`One Answer to Health Crisis in India - Olive Oil Times

One Answer to Health Crisis in India

By Gita Narrayani
Nov. 22, 2010 12:05 UTC

Twenty-first Century sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy have ush­ered in many improve­ments in the way peo­ple live and work and go about their daily life. Medical sci­ence has also through research found cures for many dis­eases and some have been elim­i­nated totally through exten­sive immu­niza­tion and other pre­ven­tive mea­sures. But the mod­ern urban lifestyle appears to have given birth to a slew of health prob­lems, like heart dis­ease, dia­betes, stress and oth­ers, that are now the pri­mary causes of peo­ple dying before their time.

Lifestyle Diseases in India

In India, the sce­nario is highly alarm­ing as the dis­ease pro­file is chang­ing at a rapid pace. India has been iden­ti­fied by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the coun­tries that will have a seri­ously high num­ber of these lifestyle prob­lems in the very near future. These dis­eases are now affect­ing a far younger sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, as work-related stress and per­sonal dilemma increase with the chang­ing lifestyle trends in mod­ern India. The seg­ment at risk has moved from the 40+ group to per­haps 30+ and some­times even younger. India has already gained the dubi­ous dis­tinc­tion of being the dia­betes cap­i­tal of the world and now it is fast emerg­ing as the hub of a group of ail­ments, often fatal, termed lifestyle dis­eases. A largely seden­tary lifestyle together with a fat-based diet and alco­hol con­sump­tion is the pri­mary cause of these dis­eases. The reputed All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Max Hospital have con­ducted a joint study that reveals the increas­ing inci­dence of hyper­ten­sion, obe­sity and heart dis­ease espe­cially among the young, urban pop­u­la­tion.

The Alarming Scenario

Studies have revealed a crit­i­cal state of affairs in the coun­try, with much more to come.

Heart Disease

  • India has the high­est num­ber of car­diac patients: 10% of the pop­u­la­tion is affected
  • Heart Disease will be the sin­gle great­est killer’ in India by 2015 (WHO).
  • Heart attacks kill one in every 10 Indians
  • 50 mil­lion peo­ple in India suf­fer from heart prob­lems and the num­ber is expected to dou­ble by 2010.
  • The high­est inci­dence of growth is among young exec­u­tives: 1 of 8 is under 40 years.
  • These heart attacks among young exec­u­tives is 10 years ahead of the global aver­age and pre­ven­tion mea­sures need to be ini­ti­ated right in the early 20s.


  • 31% of urban Indians are either over­weight or very obese
  • Being obese can triple the risk of heart dis­ease


  • India has one of the high­est num­bers of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from dia­betes in the world, as many as 30 mil­lion and grow­ing by the day.

Stress/ Hypertension/Cholesterol

  • Hypertension and work-related stress are respon­si­ble for more than 50% of heart ail­ments
  • 100 mil­lion peo­ple suf­fer high blood pres­sure
  • Two out of three employ­ees are stresses out at the work­place
  • Over 40% of urban Indians have high lipid lev­els (cho­les­terol and triglyc­erides) that are the major risk fac­tors for heart dis­ease

Why Olive Oil?

In this depress­ing sce­nario, the only way out is to lead a health­ier life, mod­ify one’s diet and incor­po­rate exer­cise and relax­ation into the daily rou­tine. This would help mit­i­gate the risk fac­tors for most of the lifestyle prob­lems that cause these major dis­eases.

Indian cui­sine in all its diver­sity uti­lizes a wide range of spices and is usu­ally cooked in oil. The com­mon cook­ing oils are sun­flower, mus­tard, sesame and ground­nut. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, which is a monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acid (MUFA) and con­sump­tion of MUFA in rea­son­able amounts is con­sid­ered ben­e­fi­cial for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health. This is because MUFA has the best lipid pro­file with lower LDL (bad) and higher HDL (good) cho­les­terol. But while all types of olive oil are good sources of MUFA, extra vir­gin olive oil derived from the first press­ing of the olives has the high­est lev­els of antiox­i­dants, par­tic­u­larly vit­a­min E and phe­nols.

The ben­e­fi­cial effects of olive oil do not end there; apart from its high MUFA con­tent, it also has a high level of antiox­i­dants. Various stud­ies have revealed that the MUFA con­tent and the antiox­i­dants in olive oil pro­vide sub­stan­tial pro­tec­tion against heart dis­ease by effec­tively con­trol­ling the LDL (bad) and ele­vat­ing the HDL (good) cho­les­terol lev­els in the body. No other oil that is nat­u­rally pro­duced con­tains such a high amount of MUFA as olive oil. People who con­sumed 25 ml of vir­gin olive oil daily for just one week in a study revealed less oxi­da­tion of the LDL cho­les­terol and much higher amounts of antiox­i­dant com­pounds, espe­cially phe­nols, in the blood.

Olive Oil’s Benefits for Indians

It is widely known that the Mediterranean diet is healthy with its lib­eral use of olive oil and per­haps it is time that Indians dupli­cated this in their own dietary habits. Olive oil is con­sid­ered the health­i­est cook­ing medium all over the world and for very valid rea­sons:

Heart Disease: Olive oil is rich in monoun­sat­u­rated fat and antiox­i­dants like chloro­phyll, carotenoids and vit­a­min E. A com­pound in olive oil called oleu­ropein has been iden­ti­fied through sci­en­tific stud­ies, which pre­vents LDL (bad) cho­les­terol from oxi­diz­ing in the body. This is the ele­ment that adheres to the walls of arter­ies as plaque form­ing block­ages and is the prime cause of heart attacks. We can there­fore say with cer­tainty that if Indians use olive oil as their pri­mary cook­ing medium, blood pres­sure would be low­ered and reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Diabetes: Diabetic patients or those who are at risk for this dis­ease are advised by their doc­tors to fol­low a diet low in fat and rich in car­bo­hy­drates. The addi­tion of olive oil can sig­nif­i­cantly enhance the blood sugar con­trol­ling prop­er­ties of such a diet, besides low­er­ing the lev­els of triglyc­eride. Many peo­ple who have dia­betes have high triglyc­eride lev­els that sub­stan­tially increase their risk of heart dis­ease.

Olive Oil and Indian Cooking

There is a gen­eral mis­con­cep­tion among Indians that olive oil is not suit­able for Indian cook­ing. Olive oil has always been used for mas­sage and for facials and, for most Indians, it still falls in the cat­e­gory of eso­teric items that enhance the skin and hair. Indian cook­ing being itself very fla­vor­ful, there is a fear that olive oil may over­whelm the nuanced aro­mas of the var­ied cuisines of the coun­try.

Can Indian food be cooked in olive oil? When this ques­tion was put to the renowned Indian chef and writer Sanjeev Kapur at an olive oil pro­mo­tional event orga­nized by International Olive Council in Delhi in 2007, his response was clear and cat­e­gor­i­cal. Of course it can, that’s a no brainer”, he said. In his lat­est book Cooking with Olive Oil’ Kapur has addressed all the con­cerns of Indians regard­ing using olive oil as a cook­ing medium. He has also shown how the most tra­di­tional Indian dishes can be made with olive oil, with absolutely no dif­fer­ence to their taste or fla­vor.


The good news is that the demand for olive oil has been steadily increas­ing in the last few years due to the very legit­i­mate con­cerns about health and dis­ease. The eco­nomic and social glob­al­iza­tion has brought this con­scious­ness to the fore­front and one can hope that olive oil can make all the dif­fer­ence to the health sce­nario in India in the very near future.


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