How Keralites' eating habits led to increase in cancer rates

How Keralites' eating habits led to increase in cancer rates
Junk food may prickle taste buds, but lacks nutritional value

Dr VP Gangadharan, the well known oncologist and senior medical practitioner, recalls a funny yet alarming incident that made him ponder about the changing food habits of the Keralites. Once, while the doctor was having a meal at the Indian Coffee House in Haripad, he couldn’t help but notice an overweight person sitting in the table in front of him. The latter had ordered a few porottas, chapathis and two plates of meat curries to go with it.

The doctor observed him quite curiously and to his utter amusement, the person sitting in the front took out a handful of pills and popped it inside his mouth one by one. After having his doses of the pills, the person began happily eating the food that he had ordered. Dr Gangadharan met the other person, while waiting at the counter to pay the bill and couldn’t help but ask, ‘Couldn’t you have just asked the waiter to mix those pills in your food? Why bother swallowing it?’

However, that person’s unequivocal reply had stunned the doctor. He told the veteran doctor that he couldn’t give up mutton or beef and that he didn’t mind taking a few pills if he could enjoy tasty food. “This is what is wrong with the food habits of Keralites. They have no problem taking so many medicines. But, they wouldn’t try leading a healthier life by preventing diseases. They are scared even to do proper diagnoses of the diseases,” says Dr Gangadharan.

The veteran doctor proposes an experiment to further elucidate how the food habits of Keralites have changed to the extent of making them sick. “Serve our traditional sadya (feast) on a plantain leaf and ask a few kids of the new generation to identity and name each dish like the kaalan, olan or the aviyal. I am sure most of them would not be able to identify the dishes. This may even become the very first lesson in a Malayalam text book, in the future. We have almost given up our traditional eating habits. Meat dishes now have a prominent position in our traditional menus that were once filled with vegetables and healthy greens. For instance, Kerala is the state which consumes non-vegetarian or meat dishes the most. Malayali who is supposed to enjoy an elaborate vegetarian feast for Thiruvonam had eaten meat worth Rs 30 crores during this season,” points out the doctor.

As per published studies, an average Keralite requires just 7 ½ kilos of chicken in a year. Besides, we are eager to chomp down fast food like pizzas and burgers and consume aerated or soft drinks that are laden with sugar. Moreover, the kids have lost their interest to indulge in games, sports or other physical activities, often leaving the playgrounds deserted. The parents are partly to be blamed for this as they push the children into a vortex of competitive exams and academic pursuits, early in their lives, forgetting the significance about their physical fitness and well-being. This may lead the kids to become lethargic and exhausted. The food that is loaded with calories and fat will lead to health problems like obesity and may even cause cancer like the breast cancer and uterine cancer.

Regular consumption of food with lots of fat and calories, without supplementing it with fibre rich food items, would lead to cancer in the small and the large intestines. Dr Gangadharan urges to alter our unhealthy eating habits in order to lead a healthier and fulfilling life. Though many complaints have been raised about vegetables and fruits being doused in pesticides or inorganic manure, it is a fact that the fruits and greens can prevent cancer.

“A healthy plate of food should have half of it filled with fruits and vegetables, one fourth of it with rice or wheat and rest with meat or dairy products. I am not saying that one should completely give up non vegetarian food. However, lots of vegetables and fruits too should be included in your diet. Fish is the healthiest among the non-vegetarian dishes. Chicken could be consumed occasionally. However, mutton should be included only rarely in the menu. Beef and pork could be eaten often, only if you eat it as I have noted earlier. Passive eating or just watching someone eat food is the best way. Passive smoking may be injurious to health but passive eating is definitely healthier,” concludes Dr Gangadharan.

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