Karan Johar’s recent column on NDTV, “RIP, Conscience. Everybody’s Cheating on Everyone” caught my attention. It’s an entertaining, metaphorical piece in which Karan compares cheating on his “diet” to infidelity !
I’m going to reserve my opinion on this blog to strictly his food and diet commentary, but I make no lasting promises (uh, hem).
He starts with, “I’m very confused these days”….about what exactly to eat, following severe digestive problems and a recent diagnosis of lactose, fructose and possible gluten intolerance. He seems frustrated since his previous weight loss diets ostracized white rice and potatoes but accepted roti and brown rice and now he’s been asked to do the exact opposite – ditch roti and brown rice and instead re-embrace easy to digest white rice and potatoes.
First, I’d like to acknowledge his (and almost everyone else’s) bafflement at the messy state of nutritional advice these days. Nutrition is the only science that seems to contradict itself more often than not and to make matters worse, expert opinions sometimes differ. So the advice can depend on “who” you choose to follow and “where” they get their information.
Nevertheless, I’m glad Karan has opened a conversation within nutrition that’s important to address, especially in India. I’ve observed even more confusion here than in the west; often riddled with misconceptions and sometimes coupled with an ignorant, dogmatic adherence to disease-causing traditional foods of little or no nutritive value.
So here’s my advice based on current research to help Karan and you sort through this mess.
To Eat or Not to Eat:
Wheat (bread, roti, naan, dalia, maida, etc.)
If you are gluten intolerant, gluten-sensitive, fructose-intolerant, have an autoimmune disease (like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease) or diabetes you need to say goodbye to gluten. Period. Cutting out wheat can also significantly help factors related to heart disease and metabolic syndrome; including lowering cholesterol, blood sugar and reducing inflammation. People with digestive concerns like IBS and chronic acid reflux should also remove gluten from their diet – at least short-term. Mental or neurological conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s can also improve (sometimes dramatically) on a gluten-free diet. Even skin issues like acne and respiratory allergies can clear up or reduce significantly. Removing gluten from your diet is also a great way to lose weight without compromising on nutrients. Or go gluten-free for a natural boost in energy, so you don’t have to rely on caffeine and/or sugar to get you through the day.
You are currently feeling fantastic health-wise. Is it safe for you to eat roti or bread everyday?
Since modern wheat is hybridized, often laced with dangerous pesticides, contains significantly more gluten and has a very high glycemic index – I’m hesitant to say yes. Instead, switch to an organic, more nutritious source of ancestral wheat like “Khapli gehu” (in India) or “Einkorn” (in the US). Also be sure to rotate your grains and starches for the best nutrition. Include organic whole grains and starches like pearl and finger millet (bajra and ragi), sorghum (jowar), amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potatoes, purple or red potatoes and other root vegetables.
If you are lactose intolerant, *sensitive to casein (the protein in dairy), have an autoimmune disease (like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, celiac) or diabetes you should remove it from your diet. Gluten and dairy sensitivity often go hand-in-hand, so if you are sensitive to one be sure to check the other closely. Reactions to dairy are often related to digestive problems like gas, bloating, heartburn, cramping or diarrhea. Dairy can also cause seasonal allergy like symptoms or excessive mucus. Skin conditions like acne, hives or other rashes, headaches and even fatigue are other common signs that your body might be reacting negatively to dairy. If you suspect dairy sensitivity, remove it from your diet for 2-3 weeks, watch if symptoms diminish and then add it back in to see if they return. Milk has recently been found to be the number one food allergy among Indians (1), so if you are Indian and suffering from any of the above symptoms, I recommend checking for dairy sensitivity.
You are in good health and none of the above apply to you. Is dairy safe for you?
Conventional, factory-farm dairy is filled with hormones, antibiotics and -if you live in India – chemical and other adulterations. Numerous health concerns are associated with conventional dairy including systemic inflammation, hormonal imbalance and gut issues. Ditch it and instead find an organic source of full-fat goat milk or purebred desi cow milk which is much easier to digest and is a good source of healthy fat and protein. Kefir or yogurt – fermented for 24 hours for maximum benefit – and made from grass fed goat, sheep or purebred desi cow milk is filled with gut healing good bacteria. Raw goat and sheep cheeses are also great choices. Don’t forget to make or buy ghee from grass fed or purebred desi cows. Ghee is casein and lactose free, so even people with a dairy sensitivity can enjoy it’s many health benefits. Ghee is a great source of vitamin A, D, E , K2, and an essential fat called butyrate. Butyrate helps heal your digestive tract and also aids in proper digestion. Ghee also helps reduce inflammation.
Homemade nut milk (almond, hemp, cashew, pistachio) and coconut milk are great substitutes for dairy.
*Some people who are sensitive to conventional dairy might not react to raw unpasteurized dairy, goat milk, or purebred desi cow milk. Buy all dairy raw and grass-fed for maximum benefits.
If have an autoimmune diagnosis like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, or are diabetic you could be sensitive to all or some grains – including rice. This might mean removing rice from your diet, at least temporarily. It is also prudent to limit your consumption of rice and other grains if you have diabetes (whether or not you are sensitive), heart disease or metabolic syndrome.
You are healthy and/or on a gluten-free diet. Is rice safe for you?
Rice is usually considered a good choice for most, including people who can’t eat gluten, but unfortunately there are other concerns that one must also consider. Among grains, rice is the most heavily contaminated with arsenic, a highly toxic metalloid found in groundwater and used for irrigation. According to the World Health Organization, long term exposure to arsenic can cause cancer, adverse pregnancy outcomes, infant mortality, cognitive impairment, lung and heart disease, diabetes, several skin conditions and also negatively impact child health (2). Brown and other types of rice (red, black, purple, wild, parboiled) contain much higher levels of arsenic than white rice.
Whole grain rice (brown, black, purple, wild) also contain antinutrients like phytic acid which bind to minerals like zinc, iron and calcium preventing their absorption and often causing mineral deficiencies. So even though the nutrient profile of whole grain rice is significantly higher than white rice, its higher arsenic and anti-nutrient potential makes **white rice the safer option. Yes, white rice has a higher glycemic load and limited nutritional benefit but it is still a safe starch for healthy, active people who otherwise consume a nutrient-rich diet.
Whether you chose to eat brown or white, be sure to soak it overnight, rinse until the water is clear, and cook it like pasta. Use one cup rice to six cups water and drain the water after the rice is cooked. This process drastically reduces arsenic content and makes it easier to digest. Additionally, cooking and then cooling rice turns it into resistant starch. Resistant starch is great for the gut and actually lowers insulin levels. So you might want to consider eating your rice cold for added digestive and weight-loss benefits. I recommend this method for diabetics, weight-watchers and other people with autoimmune disease who are not sensitive to rice. Most importantly, include other gluten-free organic grains and starches in your diet like pearl and finger millet (bajra and ragi) , sorghum (jowar), buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables. Don’t eat rice more than once or twice a week.
**White basmati rice grown in India, Pakistan and California have the lowest levels of arsenic. Feed your kids white basmati rice from these regions.
If you have an autoimmune diagnosis like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, Rheumatoid arthritis or are diabetic you could be sensitive to a class of vegetables called nightshades, which includes potatoes. This might mean removing them from your diet – at least temporarily. Since potatoes (especially white) do have a high glycemic load; diabetics, people with heart disease, metabolic syndrome or hypertension, and those wanting to lose weight should eat them in small portions. However, if you belong to this group, you can indulge a little more by eating cooked and cooled potatoes – which actually helps reduce insulin levels and promotes gut health (just like rice). So, do dig into a healthy version of a cold potato salad but always be sure to eat potatoes as your source of starch, not vegetable.
Potatoes are a good starch substitute if you are on a gluten-free diet.
You are healthy, lean and active. Are potatoes good for you?
Potatoes are on the dirty dozen list which means they are very high in pesticides, so I definitely recommend buying organic. That being said, potatoes are high in fiber (leave the skin on) and nutritious. They are a great source of B vitamins and many minerals including potassium, magnesium and iron (think energy and mood boost). Their high phytonutrient content also gives them antioxidant potential (think glowing skin and anti-aging). Purple potatoes are four times higher in antioxidants than russet and red. Potatoes are also high in vitamin C. The best way to maximize these benefits is by using them in nutritious recipes and as a source of healthy carbohydrate.
Wheat, dairy, rice and potatoes – like many other foods – have potential risks and benefits. While the above science based advice is a great guideline to follow; these risks and benefits can only be accurately determined on an individual basis – even within similar groups of people. For example, you cannot accurately state that a certain food is definitely bad or good for everyone with thyroid disease. There are always other factors that have to be taken into consideration including progression of disease, other health conditions, age, culture, genetic heritage, lifestyle factors and even other aspects of the diet. This requires professional knowledge and experience, which is why hiring a health coach or nutritionist who practices functional nutrition is a great idea.
PS: Karan, a sound nutritional plan won’t leave you feeling deprived and longing for a cheat day. On the contrary, the “right diet for you” will energize, satiate and keep you looking and feeling your best. Now this could potentially shift you into the other cheating category – just like everybody else – R.I.P. conscience! Just kidding.