October 27, 2018
The Sri Lankan food culture is, beyond doubt, amazing and versatile. With an interesting fusion of local delicacies and a fascinating melange of cuisine adapted from various countries over the centuries, Sri Lankans enjoy a truly unique culinary heritage and a remarkable food culture.
Sri Lankan food recipes are superbly palatable, diverse, and wholly addictive. But what makes Sri Lankan food so good is that it is much more than just taste – it is also amazingly healthy. With traditional Sri Lankan recipes like Kola Kenda, Malling, ambul thiyal, halape and a dizzying array of vegetable curries, our island cuisine gives the best of both worlds with tasty delicious, and wholesome nutrition. Sri Lanka is also blessed with an abundance of exotic fruit and vegetables and with long-standing healthy eating habits like using kithul treacle instead of refined sugar, there’s really nothing to complain about Sri Lankan cuisine.
However, despite our whole food culture, we still find Sri Lankans disturbingly susceptible to diet-related chronic health conditions. Potbellies are an appallingly common sight now and conditions like diabetes, heart complications, obesity, and hypertension have risen alarmingly, accounting for 18.3% of all deaths in the country. Iron deficiency, Vitamin A deficiency, and protein-energy malnutrition are other problems in some parts of the local population, especially among children. If our food culture is so healthy, why could this be happening?
This answer is pretty straightforward; we Sri Lankans have some amazingly whole food but some equally bad eating habits. Here are some local eating mannerisms we can try do away with for a healthier lifestyle:
The Rice Quandary
If there’s one fact we can all attest to, it is that we Sri Lankans love our rice. The typical ratio of rice to vegetables to meat, fish, or chicken on a typical plate is something like 15 parts rice, 2 parts vegetables, and 1 part meat, fish, or chicken. Plus, most locals prefer to have rice for all three means resulting in an overdose of carbohydrates our bodies simply don’t need.
Our love affair with rice also comes with another potential health hazard. According to the British Medical Journal, high consumption of white rice can increase your risk of type-2 diabetes, due to its high Glycemic Index.
Most Sri Lankans lead pretty sedentary lifestyles so we really don’t need all that surplus carbohydrates. While rice is the staple food of our country, it’s wise if you start reducing your servings of rice and increase the portions of vegetables and proteins.
An Excess of Carbs
Another undeniable fact is that we Sri Lankans have too many carbohydrates besides the daily servings of rice. If it’s not rice, then it’s some starchy meal or other, such as string hoppers, pittu, rotti, sweet potatoes, and manioc. In fact, research has shown that Sri Lankan adults get 71.2% of their energy from carbohydrates, with only 10.8% from proteins, and 18.9% from fats. Our predominantly carbohydrate diet is also mainly to blame for the high prevalence of diabetes among Sri Lankan adults.
The Coconut Conundrum
If rice isn’t our staple food, it would have been coconut. A Sri Lankan kitchen really isn’t a kitchen if there isn’t a coconut scraper and coconuts in it. Our love for coconuts is evident in it being in all our food – from rice to sweets, coconut is present in practically everything we eat.
Now coconut isn’t a bad food by any means. It’s a tropical superfood that is chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However, moderation is the key to everything and it should be the same as our coconut consumption. Coconut is also high in calories with just one cup of undiluted coconut milk containing up to a third of your daily calorie requirements. So if you want to watch your weight, moderate the use of coconut milk and the use of coconut in your dishes.
The Extra Dose of Oil
Another bad food habit we Sri Lankans have is the tendency to opt for refined coconut oil in our cooking. We use oil quite liberally in our cooking, especially with the amount of frying and tempering we do with our food. Plus almost all our snacks and sweets are deep-fried. Watching your oil intake is a surefire way to a healthier lifestyle.
The Late Night Dinner Dilemma
We’ve all heard of the old saying about eating breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper. Turns out there is a lot of truth in it. We, Sri Lankans, tend to prefer heavy, late dinners and with our love for food, we end up with huge servings of kottu, rice, noodles, or pasta and then go straight to bed, most often late. Eating heavily at night is one of the cardinal sins of healthy living and there are actually studies to back this up. Research has found actual evidence that late meals are harmful to health in more ways than one. So go light on those huge dinners, and try to eat lightly at night.
Making small adjustments in your daily diet like using kurakkan flour instead of rice flour whenever possible can make a huge difference. Including lots of fruits and vegetables, going light on the use of coconuts, and reducing your sugar intake are all steps that can make a real difference in the long run.