|LETTER TO THE EDITOR
|Year : 2014 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 51-52
The holy prasad: Healthier options
Jaikrit Bhutani1, Sukriti Bhutani2, Asfandyar Khan Niazi3, Kanishka Sawhney4
1 PGIMS, Rohtak, India
2 MAIMRE, Hissar, Haryana, India
3 Shifa College of Medicine, Islamabad, Pakistan
4 Subharti Medical College, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India
|Date of Web Publication||24-Dec-2013|
Asfandyar Khan Niazi
Shifa College of Medicine, Islamabad
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Bhutani J, Bhutani S, Niazi AK, Sawhney K. The holy prasad: Healthier options. J Med Nutr Nutraceut 2014;3:51-2
"If one offers me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it."
-Bhagavad Gita (9.26).
The increasing burden of obesity and the metabolic syndrome has become a daunting problem across the globe, especially in the south Asian subcontinent.  Obesity has also been declared as a 'disease' in the latest American Medical Association (AMA) position statement.  The traditional trio approach of exercise, diet, and drug, although theoretically sound, needs more insight to be effective at the practical level.
Contemporary society is living in an era of unhealthy calorie dense foods, which become even more conspicuous at social and personal events. The religious offerings of the holy 'prasad' or communion offered at temples and gurdwaras across south Asia are not an exception. The choice of this 'prasad', considered as the deity's blessings, is often made according to traditional and cultural custom and is considered a religious obligation.  'Prasad', as used in south Asia, can be fruits, dry fruits or nuts, and sweet meats. Of these, the latter is most common. Some temples, such as Tirupati and Vaishno Devi, are famous for mouth-watering prasad specific to their deities, such as, laddoos and mango papad, respectively. The Karah prasad, distributed in gurdwaras, is prepared by mixing equal proportions of ghee, sugar, and flour, which make it calorie-rich.  With increasing Indian prosperity and ritualization of religion, the frequency, variety, and portion size, all contribute to the increasing calorie burden of the 'prasad'. Indeed the 'prasad' too has evolved from the simple halwa to a feast of foodstuffs, including extremely sweet jalebis, dry-fruit-laden kheer, and fried food.
This obligatory religious calorie burden can be lessened by offering healthier options. These include fresh fruits, preparations of maize (popcorn), parched grams (bhune chane), and dry fruits (almonds, walnuts, and pistachios). Fruits have a better nutrient profile and are a good source of fiber and vitamins. Popcorn is naturally high in dietary fiber, low in calories and fat, and free of sugar and sodium. It can make an attractive healthier 'prasad' for the devotees. Grams too offer high protein, minerals, and fiber, thus do not adversely affect the metabolic profile.  Consumption of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios has been inversely related with worsening obesity and risk of diabetes.  Distribution of biscuits, toffee, and the like must be condemned and instead replaced by free foods like tomato juice, lemonade (nimboo pani), and thin butter-milk (lassi). 
Religious customs are an integral part of south Asian life, but healthier options can certainly be provided. Informed choices and options can be formulated by healthcare providers in conjunction with religious leaders of the society. Religious leaders must be encouraged to explain the difference between religious obligation and cultural habits to the laity. Such an initiative has been successfully tried and implemented in Bangladesh, in the Muslim community.  Non-governmental organizations can also be involved to tackle this issue. Religious fairs, such as the Kumbh Mela and religious festivals like Eid, can be used as vehicles and platforms for effective health and dietary education.
Through this letter, we aim to sensitize the readership of the Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals toward healthier food choices, frequency, and portion size of the holy 'prasad,' so it indeed stays holy for the body.
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