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Why do we get bad and harmful (or incomplete) advice from the same people who are widely followed for nutrition and healthy living advice?

Rujuta Diwekar has many useful and correct recommendations for mothers in this article – https://www.ndtv.com/book-excerpts/making-indian-kids-eat-healthy-by-rujuta-diwekar-1972691?pfrom=home-opinion

However, in the same article, she has glorified problem foods. Her advice ignores the child nutrition practices and beliefs that widely exist in educated middle class and upper middle class homes (the same people who read her articles and tend to follow her advice).

Here is a statement she makes in the article, which is broadly fine; “no packaged cereals (including oats), no juices, breads, noodles, etc. Not only are they low on nutrition, they are, in fact, harmful for your health”.  Then she proceeds to make this highly problematic statement; “Oh, there are so many good options – tasty and healthy; …… Poha, upma, idli, dosa, wada, thepla, khakra, paratha, jolpan, siddu, missi roti and many more from the treasure trove of diverse Indian breakfasts with their even more diverse accompaniments ….. They fuel you in the right way for the long hours of school ahead and don’t drain you or make you dull like packaged foods will invariably do.”

The advice on Poha, Upma, Idli*, Khakra is bad on practical nutrition grounds (Many packaged foods are nutritionally superior!). Wada, Paratha, Dosa is bad advice on toxicity grounds (There are more harmful toxins in these than the additives in many packaged foods!)

Let me explain why –

Let’s first talk about Poha, Upma, Idli*, and Khakra. These are all foods that offer only empty calories with very little nutrition. Grain, oils, spices, salt. That’s all that these foods contain. They are devoid of the nutritional diversity that is needed in a meal for a growing child.

If these foods are used as meal replacements, then the nutritional focus must shift to accompaniments and additions. It is important to emphasise that these foods must not exceed 40 percent of the meal by volume. The remaining 60 percent must have sources of adequate protein and micronutrients. For micronutrient balance, the emphasis must shift to vegetables, chutneys, and fruit, and for macronutrient balance, to accompanying paneer, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, and fowl.

Most mothers treat these empty foods as meal replacements on their own. They are not. These foods (if used as meal replacements without fixing the nutritional balance of the meal), are worse than most packaged foods in terms of nutrition.

Now, let’s talk about Wada, Paratha, and Dosa. Here there is a toxicity problem. This stems from nutrition beliefs and cooking practices followed in most of the homes who would read a Rujuta Diwekar article.

Wada’s are deep fried. Parathas and Dosas are pan fried / shallow fried. And this is done at high heat, definitely not the equivalent of sautéing a few veggies.

Most educated homes tend to use vegetable oils. They avoid ghee for this due to the advice they receive about “harmful saturated fats”. They avoid coconut oil for the same reason and also because not all Indian families like the flavour of coconut oil in their food. They avoid palm (kernel) oil too, because it’s the cheapest vegetable oil and it is seen as the “poor mans choice”.

Most vegetable oils are fairly rich in polyunsaturated fats. These are rich in Omega 6 fats. Oils rich in Omega 3 are not used for cooking (flaxseed, walnut).

The reason why Omega 3 fats are not used for cooking is the same reason why Omega 6 fats are not suitable for high heat cooking. They oxidize and become toxic. Oxidized Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats can cause a wide range of diseases. They will increase heart disease and cancer risk.

Rujuta surely knows that thermally oxidized PUFA causes oxidative stress and inflammation. And she surely is well informed about cooking practices in Indian kitchens. She must ensure that her advice is complete by including toxicity warnings and tell people how to reduce or avoid this problem.

*Here the idlis I refer to are rava idlis and not idlis that have a high amount of urad dal.

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