13 March 2013

Hungry Planet - India

This is an example of a typical Indian vegetarian diet of a family living in Ujjain (Central India), from the book Hungry Planet. (My previous post about Japan.)

Here is what this family of four eats. More than 10 kg of food is consumed per person per week:
  • 41% starches (flour, bread, chapatis, etc. most of it in the form of refined carbohydrates)
  •   8% nuts and legumes (6 times more legumes than nuts are consumed)
  •   5% sweet food (local sweets, ice cream, sugar, etc.)
  •   5% dairy (yoghurt, ghee, milk not included)
  • 16% fruits
  • 25% vegetables

Now, if I look at the proportion of starches and sweet foods in their diet (starches + sweets + fruits), it is really high compared to the vegetables, dairy products and nuts and legumes.
  • 62% starches + sweets + fruits, more than half of this is rice and bread
  • 30% vegetables + dairy + nuts and legumes

I counted the nuts and legumes separately. Although, to me, they are in the starches category, they do not equal to animal protein and fat. If I add nuts and legumes to the starches + sweets and fruits, then we get:
  • 70% starches + sweets + fruits + nuts and legumes
  • 30% vegetables + dairy

So, more almost 2/3 of this diet is starches. If we believe the biochemical research about obesity: a high-carbohydrate diet drive insulin levels up, in turn drive fat accumulation, then this diet is a very fattening diet and leads to chronic diseases.

The fat content of the diet (dietary fat has no effect on insulin levels) is very small as no animal flesh is consumed. 

I have to add that they consume a lot of milk (7.2 litres per person, per week) versus soft drinks (2.2 litres per person, per week). 

If someone is overweight (the family on the picture have similar problems), milk is not the best option to lose weight as it contains lactose (a form of sugar), especially low-fat milk is not recommended, it is almost like drinking sugary water. A better option for weight loss: more fatty dairy products, they contain less lactose. The best option would be ghee (clarifies butter). But, usually people with weight problems do the opposite: they cut out ghee and consume more fruits, pulses and starches, which will add to the problem.

Today, India has huge obesity - and related chronic disease - problems. The good thing is that it can be overcome, and the big proportion of these diseases avoided. It is important to learn from the elderly who consumed more ghee, dairy products and much less sugar and refined carbohydrates.


  1. Again from you, two amazing posts! I can only say I agree 100%. The traditional Japanese diet is like a recipe for long life! It will change though, and is changing very fast already.

  2. Haha this sounds so familiar! I'm surprised sweet food is only 5%, cause in India, we add sugar to our tea & coffee, to milk, sometimes even yoghurt! And don't even get me started on how humongously sweet Indian sweets are!

    1. Yes, I was also surprised about the sugar content... I used the info from the book, I don't know how accurate it is.