Diet and Lifestyle for Health in the 21st Century

Reference: Dr. Shantaram Kane's Book with the same name.

Executive Summary

If you are in a hurry (and trust the authenticity of the material presented below) here is a quick summary:


Recommended routine:

1.      Give up bad habits like smoking, alcohol, and overeating.

2.      Start daily exercise that strengthens you heart, lungs, muscles, joints, and stamina.

3.      Understand and monitor primary health parameters, like blood sugar, blood pressure, and body-mass index. Conduct routine (annual) examinations.

4.      Focus on reducing stress in your daily life through meditation.

5.      Eat often (3 main meals and 2 snacks) and regularly.

6.      Do not sit in one place for too long. Take a break of 5-10 minutes every 50-60 minutes of work. Use the break to relax your eyes (look at distant objects) and your body (stretch, walk), and plan action for the next 50 minutes.


Dietary recommendations:

1.      Avoid/reduce food that is rich with carbohydrates and fat. This is not because carb and fat are bad, but because most foods contain these and there is always a high probability of exceeding daily requirements.

2.      When you design your daily food intake (type and quantity), consider the following:

a.       Your daily caloric requirement based on BMI and age (

b.      Each food type has a Glycemic Index – which has to do with the rate of release of glucose after digestion. A high GI, accompanied by a high carbohydrate content, causes glucose peaks which in turn cause fat accumulation and serious long term ailments like diabetes. So, consider food with low Glycemic load (product of Glycemic index and carb content). The total glycemic load of a single meal should be less than 35.

3.      Leaky Gut Syndrome is a common problem (which has to do with unnecessary or excessive absorption of nutrients in the blood). It can lead to all kinds of health problems. To prevent this syndrome, avoid:

a.       Stale food, outside food (especially sweets, deep fried)

b.      Raw (uncooked) vegetables

c.       Sour, spicy (red/green chili), pungent, and fermented foods

d.      Excessive use of medicines

e.       Artificial agents like sweeteners and preservatives

4.      Avoid eating sweets and/or fruit along with main meals.

5.      Avoid tea/coffee just after meals.


Recommended food:

1.      1 Egg per day

2.      1 cup of buttermilk or yogurt per day

3.      Low-fat cow’s milk

4.      Fruit (avoid/reduce banana, chikoo, and sitaphal)

5.      Cooked vegetables: leafy (e.g. spinach, lettuce, coriander), soybean (tofu or soy milk), carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, cauliflower, okra, drumstick, etc (avoid/reduce potato, sweet potato, peas)

6.      Oils: coconut, canola

7.      Coldwater fish

8.      Nuts: walnuts, groundnuts, almond (avoid cashews)

9.      Flaxseed (jawas)

10.  Pulses

11.  Spices: cinnamon, fenugreek (avoid red/green chili pepper)

The Obvious First Steps

1.      Stop smoking.

2.      Stop excessive use of alcohol.

3.      Stop overeating - stop before getting "full".

Daily Exercise

1.      Cardio-vascular: aerobic, running, fast walking, swimming, trade-mill, sports like soccer and basketball, etc. The goal is to strengthen the heart and lungs and build stamina.


You also burn calories as a side-effect. If you don’t replace these lost calories (by eating food) you lose weight. Data point: 30 minutes of walk (2.5 km) incurs a loss of 100 calories.


2.      Stressing and stretching: Weights, wrestling, suryanamaskar, yogasanas, gymnastics, etc. The goal is to strengthen muscles and joints.


3.      Breathing exercise like pranayam: The goal is to strengthen lungs and improve oxygenation.

Regular Monitoring:

Perform regular medical checkup:

1.      Blood test

2.      Urine test

3.      Blood pressure

4.      Weight - BMI (body mass index): Weight in kg divided by square of height in meters. Desired range of BMI is 20 to 25.


Track health incidents (illnesses or healthcare treatments) with possible causes.

Factors that Control Diet:

Diet is about what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. The following factors affect dietary decisions.

Nutrients required by the body:

Food is not just about calories; the body requires different types of food such as, fat, proteins, vitamins, etc. In a section below, we will list these types.

Daily calorie intake:

Food generates energy (measured in calories) that is used for the daily metabolism of the body. So, the caloric intake needs to be such that it meets this requirement. But, you also have to factor in weight-loss or -gain requirements. So, for example, if you want to lose weight, you need to eat less than your body’s daily requirement so that the energy deficit is covered by burning some body fat (which would result in weight loss). helps you calculate your daily calorie requirement based on your BMI. For example, a 35-year old man of 6 feet and 155 pounds requires about 2300 calories per day.


So, you need to ensure your total daily food intake does not violate the calorific needs of your body. More about this in a separate section later.

Glycemic load:

This has to do with the rate of glucose release after every meal. If this rate is high, it causes a higher glucose peak in the blood (i.e. a larger amount of glucose that needs to be burnt) which in turn causes a larger amount of insulin release (which is needed to burn the glucose). These glucose peaks, if abnormally high and repeated, have detrimental effects on the body in the short and in the long term.


Glycemic load (GD) is the product of grams of carbohydrates and the glycemic index (GI - rate at which glucose is released). For example: for cheese GI is 50, carbohydrate content is 6%, so GD per 100 gm is 50 x 0.06 = 3.


Glycemic load (GD) per meal should be less than 35 to avoid abnormally high glucose/insulin peaks. Basically the daily food intake should be such that the glycemic load is distributed rather than concentrated. More details about this will be covered in a separate section below.

Leaky gut syndrome:

This has to do with unnecessary or excessive absorption of nutrients in the blood, which is caused by increased permeability of the intestinal mucosa to macromolecules, antigens, and toxins. This can lead to all kinds of health problems. It is initiated by any inflammation of stomach and intestinal lining.


This sort of inflammation is caused by:


A daily dose of cultured yogurt or buttermilk is an excellent treatment for avoiding leaky gut syndrome, or for mitigating it.

More about calories:

You need to take a quantitative approach to get an idea of your daily caloric intake. There are a lot of resources on the Net that give caloric content of various types of foods.


In general:

·         Calorie content (per gram) of Indian snacks: Highest for dosa, farsan, chivda, chakli (basically all fried snacks), barfi, samosa, and comparatively low for pohe, upma, idli, dahi vada.

·         Among fruit banana, chikoo, custard apple have high calorie content.

·         Among vegetables potato, sweet potato, peas have high calorie content.

More about glycemic load:

The following sites provide the glycemic index (GI) of various foods:


Using GI and the carbohydrate content we can compute the glycemic load (GD).


For example:

Apple: GI is 38, carb content is 13.5%, so GD per 100 gm is 38 x 0.135 = 5.13

Banana: GI is 55, carb content is 27%, so GD per 100 gm is 55 x 0.27 = 14.85

Glucose: GI is 100, carb content is 100%, so GD per 100 gm is 100 x 1 = 100


As discussed earlier, high glycemic loads cause high glucose and insulin peaks, which in turn cause the following negative effects.


Effects of these peaks: In the short term, excess glucose gets converted to fat and cholesterol. Over long term the high levels of glucose in cells cause damage to its lining. High level of insulin causes fluid retention which in turns causes high BP and congestive heart failure as a result.


Repetitive attacks of glucose/insulin peaks can cause insulin resistance which in turn causes hyperglycemia, which is the beginning of the "metabolic syndrome" - high BP, obesity, and diabetes. Diabetes type I actually shows high levels of insulin which is created by the pancreas to deal with high levels of glucose. In type II pancreas starts failing to produce sufficient insulin causing insulin deficiency.


What to do:

Glycemic load (GD) per meal should be less than 35. Shift your diet to foods having low glycemic index and control consumption of carbohydrates. Fruit and sweets contribute significantly to GD; hence they should be eaten separately from regular meals.


Number of meals: 3 meals + 2 snacks. Helps distribute the glycemic load. Early breakfast (within 2 hrs of waking) helps restore glucose, avoid digestive problems, and prevent problems like migraine. Snacks should consist of nuts and fruit.


While choosing foods, one must check its calorie content (to fit the daily total) as well as its glycemic load (to fit the per-meal limit).

More about types of food:

Dietary proportion of carbohydrates, fat, and proteins should be 55-25-20 (American standard 40-30-30).



Since all foods contain carbohydrates, the challenge usually is to keep the intake low and not whether we are meeting the required daily dosage.



Similar to carbohydrates, fat intake is to be watched carefully on the higher side rather than worrying whether we are getting enough. Hydrogenated oils (vegetable) must be controlled. All fried items are to be avoided.


Among Saturated fats, the so-called MCTs (medium chain triglycerides or low/medium molecular weight fats) are very useful to the body (coconut oil and cow's milk contain these).


Other types (high molecular weight) of Saturated fats (contained in most red meat and hydrogenated oils) are hard to digest and have other undesirable effects, and must be avoided if possible. These fats are contained in many commercial products - biscuits, cakes, chips, French-fries, mayonnaise, cheese, and other deep-fried foods.


Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fats.


Omega-3 fats are essential for the body and are available in coldwater fish (salmon, sardines, etc), cod-liver oil, walnuts, purslane (a salad vegetable), flaxseed (jawas), canola oil.


A family of 4 should have about (and no more than) 100 gm of vegetable oil per day.



Proteins are a poor source of energy; instead they are essential for muscular and structural elements, key regulatory chemicals such as hemoglobin, antibodies, enzymes, and hormones.


Recommended daily requirement of proteins is 1 gm per kg of body weight.


To achieve the daily target of protein (without increasing carbohydrate intake), we have to consider foods that have low carbohydrate/protein ratio.

Examples: skimmed milk, egg, soybean, lettuce, spinach, mint, cauliflower, drumstick, fish (lowest).


A pure vegetarian diet is inefficient for proteins.


Excess dietary proteins cannot be stored by the body and hence cause load on liver and kidney.


At old age protein requirement actually goes up since there is higher muscle loss. So, it is important to increase protein % even though overall caloric intake may go down.


Additional sources of protein:

Pulses, Egg, Cheese, Chicken, Nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts), Lettuce.


Micro-nutrients: Vitamins and minerals. A diet consisting of grains, pulses, milk, egg, leafy vegetables, and fruit is likely to meet this requirement.



Vitamin A: Combination of 500ml milk + 1 egg + carrot/tomatoes/spinach/coriander-leaves would provide the required daily dose.

Vitamin D: Sunlight + Milk / Egg / Fish.

Vitamin E: vegetable oils / cereals / fresh coconut.

Vitamin K: Milk / Egg / Dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B1: groundnuts / bran / whole grain cereals / pulses

Vitamin B2: Milk / Egg / Dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B3: groundnuts / whole grain cereals / pulses

Vitamin B6: whole grain cereals / vegetables

Folic acid: green leafy vegetables / egg / pulses

Vitamin B12: fermented products (idli/dosa etc), egg

Vitamin C: spinach, okra, amla, guava, orange, lime, tomato

Choline: milk, egg, lettuce, cauliflower, groundnuts

Iron: egg, green vegetables, cereals, pulses

Iodine: iodized salt

Calcium: milk

Magnesium: cereals, pulses, nuts, vegetables.

Sodium: salt (2.5 gm / day)

Potassium: 3.5 gm/day: fruit, vegetables, nuts.

Egg contains protein inhibitor (which is bad) which is destroyed after boiling.

Legumes similarly contain inhibitors which must be destroyed by proper cooking.

Berries contain powerful anti-oxidants.

Special cases:

Tea contains tannin which is a good anti-oxidant, but in large amount it interferes with absorption of proteins and minerals. Hence many of cups in a day and having it along with meals are bad ideas.


Green vegetables, legumes, soybean, etc contain certain undesirable chemicals (e.g. oxalates, inhibitors) which should be destroyed by cooking these things properly.


Soybean is an attractive food type but is also rich in undesirable chemicals. So, it must be consumed in a palatable state: e.g. soy milk, tofu.


Dietary fiber comes in two types: insoluble (for bulk and ease of motion), soluble (for slowing down digestion and lowering glucose peaks).

Karela is good for glucose balance in blood. (Excessive use causes gases).

Cinnamon and fenugreek is also good. (Excessive use causes acidity).


Eating fruit along with a meal not only increases the glycemic load, but also impacts digestion of certain foods due to the acidic content of fruit. Hence fruit must be eaten alone. Same principle applies to milk - it should be taken separately. Honey is great, but cooked honey is poison!