The changing Goan diet and its impact on health


Gone are the days when children would savour nachni satva or nachni tizan. Today’s children prefer processed breakfast cereals such as Chocos, cornflakes and other ready to eat breakfast cereals instead of nachni

Rohini Diniz

Over the last 20 years there has been a great change in the lifestyle of Goans. Rising affluence, increased consumption of refined cereals instead of those that are minimally processed, increased consumption of sugar and fats, preference for convenience foods and increased consumption of street foods and fast foods coupled with increasing sedentary lifestyles has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of people suffering from diet related chronic disorders like obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disorders, cancer and other ailments. This article intends to draw one’s attention to the changing Goan diet and its impact on the health. Read on to find out.

The staple food of all Goans irrespective of religion is rice, curry and fish, which is a nutritionally complete meal. During the last few years there has been a decline in the cultivation and consumption of the parboiled and minimally polished rice (ukade tandul), which is of concern since parboiled rice is nutritionally much superior to polished rice (surai tandul). Traditionally, most Goans ate the parboiled rice (ukade tandul). Today our tastes have changed and we now prefer white polished rice. Nutritionally speaking, parboiled rice is far superior to white rice because of the higher content of dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins, particularly those of the B-complex group. In the grain, these nutrients are present just below the bran layer and during parboiling of paddy they diffuse into the endosperm of the rice grain and are protected by the gelatinised starch coating that is formed as a result of the parboiling process. During milling a part of the bran layer is retained resulting in higher fibre content in the grain. Unlike white rice, parboiled rice is more filling as it contains more fibre and one tends to feel full fast and hence eats less amounts of it, resulting in lower caloric intake.

Ragi or nachni or gonde is another cereal grain that is consumed less today. Gone are the days when children would savour nachni satva or nachni tizan. Today’s children prefer processed breakfast cereals such as Chocos, cornflakes and other ready to eat breakfast cereals instead of nachni. Nachni is millet that is minimally processed and contains both starch and fibre. Being fibre-rich, the starch in nachni is digested slowly and this keeps one full for longer thereby helping to control food intake and preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. Fibre also helps lower triglycerides, VLDL and LDL cholesterol levels. Nachni is also a good source of protein containing some of the essential amino acids – tryptophan, threonine, valine, isoleucine and methionoine. It also a good source of B-complex vitamins and has a very high content of calcium, potassium and antioxidant polyphenols. The high calcium content helps strengthen the bones which helps reduce the risk of fractures and the development of osteoporosis. Along with sodium, potassium has a role in maintaining the fluid balance in the body. Consumption of nachni is believed to help relax the body which is beneficial to people suffering from anxiety and insomnia. It is also believed to aid in wound healing.

Both rice and nachni are gluten free grains and hence are suitable for individuals suffering from intolerances to gluten and wheat.

The traditional Goan diet did not include breads and the art of baking breads may have been brought to Goa by the Portuguese. During the yesteryears, bakers used toddy for leavening instead of yeast which gave the Goan breads a distinct flavour. Most Goan bread is prepared using maida flour. The poie, which is a flat disc shaped bread with a hollow inside and wheat bran outer coating was made with a mixture of whole wheat flour (atta) and maida and was more nutritious and high in dietary fibre as compared to the pao or unddo. Today, not all bakers bake the poie in the traditional way using a mixture of atta and maida, and many consumers now prefer to buy sliced bread. Unlike traditional breads, most sliced breads contain a number of food additives and preservatives which can have negative effects on health.

Increased consumption of refined cereals could be partly responsible for the rise in the number of Goans suffering from obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart diseases, hypertension and other chronic diseases.

To be continued. . .

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on [email protected])