Festival feasting

South Asian communities begin the holidays

GOOD CHOICES Consider serving healthier alternatives to the rich holiday foods.

In our last article we highlighted the fact that some communities, including several South Asian communities, would start their “holiday eating” well before the typical Thanksgiving-through-Christmas binge.

Starting in late September, the South Bay’s Hindu community began their festival season, with many celebrating a nine-night festival of Navarathri, and most celebrating the mid-October Festival of Diwali. For most Hindus, this time marks an excuse to get together with friends they wouldn’t otherwise see. Inevitably, with get togethers come the excuse to EAT, which, according to some in the medical industry, comes at a price.

According to the El Camino Hospital South Asian Heart Center, as well as Stanford’s South Asian Translational Heart Initiative, the South Asian communities experience higher than normal rates of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Lifestyle factors play a big role in these conditions, and most South Asians rarely connect the fact that living in two cultures means having twice the occasions to consume calories.

With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks to maintain a healthy lifestyle while enjoying the festivities.

1)   Dance! The Hindu subcultures are filled with excuses to get some exercise while you enjoy the company of friends. While some local groups organize large, ticketed events, others can simply turn on some music and have an impromptu dance session during an evening get-together. If you’re not a dancer, organize any kind of activity (a game of cricket, a walk), where you can socialize. At the very least, find some time to exercise on your own.

2)   Eat like your ancestors did. While modern Indian restaurant food can be quite heavy and laden with refined carbs, previous generations ate much healthier. Rice, for example, was often hand-pounded to remove chaff from grain. This left a whole-grain where much of the fiber and nutrients intact. Oil was used sparingly, and the vegetables were fresh and unprocessed. If at all possible, consider serving (and eating!) these kinds of foods, and if using a caterer, work with them to modify the menu to offer healthier alternatives—most should be happy to oblige. After all, you’re the customer!

3)  Watch the portion sizes. With celebration comes the notion that you have to celebrate by eating to excess. But celebration can happen through the enjoyment of the sights and sounds of the festival. If celebrating through food, remember that fruits are often considered perfectly acceptable (if not mandatory). Load up on those!

Finally, keep sight of the long haul. It’s tempting to brush aside excess as a single event. But remember—there will be excuses for excess for the next four months. Celebrate well, keeping in mind that you owe it to yourself because there is a lot of celebrating yet to come.

Neera Siva
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About Neera Siva
Neera Siva is a health enthusiast, mom, patent attorney and writer, in no particular order. She and her family live in Santa Clara County. Check out her website at healthierbites.com, or follow her on twitter @neera_avis.