Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A thought for Food

The day before yesterday, 16 October, was celebrated as World Food Day. Funny – I thought every day was that. Nothing gives as much pleasure as food – or creates as much confusion in our minds.

Every day we are assailed with completely conflicting messages – eggs are bad; no - eggs are good. Cholesterol is a problem; no - cholesterol is essential for a healthy body and mind. Milk is good – no, milk is bad. Tomatoes are good; no, tomatoes can cause cancer

How, in the face of such contradiction, can we even decide what is good for us? Would like to share my simple theory on this

A large part of the problem lies in the pace of evolution of the human species. We are no different than we were in the 17th century – 300 years is a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Our lifestyle has, however, changed tremendously -  automobiles, processed foods, supermarkets, air conditioning and desk jobs have served to make us much more rich, sedentary and overfed as a species. Our lives are programmed and routine but genetically, we are still omnivorous hunter gatherers who can’t be sure where our next meal will come from. 

Every diet we try attempts to trick our body into not absorbing the food we eat – eat only protein, eat only fat, separate the protein and fats, cut out carbs entirely. We lose weight dramatically while on the diet – only to put it all back and more when we go back to normal food. That is because the diet signals to the body that food is in short supply, and triggers the “thrifty gene” - that in turn conserves every scrap of food and uses it sparingly.

When we were young, we learned about 'balanced diets' – our bodies needed to be fed much like we would build a camp-fire. The heavy logs were at the bottom and the tinder and camphor were on the top. The camphor lights the tinder, the tinder lights the twigs and the twigs light the logs. A fire entirely of tinder would burn out too fast and not generate enough heat – one with only logs would be nigh impossible to light. Similarly, the simple sugars provide the energy to break down and digest the other carbohydrates that then start working on the heavier fats and finally, the proteins. By depriving our body of the carbs, we slow down digestion of the heavier nutrients and so feel full for longer. But is this the right approach? The real questions we should be asking are “Who are we fooling?” and “Should we be eating as much as we do in the first place?”

I would like to advocate an approach that has been serving me well for the last 15 years

  • Don’t embark on a diet that you cannot sustain – lifelong! Remember the rebound effect – if you can’t sustain the diet, the weight will all come back
  • Eat what is natural and seasonal. Nature inevitably has a purpose for what it does – for the watermelon in summer, and apples in winter.
  • Keep away from the processed foods - processed foods are possibly the biggest evil we encounter in our day to day existence. As a rule, stay away from the 4 whites – white bread, processed sugar, salt and white flour. Some add milk to this list – I have benefited by keeping milk out of my diet, preferring yoghurt and old cheeses. Carbonated beverages are high on my list of “dont’s” – recent evidence suggests that even diet drinks can mess with your metabolism and effect your health. Eat whole fruit instead of fruit juice. Don’t hurry to throw away the skin – often the largest source of nutrients and fibre.
  • Exercise – as much as you can. A 10 minute walk is better than none at all. A gentle walk post a meal helps the digestion and works the body. Build exercise into your routine and chores – that is the only way of incorporating it into your life. Even the slightest exercise is a stimulus - it pumps up the metabolism and keeps you well-oiled
  • Control the portions. Eat a variety of foods. Watch how much you eat though – 'how much' is more important than 'what' where diets are concerned
  • Work with a dietician who understands your needs. Overlay all advice with a strong dose of common sense

Disregard everything I have just said if you have an existing medical condition. Your doctor is the best judge of what you need to do to put you back on the health path.

Happy World Food day to all my fellow foodies – better late than never. The intention was not to throw you off your food – love my food too much to do that! I do hope, though, that I have given you something to think about when you next reach for something – or abstain from something. Remember, maintaining a balance will allow you to enjoy your food for as long as you live


  1. Boss, how can you leave out daal chawal and thahir sadam from the list of comfort foods? you will lose your North Indian and your South Indian friends!

  2. Not just comfort food. But the food that brings him calm and balance during a hectic workday 😁