. No doubt unhealthy diet is a very important contributory factor but to say carbohydrate = unhealthy is juvenile…..rings of someone who has just learnt new facts on fat/carbohydrate/protein in U.S. and now spurting it out to us poor Indians who have been to their deaths for eons…. “I love you India but… Your breakfast sucks “….could you have been more condescending….?
    The classic English breakfast – sausages, bacon, black pudding, beans, eggs, hash browns, toast….lot of protein there ….. American breakfast is not very different…. So let me tell you if you did not know already know, the highest incidence of colorectal cancer is in the west and high red meat diet is to blame….. before you read any further, I would suggest you go to the following link….

    It might be 2002, but the incidence and prevalence of this cancer has not changed….Western Europe, North America and Australia have the highest rate of colorectal cancer in the world….please make a special note of the difference between India (the lowest in the world) and Pakistan (slightly higher because they consume more “protein”)….. Sub-Saharan Africa unfortunately has the lowest incidence due to obvious other reasons…and let me also add that this risk is not purely genetic i.e. limited to Caucasians, as the populations from the low risk area that have migrated to the west are also high risk if their diet has changed…..
    There is no alternative to a balanced diet and exercise, but we want to have our cake and eat it to (excuse the pun)…. People want to eat what tastes good (= usually unhealthy) and do little exercise and thus spawning this multi-billion dollar industry of food fads….after all the advice that eat balanced diet and exercise does not seem sexy enough….
    Paleo diet is based on the most bizarre rationale of eating what our ancestors did because we genetically programmed to digest that…. Our ancestors (and by that I mean Paleolithic age and not our grandparents) probably did not have enough to eat….. if they did they were unlikely to relax on a sofa with beer watching reruns of a sitcom….they were probably looking to source their next meal….so how can one even begin to compare…. And do we know what they died of…. paleo is another fad which will trough and crest like most others….until a high profile celebrity chooses a new fad or gets infected with Toxoplasma or a tape worm (which has been reported in the consumers of this raw diet)
    Carbohydrate is essential part of our diet as is protein and fat, I agree Indian breakfast is not the healthiest but its not the most unhealthy either…. I could go on and on, but got to eat some carbs now…
    Please don’t patronize Indians…… eat your “healthy” carnivore diet……hope Indians start exercising more rather than fall for American fads….. but feel free to contact me when time comes, for I know good colorectal surgeons in US and UK…

    • tina July 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      rubbish……carbohydrates are an essential part of balanced diet, along with proteins, vits/ minerals, lipids etc.

      how else will the glycogen cycle work……………do you want to use your muscles or what??

      high GI carbs are obviosly better than low GI ones. (GI = glycaemic index)

      carb free diets are used to loose weight – so many variations around. If all fad diets to loose wt worked, no one would be inventing them any more!

      • RG July 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm

        You actually said ‘high GI carbs are obviosly better than low GI ones. (GI = glycaemic index)’??

        Wow. I sincerely hope you’re not a nutritionist or have anything to do with health and nutrition.

    • RG July 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      First of all thank you for taking the time to comment.

      But like most people it looks like you jumped the gun a little too early. Do me a favor and read the rest of the articles in the blog. I am not one to remove any food group from anyone’s diet. I believe, though the body can do without carbs or fats, it is absolutely necessary to consume all macros for the body to thrive. My point about the Indian diet is that it is completely skewed towards one macro (carbs). The smart thing to do will be to eat a ‘balanced’ diet with protein carbs and fats. As much as low-fat is unhealthy, so is low-carb in the long run. From thyroid dysregulation to leptin receptor activation to many more.

      Its not about the Indian cuisine. Its about every cuisine today. There is no cuisine in its current form that can be considered healthy. That said, every cuisine in its traditional form has been considered healthy. Read Weston Price’s work if you care enough.

      So please take the time to educate yourself about me and my methods more before you throw words around about fad diets. I dont do diets and I dont believe in diets for anyone. I believe in eating real food and making lifestyle changes. The goal is to eat nutritionally superior foods, limit consumption of nutritionally empty foods (grains and sugars mostly) and stay the hell away from toxin containing foods.

      The concept is easy – eat real food. Try it before you kill it.

  16. vikram July 13, 2011 at 4:13 am

    well i do not think grain is empty food for number of reasons…. they provide carbs and as you say they are part of balanced diet, not all grains = High GI index.

    You cannot equate cuisine with diet requirement….the issue of food/ cuisine only applies for those who have enough and can choose…so if we just take these fortunate people (i.e. most of the western world and some of us poor indians or southeast asia) then food is not simply consumed for nourishment and hunger…. taste is an integral part of this exercise…… and yes you can eat everything wholemeal, only oily fishes and raw vegetables and live upto 120, but you could also never fly, drive on a raod (and definitely not indian roads) and stay in cocoon for there is danger out there…. For those who have all the food choices, balanced diet is not just about right carbs/ fat/ protein but also about gustatory senses….. So I do eat wholemeal bread, yes, but i have tried whole meal pasta as well which is nowhere close to what it was meant to taste like…so dont…balanced?

    Just like English dont have the “Full english breakfast daily”…. Indians dont have poori/ dosa/ idly every morning, nor do …. indians consume more legumes/pulses then anywhere else ….low GI food…so there is counterbalance too….Now at no point I am suggesting food that Indians eat is very healthy (Fe deficient,) but its healthier than many “cuisines” so to speak

    Indian breakfast may suck, but western world still has the worlds highest obesity rate and the “real food” (or any other euphmism) are taken up quickly for obvious reasons, …another link


    But the equation is simple – if u eat more than u can burn, u will be fat…..if u do that with very high protein meat diet u will be fat and at risk of colorectal cancer….. it is not rocket science, so please dont make it one…..I understand “real food” is the NKOTB!….dont worry I wont kill it, or frankly I am not influential enough or have blogs to kill it, but time will, it always does… until someone comes up with “genuine food”… hmmmm…does not have ring to it….u have got a winner…..meanwhile idlis, pooris, etc will continue to thrive, they always have….

    • RG July 14, 2011 at 8:51 am

      You’re missing the point VIkram. Its not about changing a nation’s cuisine. Its about helping people who have metabolic derangement and other autoimmune issues. I work with too many people to know what foods cause issues for them and what foods help them.

      Like I said in my previous comment, there is no one cuisine that is supremely healthy and there is no one diet that is perfect for everyone at every time. Its about finding what works for you. Clearly the typical Indian diet filled with vegetable oil and anti-nutrients isnt helping. Read the second part to this post and other posts on the Indian diet, you’ll see what I mean.

      And it makes me smile when you say real food is the new thing blah blah. I’m not selling anything on this blog. I’m not making any money off this blog. I don’t even have advertisements. I write cos I care about people’s healths and considering that all my clients have gone from weak and fatigued to strong and energized throughout the day (from a health perspective) I’m guessing I’m doing something right.

      Again, I’ll be the first person to admit if I’m doing something wrong. In this case, all I’m doing it asking people to eat more (micro-)nutrient dense foods a.k.a real foods and avoid/reduce consumption of (micro-)nutrient sparse foods. Take the time to read the rest of the posts in the blog and you’ll see what I mean.

      In any case, thanks for your time.

  17. Aldred Z. July 14, 2011 at 2:30 am

    I agree. Fad diets come and go, but now people don’t call them diets anymore. Real food seems the buzz word. Very pompous article though. Get off your high horse man. Just tell people to exercise rather than criticize a country’s cuisine. We Americans have unhealthy diet but I would still be offended if someone has a go at American Cuisine as a whole. I have tried most of the above foods, and they are delicious. They may not be balanced or healthy, but they dont “suck”. A bit harsh.

    • RG July 14, 2011 at 8:57 am

      Aldred, There is no high horse here. This is calling a spade a spade. Every cuisine has foods that satisfy your tongue but mess up your insides and foods that are supremely healthy for you. The key is to choose the healthy foods most of the time and reduce consumption of foods that actually harm you. Do me a favor and check out part 2 of this post. You’ll see my recommendations. You’ll see how I recommend modifying these traditional foods to make them healthier for you based on your goals/health condition etc while not compromising taste. And FYI just like how pop tarts and donuts dont belong to the traditional american cuisine, what the Indian cuisine is today is not what it used to be. And thats the premise of my argument.

      Eat real food. Eat what your grandmother ate. She made meat and veggies and served it with a side of bread. Thats awesome. Just dont eat dutch crunch sandwich with cold cuts and finish it with a bag of chips and a bottle of coke.

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