India is a land of cultural diversity and festivals all round the year cut across all religious communities. Each festival has its own rituals for celebration. But one thing is common among all of them – the traditional menu of sweets.
No festival, religious ceremony, wedding or even the culmination of a business deal in India is complete without the customary mithai. For example, who can think of celebrating Holi without the delicious gujiyas and their mouth watering khoya filling? Similarly Diwali being a winter festival is usually associated with sweets made of or accompanying dry fruits. Modaks are indispensable for Ganesh
Chaturthi while Durga Puja in West Bengal is associated with different types of sandesh. Eid means little without the traditional seviyan garnished with dry fruits. Laddus and boondi are a prerequisite in most pujas as an offering to God, which are then distributed as prasad to devotees. A wide variety of sweets and fried foods consumed during festivals are full of calories. Though such festivals are loaded with joy and fun, they disturb diet schedules of many people.
The sweet poison
High intake of sugar has been one of the prominent causes for a number of illnesses including obesity, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Junk food joints have now become hangout points not only for college students, but also amongst young professionals, who go there for a quick bite to save time. Indians already have a culinary palette which paints itself in rich food which is fried in ghee, or foods as sweetmeats etc. This along with the addition of junk food to our diet and reduced physical activity can translate into increased heart risks.
Unlike the West, where sweets are usually served as desserts, in India they find their way onto breakfast tables and in lunch boxes and are also used as a filler in between meals or as a snack. In Bengali households a bowl of rashogollas is a must on the breakfast table while in Bihar, Rajasthan and Gujrat, halwa is often present along with other breakfast items. And during festivals, sugar consumption in the form of sweets increases manifold as much as the waistlines. Scientific researches have concluded that during festive season, Indians gain two to three kilograms. As the consumption of sweets increases, more people suffer from heart disease and hyperactivity apart from diabetes and hypoglycaemia. Indeed, the numbers of heart disease-stricken Indians is rising at an alarming rate.
Extensive evidence ties sweets and sugary drinks to an epidemic of obesity and related health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Sugar contains no vitamins, minerals or fiber. There is no nutritional value whatsoever in sugar. Sugar can contribute to
hyperactivity, anxiety and lack of concentration. Sugar can also cause free radical formation in the body, and may contribute to migraine and high blood pressure.
Sugar provides quick energy. But what does it do for health? The list of health hazards is long.
For one, the simple sugars in processed foods are much easier for the body to absorb than the complex carbohydrates found in whole foods, which have to be laboriously broken down by the digestive system. Easy to absorb means fast into the bloodstream, a spurt in blood sugar, and a consequent release of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone which helps control blood sugar. Regular floods of insulin in the blood not only encourage the storage of sugar as fat, they also have a damping effect on the immune system making you more prone to infections. Long-term high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and eventually to diabetes. Additionally if you are gaining fat, you are also raising risk of cardiovascular disease.
Heart Disease and diabetes
Diabetes occurs for the same reasons as risk factors for the heart such as obesity and high blood pressure. Diabetes affects all the arteries of the body, but since the size of the heart arteries is smaller (1.5-2mm compared to the 5-6 mm of the arteries in the kidney), clots in the heart happen faster making it more susceptible to damage. The elevated levels of sugar in diabetic patients have an adverse effect on the arterial walls and endothelium making them more prone to cholesterol deposition and clot formation.
Festivals are definitely time for merry making and family gatherings. At the same time, keeping a watch on your calories during the ‘Festival of Lights’ is as important as taking precautions to avoid burn injuries while bursting crackers. This Diwali, let’s dispel the darkness of disease and light the lamp of health.