Diet doesn’t mean food only

‘Your diet is not only what you eat. It’s what you watch, what you listen to, what you read, the people you hang around with’

By Dr R. Neerunjun Gopee

‘Take the best and leave the rest’ – I apply this dictum to the contents that come on a 24/7 basis on social media, which is now an integral part of our lives in the most easily accessible and available form: the smartphone. Earlier it used to be said of men that the car is like their mistress. Nowadays with gender parity or equality – or whatever! – both men and women have become slaves to the smart device.

With so much of unverifiable material continuously popping up on it, and the more recent phenomenon of fake news, one has to perforce be selective as regards what to pay attention to. But from time to time there comes a message that rings true and strikes a chord, and that gives one food for thought. Such as that in a good morning message yesterday, in which I read: ‘Your diet is not only what you eat. It’s what you watch, what you listen to, what you read, the people you hang around with.Be mindful of the things you put into your body emotionally, spiritually, and physically.’

In other words, all that we consume: what we see, hear, smell, feel (through touch), and eat, as well as what comes more directly into our minds from our interactions with others or individual experience, that is, emotionally and spiritually.

And here the acronym favoured by management gurus captures that dimension; GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

In common parlance diet is about food and drink, and after reading that post the next thing that I came across as I was browsing was an article by James Brown, Associate Professor in Biology and Biomedical Science, Aston University with the title: ‘A diet consisting mainly of fruit is bad for you.’

Both as a doctor and as layman I took an interest in and read it, to learn from the opening lines that – ‘Plant-based diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, both for health and ethical reasons. One extreme form of plant-based diet is “fruitarianism”, a diet based largely on consumption of raw fruit.’The author comes to the conclusion that ‘it is clear that people who follow this restrictive diet are potentially putting their health at serious risk,’ citing the case of ‘a nine-month-old girl dying after being fed a fruit-only diet. The girl died vastly underweight and malnourished.’Rightly, he advises: ‘Before changing a diet, especially if the change is going to be extreme, it is always wise to speak to your doctor first. Incorporating more fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet is a far safer, healthier way to approach fruit consumption.’

This is sensible advice. It is good that there is increased awareness all over the world — in the more fortunate countries where one can afford this luxury (unlike the situation in countries that are pursuing destructive agendas, and currently Afghanistan immediately comes to mind) – of health matters, in which diet figures highly, and fad diets with catchy names (veganism, vegitarianism and other ‘isms’, ‘high carb,’ ‘low carb’ and what have you…) are hyped up. Unfortunately, people who take to these diets tend to become extremists and absolutists in their views about their preference and very often are unwilling to listen to reason, and potentially may come to harm eventually.

As far as I am concerned, the only time when formal dieting in terms of food is relevant and important is when one is suffering from some ailment which necessitates restrictions or additions to what one is eating and drinking, such as the need to reduce sugar or salt in diabetes and hypertension respectively.Otherwise, the golden rule that I have always followed is eat everything but in moderation. For personal reasons I have stopped eating meat and chicken for many years now, resorting to sea foods only as non-veg fare when I feel like it. But one can jolly well get along, that is be healthy, on a purely vegetarian diet.

As a doctor I get asked about diet by my patients, friends and acquaintances. I am not a dietitian, but in the medical course we do learn about nutrition, and any advice that I give is based on my medical knowledge as well as my personal experience and observations of people. For example, a week ago at the open market in Forest Side an elderly lady vendor whom I regularly buy from held up a small jar of calcium supplements she told me she was taking, adding that they were quite expensive. I have been seeing her for nearly three years, ever active and almost sprightly, and always smiling and courteous to her clients: picture-perfect healthiness, physically and mentally.

We converse in Bhojpuri, and she wanted to know whether she should continue to take the tablets, and what to eat. My reply was that whatever I am buying from you, that’s what you should eat, as well as other vegetables that are all to be found under this roof – as I do, and that is enough to keep all of us in good health. You’re running about is enough exercise for your age, I told her. As for the tablets, since you have paid for them, have one on alternate days until you are done, and only take tablets if you are prescribed them should you fall sick.

As for the rest of what we consume with our eyes and ears, and what we feed into our minds – that’s for some other time.

For now, bon appétit!

* Published in print edition on 27 August 2021

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