Eat smart, eat less

It is not about being vegetarian or non-vegetarian or religious choices


Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan.

There is no other part of our life that gets as much attention as the food we eat and the liquids we consume. Even though physical activity (PA) is perhaps more important than food when it comes to an increased healthspan and lifespan, it is food that gets more attention, because of its association with weight and weight loss and the belief that if we could just find that one magic formula with food, we could not only lose weight, but live long and healthy. There is no dearth of diets that promise to keep you young, or look alluring or lose your tummy. None of them work or are sustainable over a longer period of time and if these so-called diets don’t make sense to your body, you will just land up weight-cycling or weight yo-yoing throughout your adult life.

It is not about being vegetarian or non-vegetarian or religious choices. It is just about eating sensibly and smart.

There are three parts of the problem. The first is what you eat and put in your body (Consumption), the other is what you avoid (Avoidance) and the third is the time period between your last meal of the previous day and the first meal of the next day (Fasting).


Let’s start with the last—fasting. A lot has been made about intermittent fasting (IF). You know it’s a fad when celebrities start endorsing it, though despite all the hype and hoopla, some initial observational data has been encouraging, mainly from the point of view of calorie control.

Intermittent fasting encompasses time-restricted eating (TRE), fasting for 1-2 days a week and alternate day fasting. Of these, TRE is perhaps the simpler to adopt—eating for as short a period as possible. Some people adopt a 14-10 (14 hours of fasting and 10 hours of eating), while others follow a 16-8 or an 18-6 protocol.

The bigger question is, “does it help”. If you scroll the internet without a filter, you will find all kinds of health claims attached to fasting. Most of these have not panned out in observational and randomised controlled trials, over and above the benefits that accrue from calorie control. What regular fasting or restriction of eating hours does is to allow better calorie control, which, in turn, improves our metabolic parameters and is known to help us live long and healthy. It is tough to eat a lot if your “feeding window” is just 8-10 hours.

Jains have been following fasting protocols for centuries. Unfortunately, we don’t know if those who fast between sunset and sunrise are any healthier than those who don’t—this is a study just waiting to happen.


It is not easy to avoid food that grabs your senses and forces you to automatically consume more and more—e.g. chips. These so-called ultra-processed foods (UPFs), using a combination of salt, sugar, fat and other chemicals, make us eat and want more and more even if we are satiated. Some believe that the obesity epidemic and the spurt of many lifestyle diseases can be traced back to the use of UPFs.

The same is true of sugar-sweetened beverages. Any fruit juice that comes in a packet, is a UPF and best avoided. This also applies to so-called nutritional supplements for children such as Bournvita or Complan, which also contain significant quantities of sugar. Freshly squeezed juices made at home or a juice-shop are fine, but fresh cut or whole fruits are always better. While Coke Zero or Diet Pepsi are better alternatives to regular Coke and Pepsi, the drinks themselves are UPFs and eventually mess with your health.

Restaurant and wedding food are no better. While these are not UPFs, the amount of salt, sugar and fat used to make the dishes alluring is far more than what we use at home. So, while eating out once in a while is absolutely fine, if it becomes a daily or frequent habit, then perhaps it is worth revising our food habits.

What about so-called superfoods? They are foods that are supposed to miraculously improve your health on their own. They change colour and names depending on the fashion of the day. A few years ago, it was all about quinoa and chia. Then kale. At some point, arugula. Weird kinds of berries including goji berries. Turmeric. Strawberries and blueberries. There is no magic food item that is going to suddenly make you healthy. Period. So, whenever you come across any food item that has these words attached to the packaging or advertisement (Nutrient dense, Antioxidant, Immune booster, Detoxifying, Increased energy and vitality, Anti-cancer), run away from that food item instantly.


What we eat and what we don’t obviously go hand in hand. Eating 4-5 portions of vegetables and fruits a day and some nuts, including peanuts, increases your healthspan and lifespan.

What about meat and fish? Everything in moderation is fine.

A lot of people will talk about balancing proteins, fats and carbohydrates, or talk about how low carb diets are better with higher protein and slightly higher fat. None of this really matters, unless you are specifically looking to build muscles, at which point, you probably need extra protein consumption as compared to normal people like you and I. Focusing on any one specific food item or food constituent just doesn’t help and in the long run will be counterproductive. Eat eggs, don’t eat eggs, dairy is good, dairy is not, cheese is good, ghee is not or ghee is good but vanaspati is not… in the end none of this matters, as long as we balance and vary our food consumption to avoid dependence on any one particular item and as long as the food is not a UPF.

Sticking to Michael Pollan’s dictum is the best. “Eat food (which means non-UPF food). Eat less (without overstuffing). Mostly plants (to the extent possible).

So, to simplify.

  • Eat 4-5 portions of vegetables and fruits per day

  • Add a handful of fresh, unsalted nuts to your food every day

  • Avoid ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages as far as possible

  • Some form of intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating is helpful

  • Do not agonise over specific diets or superfoods or individual food items

Just as with physical activity, the issue often is invariably the inability to follow all these instructions. We all make New Year resolutions to eat healthy, be physically active, but within 1-2 weeks, something happens and we are derailed.

I am not an expert in behaviour modification, but hacks that reduce our dependence on UPFs and SSBs help, starting with not having them in the house in the first place and substituting some of them with unpackaged or local options (e.g. if you like potato chips, you can go to a local store and buy chips made locally). This is one reason why no diet works in the long-term. This is also the reason why eating smart and sensibly works by letting our body and mind adapt to better quality food over a longer period of time.

To reiterate. Eating smart and eating less, is not about weight loss, it is about eating sensibly to stay healthy.

Jankharia’s new book 'Atmasvasth' available online dives deeper into this concept. He can provide references for all statements of fact and can be reached at