Disclaimer: We are not medical experts. This article is intended for educational purposes only. And though all information are provided in good faith, we cannot guarantee their accuracy. As such Londoni cannot be held responsible for any problem which you may experience as a result of this article.
Please consult your local doctor or a specialist for your medical problem.
We sincerely hope that you - or anybody else that is suffering from this illness - make a quick recovery and have great health.
As already mentioned in previous articles, every person has different caloric requirement based on various factors like activity levels, age, gender, medical conditions, metabolism, etc. In order to lose weight in a healthy manner, first calculate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) which will help you determine the minimum calories your body requires to function properly.
Next, consult you physician or dietician to create an ideal weight loss plan that is suited to your lifestyle and takes your medical condition and health into consideration.
There are, however, certain weight-related topics which are relevant specifically to the Bengali community - and for that matter the wider South Asian community, i.e. Indian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan - which are important for you to know and discuss with your physician and dietician.
Our body uses blood sugar, known as 'glucose', as its main source of energy. This provides us with the 'fuel' we need to carry on with our daily activities of work, play and generally live our lives. It is vital for life.
Glucose is a basic ingredient of sweet foods such as sweets and cakes. It can also be produced by carbohydrates such as rice, chapati, potatoes, pasta or bread when they are digested and broken down. Glucose is also produced by our liver. If, however, we have too much glucose in the blood it becomes toxic. So we need something to manage it - this is done by insulin.
Inside our body, located behind the stomach, is the pancreas. This flat, mango-shaped organ produces a hormone called 'insulin' which carefully regulates how much glucose is in the blood. Insulin moves the glucose out of our blood and into the cell so it can provide us with the energy we need. Thus our body needs insulin to transform glucose into energy.
The cells are like locks and insulin are the keys - they open the lock for the glucose and fat to enter. Diabetes occur when we cannot control our glucose level because of problem with these keys.
In Hindi or my native tongue, Bengali, we use the word "conjus" to describe someone who is thrifty and hates to spend money. Insulin is a perfect example of a "conjus" hormone that immediately stores away glucose and fat, rather than "spending" it or burning it for energy. If you’ve got high levels of insulin in your body like the majority of South Asians, your body is in constant thrifty mode, persistently stashing fuel into various compartments, in particular muscle, liver, and fat.
Therefore, our muscle is the primary storage compartment for glucose after you eat. But it has a limited amount of space - the more muscle/strength that you have the more it can store glucose. Under normal conditions, insulin is a lifesaver because it keeps your blood glucose levels under control by storing excess sugar into your compartments, in particular muscle.
However, if the insulin cannot 'open' the cell then you become "insulin resistance".
But all your major storage compartment don't become resistance at one time. First your muscle becomes insulin resistant, then your liver and then your fat. Your body responds by going into panic mode and producing more insulin (a state known as 'Compensatory hyperinsulinemia'). This excess insulin may be able to bully some of that glucose into your muscle cells, but most of it is now trafficked to your liver and fat cells. What happens at your liver and fat cells is key to understanding some of the physical and lab abnormalities so many Bengalis face.
When excess glucose arrives at the liver, the high insulin levels trigger the conversion of glucose into triglycerides, which is the storage form of fat. These triglycerides are packaged as lipoproteins, which transport cholesterol through your bloodstream. So glucose is actually transformed into fat (triglycerides) by the liver and exported into the blood stream as cholesterol. The liver may also become filled with fat leading to a "fatty liver".
When glucose enters fat cells, they are also converted and stored as triglycerides. These stored triglycerides eventually overfill the fat cells, causing them to expand like balloons, which in turn causes your belly, thigh, and buttocks to swell. Worse still, muscle has limited storage capacity but fat cells have unlimited space which is open 24/7. For this reason obese people can continue to get fatter and fatter.
Therefore, the excess glucose from carbohydrates in your diet (e.g. rice, chapati, bread, sweets, etc.) contribute to increased cholesterol production by your liver and increased body fat due to overfilled fat cells. This is why so many of south Asian vegetarians who consume loads of carbohydrates have some of the worst cholesterol panels and struggle with weight loss.
It is no wonder that in many countries people from south Asian communities are more likely than the general population to have diabetes and to die from coronary heart disease, which are both conditions linked to being overweight. In UK - the most popular destination for Bengalis - it is estimated that diabetes can be up to 6 times more common amongst the Bengalis than the general population. Diabetes can lead to a number of serious health problems, such as kidney disease and eye problems.
If someone were to ask me to answer in one word the primary reason South Asians have a high risk of heart disease, diabetes, excess body fat, fatigue, and a number of other health conditions…my answer would be insulin. Insulin is the hormone wreaking havoc on my South Asian patients.
Understanding insulin will help explain why the rice or chapatis you eat on a daily basis are far more fattening than eating ghee. It will also explain why so many of my vegetarian patients who consume so little fat, struggle to actually lose body fat.
The good news is that can make changes to your lifestyle that will reduce your risk and prevent or minimise insulin resistance. By reducing your high-carb lifestyle, making better food choices, keeping active and maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes and other associated illnesses. It is still under YOUR control. However, you need to act now.
Bengali recipes have earned a worldwide recognition for their delicious taste. Their aroma, spices, colours, texture make the food easily addictive even to first timers.
As one of the most fertile country in the world, interspersed with rivers and lakes, Bangladesh has perfect condition for growing organic vegetation and raising healthy animals. Thus the people of Bangladesh have the pleasure of being born and raised in such enriched environment and enjoying the great taste from recipes which have been passed on from generation to another.
Bengali food comes from Bengal, a region in Southeast Asia, which includes parts of India and Bangladesh. This cuisine often features dishes comprised of a wide range of seafood, legumes and rice, which are complemented with a multitude of freshly prepared vegetables and zesty spices. While Bengali food may appear to be challenging to prepare, in actually it is quite easy. Better yet, the numerous fresh ingredients used in Bengali food also make most meals extremely healthy, so not only will your taste buds thank you for preparing this delicious food, but the rest of your body will as well.
One of the many benefits of this cuisine is that it will wake up your taste buds. Bengali cooks rely primarily on fresh seafood and the pick of the harvest in vegetables when preparing their meals. As such, Bengali cuisine tastes much fresher than canned or over-processed foods. The innovative use of spice also transforms fish, vegetable and legume dishes into a savory adventure. It’s been rumored that Bengalis are maybe the most passionate of food lovers in the Indian subcontinent, and a delicious and creative meal is a key part of this region’s culture.
Bengali Cuisine website
But Bengali food is far from perfect (though it comes pretty close). Like with any food from other cultures of the world, Bengali food too has room for improvement to make it truly healthy. One such area is its preparation.
However, since the recipes have been passed on from generation to generation, people are naturally very sensitive to change. Thus any advice which are given need to be expressed in a culturally sensitive manner . By moving away from a purely romanticised view of cooking and incorporating modern healthy cooking technique and methods will make Bengali cookery even more flexible and appealing to an even wider international audience. This flexibility will also make the Bengali culture even more dynamic.
By doing this we are adding to the great foundation set and passed on by elders and not altering it.
Every Bengali family has phenomenal cooks. They don't need cookbooks - they just need to cook smarter and substitute unhealthy food and technique for healthier ones. One key area where Bengalis can benefit from is food preparation. As we already know, nutrition is THE key component to a healthy lifestyle (followed by regular exercise). However, a balanced diet is not only about making sure you eat healthy foods but also ensuring they are prepared in a healthy way.
Bengalis eat a lot of vegetables and fish which are fantastic for a healthy, balanced diet. However, they will often fry these thereby soaking it with saturated or 'bad' fat and increasing the calorie load. Saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels, which over time can increase the risk of heart disease or a stroke. The frying process also robs the product of their natural nutritional value by destroying or draining the nutrients and enzymes (which are the parts of food we benefit from) within the food.
Oil and ghee contains trans fat or 'bad' fat which are destructive for your heart and can lead to heart disease. And since oil and spices form the foundation for any great tasting Bengali food this means that not only are you taking in loads of calories from the oil alone, but the delicious taste is also urging you to eat more and more. In such a situation it is difficult to know when and how to stop.
Worse still, many people will reheat and reuse the oil as a cost saving measure. But the more oil is exposed to high temperatures the more readily it breaks down and releases it nasty components into your food. (Another reason to avoid your local take away).
All fats are high in calories, so it’s important to bear this in mind if you are watching your weight.
However, in terms of your heart, it’s important to think about the type of fat you are eating.
The type of oil or fat is just one factor that can affect the healthfulness of a fried food. Other possibilities include how it’s fried (deep or pan), whether the oil is reused (the less, the better), and how much salt is added.
Microwaving, steaming, grilling, stir-frying or boiling food is healthier than deep-frying it. They are a better way of retaining the natural nutrients and minerals and keeping the food at low calorie.
Microwaving may be the healthiest way to cook because of its short cooking times, which results in minimal nutrient destruction. Microwaves cook food by heating from the inside out. They emit radio waves that “excite” the molecules in food, which generates heat, cooking the food. While microwave cooking can sometimes cause food to dry out, that can easily be avoided by splashing on a bit of water before heating, or placing a wet paper towel over your dish. The way that microwaves cook food nixes the need to add extra oils. The best part is, you can microwave just about anything, from veggies and rice to meat and eggs. And studies suggest it may just be one of the best ways to preserve nutrients in veggies; microwaving broccoli is the best way to preserve its vitamin C, for example. Just make sure to use a microwave-safe container.
Boiling is quick, easy, and all you need to add are water and a touch of salt. But the high temperatures and the large volume of water can dissolve and wash away water-soluble vitamins and 60 to 70 percent of minerals in some foods, especially certain vegetables. But research actually suggests boiling could be the best way to preserve nutrients in carrots, zucchini, and broccoli (when compared to steaming, frying, or eating raw).
Cooking anything from fresh veggies to fish fillets this way allows them to stew in their own juices and retain all their natural goodness. And no need for fat-laden additions to up the moisture. It’s always good to add a little seasoning first, whether that’s a sprinkle of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice. If the carcinogen-fighting glucosinolates in broccoli are important to you, some research suggests steaming could be the best way to cook the little green trees. In the body, glucosinolates become compounds called isothiocyanates, which some research suggests may inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
In terms of getting maximum nutrition without sacrificing flavor, grilling is a great option. It requires minimal added fats and imparts a smoky flavor while keeping meats and veggies juicy and tender. While these are definitely healthy benefits, not everything about grilling is so good for you. Some research suggests that regularly consuming charred, well-done meat may increase risk of pancreatic cancer and breast cancer. Cooking at high heat can also produce a chemical reaction between the fat and protein in meat, creating toxins that are linked to the imbalance of antioxidants in the body and inflammation, which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This doesn’t mean BBQs are forbidden - just stick with lean cuts of meat that require less cooking time, and keep dark meats on the rarer side.
The problem is many of the Bengali deep fried food are super delicious and addictive!!
Where frying is unavoidable, consider the type of oil you're using, how much you're using, and how often you're reusing the same oil. Replace saturated fats with small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (i.e. 'good' healthy fats).
When food is fried it becomes more calorific because the food absorbs the fat of the oils. And experts know that eating lots of fat-laden food can raise blood pressure and cause high cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease. A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg and only a small amount of high fat foods, is best for a healthy heart.
What we do know from research is that it’s your overall dietary pattern that matters. Even the most healthful fries, when consumed as part of a diet dominated by processed and fast food, aren’t going to do you much good. On the other hand, the greasiest fried foods, when eaten occasionally as part of an otherwise healthful diet, aren’t going to kill you.
It is admitted that our "provoked" tongue will always try to lick the hot and spicy fishes and then again, it will attempt to venture with the other extreme taste - the taste of Mitha Dahi, Rasgullas, Amriti, Chhanar Pulav, Sheeta Bhog, Chitrakoot and khejurer gurer payesh. This is the Bengali tradition - ending up a meal with some heart-warming sweet dishes!
The fact is that, you can enjoy all the goodness in East Indian cuisine and keep a control on the calorie meter provided you check your portion intakes. Remember, all the good things come in small packets!
As with all cooking, it can be made healthier without sacrificing taste.
Making a few changes to your ingredients or ways of cooking, such as reducing the amount of fat, salt and sugar you use, can make a big difference. This can help prevent you putting on weight and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
How you prepare food can be as important as what you eat.
It's not rocket science. It's a lifestyle choice: do I want to be really unhappy or do I want to be enjoying life?
Another thing which many Probashi Bengali suffer from is extremely low vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D plays an essential role in maintaining good health. It has several important functions, including helping to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which are needed to keep bones and teeth healthy. Vitamin D also powers multiple metabolic reactions throughout our body. It helps regulate cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduces inflammation, which plays a pivotal role in most chronic health conditions.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight on the skin. The UV-B radiation from the sun triggers the natural synthesis of vitamin D in our body. For this reason vitamin D is also called the 'sunshine vitamin'.
Since Bangladesh, like all the other South Asian countries, lies in a subtropical zone there is abundant sunlight. Bengali people's darker skin tone also protects them against the powerful sun rays. But people with darker skin (e.g. African, African Caribbean and south Asian origin) are less able to produce as much vitamin D as their fairer skin counterpart.
Vitamin D is in fact more hormone than vitamin because of its myriad effects. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to everything from insulin resistance (prediabetes, diabetes) and heart disease to cancer, dementia, autism, asthma and depression.
...Our darker skin tone protected us against the ravaging effects of the sun, preventing us from developing the skin cancers commonly seen in fair skinned folks from Northern Europe and other regions distant from the equator. In essence, from an evolutionary perspective, South Asians were designed to toil outdoors in the bright sun and as a result, our primitive ancestors certainly had no issues with vitamin D deficiency.
The problem for the Bengali arises when they migrate to cooler climate where they don't get regular sunny spells throughout the year. This is particularly true for many of the Bengalis settled in northern European countries such as UK, which remains the number one destination for the majority of migrants. The lack of regular sunlight and hot climate not only lowers the vitamin D level within their body (thus affecting their metabolic process), but also decreases the psychological feel-good factor that is associated with warmer climate and natural UV exposure. This mood swing is more visible during the winter period when people complain of feeling "zapped", "drained", "fatigued", "depressed", etc.
Thankfully help is available. Beyond natural sunlight, vitamin D is available in supplement form and is also found in a small number of foods.
How much vitamin D you should get from the sun will be dependent upon your own risk factors. If your geographic location allows it, try to get safe and regular sun exposure. Aim for half of your "burn time" (i.e. the time it takes for your skin to turn pink) 2-3 times a week to get a sufficient dose of vitamin D. For example, if your burn time is 40 minutes, then your ideal dose would be 20 minutes 2-3 days a week. Apply sunscreen to your face and keep your larger surface areas (legs, arms, trunk) exposed. Just exposing your arms and legs would mean about half your body surface is exposed. If you sunbathe longer than this, then generously apply sunscreen, especially if you have lighter skin and/or a family history of melanoma.
If you need to take supplements seek guidance from your GP. Get a blood test to check your level of vitamin D deficiency and take the recommended dosage. You can buy supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Remember, since body fat is a vitamin D trap that reduces the amount of vitamin D available to the rest of the body, the more body fat you have, the higher your dose.
Help increase your vitamin D level by eating foods that are rich in it. Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, eggs, and dairy are all good sources of vitamin D. These food also have the added bonus of being nutrient dense. Nevertheless, remember, it's difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from diet alone. You may need to have supplements to improve your level.
When I inform patients of there low vitamin D, the usual question is "how much vitamin D supplement should I take?" A supplement by definition is meant to be in addition to something else, and in this case that "something else" is some form of regular sun exposure. Just like taking an antioxidant pill is not the same as eating cauliflower seasoned in turmeric, a tiny vitamin D capsule cannot be a complete replacement strategy for our exposure to the center of our solar system.
Sunlight, unlike a vitamin D supplement, actually raises levels of beta endorphins in our bloodstream, also know as our feel-good chemicals. Here in Silicon Valley we are on the brink of winter and our precious hours of sunlight are gradually tapering down. Vitamin D and endorphin levels will inevitably dip as many of us will reach work in the dark and leave work in the dark with minimal interim sun exposure. This is a key reason I see higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety during the winter holiday season.
Potato and tomato are two vegetables common in most Bengali dishes. Whilst they are delicious and possess many fine qualities, Bengali people can benefit greatly by varying their vegetables. In fact, the favorite Bengali vegetable, potatoes, should be replaced with sweet potatoes if you absolutely can't live without that starch and are genuinely interested in losing weight.
Different vegetables possess different nutritional value. By increasing your range you'll be filling your body with greater variety of minerals and vitamins which will contribute to your good health.
'Eat the rainbow' consistently. This phrase is used to express the broad range of vegetables and fruit that we should be eating in order to benefit from a solid, balanced diet. Increase the variety of types and colors of produce in your meal in order to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Try dark leafy greens, brightly colored red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits, and cooked tomatoes.
The people who should really consider paying attention to the color of their food are people who either don't get enough variation in their diet as-is, or people looking to expand their culinary horizons but also want to eat a nutritious diet. Eating the rainbow isn't really a ticket on its own from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one, but it is a step in the right direction, especially considering the focus on fresh produce.
When preparing the vegetables remember not to throw away the good parts. For example, the green outer leaves of cauliflower are particularly nutritious (containing calcium, iron, fibre and beta-carotene) and should not be thrown away. Potato skins are also better left on. The skin provides fiber and protects against the loss of nutrients (vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, iron and zinc) which occurs when potatoes are peeled and boiled. Thankfully Bengalis are very creative people. They can take parts like leaves and stalks and peels and churn out delicious food which are a good cheap source of nutrition. If you need proof, just present orange peel to a Bengali mum and marvel at the number of ways she incorporates it into the dish!
My grandmother makes a stir-fry with the cauliflower leaves and stalks, she adds pea pod shells to her vegetable curry and makes koftas with peels of bottle gourds (lau khosha).
Remember, vegetables should make up at least 25% of the food on your plate. Ideally you should be eating three times the amount of vegetables to the amount of meat. Unfortunately, at present the meat-and-potato Bengali diet does not leave much room for vegetables on the plate. This unhealthy tradition has to stop.
Also, try not to fry - especially deep fry! - your vegetables. As already pointed out, frying can cause many vegetables to lose a great amount of its nutritional value and natural qualities. Instead, grill, steam, boil or microwave your vegetables where possible. May be even try eating them raw. Raw food diets are fast becoming a popular trend since they are mostly plant-based and you end up eating more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, with no added sugars or fats from cooking.
Vegetables and fruits are an important part of a healthy diet, and variety is as important as quantity.
No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eat plenty everyday.
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.
It is very easy to over analyse a tough situation and be overpowered by it.
In some families - even culture - there may be a stigma where it's 'ok' to be big. Even when family members have diabetes they continue to eat unhealthy as if it's natural to be unhealthy. Your family may not be serious about getting fitter therefore you may be seen as a "black sheep" if you continue to be a 'health freak'. It may seem that your family is is hell bent on sabotaging your happiness so that you remain on their level. And when these people are your parents there's nothing worse than that. You may already have a lot of drama in your life - or even be a dramatic person by nature - so the last thing you need is more drama.
But every family needs inspiration, leadership and guidance. Why shouldn't that come from you?
Become the positive change that you want to see in your family. Practice what you preach and continue to show exemplary attitude. Maintain your good habit in face of constant negative remarks. Show everyone that it is possible. Your active spirit may inspire your family to spark some interest in health and sport.
Help remove your family's ignorance by making them see the great benefit of living a healthier life. Many Bengalis, especially the elder generation, have not had the best opportunity in life to maximise their interest as the focus has always been on looking after the family. If now suddenly you're trying to change their way of life then this can be really discomforting for them - even if the lifestyle you're showing is much better for them. So be gentle, respectable, understanding and loving in your approach. Avoid being too demanding or overpowering. Take a soft but practical approach.
Help your loved ones overcome their barriers - but don't waste too much time on changing others who are not responsive at all. Play your part in their journey but ultimately they must want to tread the path themself.
Be a trendsetter for healthiness in your family.
Chris Powell, Personal trainer
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