Healthy Indian Diet: The Whole 30 Way


Dr. Trushna Bhatt, an expert in food and nutrition, reviews the popular Whole30 diet book series. Here's her take on how the diet can work with an Indian lifestyle.

Given our fast-paced lifestyles, it's definitely difficult to eat healthy. The surge in preference for convenience foods and packaged eatables plus the stress and environmental pollution makes us more prone to health issues.

This is where clean eating and fresh foods become more important than ever.

If we follow a healthy Indian diet along with the exercise routines that our ancestors practised, we may become fitter versions of ourselves. Sure, our ancestors had cleaner air to breathe; purer water to drink; and fresher, low calorie food to eat. While we cannot control the environmental pollutants we are exposed to, switching to smarter diets is definitely do-able.

As an increased number of people realize this, there is a greater focus on hearty, fresh, healthier foods that form a balanced diet. Such demand has ushered in diet programs that scrutinize basic, minimally processed, fresh foods, and Whole30 is one such example.

Whole30: What's in And What's Not?

The Whole30 diet has taken America by storm. Designed by a nutritionist couple from the U.S., it is a 30-day restrictive dietary program that promises to change your life by emphasizing whole foods and eliminating food groups like sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes. These food groups are considered to be blood sugar disrupting, gut damaging, inflammatory, and causing hormonal imbalances. Avoiding these could help prevent cravings, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and reduce systemic inflammation, in turn, dramatically change your overall quality of life. However, this diet program calls for strict compliance with no-cheat days. It emphasizes eating food in its natural, unprocessed form with minimum ingredients.

The Whole30 diet is all for the consumption of meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, oils, nuts, seeds and a small portion of fruits daily. This is partly in line with the American dietary guidelines. It encourages you to read food labels on packaging so you know what you're putting into your body and subsequently make healthier choices. Adopting this implies you bid good bye to junk food and sugar, its alternatives, grains, legumes (except snow peas, snap peas, and green beans), mono sodium glutamate (MSG) or sulphites, and alcohol.

Whole30 in the Context of the Healthy Indian Diet

The Whole30 diet, in the Indian context, resembles our traditional detoxifying diets (often enforced in the forms of fasts and ritual-based meals) wherein high-fibre food groups that are difficult to digest and might cause bloating (such as grains and some legumes) are avoided. Similarly, as per Ayurveda, limited consumption of dairy is recommended for a person with kapha dosha (nutrient imbalance causing weight gain, bloating, joint issues, etc.). It is interesting that an ideal Ayurvedic diet also calls for a healthy, balanced diet that enables an equilibrium among the three basic body elements: Vaat, Pitt, and Kaph (the air, fire, and water elements) – that form the tripod on which a healthy body rests. As per the principles of Ayurveda, in order to maintain this delicate balance, it is important to eat not only "natural sugars", fresh produce, limited salt, fats, and nuts, but also practice moderation in food intake. This science goes on to recommend specific foods as per an individual's body composition (or prakriti) and disorders, if any.

The Indian diet pretty much uses food in its natural form. For example, while the Western world consumes grains via highly refined and processed food items like bread, noodles, and pasta, mostly made of refined flour, we have the roti made from minimally processed whole wheat flour. Similarly, the usage of tinned foods is quite common in day-to-day cooking in America and Europe. However, Indians prefer freshly cooked, preservative-free home made recipes for their daily meals. The use of whole pulses and legumes in the form of daals and sprouts is also not new to Indian cooking. This means more fibre and nutrient dense foods in the diet.

Healthy Indian diets accord significant importance to cereals and pulses and there are many routine recipes that involve these food groups. The constant presence of rotis and daals in different forms across Indian cuisines highlights the role of grains and pulses and is solidly backed by science too! Many international studies have linked the consumption of fibre-rich cereals and pulses to lower risks of heart disease. So, it's not advisable to eliminate dairy, grains, and legumes completely because this may reduce the amount of fibre, Vitamin E, folate, and magnesium your body needs.

Complete omission of dairy is something that isn't too convincing; given that milk and milk products are excellent sources of protein, calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D -- the necessary ingredients for healthy bones, normal blood pressure levels, and fit hearts. A review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition actually found that dairy was more likely to be associated with reduced inflammation. Given how many Indians are strict vegetarians, dairy becomes their biggest protein source. So, ghee, or clarified butter, a crucial element in hearty Indian diets is the only exception in the dairy category that is allowed by the Whole30 program.

Like all new diet/health programmes, this diet too despite its beneficial detoxifying effects, must be taken with a pinch of salt. Many American nutrition and clinical experts argue against this Paleo diet, calling it draconian and a fad. Unlike the Paleo diet that eliminates only refined sugars, Whole30 excludes all forms of sugar. Its felt that such a step may lead to deficiencies of vital nutrients and reduced glucose in your systems, which can render you groggy and unfocused. So, while following the Whole30 diet for a month might be acceptable, stretching this longer may have long-term repercussions.

Whole30: Controversy's Child

The elimination of foods that might cause any kind of irritation forms the backbone of a detoxifying or cleansing diet. Cleansing is an important part of maintaining health, slowing ageing, and preventing diseases by ridding the body of toxins.

While the central idea of the Whole30 diet is sound in advocating the adherence to basics, it is highly debated by nutritionists worldwide. Will eliminating foods that provide the much-needed macro nutrients for a period of 30 days lead to their depletion and subsequent deficiency? How will the body react to these foods when they are re-started post the 30-day hiatus? The body may possibly find it difficult to adjust to this drastic change and result in excessive bloating once the normal diet is resumed. This would essentially kill the whole purpose of the diet. For a regular individual who needs to perform his/her daily chores and professional duties, adhering to such a strict regimen would be extremely taxing and practically challenging.

In all fairness, the Whole30 regimen essentially aims to heal the body and help it recover from any ill effects caused by the craving-inducing, blood sugar-disrupting, gut-damaging, and inflammatory foods. Ideally, this food program is meant to be a cleansing diet that helps our body attain a neutral status, after which, various foods can be reintroduced to evaluate their objective effects on the body (how our body reacts when these foods are consumed). Just as Ayurveda helps us find our "guna" and "dosha", the Whole 30 diet can help us identify the foods that suit us best and enhance our "guna" and pick out those foods that should be avoided to reduce our "doshas". So, in essence, this diet has been designed not as a long-term solution but as a jumping off point for understanding our own body to then design and implement a customized diet routine for one's self.

The idea is to figure out how what you are eating is affecting you and how you can make smarter food choices. People who are already suffering from one or the other medical problems should be careful while following this diet. Young children, pregnant women, lactating mothers and the elderly should consider consulting with their physician before taking on a program such as this.

So, the Whole30 diet might prove an effective detoxifying diet that helps cleanse the body with a 30-day routine. However, any sustainable health result calls for a long-term, lifestyle change involving a healthy and balanced diet supplemented by regular physical exercise. Cut out junk, eat freshly cooked foods, ensure a healthy and moderated mix of all food groups, and strive for a physically active life. Good health, then, will be your best friend for life. As they say, there's no substitute for hard work!


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