Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Improve the Standard North Indian Diet

White Rice (should be Brown Basmati if available), Okra cooked in oil (should be sauteed without oil), Chapati (no ghee), Urad Dahl (no oil)
Above is a very typical meal served in the Northern part of India. This meal was served to my daughter at my inlaw's home, prepared by a servant cook. The Chapati is always made at home by hand using whole wheat flour and served at lunch and dinner.  Typically a dahl (bean soup) is always made along with a "subji" or cooked vegetable dish.  They normally prepare a 1/2 cup of oil cooked with spices and seeds that gets poured over the top of the entire pot of dahl.  I asked them to instead add the oil to their individual serving of dahl so that our family could have the dahl without oil.

Below are my suggestions on how Northern Indian food can be made healthy:
  • Oil and ghee are not necessary and are used in too great of quantities.  Meals can be cooked with minimal or no oil without sacrificing flavor.
  • Meals are oversalted. While in India I request that food is not salted until after our family has taken their serving.
  • Brown rice should be substituted for white rice at least two or three times a week.
  • Breakfast, not pictured here, is typically tea and a small bowl of beans served with white bread toasted.  My father-in-law would sometimes eat a banana before breakfast but the nutrition could be greatly improved if two to three pieces of fruit were consumed before the beans, and wheat bread substituted for the white.
  • Too much cooked food is consumed, making the Standard North Indian diet low in nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants.  In a country where pollution is abundant, more raw fruits and vegetables need to be consumed.
  • Salad is usually a small plate shared among everyone that features sliced cucumber, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots. Salad should be more than two or three small pieces of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes!  Invest money on a large salad twice a day and watch as health and energy improves...or spend money later at the doctor's office :)

"Shumshu's Orange Cabbage Salad"
 Salad greens are not found in India and it is unheard of for someone to eat a raw spinach salad.  So I created a salad plate based on an idea from my inlaw's cook servant who's name is Shumshu.  Shumshu doesn't speak any english, but since I understand 90% of the food words in Hindi I was able to create this tasty salad that is one of his favorites.  It is simply shreded cabbage, sliced cucumbers, orange slices and cilantro served freshly squeezed orange juice drizzled over the top.  I served this to my insulin dependent diabetic mother-in-law.  Now if I can just get her to remember to ask Shumshu to make this delicious salad for her twice a day!  She could also add seasonal fruit like pomegrant or apples.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back from a month long trip to India!

My daughters standing in front of their Grandparent's home in Roorkee, India as a cow passes by.

I hope everyone had a great Turkey Free Thanksgiving.  In case you were wondering why I've been so quiet for the past month, I've been away in India with my family visiting my husbands side of the family! We visit India once every two to three years, though now that my husband's parents are aging and experiencing health issues I expect we will go more often. 
I'm happy to report we all made it through without any injuries or major illness on this trip.  I'm so thankful that we have a strong foundation of health to fall back on.  

I always come back from these trips feeling so greatful for all that we have here in the US.  We complain about things like money, car traffic, the house not being clean.  In India there is no minimum wage, laborers work for $4 a day and in some areas less than that.  Of course people are able to survive on this amount of money because the cost of living is very low compared to here, but there are no labor laws protecting children and workers who become injured on the job.  

The car traffic in India is mostly over two lane roads that are not properly paved and maintained.  Any and all types of vehicles and animals are on the road at any given time.  It makes driving stressful and exhausting.  So many near miss head on collisions that I have witnessed.  My heart used to stop frequently on my first two trips there, but now I just pray before I get in the car, breathe and hope for the best.   I cannot control the situation so I will surrender to it being out of my control.

As for our homes not being clean..imagine living in a place where the pollution and dust flooded your home so much that it never felt clean by your lowest standards no matter how often you cleaned it!  I was certain before leaving that my house was not clean since I didn't have time to mop.  When we arrived at home, I thought to myself  "this place is SO CLEAN"...and maybe I need to lower my standards!

There are some things that I really enjoy about India, especially in the small town where my husband is from.  In Roorkee people buy all produce locally and seasonally from small farmer stands in the marketplace.  There are no "Grocery Stores"...yet.   I expect the next time we go there will be one or two small grocery stores that will have aisles and grocery carts.  India is changing as the jobs move from the US to there, people have more money to spend and can afford much more than they could five years ago.  There is also a "Subjiwalla" or person who walks by homes selling fruits and vegetables off the cart.  He yells "Suuuuuubjiiiiiiiiiii" and then loudly announces all the produce on his cart.  How I wish we had this service here!   How convenient to be able to buy onions and tomatoes from your doorstep when you need it.

My husband shopping at his dad's cousin's store.
Shopping in India is a different experience altogether compared to here.  Shops are the size of a one car garage or smaller.  All of the items are up on shelves, clothes folded away, and you tell the shopkeeper or workers (sometimes they are little kids) what you want and they pull it down for you to look at.  This way of shopping can save time because you don't spend time finding a parking spot and walking through a store looking.  You walk up or have a rickshaw drop you directly in front of the store and tell the shopkeeper what you are looking for.   It can be frustrating because selections are limited and sometimes during clothes shopping they will continue to pull items down until you adamantly refuse. I also feel bad if we have them pull down 10 or more items and don't find what we like.   There are no refund policies if you are unhappy with what you buy, most stores will only exchange things IF you have the receipt.

Family ties are strong in India and the cultures and languages vary by region.  The social structure is very complex.  I have given up on trying to understand it all when it comes to gift giving and money exchanges on our visits.  I leave it up to my husband to take care of it! 

My brother-in-law helping my sister-in-law make chapatis for the local wandering cow

I know that my life would be very different as an woman living in India.  Women are treated with little respect (unless they have a big fancy job title) and have so much expected of them.  They are the real definition of "Superwomen".  They are to be full time workers, take full responsibility in care of the kids when they get home from work, serve dinner and wait hand and food on their husbands.  If a friend or extended family member drops by, they are expected to whip up lunch or dinner and tea on the spot.  They will spend the entire time in the kitchen cooking and serving food and sometimes not have time to even interact with the guests.  Even a woman who is a Medical Doctor by profession can be found in the kitchen on her day off making chapatis and tea in the kitchen entertaining guests.

There is so much importance given to the school you graduated from and the job title you have.  When I explain that I am a Wellness Coach and a Plant Based Nutrition Educator, they lose interest quickly because I am not working for a big corporation and don't have a big title like "Managing Director" or "Senior Executive" and I'm not making $80-100k a year.   It's of no interest to them that I am doing what I enjoy and that I am helping people.

I also got a lot of resistance when I told people that we homeschool our kids.  It is their expert opinion that kids can only learn in school and we are doing them an injustice by keeping them from that experience.  Schools in India are very textbook driven and theory based.  There is very little if any "hands on" or practical experience in the classroom.  Kids are expected at a young age to compete and perform well on tests because when they graduate from high school there are very limited spots at major universities, so competition is fierce. 

The problem with this is that India is producing a workforce of "producers", people who can take directions from authority and have little ability to think creatively and solve problems on a daily basis.  Yes we need producers, but we also need inventors, creators, and leaders.  Engineers are a plenty in India.  There are "schools" that will take a person's money and award them an Engineering degree without working for it. In the past, the engineering profession was a lucrative field that lifted many out of poverty but as the number of engineering jobs reduces and the number of unqualified Engineers increases, many will be forced in lower paying factory and construction jobs.

There is much more I can discuss but I will leave it up to my readers to ask questions :)

I hope you enjoyed this blog post, even though it was a bit off topic for my blog.  I will be discussing more about the Northern Indian Diet on my next post.