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Indian Diet - Obesity in India

Indian Diet and Health

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Indian Diet and Obesity

Eating habits in India vary enormously, according to climate, food availability, and dietary customs. So it's more accurate to speak of Indian diets, rather than a standard Indian diet. Also, due to difficulties of food distribution across the Indian subcontinent, nutrition, protein intake and calorie consumption are uneven, and remain dependent on food sources. As a result, while obesity rates in India are very low (about 0.5 percent), and weight-related diseases are generally very low (except in some urban groups), nutritional levels in some areas can fall below recommended levels.

Nutrients in Indian Diet

As far as dietary nutrition is concerned, Indians get much of their dietary protein from fish, lamb, beans, lentils and dairy. Fat in the Indian diet comes mainly from cooking oils and fats, while common starchy carbohydrate foods include rice, and a variety of flours and breads. The Indian diet is rich in fiber, from legumes and vegetables as well as wholegrains.

Dietary Fat

Most Indian dishes are prepared using oil or fat. Each region of India has its own staple cooking oil. In the North and East there is mustard oil, while peanut oil is common to the south and the west of India. The standard fat used across India is clarified butter or "ghee", which is made with butter from cows milk. Nuts are another important source of fat (monounsaturated) in the Indian diet.

Grains and Cereals

Cereal grains like rice, wheat and maize form an important part of the staple Indian diet. Due to differences in climate, rice is consumed more in the south of India while wheat forms an important part of the diet in the northern regions.

Dairy Food

A large number of Indian dishes (eg. cheese, ghee and curds) are made from milk products, and both milk and yogurt is eaten throughout India. Yogurt is used in curries for a milder flavor and to reduce use of fat. It is also used in a variety of other sauces as well as in dressing Indian style salads like chaat papri. It also adds protein to Indian vegetarian meals. Yogurt with added sugar is often used as a dessert. Buttermilk, cow's milk, and goat's milk, are also common staples in the Indian diet, especially in western regions of the country.

Fruit

Fruits play a very important part in the Indian diet. Varieties like, mango, oranges, guavas, figs, plantains, berries and pineapple, as well as cantaloupe, grapes and pomegranates are quite common. In addition, in cooler northern regions, the Indian diet includes fruits such as: cherries, plums and strawberries.

Vegetables

The majority of people in India are vegetarians, or semi-vegetarians who eat fish. Not surprisingly therefore, Indian cuisine uses a wide range of vegetables, especially in the south which enjoys a heavy rainfall.

Healthy Spices in Indian Cuisine

Spices, like aniseed, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, garlic and chilies, play a major role in Indian cooking. Many of the spices used to prepare Indian food are chosen for their health properties as well as their aromatic smell and taste. For example, ginger is believed to relieve colds and sore throats, while turmeric is highly regarded as an antiseptic. In fact, turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which may halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) and possibly Alzheimer's disease. See Indian Diet and MS.

Most Popular Indian Beverage

The main beverage in India is black tea. Indian tea supplies important amounts of the mineral manganese, vitamins E and K, as well as small amounts of vitamin B-complex. In addition, it contains phytochemicals like phenols and flavonoids (eg. epigallocatechin), reputed to improve immunity and protect against cancer and circulatory disease. Assam, and Darjeeling are two famous varieties of Indian tea.

Indian Diet, Obesity and Health

Average obesity rates in India are exceptionally low. The percentage of obese Indian women is about 0.6 percent. This compares with 34 percent of American women who are obese. Obesity in Indian men is 0.3 percent, compared to 27.7 percent of American men. Diet-related cancers are also far lower in India, compared to the United States. For example, breast cancer mortality rates in India are 1.6 per 100,000 population, versus 32.7 in America. Colon cancer mortality in India is about 0.1 per 100,000 women, compared to 18.7 in America.

Indian Diet and Life Expectancy

While longevity is obviously the product of many different factors, diet is now regarded as a contributory factor of no little weight, albeit one that is hard to compute. Nonetheless, to the extent that dietary habits influence life expectancy, America scores well. Life expectancy at birth for American females is estimated (2005) at 80.67 years, compared to life expectancy for Indian women of 65.1 years. Though as stated, this does not support the conclusion that the Indian diet is less nutritious or healthful than the average American diet!

See also:

Indian Diets By Region
Indian Diet Spice and Multiple Sclerosis

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