I love you India but… Your breakfast sucks (Part 2)

So I ended my last post about Indian breakfasts saying that the current Indian breakfast…

  • is grain dominant and grain dependent (rice and wheat being the staples) and hence is (unnecessarily) very high in carb content.
  • is lacking in protein.
  • contains too much oxidizable vegetable oils and provides no good fats.
  • is almost completely devoid of vegetables.
  • is possibly high in gluten and/or other anti-nutrients (depending on choice of breakfast).

In this post I will discuss…

  • Why grain dominance and grain dependence are bad.
  • The changes that need to be made to the current Indian breakfast.
  • How to make these changes without giving up Indian food.

Why dethrone the grain?

Grain dominance (and dependence) is not healthy because…

  1. Almost all grains contain anti-nutrients which irritate/damage/puncture the gut which, in the best case, inhibits nutrient absorption and, in the worst case, causes autoimmune diseases. Gluten, one such anti-nutrient, is pretty well-known today. Read this to understand why grains are not the healthiest food choices.
  2. From a micro-nutrient (vitamins and minerals) standpoint, grains contain little to no nutritional value compared to vegetables and fruits. If your body had to choose between a 200 calories of grains and 200 calories of vegetables (or fruits or meat), your body will choose the vegetables (or fruits or meat) in a heart beat because they have a lot more to offer than grains which are, relatively speaking, empty calories. I highly recommend checking out these graphs which compare the nutritional value of grains and vegetables/beans/fruits.
  3. From a macro-nutrient standpoint, grains offer predominantly carbohydrates with negligible amounts of protein and fat. For those of you who believe brown rice or whole wheat contains tonnes of fiber please do a simple google search and compare the amount of fiber per hundred calories of grains, vegetables and berries. Or check the graphs in the above link.
  4. All grains (processed or whole) are converted into sugar in the blood stream resulting in insulin secretion. When activity is minimal (as in sitting at work or home) and carb intake is high the released insulin will result in storing excess calories as fat. Read this post to understand how and why this happens.

To summarize, grains, though they are a source of calories, are B-grade foods at best when compared to the other available sources of nutrients/calories and hence should not be the corner stone of one’s meal/diet.

The concept of change is good

Now that we have established that grain dominance is not healthy, let’s look at the changes/modifications that need to be made to the current Indian breakfast to make it healthful and wholesome.

  1. Though carbohydrates need not be shunned, they need to be reduced (especially from the current levels).
  2. Carbohydrate sources need to be changed from grains to vegetables, fruits and (limited quantities of) presoaked beans/lentils.
  3. Best case: Grains need to avoided. Worst case: Grains need to be fermented before preparation and consumed in very small quantities i.e. as a side.
  4. A good source of (complete) protein needs to be included in every breakfast.
  5. Good fats need to be consumed in abundance to ensure absorption of vitamins (especially A,D,E &K) and minerals. Here is an amazing article on how adding fat to your vegetables increases the all important micro-nutrient absorption.
  6. Full fat unprocessed dairy should be a included since it is a complete protein and offers a considerable amount of calcium and fat.

Realize that these are only “modifications” that need to be made to the Indian breakfast. There are some amazing benefits to the Indian diet and the ingredients which provide these benefits (mostly spices) should be preserved while making these changes. These benefits include, but are not limited to, the following.

The act of changing is even better

We now have the knowledge. Let’s move on to the most critical step: the action step. We can talk/debate without end about the benefits/drawbacks of any food/diet, but nothing is accomplished unless and until we give it a true attempt.

Note: I know some (Indian) people are downright opposed to such recommendations because they’re certain (for whatever reason) that I will recommend foods from other cuisines that are not available in India. Well, that’s clearly BS and if these people took the time to read a little they’d benefit a lot more.

That said, here are some options for breakfast that focus on removing the negative points I discussed last week but are very Indian at the same time.

  • Firstly, avoid using any vegetable oils for cooking. All cooking should be done with ghee or coconut oil since both contain stable and non-oxidizable saturated fats. If you’re concerned about saturated fat and heart disease, trust me when I say such a relation never existed or read this to learn for yourself.
  • Drop the cereal/muesli/granola/oatmeal in an attempt to eat healthy (cos they’re not healthy by any means!). Have a handful (15-20) of nuts (cashews/almonds/walnuts/pistachios) + 50-75 grams of full fat cheese + a cup of berries instead.
  • Quit buying dosa/roti/pav bhaji from the canteen/restaurant. I think we can all safely say that restaurant/canteen/store bought items are made with the lowest quality ingredients and rancid oxidizable oils. Have one of these instead – (a) Protein shake: Blend – 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein powder, 1 cup whole milk, 1 medium fruits/1 cup mixed fruits, 1/4 cup nuts or (b) Mix 2 whole eggs, 25-30 grams of full fat cheese, 1/2 tbls coconut oil/butter, 1 cup chopped vegetables, salt, pepper and seasonings of choice. Microwave on high for 2-3 mins or until fully done.
  • Instead of downing 6 dosas have 1-2 dosas topped with 1 whole egg, 25-30 grams of full fat cheese and 1 cup of vegetables each (south indian pizza anyone?). Super nutritious, rice in protein and fats and extremely satiating.

Top this with cheese and add a side of vegetables and salt lassi

  • Instead of destroying that plate of pongal every saturday, have 1 cup presoaked and cooked beans (garbanzo/kidney etc.), 5-10 cashews, chili and garlic sauteed in coconut oil. Finish it off with 1 cup full fat yogurt with salt/spices.
  • Drop the roti and have lots of Daal (1.5-2 cups presoaked and cooked lentils + 1-2 cups mixed vegetables + 1 tbls butter/coconut oil). Finish it off with 1 cup full fat yogurt with salt/spices.
  • A 3 egg omelet with lots of vegetables and 25-30 grams of full fat cheese with a cup of fruit on the side instead of poori masala and coffee will do you good.
  • If you’re a meat eater, add in chicken/fish/beef/lamb to your breakfast. Animal proteins are complete proteins and fats from grass fed/free range animals are very healthy.
  • Skip breakfast every once in a while. Fasting has been extensively researched and proven to be extremely healthy (ever wonder why almost all cultures have some form of fasting?). Read this if you’re interested in finding out how periodic fasting and calorie restriction can add 40-50 (healthy) years to your lifespan. So next time when your mom fasts for religious reasons, you join her for health reasons!

These are not hard changes and can be made almost immediately. Incorporating these changes to your breakfast is a first step towards…

  • removing grain dominance and dependence.
  • reducing carbohydrate load.
  • adding a good chunk of protein to your diet.
  • saving you from the toxic byproducts of heating vegetable oils.
  • adding good fats (nuts, coconut oil, ghee, dairy) to your diet.
  • controlling systemic inflammation which is the source of everything bad from obesity to diabetes to cardiovascular diseases.
  • saving yourself from insulin resistance (and hence diabetes).

I know these recommendations are not typical and may even be considered blasphemous in a world where fat is evil and marketing overshadows real science. But remember – just because everyone does it a certain way doesn’t make it right.

Data doesn’t lie. Question everything.

Peace out.

29 responses to “I love you India but… Your breakfast sucks (Part 2)

  1. Oleti December 20, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    There you go…exactly what i wanted. thanks.

  2. Gopal December 21, 2010 at 3:24 am

    Nice post, Raj… but ..but… the title of your post….

    It is just that the modern day Indian has started to love Roti more than the dhal and poori more than the aloo masala. Indian breakfast doesn’t suck.. its just that most of us don’t eat it the rite way!

    And our moms and grannies don’t fast for religious reasons.. they fast for health reasons in the name of religion… giving room for new ‘ health inventions’ and ‘best sellers’ in the west like periodic fasting for a longer better life! 😉

    • RG December 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm

      Gopal – Notice that I mentioned “the current Indian diet”.. current being the key word. even then the Indian breakfast sucks because of the reasons I mentioned. even if you skipped the poori and ate just the aloo masala you dont get much nutrition out of it. Indian meals are designed to serve our ancestors who spent hours and hours outside… working! we sit our asses too long to benefit from these foods. do me a favor and do a quick nutritional comparison of the existing/traditional breakfasts and the breakfasts i have recommended. that will tell you why the recommended meals are superior and why we, especially today, need it.

      fasting – most fasts are done as an offering to some God if the God solves some issue. truth is that our ancestors understood the importance of fasting and did it frequently. we have just lost the essence of it (like almost everything in religion).

  3. Parul December 21, 2010 at 3:51 am

    Hey , not to find fault here but those idli, dosa, upma pongal is just the staple breakfast of just 1-2 states in India ! There is a lot more 😉
    But then yes since you are anti-grain (for some right reasons ) the rest of the breakfast options in India would come under the same blanket ….

    • RG December 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm

      yes. India has too many cultures and too many cuisines and it’s impossible to cover them all. but I think we will all agree that the drawbacks in all forms of Indian is essentially the same.

  4. Parul December 21, 2010 at 4:04 am

    hey ,Have a question .. You seem to avoid grains totally in all your meals ! Where do you get your daily dose of energy from !!
    All the more in a tropical country like india … where the body energy levels drops cos of the heat ! The carbs is what keeps one going ….Eating grain free in India – Is it possible !

    • RG December 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      i get my calories from vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, nuts, milk, oils, butter and cheese. do i need more? dont get me wrong. i eat a lot of tubers and white rice too… but that’s almost always immediately post workout when I need the starch for recovery.

      carbs have nothing to with heat. if you need more energy (calories), eat more of the good stuff!

      definitely possible to reduce grain consumption in India (or anywhere). very soon, i’ll post success stories and examples of my clients who are currently doing that.

    • Anand Srivastava December 30, 2010 at 12:24 am

      Just to add to Raj. The energy comes from Fat. Yes the much maligned but actually healthy fat. Fat is also as nutritionally poor as carbs so you can’t over do it. But add it to vegetables meat, etc.

      • RG December 30, 2010 at 2:30 am

        Small correction – Wouldn’t consider fats as nutritionally poor. All the fats that I consume are either high in omega 3s or fat soluble vitamins or cholesterol.

  5. Fopa December 21, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Hello Raj,
    Fopa here!!! I was shocked when I read the title, I am usually bragging about how good an Indian meal is (because of the spices blah blah). And then I read this article of yours, but it was really nice, am going to follow this blog of yours now esp if it is also for veggies 🙂
    Take care,

    • RG December 21, 2010 at 2:45 pm

      hey Fops!
      thanks for stopping by. my blog has always been very vegetarian (or non-vegetarian) friendly. as a first step, it doesnt matter what your source of protein is as long as you’re getting enough of it. once that it taken care off, we can talk about protein pairing and complete proteins and the likes.

  6. Fritz December 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Excellent followup. have you put any of your research into the super foods? I put together a quick article here http://tinyurl.com/32h27rt
    Would love to hear your thoughts.
    Keep up the good work.

  7. Anand Srivastava December 30, 2010 at 12:25 am

    The only issue with having lots of lentils is that it is not protein complete. For vegetarians it is best to use paneer or cheese as much as possible.

    • RG December 30, 2010 at 2:32 am

      True. I’m in the process of writing a blog post on lentils (legumes) and beans. That will address the issue.

  8. Pingback: I love you India but… your nutritionists suck! « Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

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

  10. amulya March 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Hi Raj,

    Your blog is really wonderful. I’m from south India. I used to take whole oatmeal with buttermilk like congee, and 2 egg whites boiled for breakfast. I am trying to reduce weight and found that grain should be taken limited. Your recipe ideas are very useful to me. I’m lucky to find your blog 🙂

  11. Ss March 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the post. My husband follows an almost grain-free and low carb diet because he has diabetes. Our only problem is that it turns out to be quite expensive to follow a carnivorous/vegetarian grain-free diet. Nuts are quite expensive in India and so is cheese except for paneer. Anyone know where we can find inexpensive nuts and cheese in India?

    • RG March 7, 2011 at 12:03 am

      Ss – a vegetarian grain free diet need not be high in nuts and cheese. Eat a load of vegetables with butter/ghee or coconut oil or olive oil. As a matter of fact, keeping the nut consumption to a low is recommended. You should be able to find enough to eat between paneer, yogurt, all the awesome veggies, butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, coconut milk, avocados, eggs, limited nuts. Add in some pre-soaked beans and you’re good to know.

  12. NR March 11, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Hi RG,
    Is eating ghee good? I love ghee but stopped eating it years ago. Also, is eating 2 whole eggs every day good? I don’t do much exercise because of lack of time. Your advice would be much appreciated.


    • RG March 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm

      Ghee is fine. Like anything else eat reasonable amount of any and all foods.

      2 eggs a day – totally fine. Get cage free eggs though.

  13. Raaj April 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I think the food that not sucks ,the choice of your food may sucks or the tast glands of yours sucks. Don’t say ABOUT Indian food. Indeed, around the world the ancient Indian food is the best.Did you observe the skin,immunity,intelligence,culture,tradition and spirituality is from INDIA.

  14. Dips April 18, 2011 at 9:53 am

    This is a very informative blog. I recently visited India after a gap of two years (grew up there and have been living in the US for the past 10 years) and discovered that I have gluten intolerance–consuming rotis for two weeks straight did me in. I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism last year which I have read is closely related to gluten allergies. I’ve been consuming more coconut oil in the last 4 weeks and have been on a mostly gluten free diet and feel much better now! I’m sure I’ll be following this blog closely-thank you for the wealth of information.

  15. Archana January 25, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I have been on your blog for over a hour now. Not the first time, but generally hooked on now. If I want to move away from grains ( reduce, if not stop) and I do not eat eggs – what are my choices other than vegetables, fruits and cheeses? Also, are uthappams topped with vegetables a good meal? What about store bought corn tortillas? Sorry for the questions overboard! I am looking to hear from you.

    I have stopped using all fat except coconut oil and occasional dabs of ghee for the last three weeks; and if not anything – there is glowing skin.


    • RG January 25, 2012 at 10:51 pm

      Not focusing on any specific goal and looking for health – Vegetables, fruit, cheese, yogurt, milk, rice, soaked lentils, coconut, coconut milk, nuts eta are your best options. Uttappams topped with vegetables are fine as long as they are cooked with ghee. Corn tortillas not so much. They are nutritionally empty and contain anti-nutrients. So use corn as a vegetable (topping etc.) but dont make it a staple.

      Coconut oil FTW!

  16. rina August 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    hey! Im glad i found your blog! Im indian myself – but living in malaysia – and have stumbled upon mark sisson, rob wolf, jimmy moore and other paleo/primal foregoers recently and have become very intrigued by their researches, opinion and thoughts on optimal nutiotion. i would love to go grain free but hell, as an indian, rice is a MUST, my mum would NEVER let me not eat rice. and dont even get me started on the wheatfest! holy chizzmolls, whenever i go to to my grannies house, its aloo paratha for breakfast, chapati for lunch AND dinner. i sometimes go for rice for dinner since its a comparatively ‘safer’ grain that wheat but would really LOOOVE to just start a high fat low carb diet, just doesnt seem to resonate where im living at :/ in that, my parents stopped cooking with ghee cause the doctors tell them its ‘bad’ and when a 19 year old girl tells them ghees not the problem, its all the wheat, who do you think their gonna believe a PhD MD or a teenager who just got outta college :/

    Whenever my dad buys dosa for breakfast, i almost always fry an egg or eat it with some tuna, you know, just so i get some protein. but other than the wheat issue, i think im handling things pretty well, despite not being able to go full blast on high fat approach, but ill get to that sooon hopefully, when i move over to uni and learn to cook for myself.

    anyway, just stumbled upon your blog and would like to say KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! 😀
    will definitely be checking your website more often 😉

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