Why am I sharing my travel stories?
Founder & CEO of TruStory. I have a passion for understanding things at a fundamental level and sharing it as clearly as possible.
Indian food is undeniably delicious. I personally find it hard to pass on some tasty goat curry or chicken biryani. My favorite, palak paneer with naan, is almost impossible to say no to! Indian food is just so yummy. 😋
Unfortunately, every time I eat it, I end up bloated and uncomfortable. My gut simply doesn’t feel right for the 24 hours following a meal of Indian food. For many years‒or decades, I should say‒I assumed that constant bloating was a permanent body function I simply had to deal with. I never really had a reason to suspect Indian food was the cause. After all, 1 billion people eat this stuff every day. There’s no way it could be bad for me, right?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been on a mission to fix my constant bloating. I started realizing it wasn’t normal to always feel bloated and I was ready to figure out the root cause. In order to do so, I had to tune into my body intimately to better understand how it reacts to different foods. Slowly, I started eliminating meals that my gut reacted poorly because after all, your gut tells you everything.
Now that I've eliminated foods that my gut reacted poorly to, my gut health is back to normal. But unfortunately, Indian food was one of my main bloating culprits and I had to eliminate it from my diet. Honestly? It sucked. I am Indian and I love Indian food! Not being able to eat it was a huge bummer.
In my quest to discover why Indian food had caused me so many issues, I decided to dig deeper. Just what is in Indian food that causes my gut to react so poorly? Lo and behold, I soon realized the root cause: most Indian food nowadays is made with nasty vegetable oils. As some of you may already know, vegetable oils are horrible for you.
If vegetable oils are so bad, why is so much Indian food made with them? I decided to keep digging and ask one important question:
The use of unhealthy vegetable oils wasn’t always the norm in Indian cooking. Traditionally, Indians cooked with mustard, groundnut, sesame, and coconut oils. These seeds and nuts grow native to India and are known to have high oil content when extracted via cold pressing.
So what happened to them? Below, I'll briefly summarize what I learned from an independent source linked here.
Foreign vegetable and seed oils such as palm, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils were recently imported into India by food and agriculture companies. Given that India has a population of 1 billion people, these companies were eager to make big profits. As a result, the food companies used bogus health claims to advertise their new oil products to the Indian people.
Eventually, the National Ministry of Health in India got wind of these scummy practices and banned misleading advertising practices not backed by scientific evidence. Still, food and agriculture companies found ways to continue marketing to Indian consumers. They began fortifying their oils with vitamins and making claims about how “healthy” they are. They also targeted and influenced doctors and other health advisors to spread the alleged health benefits of vegetable oils.
Additionally, some people suspect there was an organized attempt to discredit local oils all together. In 1998, there was adulteration done to local mustard seed oils. The producer used Argemone, diesel, and waste oil to contaminate the mustard seed oil. This led to a sudden increase in edema (commonly known as dropsy) that resulted in 60 deaths and more than 3000 reported cases of people falling ill. As a result, the sale of mustard oil was immediately banned by a court order in August 1998. A month later, the ban was removed under the condition that the package date is prominently displayed.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
The adulteration of oil is very common in India, but it’s often committed on a smaller scale. In this extreme case, however, the adulteration affected so many people. Is it possible this adulteration was organized‒perhaps even by the food and agriculture companies marketing their vegetable oils? Sadly, we don’t know for certain.
After this event, local oils began losing their appeal and vegetable oils went mainstream. Nowadays, India is one of the largest importers of vegetable oil.
Vegetable oils in India must be imported due to a chronic undersupply of raw materials. Despite the material shortage, the demand for vegetable oil in India has steadily increased over the years. Currently, it’s higher than ever before:
“India is one of the largest edible oil markets in the world, and domestic producers are unable to satisfy Indian demand. Several factors—soybean industry fragmentation; government policies that encourage small-scale activity and favor grain production instead of oilseed production; marketing and distribution inefficiencies; and irregular water supplies—negatively affect vegetable oil production in India. As a result, India imports roughly one-half of its annual consumption.“
As a result, India is now one of the largest importers of vegetable oil in the world.
“In 2008, vegetable oils (mostly palm oil and soybean oil), pulses and nuts accounted for 60 percent of all Indian agricultural imports. By far, India’s largest agricultural import category is vegetable oils. In 2008, India was the world’s fourth-largest importer behind the EU-27, China, and the United States.“
Sadly, the trend is not stopping any time soon.
“Domestic oilseed production growth can’t keep up with rising demand. Rising demand and stagnant domestic vegetable oil supply, which has been range bound between 6.5 million tonne and 8.5 million tonne in the past decade, will push the country’s vegetable oil imports to over 25 million tonne by 2030, from 15.5 million tonne in 2017.“
In other words, vegetable oils imports are projected to increase by 4x in the next 10 years. Trying to reverse this trend and go back to using traditional oils seems like an uphill battle, especially since its incredibly difficult for local farmers to compete with the low prices that large food and agriculture manufacturers can offer for their cheap vegetable oils. The only way forward is education and awareness.
All of this information helps explain why vegetable oils have now become so prominent in Indian food over traditional local oils. Large food and agriculture companies specifically targeted Indians in order to increase demand for vegetable oils. At the same time, they made it unsustainable for local farmers with their smaller-scale production of mustard, groundnut, sesame, and coconut oils to compete. This has created a vicious cycle where consumers cannot have ready access to more traditional, local oils.
I personally refuse to eat foods with vegetable oils because they make my gut feel horrific. Indian food served in restaurants is a no-go for me. I may go out for Indian once every 6 months or so, but it’s definitely no longer a regular occurrence. The only time I really eat Indian food now is when I’m home with my family and can control the type of oil my mom cooks the curries or other finger foods with. I’ll only eat it if she’s used coconut oil, ghee, butter, or olive oil.
What about you? Have you faced similar issues with Indian food? Please share in the comments!