Eating American: The Fat Cost of Fitting In?

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Recently the President released his long-form birth certificate to show everyone, perhaps especially those birthers gone berserk, that he’s an American born in America who belongs in the White House. On a day-to-day basis, desis in the U.S. are not being asked to pull out their long-forms (not yet anyway), but are there other ways in which we’re made to feel that we have to prove we belong, that we’re American? New research from psychologists seems to address this question with a particular focus on the food choices of immigrant groups–”Fitting In but Getting Fat: Identity Threat and Dietary Choices among U.S. Immigrant Groups.”

Psychologists show that it’s not simply the abundance of high-calorie American junk food that causes weight gain. Instead, members of U.S. immigrant groups choose typical American dishes as a way to show that they belong and to prove their American-ness.

“People who feel like they need to prove they belong in a culture will change their habits in an attempt to fit in,” said Sapna Cheryan, corresponding author and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington. “If immigrants and their children choose unhealthy American foods over healthier traditional foods across their lives, this process of fitting in could lead to poorer health,” she said.

The results are published in the June issue of Psychological Science.

Public health studies show that diets of immigrants, including those from Asia, Africa and Central and South America worsen the longer they stay in the United States. (press release)

Surveying Asian-American and white college students to learn more about their embarrassing food memories, the researchers found 68% of Asian-American respondents recalled food-related insecurities around white peers while growing up, compared to only 27% of white respondents. Examples included awkwardness about using chopsticks, eating animal parts like fish eyes, chicken feet, etc.

The research aimed to measure whether the threat of not being identified as American had an effect on food preferences by asking the students “Do you speak English?” before starting the experiment. 

Because the sampled American dishes tended to be fattier, threatened participants ended up consuming an extra 182 calories, 12 grams of fat and seven grams of saturated fat – roughly equivalent to a four-piece order of McDonald’s chicken nuggets – than participants who were not asked if they were American.

I wonder which of my food preferences developed while I was growing up might be related to trying to fit in or “be American.” My mom remembers me being introduced to American-style food when I was in preschool and says that I asked at home for foods like “fruit cop-tail” after eating them there. I remember bugging our parents at the grocery store for things like Kraft’s mac & cheese in a box, which is its own kind of embarrassing food memory now that I know more about how it stacks up nutritionally against their homecooked desi meals. 

I couldn’t identify with the study’s listed examples (chopsticks/fish eyes) of embarrassing food memories around peers, though I have my own memories of inventing fake dinners to report back to our second grade class. Our teacher was kind of a fanatic about the now-outdated concept of four food groups, inspecting our lunches in the cafeteria to see if they conformed and having us list what we had for dinner too. The fake dinners I reported eating were ones I spotted in coupon flyers or in TV ads, and they were easier to describe in English and conveniently much more like everyone else’s dinners than the veggies and pulses my mom served with rice. (I’m not sure I knew the word okra or pulse then, and I definitely didn’t know yet that kakarakaya=bitter gourd).   

Here’s the paper if you are interested in examining the research in more detail. If you are interested in how cultural stereotypes affect people’s actions and choices, then you may want to follow the work of Sapna Cheryan, which also includes research on why women are underrepresented in computer science and how that might be changed:

(Image via Flickr: calculat0r)

72 thoughts on “Eating American: The Fat Cost of Fitting In?

  1. None of these “traditional” diets are good, including the desi one. One need to go Paleo for good health and energy and longevity. Lots of veggies, non-sweet fruit, nuts, insects, fish, etc.

    • I don’t know if the last post was meant to be humorous – especially the part about eating bugs. (Bugs/insect parts are found in most foods but the idea is kind of gross to me. I don’t intentionally eat bugs or relish them.) But if the Paleo diet works for you, that’s your ideal. Even though I am a former vegan but currently a lacto vegetarian, I acknowledge vegetarianism/veganism is not for everyone. One of my friends says she feels frail if she doesn’t consume meat, as an example.

      But growing up in the Midwest suburbs during the sixties and seventies, most people would look at you like an alien if you said you were vegetarian. I felt pressure to eat burgers at friends’ houses whenever they had a barbeque,etc. In order to not look spoiled or different, or whatever, I forced myself to eat a few bits of meat and ended up spitting most of it in a napkin secretly. Lots of times, I quietly peeled pepperoni off my pizza slice or removed bacon from the potato skins, etc. At school some kids noticed I never ate meat sandwiches at lunch and ask why do I eat “gross” yogurt instead of an animal carcass that is about to rot. At one point, fellow classmates kept asking me if I was a “veterinarian” because the word vegetarian was like a foreign word back in the day.

      By the late 80′s or so, lots of people in the US became open to the idea of vegetarianism, eating more veg/fruits, and became more enlightened about different types of diets.

  2. Thanks for the link to the research, Pavani!

    I remember as a kid I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t say the names of many dishes I ate in English – I remember people would ask what we ate at home and look confused when I answered. But I don’t ever remember feeling embarrassed at the food itself. I remember introducing my childhood friends to samosas and giant Afghani kabobs when they came over; I also remember my mom would serve “fruit chaat” and bowls of spicy chickpeas to my friends on playdates, whereas at their houses we would get stuck with Gushers (what exactly do they “gush” with, high fructose corn syrup? Not that samosas are any better haha)

    @HealthyDesi – I wouldn’t say the traditional desi diet is unhealthy; lots of lentils, legumes, and fish if you’re Bengali. We could do ourselves a favor by trading the generous portions of white rice for brown though – also cutting down on potatoes too (I notice vegetarians especially eat a lot of potatoes). But a samosa or two here and there isn’t gonna kill anyone…you keep munching on those insects though ;)

  3. That’s interesting gm…it could be a generational thing: I remember in high school (I graduated in ’07) a lot of the popular girls were vegetarians and/or practiced yoga – I guess some “fobby” trends back in the motherland have become mainstream here?

    Btw, one of my friends who’s a vegetarian literally cannot eat meat anymore without puking it up (she ate it unintentionally recently). She was raised omnivore but doesn’t miss it at all.

    • I totally agree with you – it must be a generational thing.

      My daughter, now in middle school, has lots of friends (non brown) that are vegetarian. One of them is considering veganism. (A couple of her friends said being Indian must be “cool” – what a contrast with some of the attitudes I grew up with!) My daughter has been completely vegetarian from day one and she was never treated differently or ashamed for not eating meat. It’s amazing what changes have taken place in the last 35 years in the mainstream US regarding diet/food choices.

      Even my mom (who used to work in a hospital lab) used to get strange looks sometimes for being vegetarian back in the sixties. Her colleagues would ask her why are you eating “wallpaper paste” for lunch whenever she’d take out her yogurt rice at lunch. The best comment was, “Why is there baby barf in your lunch?!” when she brought sambar rice to work. So she adapted by just eating the garden salad and cottage cheese served in the cafeteria. 40 years later, the younger and more enlightened colleagues asked her for recipes, and requested to come over to their houses for cooking demonstrations for dals, etc.

      I want to emphasize, I don’t believe in criticizing others for being non veg, vegan, pescetarian, paleo, fruitarian or whatever, based on my experiences growing up.

    • I became a vegetarian when I was 12 in rural Maine… until I heard the word from a friend, I didn’t realize one could be a vegetarian, though I had always disliked meat and remember spending much time at the dinner table after everyone else left staring down the Three Bites of pork I was supposed to consume. I learned from a friend with a much more liberal npr listening organic soap using (I still remember their “Kiss my Face” soap– the only place I ever saw it!) chicken and rabbit raising family about vegetarianism (and also had my first “chicken curry” (americanized) ever before I became veg at their house.. it was so good I still remember it!)..

      Since then there is no turning back for me, though being the only veg person in the family I think I spent many years NOT eating enough protein. I think that traditional Indian food can be very healthy, as long as you are thinking about how you are cooking it— for example, one doesn’t really NEED to add a dollop of ghee to the top of their daal. And I usually get away with 1-2 tbsp of oil in a dish I am cooking, rather than larger amounts that are usually suggested in recipes. Also, I think there are a lot of Indian foods from local places (rather than generic Indian food) that are much healthy– like nimona for example (kind of a daal made from green peas for those who aren’t familiar). Also, using lower fat yogurt instead of full fat (I like the 0% fat greek yogurt, as it is still very creamy). Also being aware of how many carbs vs. veggies you are eating. My fiance is semi veg (eats chicken or gosht with friends, but not regularly, and grew up eating veg at home) and he eats far too many potatoes for my taste (I only really want them in pakore or samose).

      I think the trick with Indian food is understanding how to make in a healthy way, unfortunately I don’t think the majority of Indian restaurants in the U.S. do real Indian food justice.

      I think that eating lots of sugary things in any food category is not good– unfortunately in the U.S. such things are plentiful and cheap. In India you can see the upper classes have similar issues because it is easily accessible for them now (this could be both Western style fast food and sweets and Indian style). Also, while some people in the U.S. are eating American style food to fit in– in India I see lots of the upper classes eating American/Western style food to stand out/show off their wealth.

  4. I believe that we all need to read Michael Pollan’s books about foods, and I’m convinced that we’ll appreciate our foods a little more. The home-cooked foods in South Asia made from the fundamental ingredients are very healthy, full of fiber, protein, and low on saturated fats. On the other hand, the American food culture, which is all about ready-made and fast-foods, is not good at all for you. They are highly processed, and they are made without your well-being in mind by profiteers. Unfortunately, the same could be said about ready-made Desi foods and the South Asian restaurants here: They were created by money-minded entrepreneurs and not so much chefs with a fondness for food.
    When I see pickles and ready-mades at Indian grocery stores here, I’m repulsed at the amount of coloring, chemicals, and cheapness they contain. They also taste pretty badly.

    The problem of American food philosophy is a leading indicator of what will be the problems of Indian food philosophy. Currently, the problems with American’s culinary attitudes are not that they have a vitamin/protein deficiency, but it’s because they are consuming too much vitamins and proteins (and sugars and salt). They need to eat 25% less. Period. It doesn’t matter if they eat 2000 calories worth of transgenic tacos or 2000 calories worth of arugala salad, but their problem is that they’re drinking and eating 2666 calories.

    Finally, I hope that Indians, as they develop new foods due to all the expats, rising influence in the world, and new-found confidence, I hope that they create something creative, not cheap, and in good form. I personally think that Mumbai’s “frankie” is a blatant and shoddy ripoff of the frankfurter, as is the chicken dosa here in Cambridge is a disgusting idea. Why can’t some desi invent a leak-proof roll-up (made with an indigenous Indian wrap) with raita, veggies, and meats in it? Or an avante-garde food philosophy, such as oil-free? I’ve had amazing Gujarati food made without any oil or sugar, and one dish was called ‘undhiu’, as well as oil-free sambaar and dhals.

    • whats wrong with a chicken dosa? i see it all the time over here in bangalore at little chettinad places. all different types of meat/fowl/fish “kozhambu” to be eaten with idiappam or dosa…i suppose its best for it not to be pre-filled or itll become soggy, otherwise the crispy lightness of a dosa goes great with these things. how different is it from appam and beef stew?

  5. whats wrong with a chicken dosa? i see it all the time over here in bangalore at little chettinad places. all different types of meat/fowl/fish “kozhambu” to be eaten with idiappam or dosa…i suppose its best for it not to be pre-filled or itll become soggy, otherwise the crispy lightness of a dosa goes great with these things. how different is it from appam and beef stew?

    I guess this is the Indian version of the corndog, so now that you talk about it, there is nothing wrong with it.

    Oohh…How about this? We stuff the chicken’s innards with dosa batter and then we prepare the chicken/dosa mutant on a flat iron stove?

  6. well, I wouldnt overstate the inherent strength of indian-style diet – people in my family are vegetarians andt some eat (literally) pounds of white rice and potatoes every day. A couple of large servings of sweets/mishti rounds out the evening. Not surprisingly a whole slew of them are overweight and have diabetes.

    If you can stick to beans, sabzi, yogurt and couple of rotis, you could do OK. I will say that the serving size is a lot smaller in india and that is one of the simplest ways to reduce over-eating.

  7. I am a life long veggie and consider it a virtue… However, I am married to a former veggie activist, who is a veggie but wants our 1 yr kid to try everything.. Her point is that veggie Indian food doesnt have all nutrition… I tend to agree with her.. the South Indian food that is eulogised, has its drawbacks. we overcook the veggies and focus on rice or wheat… The Indian food whether veggie or not is so overcooked that it does not resemble its source any more. Is’nt this a sign of advanced civilization like everything else where what we do is unrelated to our survival? We have a class of Indians who consume meat outside, but are squeamish to buy or handle it.. Having veggie food may help those those that are overwiight and eat meat a lot… But for rest of India, eating a little more meat, could help…

    • I agree with you 100%: Not only do we overcook everything, but we over-season everything as well, as if we’re trying to mask the beautiful tastes of legumes and vegetables. This is in stark contrast to American/Western cooking philosophy which seems to keep the foods in its most primal, unaltered state. For example, we eat salad with olive oil here or steak seasoned with salt. OTOH, in India, they would eat rogan josh, and it’s made of ~10 spices (i.e. coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, red chili pepper, bay leaves, pepper, and a few other ingredients), and there are quite a few steps in cooking this. It’s as if we want to be as cognitively disassociated from the lamb’s original form, and moreover, we’re disguising its flavor. A American homolog is beef (or lamb) stew, which is made with much fewer steps and fewer spices. They’re both good, but I actually have simplified my Indian dishes my minimalist reductionist approach.

      • But these rich foods you mention are not everyday foods. Rogan Josh is an occasional indulgence and is only eaten when you go to a restaurant (which is not a substitute for home-cooked food) and at home is only served when you have company over (such as visiting relatives). I know that people eat more meat in India these days, but I’d be very surprised if the average Indian mother is feeding her family rich, overspiced dishes every day. Every day food is simple – dal, roti/rice, sabzi and yogurt. A piece of fish if you’re from the coastal areas. What really is a growing problem in India and among older generation Indians here is a sedentary lifestyle. That’s what is a major factor in rising obesity, diabetes, etc. After all, a tsp of ghee is fine if you’re going to go and work in the fields or bicycle four miles to school, but if you’re just going to sit at your desk instead or be driven in your car or watch saas-bahu soaps on Zee TV, not so good.

  8. As someone who migrated to the US, I underwent these food related angsts as a late-twenties/30 something adult ;) Maybe my colleagues were just genuinely asking “what IS that?” when they saw those brown globs in my lunch box. To my ears, it sounded like a slight put-down.

    I started asking them to get their own forks and have a bite before I ate. And soon the verdict changed to “If I could cook food like this, I’d be a vegetarian every day.” Which is less about my cooking skills, but more like people need a little nudge to try something different. Sometimes they surprise themselves.

    I’m vegetarian, leaning vegan, but I have to ask – what exactly is wrong with chicken dosa? I saw goat/mutton stuffed dosa in New Zealand, and chowmein stuffed dosa in Singapore. I used to think of it as expat inventiveness but we got friendly with a DBD family about two years ago. It seems the traditional accompaniments for dosa and idli in their Andhra-Tamil border village was chicken or mutton based gravy dishes. Even their special Diwali foods are centered around meat, and not the chaklis, thengozhal, laddoo staples you’d see in a Tamil Iyer household.

    The everyday cooking I saw my mother do was low in oil, but high in carbs and salt. Pickles and papads were the main culprits. I think Desi cooking in general should be tweaked some more to be called truly healthy.

  9. It’s unfortunate that this study zeroes in only on fats and overall calories. I’d like to see something per the effect of high sodium and high sugar (w/r/t the HFCS reformation and counterreformation). Heart disease and diabetes are the real threats here, not fat as$es. It’s possible to be chunky and reasonably fit.

    As for being a culinary outcast, I used to be very self-conscious (to the point I would skip lunch in HS), but I now revel in it. I’ll take dal AND kimchi on my hotdogs these days.

  10. There are a lot of healthy options in American cuisine. The kind of food that wealthier health-conscious Americans typically eat. Unfortunately healthy American foods tend to taste awful. Indian cuisine is much better at making healthy food delicious.

  11. I find Indian vegetarian food as made by the typical Indian family to be inferior to well made mediterranean vegetarian food. Eggplant is one example. Indian families, in general, just do not know when to cut off the spices. I say this as someone who can eat hotter food than the average Indian. So it’s not the chili pepper level I am referring to. I prefer my vegetables raw and definitely not overcooked and mushy drowining in a million spices so that we can’t even taste the vegetable. I find dal to be worse than shit (not to mention the resemblance).

    The Indian vegetarian stuff I do like tends to be not be so healthy – samosas, puffs, dosas.

    I like the coconut milk basd fried rice stuff. But once agian, not so healthy.

    • I agree with you here. Our vegetables and meats for that matter are over-cooked, over-seasoned, and over-complicated. So what we lack in industrial over-complications like the West, we make up for in turning our food preparations into a Rube Goldberg algorithm.

      Regarding Mediterranean veggies: I found myself to be eating homemade hummus with pita bread all the time these days. Moreover, at a subconscious level, I am tearing the pita breads and dipping into the hummus like it were a sabjee. My hummus is much more simple than over-complicated cholay, and for me, it’s a highly conserved food that I find difficult to get tired of.

      Oh and while I’m at it: I’m pissed off at all these desi restaurant proprietors here as well. Absolutely none of them are authentic, and they are all bad. They add too much cream, too much crap, and too much e.coli. Moreover, they use many shortcuts. Their foods are annoying as bedbugs, but these are bedbugs in my conscious and salivary glands.

  12. I prefer my vegetables raw and definitely not overcooked and mushy drowining in a million spices so that we can’t even taste the vegetable. I find dal to be worse than shit (not to mention the resemblance).

    Agreed on both counts. But I also don’t think most desi’s (in the desh or diaspora) really drown our food in spices; in my family at least, our food was definitely spicier than the average American meal, but not terribly so. I started eating a lot of Thai food in college and found it way spicier for example.

    I also can’t stand dal – not only the taste, but also the texture of it really bothers me. Also hate the way it leaves that yellowish residue behind in tupperware containers after a few hours, that you can never get rid of!

    Gulab Jaman’s are another food I don’t get; granted, they’re eaten as desserts on occasion and not regularly by any means (or at least I hope not), but damn they’re like little sugar balls dipped in sickly sweet syrup.

  13. Oh, Gulab Jams and Rossagollas need to be made by people who know how to make them. I am not too much into Indian sweets, but I love those two. Whenever I miss them, I wil buy a Rossgolla tin, drain all the sugarsyrup, add water which will mix with the sugar in the solid gossagollas and create a lighter syrup. Still, canned rossagollas are a last resort. I rarely have eaten good rossagollas and gulabjams from a retail establishment or a restaurant.

    I love Indian naans and palak paneer(the type that tastes more like steakhouse creamed spinach). once again, not so healthy.

    I love Indian meat preparations – tandoori, andhra hot meat curries, biriyanis, the whole shabang. . So I am the rare guy who actually eats more veggies when given non-Indian cuisines. Meat – i love both ways. Though I prefer Persian Kabobs to Seekh Kabobs.

    While I enjoy Tandoori, I am just curious if all that red food coloring is harmless in the long term.

    • That red food coloring is totally hookers up an otherwise dainty chicken.

    • Re: sweets..

      I’m a BIG fan of gulab jamin (maybe too much of one) and I like jilabi. But both are so much better when just cooked and fresh. Otherwise blah. But I eat too many of them when I’m in India. Very bad.

      Rosgullahs are a bit too spongy for me. I like halwa too.. if the amount of sugar is considerably less than ‘normal’ !

  14. That red food coloring totally hookers up an otherwise dainty chicken. I personally think that it’s gaudy to think that the red #40 enhances the appearance of the chicken. An herb, perhaps, but not that bio-spraypaint.

    Also, I don’t care for Indian desserts. They’re nothing more than a variation of supersaturated sugar water with something. The Europeans got the desserts down perfectly well.

    Sharmishta has made a good point. Basically, I’ve had very healthy, wholesome, and simple Indian dishes as well, but the general tendency is to maximize gastro-entropy.

  15. Whoa, I didn’t know people used food coloring to make tandoori chicken. In my family we use red chilli pepper and cayenne pepper and it comes out reddish but not an unnatural red by any means.

    Also, I don’t care for Indian desserts. They’re nothing more than a variation of supersaturated sugar water with something.

    Not true! I wish you could try my halva, I promise it’s really good. I generally use carrots, pistachios or hazelnuts, and it’s moderately sweet, but with a nutty flavor. Also my mom makes amazing baklava (sp?). Idk if Indians like that, but it’s very popular in Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey – also kind of has a nutty flavor because we use pistachios. But the syrup is also making with that sugar-water combination you hate so I don’t know if you would like that. Ras malai is also good, I think that’s a North Indian one. All of this is ridiculously fattening of course haha. No wonder half the subcontinent has diabetes.

  16. Probably Indians are less familiar with baklava because it’s Greek. Like all the other “Turkish” food–coopted by the Central Asian barbarian invasions.

  17. I tried Greek baklava in a restaurant once and it was different (though definitely really good) than the baklava my mom makes (she is Afghan) so maybe it was invented in Greece and spread eastward, with different regions creating their own variations? There are definitely several types of baklava, just like how every region has its own types of kabobs and flatbreads but they’re all similar.

    • It spread to India during the Ottoman Empire, as did gilabi, the use of rose water, and guns. The Persians eat something virtually identical to gilabis called “zoolabi”. There are other cognate desserts. Man, I’m feeling so hypoglycemic. I’m craving some peach streudel from the neighborhood pastry shop, but they don’t open for another 6 hours.

  18. I also can’t stand dal – not only the taste, but also the texture of it really bothers me.

    Tons of recipes abound, and the “texture” is due to poor preparation. If you know what you’re doing, it can rock.

    Oh and while I’m at it: I’m pissed off at all these desi restaurant proprietors here as well. Absolutely none of them are authentic, and they are all bad. They add too much cream, too much crap, and too much e.coli. Moreover, they use many shortcuts.

    WORD. Not sure about where you live, but it’s predominantly latinos in the kitchens around here, overseen maybe by a desi. And they really push the trough feeding (buffet) like it was going out of style. 6hr old, scorched, insipid saag is just disgusting; and I’d really like something else besides pseudomughal fare. What we need is a good Tamil restaurant, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those ever.

  19. the premise of this research is false. You simply can’t become hyperinsulinemic by eating whacking great amounts of fat and protein but you can by inhaling carbohydrates. Everything good that I remember from childhood (yogurt rice, thosai, string hoppers, hoppers, etc) are examples of making starchy substances palatable and sufficient to feed many. Lentils, like beans, are a great caloric bargain for very poor people but that is only because the sugar and protein are provided in one container (hey, like bread!) If desis are assimilated into a toxic food culture it is the absurd one of classifying carbs as “good” and “bad” and thinking products containing ‘whole grains’ are processed any differently than just white sugar. The NYTimes Wellblog consensus. Far from running away from ghee and coconut oil, lacto-veggies should be making them bigger parts of their diet. Eades > Ornish.

    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cancer/the-china-study-vs-the-china-study/

  20. Tons of recipes abound, and the “texture” is due to poor preparation. If you know what you’re doing, it can rock.

    Hmm I’ve tried several different types of dal, and everyone else in my family seems to enjoy it, so I don’t think it’s poorly prepared. I have the same issue with oatmeal (porridge for you Brits): I just don’t like that sort of texture in my mouth. Maybe a little bit over rice is all right, but even then, I prefer yogurt and fresh veggies with my rice.

  21. This may have been a valid post if the average Indian’s diet was not so preposterously unhealthy.

  22. Exact-o. Carbs like bread, rice, dal, etc. are for poor dirt-scratchers. Any self-respecting person can eat Paleo.

  23. Carbs like bread, rice, dal, etc. are for poor dirt-scratchers. Any self-respecting person can eat Paleo.

    Dirt scratchers? Kind of an odd comment considering “paleo” is short for paleolithic, also known commonly as the “caveman” or “stone age” diet…

    I never did understand these fad diets like paleo, acai berry, atkins, south beach, etc anyway. Unless a person has some kind of medical issue or is at high risk for certain diseases, they don’t make sense to me. I don’t understand why people fall for these fad diets over and over. Just eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruits, veggies, legumes, fish, protein, etc…eating carbs and sugar now and then aren’t gonna kill ya.

    Do enjoy your bugs though ;) Mmm, nutritious

    • Can the idea of ‘low-carb” be trivial if 1 billion south asians, at higher risk for diseases of civilization, could benefit from eating less sugar in the form of grains?

  24. Paleo isn’t a “fad”–it’s how humans ate for 99% of human history. Cave-men didn’t farm (“scratch-dirt”).

    • And for 99% of human history, the average life span was ~42 years.

      Eat beans and rice and an ice cream for dessert, and you’ll be happy.

  25. Not only do we overcook everything, but we over-season everything as well, as if we’re trying to mask the beautiful tastes of legumes and vegetables

    Please do not mistake your experiences with poor cooking to be emblematic of “South Indian cuisine.” Both YogaMama and YogaGrandma were adept as seasoning their foods appropriately and cooking them adequately.

    Also, curries are supposed to be boiled thoroughly. The whole point is that everything together forever and ever causes the flavor of whatever you’re putting in to thoroughly permeate the broth. It’s not overcooking, that’s just how stew works. It’s only overcooked if you put the heat up too high and fail to stir, which will start to burn it.

    products containing ‘whole grains’ are processed any differently than just white sugar.

    They do have more fiber, which is good for making you feel full when you eat rather than gorging yourself.

    Paleo isn’t a “fad”–it’s how humans ate for 99% of human history. Cave-men didn’t farm (“scratch-dirt”).

    The vast majority of paleolithic man’s caloric intake came from foraging, not hunting. So they did, in fact, scratch dirt to pick up the roots and nuts lying around. They also found fire to be handy so that they could cook away all the bacteria in the rancid leftover meat that the apex predators left behind. So glamorous!

    In other words, cave-men were cave-men and trying to model our lives based on dimly understood notions of how they lived is retardedly nonsensical.

    • YogaFire,

      i’m referring to both the biochemistry and the reality of counting carbs–sugar is sugar and eating 2x as much of a lower index carb as you would of, say, white bread would not help you out with any goal. Of course, if you think of the lipid hypothesis as natural law, and statins as saviors (Kari Muller would beg to disagree but he only won a Nobel), then your certitude regarding what paleolithic man ate and how fiber acts on your epithelial tissue (actually it’s rippin’ and tearin’ like the old creepy guy at Hedonism on Tosh.0) is understandable. You don’t have to be in the “paleo” family to see the manifold benefits of low-carb. I like not having rashes on my face, energy throughout the day, even after big meals, and trending away from the central obesity which marks me as more likely to develop the diabetes and metabolic syndrome of the previous generation.

      You should know, in all your professed sagacity, that ‘balanced diet’ differs greatly from person to person. The people clamoring most loudly for ‘common sense’ and a ‘balanced diet’ are most often those whose cells do not develop insulin resistance or are supremely confident in their appearance–central obesity, risk factors and generations of chronic disease be damned. So would I rather have 2.5 cups of blackberries, 5 slices of verythin bread, 2 pieces of white bread or a few skittles–i generally have a wide variety of choices and I wonder what I would look like now had I known about this strategy as a child. The difference is most striking on TV so I commend all to find a replay of Gary Taubes on Dr. Oz’s show. Oz plays the Ornish-friendly carb-champion and Taubes the “meat-boy” The latter’s lipid panel: http://www.garytaubes.com/2011/04/before-sugar-were-talking-about-cholesterol/

      • Apparently people take their diets very personally. . .

        I really don’t understand how anything I said gets extrapolated to “taking the lipid hypothesis as natural law” or “eat lots of carbs” or “everyone has the same nutritional needs.” Can you try to focus on what I’m actually saying for a minute rather than your assumptions about what you think I’m saying?

        to eat in an evolutionary sound way–that is, avoiding things like grains and sugar that we’re not adapted for? You are just throwing out bald assertions.

        Saying we’re not adapted for grains and sugar is a bald assertion. It’s flat out wrong. If our bodies can digest it, we’re adapted for it. Most lifestyle diseases are a consequence of a combination of too much food (and mostly filler) combined with sitting on our duffs all day. It’s not due to any inherent evil in carbohydrates. Too much sugar is not good for you. That’s why you don’t eat “too much.” Le doy.

        He totally tears down the ‘science’ that establishes that cholesterol and saturated fat are bad for you.

        Jeez people food is food. Unless it’s toxic it’s not inherently “good” or “bad” for you. Your body is a well adapted, flexible, and versatile machine that can function on a broad range of foods and undertake any number of activities as long as you don’t stress it too much on any point. It’s how much of it you’re eating that causes health effects.

        If you autopsy hunter-gatherers you find few signs of cancer, diabetes, heart problems. Yet these are very common in vegetarians.

        That’s because they rarely make it past 50 and those that do would have to have been in top physical condition to start with. . .

        This makes no sense. I am 75% not pregnant. If you eat meat, you’re not vegetarian. Non-vegetarians, except for Eskimos, eat a lot of non-meat items. So you make no sense here.

        It’s not that hard to figure out champ. 75% veggie means 75% of your meals are vegetarian. When most people talk about their diets they’re describing their actually eating habits, not declaring fealty to a gang. This isn’t like the Jets and Sharks.

  26. Regardless of how cavemen ate, the fact remains that dietary fat is not automatically unhealthy. Even saturated fat is not bad for you. In fact, it’s pretty good for your health – http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/

    I haven’t posted in years but I feel compelled to now. Reading these comments about how ‘you can have one teaspoon of ghee if you’re active, but not if you’re sedentary’ is making my head hurt. I was raised on a mostly-vegetarian south Indian diet of rice, lentils, and vegetables, with chicken occasionally, and I developed some hormonal problems (namely PCOS, insulin resistance) from a young age but it didn’t get diagnosed until later on. I was chubby from a young age so I never got to eat ghee with my rice or idlis because my mom thought it would make me even fatter. But my hunger was out of control on such a high-carb, low-protein (lentils really don’t provide much protein, if you look at the actual nutritional facts), low-fat diet. So I ate a lot, and I ate a lot of sugar, unfortunately, which made my hormonal problems worse and finally led to my diagnosis.

    I made the switch to a paleo/primal diet last year and resolved pretty much all those health problems (turned out I also had ridiculously low iron stores, from never eating red meat regularly). I’m thinner than I was in high school, I have a ton more energy, and I actually want to exercise these days.

    I guess I just have trouble relating to this article because I feel so much more judged for the way I eat by other vegetarian/mostly-veg Indians, than I feel like they do by Americans, at least in my area and in this day and age, when everyone thinks that vegetarian automatically means healthy. Based on my personal experience and those of others in my family, I think nothing is further from the truth, and that the low-fat dogma actually hurts most people’s health.

    • I’m not sure that sat-fats are good for you. I do, however, have an opinion on cholesterol in our diets: I’m beginning to think that cholesterol is not bad for you! However, I think, based on empirical observations, that foods high in cholesterol tend to be high in saturated fats.

      On another note: I’ve seen so many young desi uncles – aged 50-60 – who passed on due to heart attacks all of a sudden. These uncles may have been vegetarians, very health conscious, and nonsmokers. What the hell is going on here? Perhaps a genetic mutation is to blame which affects 1/25 Indian men. I don’t know. Any information is welcome.

  27. Welcome brother sb! Thank you for your testimony and welcome to health!

    PS YogaFire please read up on it a bit before using such strong language as “retarded.”

  28. I am a sister… only women can have PCOS, heh.

    Hindu Indians and Indian-Americans that I’ve met just seem to have this cultural aversion to meat. It’s associated with gluttony and immorality… note the poster above who said that he thinks that him being a vegetarian is a ‘virtue.’ If you eat meat, people assume that you are Westernized/Americanized in all the wrong ways.

    My mother is a lifelong vegetarian and although she has cooked chicken for the rest of us before, I actually wouldn’t want to ask her to do it again. Some vegetarians just seem so sickened by meat. It’s completely bizarre to me, but I also didn’t realize how sickening it must be for them until recently, so that’s why I wouldn’t ask her to do it again. There’s really nothing you can do to convince people who are vegetarian for religious reasons or who have been veg for really long like my mother; she even acknowledges that it’s not good for her health, but she just won’t eat even fish. So instead I try to get her to stop eating wheat, eat more yogurt and eggs (including the yolk), eat more leafy green vegetables, cook with ghee, cut out the fried lentil snacks, eat more coconut and avocado, etc. Right now we’re trying to see whether cutting out nightshades will help with her arthritis, but Indian food is a veritable bounty of nightshades–tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers and spices, etc.

    • I’m a vegetarian and while I understand how you can say that many vegetarians are not healthy, that doesn’t mean that ALL vegetarians are unhealthy.

      It’s just like any other diet– you need to know what your body needs and how to get it. I have been a vegetarian since I was 12 (for personal reasons, not religious) and up until college I DID not eat enough protein (and I don’t think I really know HOW to get enough protein as a vegetarian until college when I finally learned about various veg foods that I didn’t get exposed to in rural Maine). I remember in highschool that my fingernails were so weak that they could peel and flake off from not enough protein. Gross.

      Now, as an adult (and still a veggie, I tried to eat chicken/turkey last year and I just couldn’t do it… I’m just happier as a vegetarian) I am a vegetarian and I know eat quite a balanced diet. I learned to cook a lot of vegetarian foods and one of my main sources for vegetarian dishes are Indian dishes from all over. I often keep track of what I am eating (lots of free websites like MyPlate at livestrong.com to track your diet and exercise) and that helps me make sure I get a balanced diet and enough protein.

      At the same time, I certainly know plenty of vegetarian Indians who don’t really understand the whole balanced nutrition business– I have one friend who was pregnant and was not eating enough protein and having growth issues with her child. I asked her what proteins she had been eating and she was like “um, peas? rice?” in a sort of confused way… her mother kept trying to get her to drink glasses of milk, but she didn’t want to do that… I think more of the problems with unhealthy eating (anywhere in the world) is more about being educated about food, more than which diet (i.e. Indian versus American) you subscribe to.

  29. Welcome, sister! Sounds like you are on a good path. We of the Paleo/Primal way should be understanding of those who find meat disgusting–these notions of “disgust” are formed at an early age, imprinted by family behavior and difficult to change (not unlike Alina’s bemusement with my insect consumption–but–are they really any different than shrimp?). Also, remember that a lot of american meat in the supermarket is not the best, because the animals are fed grains. Best to go for “pastured” or “grass-fed.” Order online if difficult to find in your community. I agree that our Desi brothers and sisters can be condescending on this front. We need to educate them about health and history (hunting/meat consumption in the Vedas).

  30. Regardless of how cavemen ate, the fact remains that dietary fat is not automatically unhealthy. Even saturated fat is not bad for you. In fact, it’s pretty good for your health

    I never said otherwise.

    PS YogaFire please read up on it a bit before using such strong language as “retarded.”

    I’ve read plenty. That doesn’t mean I’m going to automatically agree with your chosen gospel.

    Fad diets in general tend to be based around exploiting a fundamentally unhealthy relationship with food. Unless you have a specific goal in mind with a dieting regimen there isn’t much point to setting up a bunch of arbitrary (and face it, the rules are arbitrary) lines about what you can and can’t eat. For example, I’m going to be in training for a fairly intense sport so I’ve started to watch my diet very carefully because I will actually need to reach a target weight and a certain level of physical fitness. That’s a clear and specific goal because I’m paying attention to exactly what I need in terms of fat, protein, vitamins, and carbohydrates to get where I need to be as quickly and healthily as possible. It’s based on actual nutritional science. Not malarkey about how our caveman ancestors eat.

    My diet is something like 75% vegetarian, but owing to the fact that I actually cook most of my food, when I do eat meat I will buy something vaguely shaped like the creature it is, carve it up, and cook it. I’m not squicked out by anything. There is nothing wrong with eating whatever you want. Food of all kinds is delightful. Eat it in moderation and exercise regularly and you’ll be fine. Demonizing and villifying entire classes of food for arbitrary and unsound reasons are the problem because it skews people’s idea about what being “healthy” means. Being healthy means having a balanced diet that provides you with the nutrition you need. As long as you’re reaching that destination, you might as well learn to enjoy the journey. The trouble with the arbitrary rules enforced by fad diets is that they make the journey itself miserable for no real reason.

    Honestly, sit down and appreciate the taste of good food rather than the act of gustation. That alone will get you healthier than anything else. People who view food as simply a means to an end are the ones who end up shoveling fried, processed junk down their gullets while focusing on something else.

  31. Not malarkey about how our caveman ancestors eat.


    Why is it “malarkey” to eat in an evolutionary sound way–that is, avoiding things like grains and sugar that we’re not adapted for? You are just throwing out bald assertions.

    My diet is something like 75% vegetarian


    This makes no sense. I am 75% not pregnant. If you eat meat, you’re not vegetarian. Non-vegetarians, except for Eskimos, eat a lot of non-meat items. So you make no sense here.

    What the hell is going on here?


    It is very difficult to have a healthy vegetarian diet, because so many (cheap) vegetarian items, like grains, pulses, sugar are deleterious to human health. If you autopsy hunter-gatherers you find few signs of cancer, diabetes, heart problems. Yet these are very common in vegetarians.

  32. And for 99% of human history, the average life span was ~42 years


    That’s silly–that was due to no medicine, medical care, snakes, etc–not diet. Is that like your view that Buddhism is from Nepal not India? Hahaha.

  33. We of the Paleo/Primal way should be understanding of those who find meat disgusting–these notions of “disgust” are formed at an early age, imprinted by family behavior and difficult to change (not unlike Alina’s bemusement with my insect consumption–but–are they really any different than shrimp?).

    Oh, I’m not disgusted by your insect consumption – I actually did eat an insect once (years ago, high school camping trip) and while it’s not something I’d try again, I understand they’re very nutritious. I just find it funny that you’re coming across with a bit of a smug attitude when talking about eating bugs. Just like you don’t understand the vegetarian aversion to meat, I can’t understand why you’d be so averse to a bowl of Cheerios. But to each his own. What bothers me though is when people go around thinking their way is the best and telling others how to live. No one likes the vegan co-worker who exclaims “Meat is Murder!” and frowns on everyone’s sandwiches at lunchtime.

    Food of all kinds is delightful. Eat it in moderation and exercise regularly and you’ll be fine. Demonizing and villifying entire classes of food for arbitrary and unsound reasons are the problem because it skews people’s idea about what being “healthy” means. Being healthy means having a balanced diet that provides you with the nutrition you need. As long as you’re reaching that destination, you might as well learn to enjoy the journey. The trouble with the arbitrary rules enforced by fad diets is that they make the journey itself miserable for no real reason.

    Completely agree with this. I love being an omnivore; get to enjoy so many culinary creations and enjoy desserts in moderation. Live and let live : )

  34. Yoga Fire – I love what you’re saying about changing your attitude towards food. I think everyone should strive for that. But honestly I don’t want to eat most of the things I don’t eat, and the other things I do (sweets) are best every once in a while. It works for me. I don’t eat grains, sweets, or lentils regularly, but I don’t often hear people telling vegetarians that they need to ‘eat in moderation by eating meat.’ It comes across as a total double standard, and I think that’s because people think of this as a fad diet rather than a choice grounded in logic and reasoning.

    And the paleo/primal diets are actually based in science, not speculation about what ‘cavemen’ would have done. Have you heard of “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes? He totally tears down the ‘science’ that establishes that cholesterol and saturated fat are bad for you. Also here is http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2011/3/30/paleo-20-a-diet-manifesto.html I agree that some people have made it a fad diet, but its basis is not a fad, but rooted very much in science. The link I posted above cited numerous studies, as most serious writers on paleolithic nutrition do.

    boston mahesh – as for ‘health-conscious’ Indian uncles dying early of heart attacks, you might also be interested in Gary Taubes’ work. I would venture that part of it is probably the lack of animal products in their diets, including from saturated fat and cholesterol, and the over-consumption of grains.

    As for being a healthy vegetarian, I’m sure you can be slim and energetic while you’re a vegetarian, but my personal opinion is that you would be better off eating red meat or seafood once in a while. It’s not all about protein, it’s also about getting enough dietary FAT so that you can actually absorb fat-soluble vitamins. So that’s why I take offense to statements like ‘you can only eat ghee if you’re active’ being propounded by vegetarians and other people, because it’s dietary thinking like that that I can owe a lot of my health problems and unhappiness to for many years (and I’m not blaming anyone).

  35. No one likes the vegan co-worker who exclaims “Meat is Murder!” and frowns on everyone’s sandwiches at lunchtime.

    And yet, throughout this thread, that’s what paleo enthusiasts have been doing, in a reverse manner. Does food preference have to be a zero sum game? You can enjoy your meat and still enjoy your veggies. One blanket diet can’t cover the diversity of human needs or tastes (and yes, it’s possible to be 75% vegetarian or vegan or milk drinker or whatever. It’s not a yes or no proposition)

    As far as not understanding the vegetarian mindset, let me challenge you to this mental game. Would you take a cleaver to Fluffy, or your neighbor’s German Shepherd?How about a baboon, or that cockroach you saw in Amma’s kitchen in India? Do any of these possibilities squeam you out? Where are your food lines drawn and why are they there, and not elsewhere?

    As much as Fear Factor and Top Chef might make it fashionable to eat a zebra’s testicles or monkey brains, our rules/taboos surrounding food are culturally based. I’ve met Hindus and Christians from Pakistan who’ll happily declare they eat anything that walks, but blanch at the thought of “pig” meat.

    For vegetarians, the boundaries between food and non-food are drawn a little tighter.

    Eat and let eat, folks!

  36. Paleo diets may very well be based in research, but there is plenty of research to support vegan/vegetarian lifestyles as well. At the endo of the day both just work as confirmation bias, no one on othe oher side of the issue it likely to switch positions.

    If you beleieve in the Paleo diet, feel free to practice it, however don’t feel free to preach it, it is annoying. As for the logic behind the paleo diet, let’s just use some common sense. The researchers behind the concept posit that what our ancestors ate 40k years ago is what’s best for us to follow today. There are some illogical things just on the face of that hypothesis. Our bodies didn’t stop evolving 40k years ago so why does it matter what our ancestors ate? And why 40k years ago as opposed to 120k years ago? There are a lot of things our ancestor didn’t do 40k years ago, like sleep on mattresses. But from experience I can tell you that sleeping on the floor is not better for my back. But if it is for yours, than by all means, go for it.

    I ate meat until age 12, when I became vegetarian, and have been vegan about six months. This is the healthiest and most energetic I have ever been in my life, and the best part is my adult acne has completely ceased. If you’re experience has been different that’s fine, do what is best for your body, but don’t tell me that I am an idiot for not wanting to eat meat. It may not be murder, but it does involve killing and so I’m gonna pass, you shold be grateful, instead of derisive, more for you after all, no?

  37. Actually, there isn’t much research to support vegetarian/vegan diets as healthy. Many doctors actually recommend low-carb diets, but not many recommend vegetarian diets, except for ‘ayurvedic medical professionals’ who aren’t really medical professionals at all. Bodybuilders figured this out decades ago.

    Also, we actually haven’t evolved much in the past 10,000 years, because once we settled down into agriculture, there haven’t been as many selection pressures

    And, yes, sleeping on your back on the floor can actually be better for you than sleeping on a mattress. Several yoga instructors do this, and it’s something actually recommended by ayurvedic principles.

    I only kind of understand where vegetarians are coming from with their disgust of meat, and I think they are misguided, but I’m not going to try to change their minds unless they’re my mother and suffering from health problems for it (I have since given up on that). But it’s frustrating to have my choices called a fad diet when no one calls vegetarians that, when it’s actually much more rooted in science. And, no, I don’t want to eat a cockroach. But would you eat grass? As for ‘killing,’ it’s not pretty, but the food chain is a food chain, it’s a fact of life. Large-scale agriculture of wheat, soy, and corn causes a lot more environmental damage that ends up endangering several species – you might be interested in Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth.”

    • “Many doctors actually recommend low-carb diets, but not many recommend vegetarian diets, except for ‘ayurvedic medical professionals’ who aren’t really medical professionals at all.”

      “And, yes, sleeping on your back on the floor can actually be better for you than sleeping on a mattress. Several yoga instructors do this, and it’s something actually recommended by ayurvedic principles.”

      Scratches head… wait are we supposed to be believing in ayurveda or not…or just when it is convenient?

      SB, honestly, your arguments are meandering and nonsensical. I can understand and certainly concede that a paleo diet works for you, and that’s good. I’m glad you feel better when you eat that way.

      Your arguments about Vegetarianism being “bad” are just some half-thought out arguments.

      1.)” Wheat, soy, corn cause more damage than eating meat”– The way the meat industry is run in the U.S., and the HUGE amount of meat consumed in the U.S. results in far more environmental issues than wheat soy and corn (what do you think they feed those cows, pigs, and chickens?). In addition, cows release greenhouse gases, and all three animals wastes pollute the environment– especially from the gigantic farms in the west.

      2.) “Killing is part of the food chain”– this is true to some extent– but the question is HOW? In most places now, with the mass produced meat (see above) animals are truly treated, unhealthy, pumped with antibiotics or hormones, and often killed cruelly and inhumanly (or beaten and tortured). Other animals are unable to move about their entire life, or thrown away when sick and still alive. The appeal of eating sick, unhealthy, cruelly killed (stress hormones??) animals doesn’t sound very health or appealing. If you truly want to be “Paleo” then you should be going out hunting for your own fresh wild meat, like dear or rabbit. Or at least raising your own chickens (which hunter gathers wouldn’t have done since they would need grains to feed them). Or at the very least buy organic humanely raised animal meat (but check first, because not all are as great as they claim).

      3.) “Vegetarians are disgusted by meat”: some are. some make the choice for different reasons. The point here is all vegetarians don’t make the choice for the same reason, or even one reason. I am generally disgusted by most meat– but chicken tastes pretty good. I mainly choose not to eat meat because of ethical reasons. Others may do it for religious reasons, dislike of meat, need to lower cholesterol, belief in nonviolence, respect for animals, environmental decisions, etc etc etc. I think a lot of your assumptions about vegetarianism come from some frustrating experiences with your mother (which you have mentioned multiple times). But we are not all your mother.

      4.) “Would you want to eat grass?” GHAAS? chi chi chi.

      • i can unequivocally say that a lacto-veggie diet is bad for most south-asians with regards to the diseases of civilization given how most people go about living it–despite the ‘man boobs’ mentioned as a downside, most would be better off structuring their diet around soy protein rather than the poor people foods (lentils, beans.). I was lacto-veg for 24 years, ended up a gym rat, and couldn’t figure out how all that work resulted in higher and higher BF%. 3 years of eating every kind of animal protein available has shown me it’s not just protein but finding out exactly how much sugar you can eat and maintain a healthy insulin response.

  38. shaveta – if you went vegan and experienced no acne, I wonder if it’s because you’re no longer eating any dairy? A lot of people find that dairy products cause really bad acne.

    Yoga Fire, you speak like someone who has never suffered from hormonal or metabolic problems. I don’t think you have actually read any of the links I’ve posted. I wish I could just ‘eat in moderation’ and be healthy, but it doesn’t work like that for me. We are adapted for starch, but not the absurd amounts of starch (along with anti-nutrients) provided by grains and sugar. Starchy vegetables, sure, but not whole wheat pasta…

  39. Jeez people food is food. Unless it’s toxic it’s not inherently “good” or “bad” for you. Your body is a well adapted, flexible, and versatile machine that can function on a broad range of foods and undertake any number of activities as long as you don’t stress it too much on any point. It’s how much of it you’re eating that causes health effects.

    Ummm, yeah, but that’s what people think! They think that “one teaspoon of ghee” is enough to send you into obesity! The point I was making is that it’s based in science, and much of what we currently think of as the path to health is actually not well-founded. Such as your generalization that “it’s how much you eat, not what you eat” that matters. In my experience, that is not true. It’s true for many others too.

  40. Preach on, sister sb! FWIW, I mention my insect consumption only to be honest–a good friend pointed out that cavemen that didn’t live near large bodies of water didn’t just get protein from modern domesticated or hunted animals, but also from insects. So, to be true to “paleo/primal” I’ve taken up to eating various crickets, grasshoppers and grubs sourced from a local Thai family (and not on the menu at the restaurants they run!). But I do prefer seafood, to be honest!

  41. Yoga Fire, you speak like someone who has never suffered from hormonal or metabolic problems. I don’t think you have actually read any of the links I’ve posted. I wish I could just ‘eat in moderation’ and be healthy, but it doesn’t work like that for me. We are adapted for starch, but not the absurd amounts of starch (along with anti-nutrients) provided by grains and sugar. Starchy vegetables, sure, but not whole wheat pasta…

    If you have a specific health problem like hormonal issues that needs to be addressed, then you’re in a different situation. My mom also recently went gluten-free because she was having some health issues. For a person with no medical issues, there’s nothing wrong with grains in moderation – for example, East Asian countries like Japan (heavy on rice) and Mediterranean countries (lots of pasta/grains in the diet) come out on top when it comes to life expectancy and health. They also consume a lot of veggies and legumes and eat fewer sugary foods than Americans do, not to mention exercise a helluva lot more.

    But it’s frustrating to have my choices called a fad diet when no one calls vegetarians that, when it’s actually much more rooted in science

    Just because it’s a fad diet doesn’t mean it can’t be rooted in science or can’t be good for you. If your diet is helping with your hormonal problems and general health, then naturally it makes sense to continue it. The reason it’s called a “fad diet” is because doctors and nutritionists keep coming out with new diets each year that briefly become popular with the masses, then people lose interest as the new fad comes along (atkins diet, acai berry diet, etc…) so at this point, many Americans are skeptical of the new trend.

    • You make some very sensible points, Alina M. I guess the thing I’m just trying to get across is that people shouldn’t automatically think that meat and fat are unhealthy, because many people (including myself) would do a lot better on diets that included those. But ‘low-fat, no animal products’ is the ‘conventional wisdom,’ so to speak, so our health ends up suffering following the same diet as those others. And then when we do reclaim our health, we get judged for it (not here, but by most people, especially Indians, in real life… that was really the point I wanted to make, that I find it difficult to sympathize with the people mentioning anti-vegetarianism, because my experience is almost the opposite! even though I eat lots of vegetables, haha).

  42. I believe some ayurvedic principles, others I don’t. I’m not going to eat insects, but I’m not going to eat whole wheat pasta either. But I do fully believe that the popular Indian diet trend of roti and boiled vegetables is unsustainable because it’s awful.

    I buy meat that is all grass-fed/pastured from the farmers themselves. I know that they raise and butcher the animals humanely, and it has the added benefit of being healthier too. I try to buy humanely-raised stuff when I can afford it and it’s available.

    But then, shouldn’t vegetarians be expected to buy everything organic? I agree that factory farming is a huge problem, but the bulk of my diet is actually made up of vegetables, not meat. When Americans eat lots of Big Macs, they’re eating a lot of wheat in the bun and soy and HFCS added to everything just because it’s so cheap and easily available due to agricultural subsidies!

    Again, I subscribe to the paleo diet as a nutritional principle, but I realize that I live in the modern world (and I wouldn’t want to give that up!).

    I didn’t mean to sound anti-vegetarian. I know that not all vegetarians are disgusted by meat, but many Hindu Indians are like that. I think those reasons you cited are valid (except for ‘to lower cholesterol,’ again, Gary Taubes totally disproves that), but I also think a lot of people jump on the ‘ohh vegetarian must be healthy!’ bandwagon without really doing research into what is really ethical or healthy (different things, but often overlap). I think that’s what you’re not understanding, and causing you to think my points are ‘meandering’ and ‘nonsensical’ (ouch). Most people, especially Indians (it doesn’t seem like you were raised in an Indian family/background, so I don’t fault you for not having the same experience) automatically think meat and fat = unhealthy. That was the assumption underlying your statement that ‘you can have a teaspoon of ghee if you’re active,’ and it’s the assumption underlying the research of the original blog post. Bodybuilders established decades ago that carbohydrates actually are the macronutrient that should go up with activity levels.

    Again, I’m not anti-vegetarian. I think that a vegetarian diet that doesn’t rely heavily on wheat and soy, and actually makes use of vegetables, can be very healthy, but I also think adding in animal products once in a while would make it even healthier, but I also don’t try to ‘convert’ anyone. I’m not trying to ‘convert’ any of you in saying that, just expressing my opinion… you’re allowed to say that you think us paleo eaters would be better off without eating meat, you know! It’s the Internet. What I am against is people thinking vegetarianism is the holy grail simply because of the lack of meat.

  43. If you truly want to be “Paleo” then you should be going out hunting for your own fresh wild meat, like dear or rabbit. Or at least raising your own chickens (which hunter gathers wouldn’t have done since they would need grains to feed them). Or at the very least buy organic humanely raised animal meat (but check first, because not all are as great as they claim).


    I largely agree. Eatwild.com is a good resource. Chickens can survive on pasturag–eating seeds, bugs, etc. and not needing supplemental grains (maybe not all year, depending on climate).
    The day I shot and “field-dressed” a deer was the day I truly felt like I was an American! Those were some powerful emotions. It really puts you in touch with nature. Good Paleo eating, too!

  44. HealthyDesi… you’re definitely going a little farther than I would want to! I’m mostly interested in health, improved athletic performance, and vanity! I appreciate nature more now but I still prefer a night out in the city. :P

  45. Sister sb, we are a big tent! Both of our experiences with Paleo are valid and I feel affirmed by yours.

  46. I agree with everyone here! I think brown people should talk more often about diet.

    Moderation is the key to healthy living, regardless of what one eats. However, brown and other Asian women are predisposed to diabetes and PCOS and midlife obesity. Many South Asian vegetarian women I know post-32-ish are overweight with high body fat index. This is not my personal observation; this is something doctors are noticing all over. Women who have enough to eat are overweight. Sedentary life is a factor.

    But most are consuming too much processed carbs in the form of wheat, often bleached enriched flour. A breakfast of cereal or toast or bagel with fruit is HORRIBLE. It’s essentially like putting sugar into your system. The body just converts it into fat, and the liver works harder, producing insulin, causing insulin resistance, which causes more fat deposits, low energy, and carb craving. Vicious cycle. Starting the day with a boiled egg with a piece of whole fruit and lots of water is much healthier. Eating some steamed fish, dal, and brown rice is even better. Grains of any kind, even the latest fad quinoa, are awful, especially for women over 35, when hormones are in transition to pre-menopause.

    Food in America is deceptive. I see people in restaurants eating chips and salsa while waiiting for main course. Just four pieces of chips is one small tortilla fried. People would never eat six or seven or ten tortillas. But if they come with salsa and look like quartered chips, they eat away. That’s a all week’s worth of carbs there in the appetizer!

    Basically, brown vegetarian women over 35 should eat dessert once a month, even then in a small portion. If they have a sweet tooth, eat whole fruit, but with some nuts to slow down digestion and avoid sugar spikes. They should avoid all processed break/roti. Avoid all potatoes. Eat small portions. Sustainable non-vegetarian is ideal, though.

  47. yoga fire writes “food is food. Unless it’s toxic it’s not inherently “good” or “bad” for you. Your body is a well adapted, flexible, and versatile machine that can function on a broad range of foods and undertake any number of activities as long as you don’t stress it too much on any point. It’s how much of it you’re eating that causes health effects.”

    as a doctor and a nutritionist i beg to thoroughly disagree. having false opinions is fine, but please don’t go around stating it as a fact. every single line you’ve written above is incorrect, untrue, and proven to be completely false over the past decade.

    food is not just food. eg. you can easily concoct 6 samples of butter, margarine, ghee, canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil such that each of the 6 gives exactly same nutritional result ie. same % of sat and unsat lipid profile. at that point they are nutritionally identical. suppose there was a nutritional computer. you give it the 6 samples concocted above. it will not be able to spot a difference. yet, you will find human body reacts very differently to those 6 samples.

    now if you repeat the experiment 75,000 times ( average human lifespan = 3 meals * 1 day * 365 days * 70 years ), some bodies will simply die in their 40s because they kept feeding on margarine. the longest living ones will be the olive oil guys.

    now repeat experiment with 6 fruit samples concocted in such a way so their nutritional content is identical – say apple, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, pears and oranges. once again, one group will emerge the winner ( pear ) and another will prove to be very bad ( watermelon )

    don’t conflate objective nutritional data with your comfort level. yes, desis in india will eat white rice, sugar, ghee, whole milk, curd etc. until the end of time. that is just comfort level. that is not nutritionally sound. if somebody points that out, it doesn’t mean they are feeling inferior or less-indian than you. you can feel 100% indian and yet know for a fact that indian food is 100% inferior. so what ? its tasty and those people like it, so let them eat it. just like many of us watch soppy bollywood dramas even though we know there’s “superior” fare out there ( pbs, npr etc)

    • ptz: food is not just food. eg. you can easily concoct 6 samples of butter, margarine, ghee, canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil such that each of the 6 gives exactly same nutritional result ie. same % of sat and unsat lipid profile. at that point they are nutritionally identical.

      Butter, margarine, ghee, canola oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil are identical in caloric density (9 calories/gram), and fat (100% fats), but they are NOT identical in terms of what portion is saturated fat (ghee and coconut oil have VERY high sat-fats), and which portion is unsat-fat.

      All of these fats may contain vitamins – I honestly am not sure – but they will ALL help you to absorb Vitamins A, D, E, and K. And maybe other macromolecules.

  48. Avoid all potatoes

    Sweet potatoes are pretty healthy (lots of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, carotenes). You should try making sweet potato fries (oven baked, not fried though) as an easy lunch; add a little cayenne pepper if they’re too sweet for your taste and you want a little spice. It’s a good alternative for starchy white potatoes which are less nutritious.