The Love Of Our Life: Carbs And The Indian Diet
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Humans are generically described as omnivores; however, we have the choice to favor almost any diet that suits us best. We have vegetarians, non-vegetarians, "eggetarians," vegans, keto dieters, dairy- and gluten-free food lovers, salad-only dieters, and dieters who strictly follow calorie counts. Whatever our preference, a healthy diet should include various macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Whether we use a diet chart, count calories and portions, just eat when our stomachs tell us to, or stick to traditional diets and menu plans that we learned from our families, it's important to eat a balanced diet with a lot of different kinds of food.

Carbohydrates—one of the essential macronutrients in nutrition—receive a great deal of bad press today, and for the poorly informed, this could mean a complete elimination from a diet. Rather than focusing on the amount of carb intake (because, as science is proving, not all calories are equal), importance should be placed on the type or form of carb being consumed. For those who may be wondering what that means, it is time to understand how important carbs are to our nutrition.

Meal time today has taken on a whole new meaning. Once it could have meant gathering ingredients grown on the land or hunting as our ancestors would, now it has become selecting what cuisine fits our mood. Nutrition and diet have become yardsticks to measure the quality of healthy eating. Where nutrition describes the components of food, how it is utilized by the body, and its link between health and disease, diet elaborates on the selection of ingredients or food types by a person or community. Considering our modern setting, "diet" also means a type of food plan adopted to achieve a health goal—be it weight loss or gain, focused muscle gain, or targeted fat loss.

India, a part of the Asian subcontinent, is home to a galaxy of cultures and populations. Our country, although located in the tropics, has a varied climate, from the snow-capped Himalayas and extreme temperatures along the Thar desert to the humid coastal regions along the peninsula. People's diets reflect not only the climate, but also their religions and traditions. Besides the well-known Upanishads and Ayurveda texts, there are other ancient texts like Bhojanakutahalam, Kshama Kutuhalam, and Nalapaka Darpana that give us detailed insights into how our ancestors approached food. In the days of the ancient past, meat was considered a luxury and enjoyed by the Royals as game meat. Just as much for the average commoner as for the "regular basis" of the Royals, the bountiful vegetation and flourishing agricultural practices, coupled with religious beliefs against animal sacrifices, made vegetarianism a more popular diet.

So, the Indian diet chart as a whole, whether it's for vegetarians or not, has one thing in common: it has more carbohydrates than proteins and fats.

Carbohydrates are the most practical source of energy in a society where there is a lack of prosperity and access to food. They are also the most cost-effective type of food, as they can be eaten raw (fruits and vegetables) or with little preparation (grain and wheat). It is one of the reasons why developing countries remain so reliant on them.

Carbohydrates (food grains) were grown in mass when human civilization first turned to agriculture. Even today, it is an efficient, reliable crop that can be stored when needed. With the advent of industrialization, surpluses grew, and consumerism gradually came to be accepted as the norm.

You may ask, "What is a carbohydrate?" It is a biomolecule consisting of carbon-hydrogen-oxygen-based chains. Depending on the chemistry, complexity, and ease of digestion, it may be categorized as "simple" or "complex" carbs. They may be broadly described as being sugars, starches, or fibers. This macronutrient is a vital and primary source of energy and is responsible for maintaining bodily systems and metabolic processes.

Carbohydrates come in a variety of forms in both food and drink. Sugars are simple carbs, which are readily digested by the body and result in high blood sugar levels; this is seen as a log-lag curve in energy levels. Starches, which are complex carbs, include beans, legumes, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. They are slow to digest and maintain blood sugar levels, prolonging the feeling of fullness. Fibres are complex carbohydrates that are plant-based, such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grain products. These aid in stimulating digestion, maintaining gut health, and maintaining satiation.

Other than carbs derived from whole or natural food sources, we have to understand that carbs are a prominent part of processed foods today. Processed foods are where our "weight thieves" hide. Simple sugars, added tactfully to almost any processed and packaged item, are responsible for a large portion of the nutritional disorders prevalent today. With the potential of being addictive, such easily digestible carbs added for flavor flood our system with a surplus of sugar, which readily gets stored in our fat reserves. Add this to a highly impressionable country like India, and it is no wonder that our country is considered the "capital for type 2 diabetes," with the majority of youth in the "overweight category."

While it's understandable to want to cut carbs to lose weight, it's critical to know the difference between healthy whole carbs and processed, calorie-dense carbs. Herein lies your answer for why, no matter how little we eat, it is difficult to shed those few pounds. No, my friends, don’t blame "ghar ka chawal, roti, and alu"; rather, blame "bahar ke chips," jamuns, ice cream, biscuits, and the countless other refined, processed, and packaged items.

The floating "carb stigma" prevalent today among the inadequately informed spells a recipe for future disastrous and misinformed dietary choices. It's time to put an end to these sneaky ideas and give this nutrient the fame it deserves.