Being Vegetarian: Got vegetables?

Sure looks awesome... but is it really that awesome?

Most of you probably know that India is the most vegetarian country in the world and that it houses more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. Considering we Indians don’t eat meat and we have multiple reasons, ranging from moral to religious to health, to stay the hell away from meat, one would assume that we eat a very nutritious diet comprising mostly of vegetables and fruit. I mean, if meat is out of the plate and whole dairy is to be consumed in moderation, one would imagine that our plates be filled with vegetables! After all we are proud “vegetarians” aren’t we?

But is this really the case?

I was born and brought up in South India and from my experience, a typical south Indian diet contains…

  • White rice
  • Dosa (Rice, lentils)
  • Idly (Rice, lentils)
  • Chutney (Chili, coconut)
  • Molaga podi (Chili powder, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Vada (Lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Chapathi (Wheat)
  • Poori (Wheat deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Sambar (Lentils, tamarind, vegetable/sesame oil, negligible vegetables)
  • Daal (Lentils)
  • Rasam (Tomato, tamarind, spices, water)
  • Vegetable poriyal (Vegetables, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Vegetable kootu (Vegetables, vegetable/sesame oil, coconut)
  • Avial (Starchy vegetables, coconut, coconut oil)
  • Yogurt
  • Coffee (Coffee, milk, sugar)
  • Tea (Tea, milk, sugar)
  • Biscuits (Wheat, sugar and other junk)
  • Muruku, thattai, cheedai (Flour or lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Lemon Rice (White rice, lemon juice, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Tamarind Rice (White rice, vegetable/sesame oil, tamarind extract)
  • Potato subzi (Potato, onions, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Papad (Lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Pickle (Vegetable/fruit pickled in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Pongal (Rice, lentils, ghee)
  • Idiyappam (Rice)

Ummm… maybe its just me, but I didn’t see too many “vegetables” in the “vegetarian” diet! I’m sure I’ve missed out of a bunch of other things south Indian people normally eat and I know I haven’t listed what vegetarians from other parts of India eat. But what is obvious here?

  • Clearly 90% of one’s calories come from grains, vegetable/sesame oil, lentils and potatoes!
  • A negligible amount of calories come from vegetables and fruit.
  • Though junk food consumption is less, little to no nutrition exists in the entire cuisine.
  • The majority of one’s calories come from carbohydrates and that too from grains and lentils.
  • Most of the fat consumed is from vegetable and sesame oil which are both super high in the very easily oxidizable polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Protein is almost non-existent

Why is this wrong with this?

Honestly… tooooooo many things! While I don’t have the time to get into great detail, here is what you need to know in a nutshell.

If this is wrong, then what is right?

  • Control the carb intake and include more good fats.

I guarantee you that making just these four changes will cause a very significant improvement to your health and quality of life. Try it for a month! Seriously, whats there to lose? Worst case, you’ll end up not eating your favorite foods for 4 weeks. But best case, you could better you health and possibly cure everything from asthma to diabetes to eczema or chronic fatigue to high blood pressure to high cholesterol to joint aches to sleep issues!

In the next few weeks, I will write about how to modify the current traditional Indian diet to make it more nutritious while still keeping its very own unique flavors and taste. While I do that, why don’t you folks spread the good word around? Sharing buttons below!

Peace out.

Image credit – http://www.tamilspider.com

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22 responses to “Being Vegetarian: Got vegetables?

  1. Lavanya June 6, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Kootu, man, kootu!

    You know, in the past week, I have come across more veg and fruit in Chennai than I did in England. So many types of gourds, fresh peas, different types of beans, oh so many more. And the fruits? Jackfruit, mangoes, super sweet bananas, kamala oranges, red grapes and this morning, had super fresh nungu. With fruits like this, no need for sweeties no?

    • RG June 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      If only the fine folks there made use of all these awesome vegetables and fruit! It will happen soon… the time is near!

  2. Lavanya June 6, 2011 at 1:04 am

    argh! typo. *these

  3. anand srivastava June 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

    Avial is an awesome dish. Made properly (low spice), can be eaten without anything at all. This plus the baked vegetables in Sour Cream used to be my major source of vegetables, when I was cooking for myself in Ottawa. Could it be that people avoid eating vegetables because they take a huge time cutting and then cooking compared to rice or roti.

    • RG June 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      Avila FTW man! A post on that coming up very soon.

      Today its all about convenience and vegetables not only take longer to cut, they also need more skill/time to cook. And you know how grains are addictive… literally.

  4. Vizeet June 6, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Awesome post again. You have pretty much covered North Indian dishes as well.
    Typically we used to have following at home:
    Trans-fat rich Vegetable ghee replaced ghee or added to ghee.
    Refined Vegetable oils slowly replaced mustard oil.
    Milk + Upma/Paratha in breakfast
    Roti/Puri/Paratha/Batura (Fermented Maida)/rice + Daal/Rajma/Chola/chana(lentils) + Vegetables/Tubers/Beans/Green Veg in lunch and dinner
    Tea/Coffee + chips (Potato)/Papad (rice)/Namkeen(chickpea flour + lentils)/Biscuits/
    Samosa (Wheat + potato) in snacks
    Sweets (Milk + sugar) + Many sweet dishes made from wheat for celebrations/festivals.

    • RG June 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      Wow!

      “Trans-fat rich Vegetable ghee replaced ghee or added to ghee” – this actually makes me angry!

  5. Shubhneet June 6, 2011 at 3:46 am

    Dumping wheat for a month means skyrocketing energy levels and glowing skin. I’ve tried it and continuing it. Dump grains and save your life.

  6. swarna mani June 6, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Excellent post Raj!

    I have been eating grain free diet for just 5 days and god what a change.
    The perennial bloating that was there is not there and the energy level is definitely up…

    And of course my jeans fit smoothly and sits nicely 🙂

    • RG June 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm

      And lets not forget the improvement in sleep quality!

      Correct me if I’m wrong – one thing to note here is that your total vegetable intake has increased multifold even though you were a vegetarian (no eggs even) all your life!

      • Krishna June 8, 2011 at 8:18 am

        Raj

        What is the connection between grain consumption and sleep quality please? Thanks

  7. Vrishali June 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Raj,

    I am a recent follower of your blog and think you have some interesting ideas. I particularly like your focus on “real” food and how you integrate science and changes in lifestyle to your advice. One aspect you pay less attention to – and related to the subject of this post- is how newer techniques of food processing-make things more nutritionally empty. By throwing out traditional knowledge that is embedded in older techniques without understanding them, we lose more than we know . For instance, consider wheat. Earlier, households freshly milled their flour from wheat using a stone mill, or took it to a miller in the community. Soaking and drying wheat before milling would reduce the pythates. By being able to choose the size of ground grain, not only culinary adaptations (finer for murukku and seedai etc) could be made but people who had Crohn or Celiac’s disease could get a coarser grind. Unlike larger units of pre-packaged wheat, more B vitamins are preserved in freshly ground wheat.
    My point is that by understanding the rationales for older ways of doing things and preserving/adapting some older institutions (like the community flour miller) we have more options about eating healthy. Of course , we busier but I think having to think/obsess about general/longevity/fitness in such detail also is a luxury for most of us. I wonder if you have thought about this at the personal lifestyle adaptation level. If so, I urge you to address it more in your posts and recepies.

    • RG June 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      Vrishali,
      Excellent points about processing methods. I admit that this is something that I don’t write about as much as other things and the reasons for that is…

      1. though soaking/sprouting removes anti-nutrients from grains and legumes, it only renders the food less harmful or at best, harmless (from very harmful). It still doesnt make it rich in nutrients. While grains are cheap calories that can be stored, they are still very inferior to vegetables and fruit and meat and dairy from a nutrient richness and quality perspective. Processing them to remove antinutrients, though will save the consumer from say gut damage, will result in overconsumption of empty calories which will result in either micronutrient deficiencies in the long run or getting fat due to overconsumption of calories (calories from grains + calories from other foods which provide nutrition). For eg. white rice is not harmful ‘cos it has nothing bad in it. But it also has nothing good in it. So eating too much white rice is def not wise.
      2. most people dont take the time to do these things. Only a handful of people even soak their lentils (and even after that they experience bloating, acid reflux etc.).
      3. most of us can afford to lose some fat. The thing with real food is that it protects you from overconsumption. You can only eat so much protein and veggies. Grains (and nuts) on the other hand are a different story. If given unlimited access to grains (and nuts) people will pile on the calories very easily.

      That said, as I said above, I admit I dont write much about it and is something I def need to write more about. Thank you once again for the great comment.

  8. Manasi June 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    I hv missed some posts 😦
    Need to catch up. And Really looking fwd to the series from this post and sharing the good news.

  9. Vizeet June 7, 2011 at 3:21 am

    I always used to think that coconut oil was high in south indian diet till I saw a paper (written in 1967) which compared heart diseases in railway employees all over country and inferred that south india has 7 times more heart diseases then north because they consumed more seed oil.
    Interestingly, recently in an article in Outlook I read that North Indian Vegetarians are genetically more prone to heart diseases then South Indian Vegetarians.
    Seems we north indians evolved into heart disease prone species in last 45 years.
    Even a non researcher can understand that it is seed oil and trans-fat rich vegetable ghee that made the difference.

  10. Reva June 7, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Very focused article. This is what you have been writing all along, but it’s really nice to see at an Indian food angle. It got me thinking about how our ancestors cooked their food. The rice they used was parboiled and not the raw rice which we consume so much of. They cooked rice in an open pot and the rest of the starchy water was drained. Most of the sweets were jaggery based and the snacks were fried in coconut oil or ghee and it was only during festivals. I don’t think they had these many restaurants and sweet shops then! And my parents still talk of their earlier generation eating only two meals a day (around 10-11 in the morning and 3-4 in the evening.. dinner was just fruits and milk). And they walked everywhere!

  11. Sindhu June 9, 2011 at 11:19 am

    @Vizeet: You are right about South Indians consuming seed oil and hence the high heart diseases rates, but I don’t think ghee is the cause for heart diseases in North India, I attribute it to the wheat consumption. In fact, ghee is the awesomest thing about the Indian diet. Of course even in North India people have replaced the yummy ghee for refined oils. Thanks to all the mis-information that is out there.

    PS: This is the wrong blog to be bitching about ghee and its ill effects :). Raj please correct me if am wrong and my apologies for the language..didn’t know any other way to say it.

    • RG June 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

      Sindhu,
      I pretty sure Vizeet didnt mean ghee is the reason for heart problems. He is a big proponent of fat and loves em himself. He was just being sarcastic.

      And dont apologize for language… this is a forum where you can speak your mind out!

      • Sindhu June 10, 2011 at 7:53 pm

        Ah..ha. See that’s what, I thought I had seen Vizeet post in your FB page and kept thinking to myself, did this guy do a complete 360 or what? :P. Anyway Vizeet, sorry dude. 😛

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