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Being Vegetarian: Got vegetables?

Most of you probably know that India is the most vegetarian country in the world
and that it houses more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined.
Considering we Indians dont eat meat and we have multiple reasons, ranging from
moral to religious to health, to stay the hell away from meat, one would assume
that we eat a very nutritious diet comprising mostly of vegetables and fruit. I mean,
if meat is out of the plate and whole dairy is to be consumed in moderation, one
would imagine that our plates be filled with vegetables! After all we are proud
vegetarians arent we?
But is this really the case?
I was born and brought up in South India and from my experience, a typical south
Indian diet contains

White rice

Dosa (Rice, lentils)

Idly (Rice, lentils)

Chutney (Chili, coconut)

Molaga podi (Chili powder, vegetable/sesame oil)

Vada (Lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)

Chapathi (Wheat)

Poori (Wheat deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)

Sambar (Lentils, tamarind, vegetable/sesame oil, negligible vegetables)

Daal (Lentils)

Rasam (Tomato, tamarind, spices, water)

Vegetable poriyal (Vegetables, vegetable/sesame oil)

Vegetable kootu (Vegetables, vegetable/sesame oil, coconut)

Avial (Starchy vegetables, coconut, coconut oil)


Coffee (Coffee, milk, sugar)

Tea (Tea, milk, sugar)

Biscuits (Wheat, sugar and other junk)

Muruku, thattai, cheedai (Flour or lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)

Lemon Rice (White rice, lemon juice, vegetable/sesame oil)

Tamarind Rice (White rice, vegetable/sesame oil, tamarind extract)

Potato subzi (Potato, onions, vegetable/sesame oil)

Papad (Lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)

Pickle (Vegetable/fruit pickled in vegetable/sesame oil)

Pongal (Rice, lentils, ghee)

Idiyappam (Rice)

Ummm maybe its just me, but I didnt see too many vegetables in the
vegetarian diet! Im sure Ive missed out of a bunch of other things south Indian
people normally eat and I know I havent listed what vegetarians from other parts of
India eat. But what is obvious here?

Clearly 90% of ones calories come from grains, vegetable/sesame oil, lentils
and potatoes!
A negligible amount of calories come from vegetables and fruit.

Though junk food consumption is less, little to no nutrition exists in the entire

The majority of ones calories come from carbohydrates and that too from
grains and lentils.

Most of the fat consumed is from vegetable and sesame oil which are both
super high in the very easily oxidizable polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Protein is almost non-existent

Why is this wrong with this?

Honestly tooooooo many things! While I dont have the time to get into great
detail, here is what you need to know in a nutshell.

Grains provide almost zero nutrition and are known gut irritants and contain
toxic anti-nutrients.
Foods (oils) high in polyunsaturated fatty acids wreak havoc in the body.
Hardly any vitamins and minerals are consumed due to lack of vegetable and
fruit intake which results in various deficiencies over time.
Chronically high carbohydrate consumption (clubbed with high intake of
PUFa) has a very high potential of causing insulin resistance.

If this is wrong, then what is right?

Eat more vegetables and fruit by eating real food.

Get your protein.
Dump the vegetable/sesame oils and eat more natural (saturated) fats.
Control the carb intake and include more good fats.

I guarantee you that making just these four changes will cause a very significant
improvement to your health and quality of life. Try it for a month! Seriously, whats
there to lose? Worst case, youll end up not eating your favorite foods for 4 weeks.
But best case, you could better you health and possibly cure everything from
asthma to diabetes to eczema or chronic fatigue to high blood pressure to high
cholesterol to joint aches to sleep issues!

Being Vegetarian: Protein Pressure

I cant deny it no more. I love you vegetarians.

I was born a vegetarian.

My entire family is super vegetarian.

I come from a country which is culturally (?!), religiously (?!) and morally (?!)

I have a good number of vegetarian readers.

Most of my best friends are vegetarians.

Heck, even the love of my live, the apple of my eye, the bacon on my plate is
a vegetarian.

So I better not leave you hanging right? Right!

While there are many drawbacks to a typical vegetarian diet, the one major
drawback is a lack of protein. All vegetarians who chooses to make a change
towards the better, face this huge challenge. They all go Cheese is bad, soy is
bad, eggs have cholesterol what the hell do I eat for protein?!
So lets get to the meat of the issue shall we? (See what I did there? Yea Im
awesome like that!)

Slim Pickins:

Vegetarians have few protein options and it is important that they use these options
wisely in order to reach their goal of nutritious diet.




Legumes and nuts

Protein supplements

The deal with these protein options is that in addition to protein these foods come
with other junk (phytoestrogens, lectins, phytic acid etc.) which make it unsafe to
consume these foods in higher quantities.But fear not I gotcha back!
Make no mistake animal products are an absolute necessity for optimal
health, but weve got to work with what we have and hence the rest of this post
will be dedicated towards finding an optimal mix of these third world proteins to get
the most nutrition possible.

1. Eggs:
Eggs are by far your best protein option due to their exceptional nutritional profile. If
you dont know by now, egg yolks are far superior to the whites and yes, you are
sinning every time you throw out an egg yolk! Click here to see the detailed
nutritional info in eggs. No you dont get it. Click that link now!
Every vegetarian should include eggs in his/her diet (unless of course youre allergic
to them). Buy organic cage free eggs and eat at least 2 whole eggs every day. I
know I know. Youre worried about the cholesterol in egg yolks. Here you go
Research shows that dietary cholesterol (especially via egg consumption) has no
adverse effect on plasma cholesterol. And why organic cage free eggs? Heres

2. Dairy:
Sure dairy could irritate your gut and a bunch of folks are intolerant, but if you are a
vegetarian you better have some dairy in your diet. Dairy proteins are complete
proteins and come with beneficial fats.
We can spend days talking about raw dairy vs organic dairy vs regular dairy, but I
have more to cover. So here are my recommendations If raw dairy is available and
you can afford/tolerate it, that should be your first option. If not, organic full fat
dairy is the next best. If all you can afford is regular dairy, get the full fat version.
Whole milk and whole milk yogurt are calorie dense and contain ~ 12-15 gm of
protein per cup. In addition to this, yogurt (which is produced by bacterial
fermentation of milk) contains helpful live cultures that aid digestion. Yes, yogurt >
(Note: Yogurt can be consumed in modest quantities by those who are lactose
intolerant since the lactose has been fermented by the bacterial culture.)
Cheese is a great source of dairy protein (especially for those trying to keep the
carbs low) offering ~ 6-7 gm of protein per ounce. Yes, cheese has some saturated
fat, but there is no real evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. So get
some awesome full fat, unprocessed cheese and top your vegetables or eat it with
some berries or have a couple of ounces with some fine wine.
If you want to cook with cheese, your best options are paneer and halumi. These
two can be grilled, browned, used in a curry or however else you like to cook em. If
youre a cottage cheese lover, then thats definitely another option. Each cup offers
~ 25-28 gm of slow digesting protein (casein).

3. Soy:
Im sure youve heard the good and the bad about soy. The funny thing is, people
who promote soy describe it a freakin super food and those who demonize it deem
it pure evil. While it is easy for meat eaters to hop on and call it evil, the decision
isnt that simple for vegetarians.
Since this could get VERY long, Im going to present to you just the facts.

Soy has been consumed by humans for ~ 5000 years.

But soy is not fit for human consumption unless it is fermented. In its
unfermented form, soy contains phytochemicals that are toxic (phytates,
enzyme inhibitors and goitrogens).
Unfermented soy has been linked to a bunch of health issues like digestive
distress, immune system breakdown, PMS, endometriosis, reproductive problems
for men and women, allergies, ADD and ADHD, higher risk of heart disease and
cancer, malnutrition, and loss of libido
In its fermented form, soy has many health benefits.
Tofu, especially the one you get from your fancy super market, is made from
soy milk, is highly processed and doesnt have much to offer.

Whole edamame beans provide protein and fat and are good enough to be
consumed as snacks in limited quantities.

Fermented forms of soy, that have health benefits,

are miso, tempeh and natto.

Just so were clear whole soy beans and fermented soy are possibly good
for you in moderate quantities processed soy products are NOT!
From a proteinstand point soy is a complete protein and a couple of ounces of
tempeh 3-4 days a week will probably help more than hurt, but consuming large
quantities of soy products (tofu, fake meat etc.) will mess you up!

4. Legumes & Nuts

I have no idea where this Oh lentils/beans are all protein nonsense was born, but
this is where it will die.

Lentils and beans contain protein, yes. But they also contain 3-4 times more carbs.
But when was the last time you ate just lentils/beans? Most people eat them with
other grains like rice or wheat and now the carb to protein ratio shifts to ~ 10:1. Are
you with me here? When you eat rice and beans, youre not eating a protein rich
meal. Wake the hell up!
In addition to this, in their unfermented form, legumes/beans contain enough phytic
acid to harm you. I want to write about soaking/fermentation of legumes/beans, but
most of you wont do it right anyways so I will just direct you to this article from the
Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF).
Summing up legumes are not a great source of protein, but if prepared per the
WAPF guidelines, can offer some protein and a good amount of fiber.
From a protein standpoint eat soaked legumes/beans in limited quantities 2-3
times a week.
Nuts? Well, theyre pretty much all fat and contain negligible protein. Enough said.

5. Protein Supplements
Protein supplements are exactly that supplements. You can use them to
supplement a nutritious diet. In other words, if you have removed the junk, sugars
and grains from your diet and if your diet revolves around real foods with plenty of
vegetables and healthy fats you can include protein supplements in order to obtain
your protein requirements.
Your options for protein supplements are whey protein powder, egg protein powder
and hemp seed protein powder. I dont want to spend too much time on this, but if
you buy one of these look for a brand that offers high protein (>20 gm), low carb
(<5 gm), low fat (<4 gm), low cholesterol (<15%) and low sodium (<15%).

Note: An exception might be hemp seed protein powders which contain more carbs,
but most of them are fiber.

Mixing it up!
Now for the important part How does all this come together in a vegetarian diet?
Repeat after me Variety. Is. Key!
Eating any food item (and that means ANY food item) over and over again will
create deficiencies over the long term and hence it is critical to consume as many
different types of foods as possible. This holds true for vegetarian protein
sources as it does for fruits, meat, vegetables and everything else.
Case 1: 150 lbs male (Sedentary)
Protein requirement ~ 70-75 gm

2 eggs [~ 14 gm protein]

2 oz tempeh/tofu [~ 14 gm protein]

2 oz paneer [~ 14 gm protein]

1 cup whole milk [~ 12 gm protein]

1 cup whole milk yogurt [~ 15 gm protein]

Case 2: 150 lbs male (Active, strength trains, interested in muscle gain)
Protein requirement ~ 140-150 gm

4 eggs [~ 24 gm protein]

2 oz tempeh/tofu [~ 14 gm protein]

2 oz paneer/cheese [~ 14 gm protein]

1 cup whole milk [~ 12 gm protein]

2 cups whole milk yogurt [~ 30 gm protein]

1 cup cottage cheese [~ 30 gm protein]

1 scoop hemp/whey/egg protein powder [~ 25 gm protein]

But my case is unique

If you have allergies/health conditions, talk to your doctor first.

If you weigh more/less, increase/decrease quantities.

If you dislike cottage cheese, have an extra scoop of protein powder.

If youre moderately active, your protein requirements will fall between these
two extremes and Im sure the post has enough information for you to create
your protein menu.

Vegetarianism The glass is half full

The thing about vegetarianism that Im not a fan of is the focus on foods that
cannot be eaten. I understand the moral and religious confusion that is binding you
to stay away from meat and meat products, but why the focus on the cannot or
should not? Why not focus on the can be and should be ? In other words, if you
are a vegetarian you have a list of stuff that you dont eat. But do you have a list of
stuff that you should eat? Why not? Why do I hear I dont eat chicken cos Im
vegetarian a lot and never hear I eat fermented dairy and spinach everyday cos
Im vegetarian?
You see my point? Why is the glass always half empty and not half full?

What is an optimal vegetarian diet?

Nutrition is nothing more than fueling yourself with nutrients. While there are moral,
religious and preferential winds that influence ones nutritional path, a good diet
(and by that I mean the food you eat on a daily basis for any significant amount of
time) should focus more on what is needed than on what shouldnt be eaten.
Talking about the vegetarian diet, if you have made the choice (or have been forced
to make the choice, as in most cases) to remove meat and meat products from your
diet, you better find a nutritionally equivalent if you desire to live without nutritional

In the case of the current Indian vegetarian diet (which is possibly the only case
where people are born as vegetarians and have a really hard time even considering
starting to eat meat or even eggs for that matter), a replacement does exist
grains. While grains fill in the gaps (physically) and calorically, they are in no way
nutritionally equivalent to meat, seafood and eggs.
Make no mistake Im not even hinting that all meat inclusive diets are optimal or
even marginally superior to vegetarian diets. Enough junk meat and meat products
are available and most people find themselves eating plenty of crappy meat/meat
products that health and nutrition are not anywhere close. But when one does make
an attempt to start eating real food, the vegetarians face more of a
challenge than the rest.
And if youre wondering, this applies to me too. I live in India now which is more of a
vegetarian society than anything else. Even meat eaters (affectionately called NV
or non-vigitarians) are nothing more than vegetarians who eat a little meat. That
and the fact that quality meat is not easily available, forces me to eat a vegetarian
diet for the most part.
So then the question is what is an optimal vegetarian diet? And, not surprisingly,
the answer to this question is the same as for the question what is an optimal
diet? An optimal diet (vegetarian or not) is one that provides the consumer with all
the nutrients required for optimal functioning.

Focusing on the half that is full

All that said, an optimal vegetarian diet should

Include plenty of vegetables, especially spinach and other greens since

they are abundant in Vitamin K, Vitamin A and magnesium. While this is a rule
that applies to both vegetarians and meat eaters alike, it needs to be more
prominent in a vegetarian diet for the reason that since most vegetarian diets
are dominated by grains, vegetables are almost non-existent. Most folks tend to
eat a meal of rice/wheat with some form gravy and a tiny bit of vegetables and

end up neglecting vegetables. Read this article about how the Indian vegetarian
diet contains no vegetables!
Include a significant amount of fermented foods, especially dairy due to
their richness in Vitamin B12. Fermented foods help by introducing beneficial
bacteria into our gut (probiotics) and adding in such bacteria has shown to be
extremely beneficial to health. Relief from lactose intolerance, protection against
colon cancer, reduction in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and urinogenital
infection severity and frequency are some of the benefits. Also, vitamins
available in foods are more readily available when the gut contains a healthy
dose of beneficial bacteria. Whole milk yogurt/curd, natural aged cheeses, kefir,
natto and tempeh are excellent choices for fermented vegetarian foods
(provided they are made from top quality milk/soy beans).

Be rich in saturated fat. If youre concerned/confused about saturated fat

and its health consequences, read my article The Saturated Fat Scam which talks
in length about why saturated fat isnt harmful but abundantly healthy. Ghee,
butter, coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut in any other form are foods that
feature right at the top of the list of healthiest foods.

Include whole eggs. Ive said this a million times and I will say it again
eggs are as awesome as awesome can get from a health perspective. Egg yolks
are one of the healthiest foods anyone (especially vegetarians) can eat. Eggs
yolks contain choline which is extremely critical for the bodys proper
functioning, lutein which saves eyesight, contains essential fatty acids and
healthy dose of cholesterol which, again, is a substance that is absolutely
required for the body to function smoothly. Read this article by Arvind Ashok
Eat that yolk! that talks plenty more about why you should eat whole eggs.
And sorry, while the lack of protein due to an egg-less diet can be compensated
for in many ways, I dont have a nutritional substitute for eggs (especially yolks).
Supplement with fish oil. Fish oil is magic! It is rich in EPA & DHA (the
important omega 3 fatty acids that you dont get from flax seeds or walnuts) and
Vitamins A and D and has health benefits ranging from protecting against
cardiovascular diseases to protection against cancer to much improved joint
health to protection against alzheimers and much more. Ive written about this
in the past and you can read this article to understand how beneficial fish oil
truly is. While it is not in anyway a supplement, from a vegetarians perspective,
it is best considered a medicine and gulped!
Obviously be devoid of allergens like gluten, industrially processed
vegetable and seeds oils, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and sugars.
Obviously not be dependent on nutritionally inferior foods like grains.

So what might such a vegetarian diet look like?

Sample meal plan

For someone who is ~ 70 kg the following should satisfy pretty much all nutritional

1 cup whole milk (maybe coffee/tea) with 1 tsp sugar/honey

2-3 idlies/dosas (or idiyappam or 1 cup poha/aval/white rice) with 3-4 tbls
coconut chutney and 2 tsp ghee

2-3 whole eggs with 30g cheese and 1 cup vegetables (Scrambled, omelet,
sunny side up, baked, boiled, curry etc etc!)

1-2 tsp cod liver oil


1 cup rice

2 cups vegetables cooked in 1tbls coconut oil or ghee or butter

1 cup sambar or rasam or daal

1 cup yogurt

2 cups raw vegetables topped with 2 tsp olive oil/sesame oil (i.e. non lettuce
real salad)
1 medium fruit


2 cups vegetables cooked in 1tbls coconut oil or ghee or butter

1 cup daal or beans or pulses pressure cooked with simple vegetables,
without oil and topped with 1-2 tsp olive oil/sesame oil

1 cup horsegram upma or sprouted pulses toasted with shredded coconut

1 cup whole milk yogurt or raita

1 medium fruit or a couple of dates or a square of dark chocolate.

Snack options
Firstly, snacks are unnecessary unless youre actually trying to gain some weight.
So snack only when absolutely required. That means, dont look for something

to munch just cos you have nothing else to do. Snack if youre unusually
hungry between two meals or realize the next meal is too far away. Here are some
awesome snack options which will keep you full and satisfied physically and

2 cups mixed vegetable raita (1 cup raw cut mixed vegetables like
cucumber, carrot, spinach, green mango etc + 1 cup whole milk yogurt +
1 tender coconut or 1 cup salt lassi/lassi and a small fruit

Fruit & veg bowl Cut up avocado, raw green mango, onions, carrots, banana
stem & tomato. Top with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and spice.

Flavored paneer cubes Mix up a bunch of spices you like and toss the cubed
paneer (like a dry rub) and pan fry using ghee for 2-3 min per side.

Mix up 10-15 chopped nuts, couple tablespoons of fresh shredded coconut, a

tablespoon of raisins, pinch of salt and pepper

Natural whey protein powder mixed in one cup whole milk and a small fruit

30-40g cheese/tempeh with a cup of fresh fruit

Note: This is NOT a fat loss diet. This is meant to fix you health by fixing your gut
and once youre able to do that, well, fat loss is just a side effect of that good health
you just achieved!

And just so were clear

Organic vegetables and fruits are MUCH healthier than the regular ones.
1 cup = 240 ml. Anytime someone tells me 1 cup vegetables theyre talking
about a cup so small you can fit in like one pea and anytime (the same)
someone says 1 cup rice theyre talking about a barrel so big you can easily fit
in a truck! So FYI, 1 cup = 240 ml irrespective of what is in it!

If you weigh more or less, adjust accordingly.

If you workout, add in a scoop or two of natural whey protein powder.

If fat loss is the goal, eat starch only during the meal that is immediately post
workout. On other meals, stick to vegetables, cheese, milk/yogurt, lentils and
fruit and stop eating well before youre full. The best foods to pull out of this plan
(when looking to lose fat) are snacks, rice and fruit in that order.

If you feel starved, eat more of the good stuff. Stay away from starch when
you dont need it.

Depending on what your current nutritional deficiencies are and what

diseases you suffer from presently, you will need different amounts of different
foods. It is on you to figure that out.

So what do you think? Is this a template something you can stick to (80%
of the time) for a lifetime? Are there more things youd like on here? What
else stops you from eating real food? Talk to me in the comments section!
Stay sane. Stay patient. Dont be greedy for weight loss. Focus on food quality and
youll give yourself the gift of lifelong health and fitness.

What did healthy south Indians eat in the early 1900s?

The other day I was chillin with the Calmeister and I realized something my greatgrandparents lived long and strong! My great-grandfather lived till he was 88 and
my great-grandmother till she was 92. Both of them lived very healthy lives with
absolutely no chronic illnesses like diabetes or high BP or cancer and only finally
surrendering to infectious diseases during their ripe old ages.
So to understand further how they lived and what they ate, I called my
grandmother (their daughter) who is now 77 years old and lives with my parents in
Chennai, India. Though she is diabetic and is suffering from some other ailments,
she is doing well for the most part and can talk till the cows go home! Here is what
she had to tell me about her parents diet.

Just so you know:

Both my great-grandparents,

lived in the Thirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, India.

like everyone else in my family back then and now, were vegetarians
consuming only plant foods with the exception of dairy.

consumed absolutely no meat or eggs due to moral and religious reasons.

were in no way outliers and their food intake, lifestyle and good health were
very representative of others who lived in their village during the early 1900s.

Back in their younger days, my great-grandparents werent really that well-off and
hence had to make do with whatever food they could afford. As a result

Food was consumed in small quantities saving gluttony for religious festivals.

Rice was the staple and was consumed multiple times a day everyday.

Lentils were consumed about once a month when specialty dishes

like dosa and idli were cooked.

Vegetables were consumed when available and were mostly less special and
mundane (carrots, onions, tomatoes, spinach etc.)

Fruits were hardly consumed and if they were consumed, whatever seasonal
fruits that were available were consumed.

Oils were hardly used. Each person consumed about a tablespoon of oil per
day, if that. Sesame oil was the oil of choice.

Pazhaya sadham or old rice (rice cooked the previous day and soaked in
water to keep), was consumed along with karupatti (palm jaggery) and/or green
chili or pickled lemon, mango etc. very often.

2-3 cups of fresh whole milk per person was consumed everyday.

When possible, ghee (clarified butter) was consumed in abundance.

Sweet and savory Indian snacks were made at home from scratch and
consumed about 2-3 times a year during festivals.

Buttermilk was consumed (along with rice) when available.

Food items containing wheat (like poori, chapathi etc.) were non-existent.

Later in life, as they grew richer and as food became relatively cheaper, the
following changes/additions were made.

Rice was still the staple and was consumed in every meal every day as
cooked rice or old rice or dosa or idly or pongal.

3 square meals were consumed. Breakfast was typically south Indian staples
like dosa, idly, idiyappam etc., lunch had plenty of rice along with sambar (lentil
based soup), rasam (soup), kozhambu (gravy) and some vegetables and dinner
was either the same as breakfast or lunch.

Generous amounts of ghee was consumed. I was told that my greatgrandfather would dip each piece of dosa into a cup of ghee during

More vegetables were consumed but the total quantity consumed by each
person per day was still much lower than what is recommended today.

Whole fresh milk was still consumed in abundance and they fed milk to their
kids by force or foul! I was told that, when he was a kid, one of my
grandmothers brothers hated milk and would demand money from my greatgrandparents every time they wanted him to drink milk! They actually gave him
the money to get him to drink milk.

Fruits were still a rarity but almost everyone consumed a banana everyday.

Ghee and sesame oil were used for cooking purposes.

Almost all dishes had coconut added to them either as shredded coconut or
coconut milk or coconut oil.

Dosa and idly were served with coconut chutney (main ingredients: coconut,
chili, garlic, ginger and salt) and ghee or oil.

Cooks were hired to make sweet and savory snacks from scratch. The snacks
were consumed in great abundance but still only 3-4 times a year during
important festivals like diwali and new year.

Buttermilk was consumed in abundance during the summer.

Nuts were hardly ever consumed.

Coffee was made from coffee beans that were ground at home!

Activity, stress & pollution:

* People were not extremely active and led moderately active lives. Now these were
my grandmothers words, but considering they had no cars to commute, no TV to
watch, no desk jobs to sit at, no couches to sink into and no computers, internet and
social media to constrain free movement, Im sure their activity levels were still
much higher than that of an average person today. Add to this the fact that cooking
meant real work and not just sticking something inside the oven/microwave and
washing meant beating the crap out of multiple wet clothes and not just throwing a
load into the washing machine, Im pretty sure youll be convinced that they were
indeed much more active that we are today.

* Children played like children and adults worked like adults both requiring
physical strength and endurance.
* Stress levels were low for the most part other than the occasional we dont have
enough food to feed our 11 children cry.
* Pollution was, well, much much lower than it is right now.


Rice was the only grain consumed and it was consumed in abundance.

Lentils were consumed only occasionally.

Sugar was enjoyed without guilt but only 2-3 times a year.

No other grains (wheat, corn, rye etc.) were consumed.

Vegetables were consumed when available.

Fruits were rarely consumed with the exception of bananas which were an
everyday food.

Ghee was the cooking fat of choice following by sesame oil which was a close

Ghee, when available, was added to everything (rice, dosa, idly, chutney etc).

Plenty of milk (~ 3 cups/person) was consumed.

Meat and eggs werent consumed due to moral and religious reasons.

Activity levels were moderate but presumably much higher than right now.

Stress levels were low for the most part.

Pollution was relatively much lower than right now.

Discussion & Conclusion:

So what does this mean? A vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet? Rice is super
healthy and over-consumption is perfectly fine? Vegetables arent as critical as we
are made to believe and can be eliminated? Milk is nutritious enough to fill in all the
nutritional gaps? Ghee has life extending properties? No. No. No. No. And no!
Firstly, we need to keep in mind that this is information about the dietary practices
in a small village almost 100 years ago, as recollected by my 77 year old

grandmother. Now I am absolutely sure that the information is spot on because for
none of my questions did she have to think even for a millisecond! She had no idea I
was going to ask her about her parents food intake but when asked she spit out
these answers like shed been waiting for someone to ask her these questions for
many many years! But still, the information we have here has the potential to be
That said, lets look at some obvious inferences.
1. Forget what they didnt eat. Look into what they did eat for the most part
white rice, vegetables and fresh whole dairy.
2. Forget carbs, cooking oils, meat, fat etc. Look at their lifestyle active, low
stress and pollution free.
What can we conclude based on this?
Their diet might have been less than optimal with respect to nutrient density, but,
the key inference here is that,their diet was completely devoid of antinutrients! There was no gluten or any other potentially toxic protein from other
foods. There were no oxidizable vegetable oils used under high heat. Dairy products
were consumed whole and werent processed or powdered. No artificial sweeteners
or preservatives were used. Pollution was minimal and hence inhalation of toxins via
vehicle and other exhaust was trivial.

How is this relevant today?

The way I look at it, long term health results from the coalition of four
critical components nutrition, activity, stress and toxins (via inhalation).
Without any effort at all, our ancestors had three of the four components very well
controlled. The only component they had to control was nutrition and they realized
that as long as they didnt consume anything that was potentially dangerous to

them, they didnt have to worry much about nutrition either (other than making
sure there was enough food in the house).
We, on the other hand, are royally screwed on all four fronts! We are surrounded by
foods that are engineered with the sole aim of making us fat and sick, our activity
levels are laughably low, our stress levels are dangerously high and we inhale toxins
from the air all day everyday! And guess whats even more messed up? We have
little to no control over pollution and, in some cases, stress levels. So clearly, our
only opportunity to make the best out of what we have is to control nutrition and
So whats the take home message here?
Say youre at a random restaurant but you are determined to eat real food that is
good for you. The menu has bread, rice, fruit, cheese, vegetables, eggs and meat.
Meat and vegetables are the best options because they are real food and contain
protein, fat, vitamins and minerals right? But, as is true in most restaurants, what if
the vegetables are sauteed/fried in vegetable oil and quality of meat is
questionable? Still think meat and vegetables are your best bet? Well, of course not!
In such a case you are better off eating white rice, cheese and whole fruit and
getting your protein and vegetables at a later time when good quality food is
Sure it is important to eat nutrients. But understand that it is more
important to stay away from anti-nutrients. After all, its impossible to eat
everything thats good for you, but its very possible to not eat whats not good for
you. Keep it smart.

Tweaking Traditional Diets The Template

Let me start off by saying no real traditional diet needs any tweaking. Traditional
diets are already a result of thousands of years of tweaking and they are perfectly
healthy (and more importantly non-unhealthy) for you if done right. If that is the

case, then why is a random fitness-crazy-not-old-enough-to-tell-you-what-to-do

dude attempting to tweak an already perfect diet? Because
- What you eat today is NOT the traditional diet the way it was meant to be. What
you are fed today, in the name of traditional food, is some weird mutant form of the
real traditional diet and unfortunately, this mutant version, is not helping on bit!
- Most traditional diets were developed during a time of food scarcity (hence the
grain domination and elaborate methods of anti-nutrient reduction). The main goal
then was to avoid ingesting anything dangerous. Only after this was achieved did
people even look to add in nutrients.
- Though most traditional diets were healthy, they were healthy in combination with
high activity levels, long sleep hours, low stress levels and clean air. People ingested
way more calories and carbohydrates than we do today and still maintained low
levels of body fat and high levels of energy throughout the day. Just the excess food
(and hence excess calories and nutrients) provides protection against many
deficiencies and it is something we cannot afford to eat today considering our
sedentary lives.

The Concept of Tweaking:

Since I have readers from around the world, of different origins and with drastically
different traditional diets, Im going to first explain the concept of tweaking and
then provide you with template for tweaking. Once you understand the concept
properly, you can thenuse the template to tweak your own traditional diet and make
it work for you by customizing it to suit your very own individual goals. This is
precisely how I determined my optimal diet and will post an article tomorrow that
shows some results.
I like to approach this in three broad steps.

Step 1: Create a base with anti-nutrient free foods that were prevalent in your
traditional diet.
Step 2: Add nutrients - by eating varied nutrient-rich real foods that have proven
health benefits.
Step 3: Customize - by adjusting calories, macro and micro-nutrients based on
current goals, activity levels and physical conditions.

Step 1 Creating a Base:

As mentioned earlier, the first step is to not ingest anything that is potentially
harmful. So the goal, in this step, is to find foods that both belong to your traditional
diet and have no anti-nutrients in them. In my case, since I come from a vegetarian
south Indian family, this would be cooked white rice, grass-fed organic dairy (milk,
yogurt and ghee only), organic vegetables (specifically onions, tomatoes, carrots,
gourds, plantains, potatoes and various greens), organic tropical fruits and coconut.
As you can see, though they are a part of my traditional diet, I have not included
the different kinds of lentils and sesame oil since they, in my opinion, do contain
some anti-nutrients that cause discomfort.

Step 2 Adding Nutrients:

Now lets look at the base I created from a nutritional standpoint. It contains rice,
selected dairy, vegetables, fruits and coconuts and it has the potential to provide
me with

more than enough calories,

more than enough carbs/starch (from rice, tubers and fruits),

more than enough fiber (from vegetables and fruits),

enough minerals and water soluble vitamins (from vegetables and fruits),

enough healthy fats (from dairy and coconut), and

possibly enough fat soluble vitamins (from dairy).

Honestly, this is pretty darn good base to start off with! If you are unaware of the
specifics of your traditional diet or dont have the time or capability or patience to
research and find out more, Id most certainly suggest that you start with this as a
base. The only exception might be dairy. I have experimented with and without
dairy and it seems to do me more good than bad. You might want to start off
without dairy and then see how you feel when you add it in.
Back to tweaking.
If you look into the nutritional profile of all these foods youll see that the only
nutrients Im possibly not getting enough of are


omega 3 fatty acids


vitamin B12


In order to fill in these nutritional gaps, I either need to take supplements or add
other nutrient rich real food. If you know anything about me, youll know that I dont
recommend supplements unless absolutely required and hence would obviously
prefer eating more real food to fix the issue. That being the case this is how I would
approach the situation.
- What foods are rich in protein? Meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, cheese
- What foods are rich in omega 3 fatty acids? Seafood
- What food is rich in choline? Eggs, spinach and cod
- What foods are rich in vitamin B 12? Seafood, meat, poultry, eggs
- What foods are rich in selenium? Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), mushroom and
seafood (especially tuna, crab and lobster)

Clearly, Ill be best served if I add seafood, minimal poultry, eggs, mushrooms and
nuts to my base diet and together these are MY optimal foods. And why MY optimal
foods? Because these are the foods that

dont bother ME,

MY ancestors have eaten for generations,

nourish me with the nutrients MY body needs in order to reach MY goals.

You see my point? Pretty simple isnt it? Now to make this suit my goals.

Step 3 Customizing:
The one main difference between our ancestors and us is that they didnt really
have the goals that we have today. Nutrition wasnt something they monitored and
they only cared about getting enough to eat. They lived in an era when food and
nutrient scarcity was common while we live in an era of food abundance (at least to
people who can afford it). And since food is available in plenty, we have the luxury
of having goals. That said, lets look at my goals and how I customize this diet to fit
What are my current goals?

Maintain body weight which means eat just enough to not gain or lose any.

Improve fitness which means get stronger, faster, more resilient and more
mobile and that mean more muscle, less fat and well-lubricated joints.

Good health which means no nutrient should be high enough to cause

toxicity or low enough to cause deficiency.

In order to reach these goals, I would need to

Eat enough to fuel activity. Eat slightly more on training days and slightly less
on rest days.

Eat only vegetables, tropical fruits, coconut, rice, dairy, seafood, eggs and

Eat isolated starch (rice and tubers) mostly post workout.

Eat a complete protein in every meal.

Eat fat in all meals except the post workout meal.

Done! This is it! The above 5 points form MY optimal diet! And why MY OPTIMAL
diet? Because there exists no such thing as a perfect diet and there has never ever
been one diet that suits everybody.
Now keep in mind that this optimal diet will dictate how I eat most of the time.
On weekends or when I feel like I need something different, I will eat whatever the
hell I want cos, well, it isnt 1900 AD anymore. Being 28 in 2011 and not eating
pizza? I can never be that guy! This is a template you can use to come up a solid set
of dietary rules to live by for the most part. Deviations are obviously
acceptable and how frequently you deviate will depend on your goals and will
dictate the quality and timing of results.
So there you go an easily understandable concept that YOU can use to
determine what foods suit YOU and a customizable template YOU can use
to create YOUR optimal diet to help YOU reach YOUR goals and suit YOUR

Making the south Indian diet super healthy!

In the first article in this series we saw what the real traditional south Indian looked
like and how it differs from what we eat today and in the second article we saw how
one can tweak the south Indian diet (or your traditional diet) to create his/her
optimal diet. Today, in the third article of the series, well answer two questions - We have the concept and even the specifics figured out, but how do these come
together as food on our plates?
- How can we tweak the traditional south Indian diet to make it healthy and
sustainable in the long term?

Revisiting The Basics:

Irrespective of what your food habits and goals are, the first step towards creating
the optimal diet is eliminating or at least reducing greatly anti-nutrients from all
foods. Specifically
- Oils Avoid all vegetable oils. Cook everything in butter, ghee or coconut oil. Use
olive oil for super low heat cooking or as dressing.
- Sugars Avoid anything that is sweet (except fruit). This includes ALL sugar from
table sugar to honey to maple syrup to sweeteners and flavored foods from nonfat
vanilla yogurt to diet soda to all natural orange juice.
- Grains Avoid all grains except white rice. This includes all grain containing foods
from roti to poori to rava upma to biscuits.
- Beans/legumes Soak raw beans, legumes and lentils for 18-24 hours before
Once the clean canvas has been created, we add nutrients. The goal here is, in each
meal, to reduce the total calories consumed from foods that contain little nutrition
(rice, lentils etc) by substituting with foods that contain plenty of nutrition. For
example, instead of eating 3 cups of rice, rasam and potato, eat 1 cup of rice, 1 cup
of fibrous vegetables, 1 whole egg, 1 cup meat or vegetable gravy and 1/2-1 cup
Following are food groups that are rich in nutrients and lend themselves well to be
paired easily with our anti-nutrient free base.
1. Vegetables Any and all vegetables that are in season and available locally.
Organic is of course preferred.
2. Fruit Any and all fruits that are in season and available locally. Organic is of
course preferred.

3. Meat Any and all meat that is locally available and is free range or grass-fed as
the case may be.
4. Dairy Whole milk, whole milk yogurt, full fat cheese, ghee. Organic and grassfed is recommended.
5. Eggs Chicken or other bird eggs. Eggs from free range chickens are
6. Seafood -Any and all wild caught seafood that is locally available.

Reinventing Traditional Foods:

Now that we have brushed over the basics, Im going to take 5 very typical and
traditional vegetarian south Indian dishes which either lack nutrients or contain antinutrients and reinvent them to make them super nutritious and more importantly,
nutritionally relevant to our sedentary lives today. Honestly, this is so ridiculously
simple and intuitive that youre either going to kill me for the hype or kick yourself
for not coming up with this yourself!
The Dosa:
I love dosa like an anteater loves ants! Every time I came home for vacation from
college, I would eat about 10-12 of my moms awesome dosas every single day!
Thats how crazy I am about this crispy sheet of crack!
Traditionally a typical dosa meal is pretty much just dosa that is served along with
some coconut chutney and/or chili powder and/or sambar. Though very skinny in
anti-nutrients, the meal is heavily skewed towards carbohydrates and has little to
no micronutrients. Here are some ideas to fix this.
- Top each dosa with 1-2 eggs, an ounce of cheese and some finely chopped
vegetables. Serve this along with a side of vegetable-coconut gravy for a well

rounded meal that is rich in protein, fat and carbs and filled with vitamins and
- Make the dosa a burrito of sorts and fill it with ghee sauteed vegetables and/or
eggs and/or meat. Add in some yogurt to replace the sour cream if you care.
- Make any meat or egg or seafood gravy plump with Indian spices and have plenty
of it as a side for the dosa. This is exceptionally delicious and ensures that you get
your protein and reap the benefits Indian spices have to offer.
- Make a large dosa. Top generously with traditional tomato chutney, mixed
vegetables and/or fruit (onions, mushrooms, peppers, pineapple etc.) and shredded
cheese. Bake for 10-15 min or until the cheese melts to create a nutritious and very
satiating dosa pizza.
- If youre in a pinch, soak the dosa (or Idly) in a cup of yogurt along with some
spices and have that with a side of fruit.
If you havent been the source of the greatly embarrassing but absolutely poetic
iisssslllluuurrrrppppppp when eating sambar, you havent yet been south Indian
completely! Sambar is very dear to south Indians and almost every single one of my
clients have asked me ways to include sambar in their diet!
While super delicious and very traditional, sambar generally has more oil that is
required and is skinny on nutrients other than carbs. To fix this
- Try making sambar with ghee and use just the right amount of ghee since the
richness of the ghee will make make even a little seem like a lot.
- Load the sambar with plenty of micronutrient rich vegetables. And by plenty, I
mean PLENTY! This will result in making the sambar super thick. Top this bowl of
awesomeness with 1/2 cup of yogurt and make it a meal!

- Forget the concept of making sambar with a specific vegetable and make mixed
vegetable sambar more often. Vary the vegetables you use and see how much
variety that brings upon. Though you eat sambar everyday, mixing up the
vegetables introduces variety in your diet which in turn nourishes you with a wide
range of micronutrients.
- As weird as it sounds to the seasoned south Indian ears, trust me on this and try
making the sambar with eggs and/or meat. You will be pleasantly surprised at how
well the textures and flavors blend. Since sambar is a lentil and tamarind heavy
dish, Id recommend that you go with meats with a neutral taste like chicken to
ensure you dont have too many competing flavors and aromas.
Tamarind Rice:
There are few things that are better when made for a thousand people than when
made at home for a small group and tamarind rice is one of them. Even as a little
boy I was never big on temples. I constantly whined and complained and questioned
everything from the rituals to the temple cow to the priests hairstyles and there
was only one thing that could shut me up the tamarind rice distributed at the
From a nutritional standpoint, there are only two issues with a tamarind rice meal
it is made with vegetable oil and it has nothing more than rice in it. Solutions?
- Make it with ghee or coconut oil.
- Add vegetables and dairy to the meal. The vegetables can definitely be a side and
so can a cup of whole milk yogurt which provides some protein and a much needed
cooling effect on the tongue.
- If you dare, pan-fry some boneless skinless chicken thigh meat and add it to the
other ingredients during the mixing step. The acidity from the tamarind and the

heat from the chili powder keep the meat tender and flavorful resulting in some
non-traditional awesomeness!
Curd Rice:
There is sushi and pizza and brownies and pot pies and fried chicken and monster
burgers but none of this will ever come close to good ol stupid simple curd rice
and pickle! Im not exaggerating here curd rice is so close to every south Indians
soul that no amount of research can take it away him/her for more than a month.
Curd rice is food in its entirety soulful and simple.
That being the case, the only thing that is required on a plate of curd rice and
pickle, is vegetables! A meal which has 3/4 cup cooked rice, 1 cup whole milk
yogurt and 2 cup of vegetables cooked with ghee contains just the right amount of
calories, carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, oooohs and aaahhhs!
Poriyal and Kootu:
Ever heard of a world where vegetables are as tasty as comfort foods? Welcome to
But sadly todays south Indian (vegetarian) diet has little to no vegetables!
Vegetarians seem to care only about not eating meat and dont seem to care much
about eating vegetables really! Traditionally, vegetables in the south Indian diet
basically meant poriyal and kootu. Poriyal is shredded or diced vegetables that are
shallow fried or sauteed along with spices to produce a dry dish and Kootu is
vegetables (and coconut) added to lentils to produce a semi-solid dish.
Im sure every cuisine has a way of including vegetables in the diet, but there are
two things unique about the south Indian diet one, literally any vegetable, from
bitter gourd to broccoli, can be made as poriyal or kootu with ease and two,
vegetables (in the form of poriyal or kootu) are unbelievably delectable and are
loved as much as the other dishes listed above!

So, today, what is wrong with south Indian vegetables? They are cooked
using plenty of vegetable oils high in polyunsaturated fats and they are consumed
in small quantities. And what is the fix? Cook em using reasonable amounts of ghee
or coconut oil and consume them, not by the spoonfuls but, by the bowlfuls! Done!

- Rid your diet of all anti-nutrients like lectins, gluten, vegetable oils and sugars and
prepare your beans and legumes very well prior to cooking.
- Eat less of foods that dont have much to offer like rice, dosa, idly, oils etc. and eat
plenty of nutrient rich foods like vegetables, eggs, wild seafood and good quality
- If general health is your goal eat per hunger, eat modified traditional foods to
satiety to ensure you get enough mirconutrients and stay active.
- If fat loss is your goal eat less, eat enough protein, eat starchy carbs only post
training, get 80% of your calories from the nutrient rich foods and only supplement
with nutritionally skinny traditional foods until you reach your goal.
- If sport performance is your goal eat enough to recover well, eat plenty of
nutrient rich foods, eat enough (modified) traditional foods to satisfy caloric needs,
eat plenty of protein and carbs on training days and protein and fat on rest days.

Sample vegetarian real food diet or what I eat on Sundays

Sunday is my only day off and I tend to take it easy really easy! I hang at my
parents. I wake up late. Chill at home. Dont see any clients. Listen to plenty of
music. Catch up with friends. You know the usual drill. In addition to all this, I also
make it a point to not workout and/or worry too much about food. I just like to go
with the flow.

I dont count anything. I eat per appetite. And since Im taking it easy in general, I
also like to give my gut a chance to take it easy and hence eat strictly real food.
So here is everything I ate today,

3-4 cups of lemon tea

I woke up at like 10:30am and didnt find the need to eat breakfast as I
wasnt hungry and lunch time was around the corner. That way I get to eat with
my mom and grandmom who talk memories and recipes to me. Priceless I tell

- 4 cups of avial

The avial had green beans, potato, carrots, plenty of coconut, coconut oil and

I topped that avial with 2-3 extra tbls of coconut oil and a handful of fresh
shredded coconut.

4 cups = 1 liter

- 3 cups spinach daal

Soaked lentils and fresh organic spinach cooked together with spices.

I topped this with about 1/2 tbls home made ghee.

- 1 cup whole milk yogurt

This if yogurt made at home from fresh cows milk

- 1 scoop (not natural, overly sweet) whey in 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Cos my ON Natural Whey is at my place (and not at my parents)

- A handful of organic raw almonds

- 1 small banana

- A cup of black coffee with a few almonds and raisins.

- 2 cups of leftover avial

No excess coconut oil this time.

- 1/2 cup of horse gram sundal

Organic horse gram pre-soaked, pressure cooked and sauteed with spices in
coconut oil.
I had this with about 1 cup of whole milk yogurt.

- Paneer subji country eggs in a tomato base

The paneer was home made from fresh cows milk

The subji had paneer from about a liter of milk and 2 country eggs mixed in.

- Some organic fresh papaya. Say about 1 cup.

Note: All vegetables, fruit and legumes are completely organic. You can find a list of
awesome organic food stores in Chennai, India here.
So there ya go. Eating real food is simple, easy, healthy and absolutely delicious. If
any of this seems to not fit your style, make it fit your style. I love avial and so I
eat cartloads of it. If you dont eat, something else there. Eat more food if youre
hungry. Eat less food if this is too much. If fat loss is a goal eat slightly below
appetite, skip a meal and eat food that is less dense (skip the oil etc.). If mass gain
is a goal, eat up! Eat till your slightly uncomfortable and squeeze in a breakfast
and/or a snack.

Keep it real. Keep it simple. Keep it sustainable.

Peace out.