The above picture is approximately 35 years old, and the lean man in the extreme left who is speaking is my grandfather. I don’t remember any other picture of him in my mind of my association of 21 years with him. The guy in the middle is my father’s friend and recently died after reaching the age of 96. If my memory supports correctly? I never found these people falling sick in their lives, not even allergies. What’s the secret?
When I moved to the United States, I was 27. My first few years as I struggled to build my career in America, I began to think of the Indian diet I had grown up with as greasy, full of carbs, and low in proteins, moreover, it was too much work to cook Indian food daily thus we changed our lifestyle and adopted for processed and frozen diet or to be more specific Westernised. I was athletic, I was young, and I came from a long line of people who lived to ripe old ages with little-to-no illness. I took for granted that as long as I was physically fit, I’d enjoy the same long, healthy life.
That all changed when I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pericardial Effusions last year. A chronic and an unknown condition, neither I nor my doctors, could identify why or how this happened to me. I have no family history of such a disorder, and I live a healthy lifestyle — far healthier than many people I know.
There I was, having two liters of fluid removed along with countless other tests and diagnostic procedures. Before that diagnosis, I thought I was the picture of health. However, as the tests, procedures, and stress of the diagnosis piled up, over time I gained weight, felt lethargic and terrible. Today, my wife helps me keep track of my medication schedule, and my entire family feels the emotional and psychological strain of my illness. How could this happen?
When I rewind my memories and recall my childhood in India, my parents and grandparents lived their lives without any of these health issues — and lived a long time. My grandfather was still fit and active 30 years after his retirement from a government job. Every morning, he would walk two hours to climb a small hill in Jaipur called Galta, a holy place. He would have a heavy meal in the morning and light supper in the afternoon. My grandmother cooked meals fresh daily; she would even grind the wheat fresh daily with her hand grinder at home called a “chakki.”
My grandfather was always proud that he was able to maintain his weight throughout his retirement life and never got sick. I’m sure my grandmother’s cooking had a lot to do with that. In fact, he never required a doctor’s care until his death at the age of 87. My grandmother lived the same healthy life, passing away three days after him. They always lived together in life; I like to think they traveled together to heaven as well.
If I compare my lifestyle with theirs, it’s very different. The stress levels, competition in the workplace, ambitions, work, technology, food — even the WAY we eat. No longer are we sitting down to eat slowly, mindful of our bodies’ needs, or spending time with our families at each meal. Everything has changed. Everything except the human body.
The human body still craves the staple diet of our ancestors, and I believe much of the poor health we see is due to not giving the body what it needs. For me, diet was the biggest disparity I could see in my lifestyle when compared to my grandparents and their siblings. It is also the biggest difference between the East and the West.
I visited India recently and spent time with my eldest uncles who are 86 and 83 years old. They are following in the footsteps of my grandfather. They and my aunts enjoy healthy home-cooked meals; they work out and maintain their diet rich in staple nutrition. I could see that history was repeating itself in their lives and health. I believe a staple diet with freshly cooked ingredients is the key here. As children, we used to laugh at my grandfather when he used to tell us to eat raw vegetables and to cook them slowly to preserve the nutritional value. Today, the world’s top dieticians are echoing my grandfather’s advice. Even Bollywood celebrity Shilpa Kundra is returning to her roots, mentioning in her book that she looks to the Indian traditional diet for optimal nutrition — and she’s seeing the benefit of this choice.
The diet of my grandparents was complete, providing whole nutrition with the macro as well as micronutrients the human body needs:
- Complex carbohydrates (roti, rice, bhakri, etc.)
- Proteins (vegetarian foods, milk, dairy products, pulses, legumes)
- Fats (oil, ghee, nuts, seeds)
- Fibre, vitamins, and minerals (Fruits and vegetables)
Indian cooking involves the daily use of certain spices like turmeric, cumin, mustard seeds, heeng (asafoetida), ginger, garlic, and green chillies, all of which have medicinal properties. When my parents would visit me here in the United States, my mother cooks three times a day and feeds us nutritious, delicious meals. I always thought she did this because she loves us and enjoys cooking. However, I now realize that she is blessing us and our home with health.
Why am I suffering from a disease in spite of having a healthy lifestyle compared to many others?
The answer seems clear to me now. Homemade meals created with fresh, nutritionally dense foods have disappeared from our lives. This is the one thing many people in this country (and globally, as the Western diet is adopted worldwide) due to the busy, non-stop lifestyle we are leading. It’s good to work, to be productive and successfully. But it is equally important to take time for your health. To feed yourself fresh meals rather than processed or frozen dinners.