Are we picking the right diet?

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New diets focusing on whole foods have taken over the global markets

From an era of packaged foods and instant meals, the world is slowly welcoming and implanting necessary changes in diet and lifestyle. With a greater focus on health and nourishment, new diets focusing on whole foods have taken over the global markets.

Veganism, or a completely plant-based diet, has risen not only for the nutritional benefits of plant-based foods but also for its widespread environmental benefits. Religious principles from Jainism or the teachings of non-violence by Mahatma Gandhi have spurred the conversion to a vegan diet in numerous individuals.

This, coupled with a surge of information about environmental impacts and cruelty of the breeding industry through social media, has incited the development of a myriad of vegan organisations that raise awareness of the benefits of this lifestyle. These include pages like Arvind Animal Activist and Vegan Outreach India that strive to educate the public about the positive effects of a vegan lifestyle on one’s health and the planet as a whole.

With India having the second largest population that eats vegetarian food and one of the lowest consumption of meat, one might assume that the transition to veganism would come easier. However, a vegan diet also excludes dairy products, starkly contrasting the enormous Indian dairy industry, producing about 187.7 million tons of milk each year, making it the second-largest dairy supplier globally. This has led to a large component of Indian cuisine being rooted in dairy products like ghee, curd, or paneer. Since the dairy industry employs over 8.47 million people, the complete conversion to this diet would negatively impact the livelihood of a vast majority of the population.

The emergence of alternative cheeses and milk in the market is a testament to the changing economic situation in India, with the sale of oat milk increasing by 63 per cent within just one year, perhaps partly due to the prevalence of lactose intolerance, especially in Asian countries. However, what hinders the adoption of a completely vegan diet is the price of alternatives being about four times higher than the originals solely in Indian markets.

A significant contributor to the spread of veganism is the availability of mock meats in markets. In fact, this industry is estimated to be valued at $1 billion in the next five years. A proponent of this trend is the Indian startup GoodDot, based in Udaipur, providing plant-based meats in traditional Indian and western flavours. These products, created with a blend of soy, pea, and wheat protein, have gained immense popularity, establishing price parity with non-vegan fast-food chains.

Other such companies introducing vegan substitutes to Indians are Veganarke Enterprises, based in Bengaluru, supplying oat milk from its brand Goodmyllk and EVO foods, based in Mumbai, creating an egg replacement. Even previously established brands, like Epigamia and Baskin Robbins, have taken notice of these rising trends, introducing vegan alternatives to traditional dairy-rich products.

On the far end of the food spectrum lies the keto diet, with the focus on getting energy from proteins and fats while minimising carbohydrates to achieve a state of ketosis. This diet has become increasingly popular in Indian households as a means to reduce obesity through weight loss.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare India noted that the number of obese men and women was rising at a rapid rate, consequently increasing the prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Thus, through the spread of awareness, once again, by social media, celebrity testimonials, and numerous cases of success, keto is slowly being accepted as an effective method of weight control.

The transition to keto for the general Indian population would be a harder one, with the average Indian receiving about 65 per cent of calories from carbohydrates, while a keto diet permits only about 5 per cent from starches. However, the establishment of ketogenic restaurants, delivery services, and several health-focused startups with new alternatives to desserts and snacks in the Indian market are making the shift to keto seemingly easier. 

The market is said to grow at a rate of 50 per cent each year, sizing up to Rs 25-30 crores. Some companies like Lo! Foods based in Bengaluru and Ketofy, based in Haryana, are aimed at providing low-carb alternatives to traditional Indian snacks, thus enabling more to convert their lifestyle in accordance with their nutritional needs.

Regardless of the gaining popularity of this diet, many health specialists have warned against certain harmful effects of completely eliminating food groups. Research has shown the use of fats over carbohydrates could become toxic for the body. Moreover, carbohydrate-rich foods are abundant in essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B and phosphorus, without which one can suffer major nutritional deficiencies. Increases in the amount of protein consumption could also hamper kidney function, causing kidney stones or renal failure. Thus, Indians have to consider the severe effects of this diet before opting for this dramatic lifestyle change.

Nutrition has always been subjective, with each individual requiring different diets to suit their own bodies. Still, globally, one can observe a boom in the adoption of certain diets, with its influence felt even in Indian food industries, allowing the use of novel ingredients to suit each diet’s specifications in the hope to curb major nutritional illnesses in the future. 


Nysa Adurkar, Mumbai

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