There are three things we can do to prevent becoming sick with chronic disease or better live with it: eat a good diet, relieve stress, and get regular exercise. Millions today exercise at home or in gyms, many of them almost every day. Millions also practice the ancient Indian art of yoga, and modern science has confirmed that yogic postures, breathing exercises, and meditation contribute to good health. But yoga isn’t the only thing which comes from India that helps people stay healthy.
Did you know that many spices in Indian food like turmeric, cumin, and black pepper, among others and mixed together in combinations developed by Ayurvedic practitioners over centuries, have been discovered to have properties described as “anti-cancer” by experts like Dr. Bharat Aggarwal of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center? Spices are one or many elements that make traditional Indian food healthy. (Yes, I said Indian food can be healthy. Read on.)
McCarrison also observed high rates of thyroid disease among other Himalayan tribes, and his intuition was that different diets played a key role in why some people suffered bad health while in the same region other people enjoyed good health. This ran counter to popular thought, but his intuition was vindicated by his research on what people were eating in different parts of India, some being based on ancient traditions and Ayurvedic wisdom, and their overall health. During three decades of nutrition research, some in the South Indian hill town Conoor (where he founded a lab that is India’s nutrition research center today) but much of it in the field all over India, McCarrison witnessed a trend that disturbed him: the industrialization of food.
All over India processed products were showing up in people’s food, a departure from the way it had been. Before, as McCarrison noted, people ate grains close to how they grew in nature. Thus, parts of the grain called “germ,” which is full of minerals and vitamins, and fiber-rich “bran” were eaten. But people were not getting nutritious parts of grains as they were eating much more refined wheat and white rice because food was being “modernized” in India.
In addition to whole grains such as wild or brown rice and flatbreads from whole-wheat (atta in Hindi), Indians traditionally ate dal (lentils) and other legumes, leafy vegetables cooked with spices, yogurts like dahi, nuts such as pistachios, and other plant-based foods. Meats were also occasionally eaten in some parts of the subcontinent. These foods when eaten together are the basis of what I call the “Healthy Indian Diet.”
In the last decades of the Raj, Indians abandoned healthy eating habits based on wisdom cultivated over millennia because the industrialization that brought wealth and people to Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore, Amdavad and other Indian cities also changed what kind of food was cheap and available. Even people living in villages began eating refined grains and sugar, which are high in energy but poor in nutrition and help cause diabetes and heart disease, instead of whole grains and other natural foods.
White rice, he said, “[is] subjected to a number of processes before use by the consumer; all of which reduce [its] already sparse supply of certain essential nutrients. It is parboiled, milled or polished; often all three… It is thus deprived of much of its proteins and mineral salts and of almost all its vitamins.” Scientific studies from the last decade show this to be true: eating white rice does increase one’s risk of developing diabetes or worsening blood sugar levels.
Here's a link to the article in Indo American News.