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Busting health and nutrition myths for ensuring greater health among South Asians

Statistics show that people in South Asia have some of the highest rates of insulin resistance in the world. As noted in an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences by Unjali P. Gujral and associates, “Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. While all ethnic groups are affected, the prevalence of T2DM in South Asians, both in their home countries and abroad, is extremely high and is continuing to rise rapidly.” The reasons for the high rates of diabetes are manifold and include innate biological susceptibilities, sedentarism, and diet. In this article, we bust three important myths in order to promote better health in the Indian population.

Why Insulin Resistance?

Dr Ronesh Sinha MD, author of The South Asian Health Solution, notes that South Asians are at a greater risk for insulin resistance because of a combination of high stress, a sedentary lifestyle, and a diet that is too rich in vegetable oil, food containing high amounts of sugar, salt and processed ingredients.

Better nutrition leads to healthy life.
Better nutrition leads to healthy life. Photo courtesy:

He notes that Asian Indians in particular have alarmingly high rates of heart disease and diabetes, and that these diseases are manifesting themselves at a younger age. Myths that need busting if better health is to be achieved include:

All Fat is the Same

Our bodies have changed considerably over the past 50 years, with overall weight continuing to increase in South Asia and the Western world as well. Research shows that we are becoming fat and inactive, which does not bode well for our chances of a long and healthy life.

The body actually has two different types of fat: brown fat and white fat. While the latter is inactive, brown fat is a calorie-burning machine that relies on glucose and triglycerides (which can cause heart disease if it is not consumed) for fuel. Dr Sinha states that although South Asian people have less brown fat than many other populations, we can stimulate white fat into activity through exercise. When we engage in regular physical activity, we produce a hormone called irisin, which helps convert white fat into brown fat. Nutritional intake is also important; to build more brown fat, do not starve or, since eating too few calories will stop white fat conversion into brown; eating too many calories, meanwhile, stops brown fat’s ability to burn calories.

Grains, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds are always Healthy

While these foods contain a host of vitamins and nutrients, consuming too many of them can actually cause problems with your nutritional intake. These foods are rich in phytic acid, which binds to Vitamin D, iron and calcium, so that your body cannot absorb their benefits.

Regular physical activity produces a hormone called irisin in the body, which helps convert white fat into brown fat.
Regular physical activity produces a hormone called irisin in the body, which helps convert white fat into brown fat. Photo courtesy:

Grains also convert quickly into glucose, which can contribute to heart disease, cancer, and obesity. You do not have to forego grains altogether, but do not make them the mainstay of your eating plan.

Saturated Fat is Unhealthy

According to Dr Sinha, saturated fat, present in coconut oil and ghee, gets a far worse rap than it deserves. These oils contain medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) which are converted to energy in the liver rather than remaining in the body as fatty deposits. Dr Sinha is not alone; many dietary experts note that cholesterol is often blamed for heart disease, the number one cause of which is inflammation, often exacerbated by the use of vegetable oils containing trans fatty acids.

To boost your health, make sure that grains do not make up the bulk of your diet, stay active to keep obesity and heart disease at bay and prepare foods with healthy fats such as coconut oil and ghee, which are rich nutrients and excellent sources of medium chain fatty acids. Ensure your body fat levels are sound and stay informed to stop nutritional myths from leading you to make the wrong choices.

Jane Sandwood
Jane Sandwood – Contributor

Jane Sandwood is a professional freelance writer with over 10 years’ experience across many fields. Jane has a particular interest in issues relating to elderly care and health.