Ques: Why Indians survived as vegetarians?
This is a question that has been the subject of my study in all my major research work with nutrition both in n=1 experiments with myself as well as few clients, and in live environments in 20 to 40 subject. This subject has always been in my hindsight because inadvertently I will always come across:
a) People who are pure Vegetarians
b) People who wouldn’t even eat eggs
c) People with heavy rice or wheat eaters
d) People who are light and heavy eaters
e) People who can handle non vegetarian food well
And yet…I never found any difference in their performance or anybody lacking in any physical, mental, or metabolic attribute.
If they were to lose weight, then they all did regardless of their eating preferences
They were to become faster on field, then they all did regardless…..
They were to become athlete like, then they all did…..
If they were to improve their blood markers, liver health, lipid numbers etc, then they all did…..
There got to be something!! If lack of – protein, some essential aminoacids, minerals like zinc, omega 3, Vit B12 is not effecting their performance then there has to be something somewhere which is protecting these people. I aint saying they are missing out on these. I am saying they can not make up for the recommended quantities as per health science these days. They will be missing in one factor or the other including Vitamin D.
Isn’t it an interesting question to ask?
I then looked at older population around me. Of course, older people would have some kind of issues, but those who have had active lifestyles are amazingly and decently active even today eating the same way. This proves that regardless of diabetes/sugar prevailing in our society (owing to over feeding of sugar), those who had active lifestyle could manage to live just fine. May not be best. But just fine.
Proves – its not the food that is making us sick! Not all at least. Its the quality of food and how much.
Natural outcome when I analysed both – my students(younger) and older population: there has to be something right in our Indian diet. It could be spices, loads of fiber, legumes for protein and fiber both, fruits, vegetables, dairy, simplicity in home cooking retaining the nutritional value of food or compromise it in few, or anything else. Less packaged food in average middle class or lower class. Of course, it is not so for everybody. People are getting sick but its not because they are not eating x amount of protein or y amount of fat. The problem could be somewhere else.
All Indian foods, our preparation with herbs & spices are interestingly extremely healthy for microbiome. Surprised? That’s what science explains today.
But why health issues then?
May be we have resorted to few greens of our choice? May be all of us are not eating diverse range of food and sticking to our taste?
The deeper I dived into science, the more I find it logical. My mantra of giving any health mechanism importance is its value in our body. What does it do to deserve my extra attention?
Of course, everything is important in our body but what makes something more important than the rest given its role.
Facts about microbiome:
a) Approximately 39 trillion microbes (bacteria, yeast, viruses, enzymes, etc) in our gut microbiome. This outnumbers the number of cells in our body. Wow!
b) 70% of immune system lies on gut (small intestine)
c) Gut has roughly 5 times more nerve than spinal cord
d) Gut has direct connect with brain via vagus nerve
e) Our Gut microbiome changes every 20 minutes to produce new generation
e) Majority of genetic code come from microbes – they can switch genes on & off (epigenome). This was winner for me. I would take care of my microbiome just for this. This is how important it is.
Now all these factors convince me very easily that our gut microbiome is the server of our health.
Ques: Where do we find max feed for max species of microbes?
Ans: Plant based – vegetables, legumes (& dals), whole grains, fruits, nuts, fermented foods, raw foods, seeds, etc. Everything that we eat in India even at the poorest level.
Ques: If you assess your parents diet…I bet, 99% of us won’t be able to find enough protein in our ancestors veg diet. Then how did they live without enough substrate like protein which is studied well enough to make it such an important part in all diets worldwide?
Ans: Perhaps we can live with little less of it (and that may result in slightly weaker bones/arthritis in our older age – may be it is the reason!) without complications. And we could live healthy because of the healthy microbiome? Its connection with epigenome, to me, makes it super powerful. If we have the power to switch genes on & off then it is the powerhouse of our ecosystem.
Logic – considering trillions of microbiomes, it is logical to say that we cant feed all with a repetitive diet. Eating same few vegetables time to time. It is definitive that we cant feed the entire ecosystem with our regular food because its huge but we can make it better. And that would require many more species of food items.
Ques: So does it call for a change? Would it help if we have variety of food? Does variety or diversity help?
Ans: YES by every science logic. It should. Every time we eat food, it wakes up some species of microbiome to digest it, and some to protect us from any danger. So it makes sense to have as much variety whenever it is possible. Not like having 7 vegetables in 7 meals! But in general we should be open to different foods that are naturally grown especially. Although one research suggested to the tune of 30 plants/foods a week for optimal biome; but one doesn’t have to worry about counting is my take.
Example: Because considering we do have a protective mechanism, if I were to have a spicy ‘golgappa’ pani – Indian street food spicey water with lot of herbs, then it would feed into a totally different microbes than say glass of milk or water. Right? I like eating these so finding a justification 🙂
There is a reason why some cant handle spicy food in India. Even among Indians there are examples who would fall sick the moment they have any street food. Whereas the next person gets nothing.
Therefore, it may make sense to cut down on wheat, rice, even fruits (if you eat these regularly) – for few meals every now and then or together for few days. It will make us eat those calories from another food source. Try something new. This should logically enlighten a few sleeping souls in our microbe.
So I would say – stop chasing spices from your spice box. Bring in something new to experiment. Buy vegetables that you would not eat otherwise. Try some new spices, seeds, herbs and ensure at least one meal a week full of greens, herbs, some kind of seeds, to keep the internal environment healthy.
One thing which stands out to me and I am sure is also true is whatever food is grown naturally has to have some kind of microbes in it that will compliment some species inside us. And therefore they may be good on our system.
I will pick something new from my veg vendor today. Would you?
Important note: gut health is directly related to diabetes, cancer, pancreatic issues, heart, alzheimers, etc. and indeed we always find examples who would claim to have done everything right and yet got the disease. But doing ‘everything right’ is highly individual from our microbiome perspective. May be they needed more!
PS: I am on a high protein diet. I eat non vegetarian food. But I also stay vegetarian and eat everything and anything in my mixed diet approach. This includes a bit of junk as well. I am 48.