12

votes

My curious Indian coworker has a question about paleo?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 01, 2012 at 2:06 AM

A coworker of mine came into my cube today after hearing that I didn't eat wheat. After explaining to him why he became very curious. He says that in Northern India (were he is from) the diet is primarily Wheat, Lentils, and Rice. He states that they have been eating that way for 1000's of years. He also stated that they have very low instances of disease in his region. He and I had a dialog about it, but really I couldn't answer his question adequately as I know very little about Indian diet or disease rates in India. I speculated to him that Indian food has a lot of herbs and spices that can be anti-inflammatory such as Turmeric. I speculated that maybe people weren't as sick in that region because some of the natural spices used in his ethnic dishes served as way to mask inflammation. He then asked me how he could adopt a Paleo diet using only traditional foods from India. He mentioned that they drink a lot of Goats Milk and eggs. Initial Dr. Google and Wiki turned up little in this area. What advise or answers do you have for my friend? Do you have any scientific evidence that could help me prove to my friend that his ethnic diet may be harmful or beneficial?

Cbc1f37f2b79b079b0de479d5365a231

(605)

on June 04, 2012
at 01:35 AM

I agree with comments above - our perception of what is 'sick' and what is 'healthy' is not going to be accurate until we take into account the health of our ancestors - and by ancestors I don't just mean my great-grandmother, I'm talking Paleolithic :)

80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on June 02, 2012
at 04:25 AM

"Just fine" meaning cavities and inevitable heart problems? Are you really saying our ancestors evolved to drop dead of heart attacks at age 55?

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 02, 2012
at 04:18 AM

+1 for thoroughness.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 02, 2012
at 04:17 AM

@ben61820 except that tolerate isn't the same as thrive and as far as them having no problems, well that's contentious too. India is the diabetes capital of the world. It may be a contributing factor that some Americans are not taking good care of their bodies but it might also be that much of the world hasn't had the luxury of diagnosing food intolerances if they have bigger problems like a lack of food. As the standard of living goes up in India and China we will see more diseases due to food intolerances and not necessarily excess.

6371f0ae0c075ded1b8cd30aafd4bf16

on June 02, 2012
at 01:35 AM

I wasn't purposing to change the traditions of the diet. He wanted to give Paleo a try but not sacrifice some of his spiritual / religious beliefs.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:50 PM

What about all the people in "only the last 10,000 years" who have done just fine on high grain consumption?

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:47 PM

Not much to say to him. He's right: there are millions of people all around the globe eating wheat with no problems. If wheat is an issue for someone the problem lies within that person not within the wheat. Why can that person not tolerate something that a large number of people do? It is the unhealthy state of most Americans that makes their bodies freak out from certain foods: eggs wheat soy peanuts, etc.

68294383ced9a0eafc16133aa80d1905

(5795)

on June 01, 2012
at 12:34 PM

The industrialization, evolution, modernization, etc...however you want to phrase it, that has occurred there in the past 100 years is exponentially greater than everything prior to it combined. You simply can't compare the previous 100 years to even the 10,000 prior to it.

E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

(4347)

on June 01, 2012
at 11:45 AM

Have you read the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price? It's basically an observational study of various traditional cultures, both hunter-gatherer and agrarian, and their health with their traditional diets versus the Western diet.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 01, 2012
at 09:01 AM

I know this is in regards to the South Indian diet but there may be some relevant information for your coworker here: http://rajganpath.com/2011/07/19/what-did-healthy-south-indians-eat-in-the-early-1900s/

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:02 AM

I'm going to AP in July (for the second time), as someone who has trouble with gluten millet (ragi) is something I'll rely on a lot there.

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:00 AM

North and South India consume different foods and also have different overall health outcomes

80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:58 AM

"not gotten sick" - this is the statement to challenge. Because once over 35, Indians are sick - they begin to gain weight at the waist (pot bely/visceral fat) and this is the most dangerous kind of fat. Then they are prediabetic, and they progress to full T2D. Traditional Indian medicine - ayurveda - has a pile of treatments for diabetes. It's been around in India for a very long time.

80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:53 AM

"When you look at the health statistics of India today, you can see it has some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world." And this true statement is the bomb. More than half my office is of North Indian origin; about 1/3 of them are over 40, all keep to their traditional diet for religious regions, and all of them are struggling with their weight and blood sugar. Several are open about being on metformin now - we no longer serve Indian candies and sweets every meeting.

F5f742cc9228eb5804114d0f3be4e587

(7660)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:41 AM

I would say again that human memory isn't long enough to remember. For example, we got shorter and our teeth got worse with the introduction of agriculture. Also, there are a million confounding factors in the perception of "sick". We Americans are used to a certain level of health and get frustrated about all sorts of things whereas some cultures may have more pressing concerns, especially in areas with more poverty or different cultural expectations.

6371f0ae0c075ded1b8cd30aafd4bf16

on June 01, 2012
at 03:33 AM

Yeah, that argument is valid but his point is that his people have eaten wheat for a long time and not gotten sick.

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13 Answers

15
97c04f87a752ff0a5cf6be9d806c0334

(888)

on June 01, 2012
at 03:17 AM

As an Indian, this is something I think about A LOT. Though I'm South Indian, and the carbs in our food are mostly derived from rice and less from wheat compared to North Indian food. Like you mentioned, spices could be the reason why the harmful effects of grains might be negated.

Historically, most people weren't able to afford the rice they cultivated. Usually the rice would be for the wealthy, and the poor ate millet or barley. This site has some information on what people used to eat in the rural areas of Andhra Pradesh. The popularization of rice only occurred within the last century, and now its the staple of every Indian cuisine. That's something that should be considered.

When you look at the health statistics of India today, you can see it has some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. India's carbohydrate and sugar intake has vastly increased especially since most people can now afford it. Sweets and rice are no longer reserved for the wealthy. It used to be in India that diabetes was a 'rich man's disease' but that's slowly extending itself to other classes of people as the economy continues to evolve.

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:02 AM

I'm going to AP in July (for the second time), as someone who has trouble with gluten millet (ragi) is something I'll rely on a lot there.

80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:53 AM

"When you look at the health statistics of India today, you can see it has some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world." And this true statement is the bomb. More than half my office is of North Indian origin; about 1/3 of them are over 40, all keep to their traditional diet for religious regions, and all of them are struggling with their weight and blood sugar. Several are open about being on metformin now - we no longer serve Indian candies and sweets every meeting.

12
6690459d4e256da82d910376ac6c34fc

(323)

on June 01, 2012
at 12:24 PM

As an actual norther Indian (rocking Paleo & living in the UK), I feel the whole "we've always eaten wheat" thing is overblown!!

There is no evidence to suggest we had the capabilities or the modern wheat crop to sustain large manufacturing of wheat. Its the modern technological and GM modified crops that allow us to eat wheat in such large amounts.

In my opinion the classic northern Indian diet would have consisted largely of green veg (massive amounts of spinach) milk/ghee and lentils with some meat/eggs.

I'm not saying that we didn't eat it, we did but it was whole grain organic; It just wasn't in the current large amounts.

IMO Indian cuisine is the easiest to Paleo up on as we have so much verity in flavors and spice, as well as the ability to curry any vegetable. I just add a few spoons of Coconut milk to everything.... :)

Regards, Ninds

9
B4e1fa6a8cf43d2b69d97a99dfca262c

(10255)

on June 01, 2012
at 02:36 AM

This article might be a starting point. Written in 2008 it states "For reasons that doctors do not fully understand Indians seem to have an unnaturally high risk of contracting diabetes."

64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:00 AM

North and South India consume different foods and also have different overall health outcomes

6
8508fec4bae4a580d1e1b807058fee8e

on June 02, 2012
at 04:05 AM

There are some healthy Indians .. BUT...

India has skyrocketing diabetes/metabolic, autoimmune diseases, cancer, etc.. Most of it is under-diagnosed just like gluten intolerance and celiac. Doctors will just blame IBS type syndrome on bad food, water, and/or parasites which is confusing because some symptoms are similar! If 90% celiacs aren't diagnosed in America what do you think that number is in India - 99.9%??!

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article24750.ece

Almost half Indians (50%) have poor lipid profiles - triglycerides, HDL, LDL. Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu have the worst (note 2 out of the 3, other then Tamil Nadu are heavy wheat eaters). 22 year medical student had heart attack.

Indian cardiologist says he's had 30-40% increase in heart patients aged below 40 in just the last few years! http://indianherald.com.au/featured/smoking-hastens-cardiac-problems/1680/

India has 1 billion people+ but look how few athletes they have produced per capita compared to other Asian (primarily omnivorous countries like China & Japan). The Indian Army is composed from 10-15% Sikh religion (Sikh officers are 20%) - a reform Protestant version of Hinduism but Sikh's are omnivorous and can eat any meat - including beef. Yet Sikhs are less than 2% of the entire Indian population! What percentage vegetarian or vegan warriors or people in defense are you going to find worldwide??!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikh

In Gujarat, most are vegetarian Hindu and they have among the poorest nutrition and fitness. The average height of many Gujarati woman approaches under 5 feet and tend to be emaciated looking or overweight/obese- suggesting nutrition deficiencies from grains blocking minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, etc. FYI I've known groups of strict lifelong vegetarians carrying the burden of modern disease - cancer, autoimmune, heart disease etc - almost everything on the symptoms of gluten intolerance below.

In some cultures food is so important they would rather die then change their diet - or they will change when they are in such excruciating pain that when offered the knowledge that contradicts their belief system they may change aspects (may not all) of their diet.

A great number of Bollywood actors/actresses and nearly all (perhaps all) of the beauty pageant (Miss Universe, Miss World) winners are omnivore (often Muslim/Christian) and are either from the Punjab area or Bengal, with some South Indians. Although you can look good on the outside and still be inflamed on the inside. Some people have delayed effects of a poor diet - in the 20's and 30's but then it catches up!

In some Indian villages they use sugar as a filler so you cannot taste the food - all you taste is sugar so 1 bowl of "tomato soup," tastes like sugar soup. They deep fry in vegetable oils and often there 3 meals consist of deep-fried wheat. They don't eat enough non-starchy vegetables - they tend to be very grain-based.

Those that have raw dairy (or low temperature pasteurized dairy), and eat less or no wheat, and eat eggs are better off. Vegetarians could gain some benefit from Lacto-Ovo-Paleo but the sicker they are the more they have to benefit from including eating grass-fed ruminants and wild caught fish in their diet and eliminating gut irritants.

The obesity of cities like Baroda (Vadodara) India approaches Texas and there are heart centers/clinics on every block like Starbucks. (Everything is big in Texas - the SUVs, houses, and the people ...) LOL!

The highest rates of celiac are found in the areas with the greatest wheat consumption - Gujarat and Punjab - and they are not healing because so many foods including spices can be cross-contaminated.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11569725

Am J Gastroenterol. 2001 Sep;96(9):2804-5. Increasing incidence of celiac disease in India. Sood A, Midha V, Sood N, Kaushal V, Puri H.

Gujarati and Punjabi Indians who settled in England get 3 times more celiac then Europeans!

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/588631_3

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoimmune_disease

http://www.aarda.org/autoimmune_statistics.php Total Autoimmune disease has outpaced CANCER and HEART DISEASE in the numbers in the US.

All the below conditions/symptoms related to gluten intolerance are skyrocketing in India. Some of these conditions change over time in the same individual!

Some of 300 symptoms associated with gluten intolerance and/or made worse by gluten- Sound familiar?

Weight loss/gain

Nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorbtion e.g. low iron/anemia, Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc etc..

GI, IBS, bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea, GERD, acid reflex, fatty stool, nausea,vomiting, flatulence, celiac, Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis, Lactose Intolerance

Joint pain, Osteoporosis/Osteopenia, Cramps, tingling and numbness

Depression, Headaches, Migraine, Fatigue, Schizophrenia, Mood Swings, Irritability, Brain fog, seizures, ataxia (clumsiness), MS

Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage, Slow infant and child growth

Eczema, Allergies, Hives (Urticaria), Psoriasis, Acne, Rosacea

Type 1 diabetes, Lupus, Alopecia (hair loss, balding)

Down, Turner, and Williams Syndrome

Decline in dental health, dental enamel irregularities

Thyroid disease (both hypo and hyper)

I could go on and on but I need to end before my cortisol gets any higher ...

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 02, 2012
at 04:18 AM

+1 for thoroughness.

4
E95216c62a14d21c371fcbf2fed8469b

(1867)

on June 01, 2012
at 02:46 AM

I'd be worried about all that Monsanto super-rice that's being pushed on developing nations. The Bill Gates Foundation-Monsanto juggernaut rolls on!

4
F1b82cc7e6d90384ad30007dd6c1b9e3

(1187)

on June 01, 2012
at 02:43 AM

went to seminar where instructor said in India, cancer is low due to the spices, but heart disease is high b/c of the rice/carb consumption. My guess is veggies were more prominent than the rice but that may have flip flopped in modern times. maybe rice was less processed back then, i bet the rice is GMO now too

3
5d4b57e05d74826020d1eb083ef725e0

on June 01, 2012
at 05:17 PM

If they thrive on a traditional diet than why would they even need to change it? This mindset that Paleo is THE ONLY WAY to eat is disheartening. SAD is BAD - and from everything I've read the modern developing Standard Indian Diet is just as bad (hence rising obesity and diabetes) HOWEVER, every single traditional diet is not evil - and many are quite healthy. What's next, force feeding Okinawans coconut oil and bone broth?

6371f0ae0c075ded1b8cd30aafd4bf16

on June 02, 2012
at 01:35 AM

I wasn't purposing to change the traditions of the diet. He wanted to give Paleo a try but not sacrifice some of his spiritual / religious beliefs.

2
68294383ced9a0eafc16133aa80d1905

(5795)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:09 AM

In the context of the many afflictions we battle in the US on a daily basis when it comes to exposure to toxins, nutritional guidelines, food supply and other things, it's more advantageous to be from a remote region or even what we consider today, a third world region. With globalization though, it usually means they are just behind us in demonstrating the signs. The current adult generation is the first to really show many of the alarming signs/trends of declining health. I don't doubt many of these regions are just a generation or two behind...

Having experienced three different "third world nations" myself in the last few years, I can assure your friend that everything I see that plagues our health here is completely entrenched in these places as well. If not fully, it's well on its way.

1
Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on June 01, 2012
at 03:10 AM

regular SAD diet eaters say the same thing. yet, when you actually look back, there are a lot of symptoms; regardless if observed or not. The sad pyramid was just introduced in India; let's see what happens in the next couple of years. Also, US wheat is far more modified than other countries are.

1
E4dd16dec3c8a37b1d3fa2ad60bc66ea

on June 01, 2012
at 02:45 AM

I don't have any answers, but what a fascinating discussion. It would be interesting to hear some research regarding various regions in the world, and their 'paleo' history.

E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

(4347)

on June 01, 2012
at 11:45 AM

Have you read the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price? It's basically an observational study of various traditional cultures, both hunter-gatherer and agrarian, and their health with their traditional diets versus the Western diet.

1
Cbc1f37f2b79b079b0de479d5365a231

on June 01, 2012
at 02:32 AM

As he stated, Indians have been eating that way for 1,000s of years. Many other cultures have been eating a certain way for 1,000s of years (rice has been around for 10,000 yrs for example). The paleo diet takes into account millions of years. Yes the past 100 years have seen dramatic changes in diet and lifestyle, but the past 10,000 years is still 'just yesterday' when you think about how long humans have been around. Something to think about.

80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on June 02, 2012
at 04:25 AM

"Just fine" meaning cavities and inevitable heart problems? Are you really saying our ancestors evolved to drop dead of heart attacks at age 55?

F5f742cc9228eb5804114d0f3be4e587

(7660)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:41 AM

I would say again that human memory isn't long enough to remember. For example, we got shorter and our teeth got worse with the introduction of agriculture. Also, there are a million confounding factors in the perception of "sick". We Americans are used to a certain level of health and get frustrated about all sorts of things whereas some cultures may have more pressing concerns, especially in areas with more poverty or different cultural expectations.

6371f0ae0c075ded1b8cd30aafd4bf16

on June 01, 2012
at 03:33 AM

Yeah, that argument is valid but his point is that his people have eaten wheat for a long time and not gotten sick.

68294383ced9a0eafc16133aa80d1905

(5795)

on June 01, 2012
at 12:34 PM

The industrialization, evolution, modernization, etc...however you want to phrase it, that has occurred there in the past 100 years is exponentially greater than everything prior to it combined. You simply can't compare the previous 100 years to even the 10,000 prior to it.

80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on June 01, 2012
at 04:58 AM

"not gotten sick" - this is the statement to challenge. Because once over 35, Indians are sick - they begin to gain weight at the waist (pot bely/visceral fat) and this is the most dangerous kind of fat. Then they are prediabetic, and they progress to full T2D. Traditional Indian medicine - ayurveda - has a pile of treatments for diabetes. It's been around in India for a very long time.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 01, 2012
at 07:50 PM

What about all the people in "only the last 10,000 years" who have done just fine on high grain consumption?

Cbc1f37f2b79b079b0de479d5365a231

(605)

on June 04, 2012
at 01:35 AM

I agree with comments above - our perception of what is 'sick' and what is 'healthy' is not going to be accurate until we take into account the health of our ancestors - and by ancestors I don't just mean my great-grandmother, I'm talking Paleolithic :)

0
85f91220dc9fe7486eec8c4305139c7e

(383)

on June 01, 2012
at 01:06 PM

Have you read Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis? Today's wheat is very different from the wheat grown thousands of years ago. It has more gluten in it and raises blood sugar quicker. It may also be addictive, I know it is for me.

The books lists many health problems that have been eliminated in some patients by going grain free.

Beth

0
Cc3ce03985eac5ebcbb95fc2329f13b0

on June 01, 2012
at 02:24 AM

East Asian cuisines are very high in spices that are beneficial. I don't know what the malnutrition data is for that region, but poverty is rampant, and that will affect many people's diets.

I do know that in the East Asian community in my city, heart disease is a growing concern. That is likely the result of the North American diet encroaching on their diet.

The thing is that yes, they might be more acclimatized to their regional diet, or perhaps the food is processed less. Or maybe other factors that cause disease hamper the gathering of statistics that reflect the effect of diet, diseases like small pox and malaria.

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