The world is living amidst a health crisis right now with the collective human physical and mental health degrading fast. The governments have imposed restrictions on gatherings and eating out; this is probably the worst part, because eating out has become extremely popular and common especially in the recent years. There is dissatisfaction in people, especially in the western countries. But what is the secret behind the fact that people in the eastern countries – especially India and China – are happily living amidst lockdown? Let’s look at how the traditional diet and lifestyle of these countries has helped them preserve their health until now.
India and China may seem polar opposites to the people living in these countries – but they don’t do so to people observing them from a distance. There are many similarities in their lifestyles and habits, possibly because both are ancient countries with vast geographical features within the national boundary. For example, a very important value practiced in India and China is the principle of ‘many generations living under a shared roof. The people idealize joint families and believe that living and eating together is the most pleasurable thing. The traditional beliefs in both the countries agree that family is the basic unit of the society and values can be nurtured in children properly only if the family stays together.
Harmony with Nature and the Seasons
It is not difficult to find people in India and China who do not put any ice in their beverages regardless of the season. Hot teas are served and consumed many times a day in China, while the Indians consume hot beverages in the morning and evening and cool (not refrigerated) ones in the afternoon. The five-element theory is believed in both the countries, with the element specifications differing a little; the Indians say that the universe is made up of Air, Ether, Fire, Water and Earth, while the Chinese believe that Water, Wood, Metal, Earth and Fire are the basic components of the universe.
They have varied landforms such as plateaus, grasslands, mountains and coasts – all within the country, and as varied are the seasons there. The Chinese, just like the Indians, rotate foods at the change of seasons. Cool and raw foods are mostly eaten during summer and warm, cooked foods are eaten during winter. This practice is in great cooperation with the body’s metabolism in different seasons. The Indians call it ‘eating according to ritu and agni’; and the Chinese call it ‘maintaining the Yin-Yang balance through food’. Although the Chinese consume a whole animal: including its flesh, fat, bones, blood and internal organs as ingredients of the main meal; vegetarianism has also gained popularity in various Chinese cuisines. It could also be since Buddhism travelled to China.
Homology of Medicine and Food
Food is not just meant to fill stomachs but has a deeper and more important purpose that is of fulfilling nutritional and medicinal needs of the body. Ancient Indian texts on health and medicine advise that diet and routine may build or destroy health. Great emphasis is laid on a diet and a routine balanced in all respects and in accordance with the individual’s body constitution and the prevailing time of the year and day. Therefore, Indian food is cooked with a wide variety of grains eaten as per season, and spices that enhance the beneficial and suppress the troublesome properties of the foods they are added to.
Similarly, Taoism, the philosophical belief prevalent throughout China, suggests that diet should be eaten with a purpose of preserving health and causing treatment. The Confucian thought suggests that food should consist of adequate portions of aquatic foods, soy products, bamboo shoots, fungi and fresh vegetables.
A mindset that is popular amongst the Indians as well as the Chinese is that medications manufactured chemically can be ‘too strong’ or harmful for consumption; therefore, as long as there is no serious illness, the minor imbalances of the body can (and should) be treated with food containing medicinal properties. This is the reason why some home remedies are circulated through generations as ‘grandma’s tricks’ in India. And they actually work, for example, in Indian families; a cold or a cough is not reason enough to visit the doctor, because it can be managed at home very well by consuming light food and sipping medicinal teas. In China too, soups and teas with herbs that have medicinal properties are used in traditional healing.
A lot of Physical Work
The Indians and the Chinese have lived village lives where they had farmlands on which they grew wheat, nuts, rice etc. and reared their own cattle and poultry. Besides farming and rearing, the families would catch their own fish and grow or hunt their own vegetables; they would harvest the grains from the fields themselves and carry them to the market so that they could trade it for flour; and do all household chores and errand themselves. Even today, many families never hire house helps or maids for odd jobs around the house. The Indians and the Chinese do a lot of walking during activities such as grocery shopping and cleaning the house, etc.
According to an article published in the Hindustan Times, Indians eat healthier foods and spend less on healthcare. ‘The Report on Chinese Residents’ Nutrition and Chronic Disease (2015)’ has mentioned that the Chinese were less likely to die of diseases of the heart and the circulatory system compared to the people from the rest of the world.
It is said that you don’t get to eat the fruit of the tree you sow – which seems so true and valid when we talk about the traditional values that have been sown in us by our ancestors. Their cooking and living styles with health at the center are rewarding our generations now. We must not fall victim to over-westernization of life and preserve as well as propagate our traditional diet and lifestyle for the upcoming generations.
Dr. Vikram Chauhan (MD-Ayurvedic Medicine) is an Expert Ayurveda Consultant in Chandigarh (India). He has vast experience of herbs and their applied uses. He has successfully treated numerous patients suffering from various ailments, throughout the world. He is CEO and Founder of Krishna Herbal Company and Planet Ayurveda in Chandigarh, India. He researched age old formulas from ancient Ayurvedic text books to restore health and save human beings from the worst side-effects of chemical-based treatments. Website – www.PlanetAyurveda.com