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Healthy Breakfast: Oats & packaged Cereals versus traditional Indian Breakfast

Healthy Breakfast: Oats & packaged Cereals versus traditional Indian Breakfast

TV commercials of Oats & packaged Cereals show “smart” and “modern” looking girls playing wives who are worried about their husbands’ rising cholesterol, heart health etc. The husband’s only chance of fixing his health issues is through the wife switching from home-cooked, traditional Indian breakfast meals, to oats and cereals- Healthier, tastier and so convenient. And then there are ads of children indulging in chocolate cereals that would make them taller, stronger and sharper. Really?

As a matter of fact, there’s nothing healthier about oats or these processed cereals than the traditional, home-cooked breakfast items that you and your body have been used to for years. In fact, the converse is true: the benefits from sticking to traditional Indian breakfast foods far outweigh the touted benefits of these foreign and ‘modern’ options.

Most of the advertising of oats and processed breakfast cereals focus on three major ‘USPs’: convenience, taste and nutrition. As consumers, it is prudent to question and debunk the myths of these so-called benefits.

Myth #1: Oats & Cereals taste just as good

Oats & Cereals taste just as good

No way! Just because the claim is repeated frequently doesn’t make it true. Unlike the western ‘consumerist culture’ of sweet, cold cereal breakfasts, we have a tradition of hot, savory breakfast that makes us feel more satiated, thereby reducing sweet cravings through the day. Oats is an acquired taste that our Indian palate has to really get used to. Our taste buds- and our bodies- are attuned to a particular taste, and it is in our best interests to have the food that we are genetically-compliant with.

The value of locally available food cannot be overstated, as more research in the field of nutrition science continues to prove. For ages, we have espoused the ‘emotional’ benefits of mother’s cooking (or home cooked food, in general), and science also emphatically backs that up now. Let’s respect the fact that a lot of our inherent tastes are ‘all in the genes’!

Myth #2: Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are immensely convenient

… hmm… and so are a pack of instant noodles or chips! You know what those foods generally get categorized as, don’t you: junk food. The question really is: convenience at what cost? What are we losing- in terms of quality, nutrition and taste- in the quest for ‘processed’ convenience? Unlike fresh, ghar kaa naashta, these industrialized and commercial ‘convenience ready-to-eat meals’ are loaded with preservatives, artificial colours, emulsifiers, flavouring agents.

More importantly, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves how much more inconvenient it is to freshly cook a traditional Indian breakfast than to have a processed cereal or an oats upma or oats dosa? Just reflect on the innumerable breakfast choices available in our traditional ‘menu’ that you can cook in a matter of minutes. You will realise that the convenience argument being made by marketers of modern breakfast falls flat.

Myth #3: Superior nutritional profile

Oats commercials talk about it being rich in soluble fibre that reduces cholesterol and aids weight loss. What remains unsaid is that the grains, pulses and millets that go into making our traditional breakfast are also a rich source of soluble fibre and can fulfill the same function too. Also, it is important to remember that excess fibre is not a great thing to have as it can interfere with the absorption of other important minerals like zinc, iron and calcium in the body.

Superior nutritional profileApart from the optimum fibre content, the coming together of grains and pulses that are rich in B vitamins, minerals, amino acids along with essential fats like ghee, home butter and the ‘tadka’ of jeera, mustard etc. with immunity boosting spices like turmeric in fresh, home breakfasts makes your meal more wholesome and healthier. The better absorption and assimilation of these nutrients improves your digestion & the metabolism of your body, keeps blood sugar levels stable making you feel more energetic and lighter for the rest of the day. Though often riddled with fear & suspicion, parathas for breakfast will only make you successfully lose weight, in a sensible and sustainable manner.

The importance of diversity in diet

In India, we cherish the idea of unity in diversity, the confluence of so many different cultures and languages to form the whole. Interestingly, this concept of diversity is equally important when it comes to diet and nutrition and their impact on overall health and well-being of a person.

This is because of the role played by the bacteria (which number around 100 trillion) in the gut. Modern nutrition science highlights the importance of diversity of good gut bacteria for a healthy body, which in fact thrives of the diversity of food that it is served. [There is a gut-mind connection too, as we highlighted in relation to mindful eating.]

We are blessed with an incomparable array of local dietary options that use fresh ingredients and can be cooked easily using ageless’ recipes. It is high-time, we literally counted our ‘diversity’ blessings and started enjoying the immense variety that is waiting to be enjoyed.

On our part, we’ll be sharing more details on the variety of healthy traditional Indian breakfast items from across different regions of the country in the coming days. Savour these local delights and relish the prospect of “breakfast never being the same again!”

Image credit- Google images

References & other related articles-

1. Why butter or dietary fat is not the problem, packaged/ processed food is-

Where Dietary-Fat Guidelines Went Wrong- TIME Health

Butter And Cheese Not Bad For Heart Health: Study- Huffington post

2. Shift from traditional diets to Western-style diets has been a key contributor to obesity-

The Nutrition Transition- Harvard school of public health, U.S.A

3. Why local food system is critical-

Food security and nutrition and sustainable agriculture- The United Nations

4. Follow food based guidelines, NOT nutrient based-

Food based dietary guidelines- World Health Organization

5. Globalization leads to the erosion of the food cultures & food biodiversity, which results from food industry’s demand for standardized and uniform food products to consumers & are responsible for obesity & non communicable diseases-

Indigenous Peoples’ food systems & well-being-  Harriet V. Kuhnlein, UNFAO

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11 Responses
  1. Ronak

    The only fault with oats ( assuming these are plain oats with no sugar or flavors) is the taste and fibre content? What elaborate data can you provide to say that oats are unhealthy as compared to butter paranthas?

    1. Munmun Ganeriwal

      Hi Ronak, thanks for writing in.

      Oats is not a great option for people in India because it does not grow in the soil close to us. Nutrition science calls it the “FOOD MILES” (the distance the food has travelled from its origin to your plate) The smaller the “FOOD MILES”, the better it is for human health.

      And even if grown domestically at few places these days, it is at the cost of ecological diversity since it is not indigenous to our place, our soil, our climate. The local food system (including farming and growing of native seeds & crops) is crucial for our sustainable health, climate change and global ecology (reference no. 3 added above)

      Moreover, “Nutrition Transition” is a well accepted term coined by Barry M Popkin that says that the shift from traditional diets to more modern and western diets (packaged food) in developing countries, is one of the major causes of obesity and metabolic disorders (reference no. 2 added above)

      The case about the taste is strong as oats do not blend with regional cuisine and our cooking methods. The fact that the companies had to come up with many masala versions with added herbs and spices is a testimony to the fact that it fails to satiate Indian taste buds.

      The WHO dietary guide is food-based. It speaks of food rather than nutrients since people eat and enjoy food – not nutrients. To decrease mortality from lifestyle diseases, it says to health professionals to make food based and NOT nutrient based recommendations i.e to eat poha, upma, paratha and NOT make it about eating more fibre, protein etc. (reference no. 4 added above)

      Since our traditional & regional breakfasts is already rich in the nutrition profile that oats sell themselves on (reference no.1 added for goodness of butter) and blends well with our taste, culture, cooking methods, is not packaged, thereby fresher, in sync with our climate, has fewer “food miles” & adheres to the “local food system”, there is a strong case for us to go back to our traditional food/ meals. (reference no. 5 added above)

      Hope this explains. Thank you.

      1. Msp

        Hello, i liked your article. But i have one doubt. You have mentioned here about food miles. Means local food is better. I am an indian living in abroad. In this case do i have to use local crops grown here or traditional indian foods i used to have from the childhood

        1. Munmun Ganeriwal

          Hi Sumana, glad that you liked the article 🙂

          To answer your question, I would say – make the best of both the worlds.

          Let the dry stuff (semi-perishable and non-perishable) like grains, pulses, ghee, oils etc and food made out of them (like roti, rice, idli, dosa etc.) be traditional Indian that you have been eating since childhood; and let the fruits and veggies be local to the place you are living.

          Looking out for a farmer’s market near your place may be a great idea to buy your local fruits and vegetables.


  2. Ada

    Thanks for this article.
    I recently started having oats in various forms on the advice of my nutritionist.
    Although since it is bland i prefer my usual breakfast on the side , like chapati sabji or poha.
    I’m confused now.
    Do they say dosa/poha/vada etc are unhealthy due to the oil/potato/rice contents in it and hence they advise oats for breakfast?
    I also feel Green tea is a scam. I mean , you avoid sugary milky tea and have green tea and hence reduce weight i guess. THe green tea on its own doesnt do anything maybe??

  3. Rohit Behal

    Hi Munmun,

    You know what is the best thing, that you actually reply to people’s queries and that even not just cut to cut answers, you actually give detailed explanations !

    Great going

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