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“Overeating is killing more people than starvation”

“Stress and overeating lead to excessive production of free radicals, which are a set of dangerous chemical entities harming your DNA, your protein and your cells. Excessive free radicals will damage your internal structure at genetic level,” Professor Ish Sharma warned in an interview with BIZWEEK. The Academic Chair in Ayurveda Medicine at the University of Mauritius and the National Institute of Ayurveda in Jaipur, India, shared his views on the unhealthy eating habits of Mauritians, and how we should give the body a chance to be hungry. Professor Sharma was recently the guest of the Indian Business Council (IBC) for a talk with the business community on the relevance of Ayurveda medicine. The event was held at the headquarters of the State Bank of India (SBI), in Ebène, Mauritius.

Professor Ish Sharma, Academic Chair in Ayurveda Medicine

Professor Sharma, it is commonly said that the eating habits of Mauritians are very unhealthy. Is the situation really so bad here? 

Yes! The worst habits are a lot of cola with every food. Whenever you see anyone having lunch or dinner, that person is emptying one litre of cola with each meal, which is the worst habit. Most of them are eating a lot of sugar and a lot of fats. Many are not cooking at home. They are only buying readymade commercial food, which surely is low on nutrition. It’s high on taste, appears delicious, and you say to yourself, why cook, why not to buy? This is not going to help. You have to have nice home-cooked, nutritious, low calorie food.


If you make an assessment, the salt and sugar consumption in Mauritius is more than five times what we require every day. If you go for the total salt consumption in Mauritius, it is way higher than the required dosage.


The Ministry of Health conducted a salt and sugar survey for each household back in 1992. We are now requesting the Ministry of Health to repeat that survey. Every household should be audited. How many members are consuming how many kilograms of salt and sugar every month? Because these two are white poisons, we have to be very careful. We should reduce them as much as we can. We should give our body a chance to be hungry.


Can you elaborate on this? 

Most of us are going by the wall clock. We do not listen to the body clock. The body might not be feeling hungry, but we happen to say it’s 12 o’clock, it’s noon, it should be lunch time. The body is not feeling hungry, but we still go and eat, because we believe more in the wall clock than the body clock. So, you should really look inside, you should introspect, do I need food? If the answer is no, or there is a little doubt, then you should not eat. Overeating is killing more people than starvation. We should try to experience real hunger. We should only eat when we are really hungry. This is a very important message.


You were the guest speaker at a discussion on Ayurveda. The event was an initiative of the Indian Business Council (IBC), with an audience composed of the business community. What is your main advice to the people of Mauritius in the business and corporate sector? 

People of the business community undergo a lot of stress. They should step back, relax, and devise and explore ways and means to replenish, recharge themselves. They should not be too much into the game, which is more stressful. A healthy mind only lives in a healthy body. If you start under-eating, if you start fasting, intermittent fasting, if you don’t overeat, then your body will be lighter. Your mind, your stress levels will surely improve if you are physically healthy.


You stated that there are two main causes of disease, i.e stress and overeating…

Yes, stress and overeating will lead to excessive production of free radicals, which are a kind of dangerous chemical entities, which can harm your DNA, your protein and your cells. So, excessive free radicals will damage your internal structure at the genetic level. If you don’t over-stress and if you don’t overeat, you will not produce a lot of these dangerous chemicals and you will be much healthier. Free radicals are responsible for aging and death. We can stay young and healthy if we are not under the attack of free radicals.


We understand that you did an assessment of the health of Mauritians in respect of cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Can you tell us more about this assessment? 

Yes, this assessment was based on the study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness on Non-Communicable Diseases in 2021. When I analysed their figures, they indicated that 73% of people are overweight, 28% are diabetic, and the same number are pre-diabetics. So, if we review the percentage of patients who are not healthy, then it’s a really big number.


This is where we have to make a change somehow and somewhere. I planned to catch the population at a young age because if we become a patient, then taking a lot of medication might not cure the disease. I suggested that the Ministry of Education go for the primary school curricula. I prepared some tips for the curricula, and that was approved by our cabinet on 27th May 2022. I have since then trained 550 health educators from 319 primary schools in Mauritius and Rodrigues. Those 550 teachers are in turn training and teaching the students about the Ayurveda type of diet and lifestyle. If all the kids start following this diet and lifestyle from the Ayurveda viewpoint, and then go back to their families and to society to also change their eating habits, then we can see healthier future generations in Mauritius in maybe 30-40 years.

We should try to experience real hunger. We should only eat when we are really hungry. This is a very important message.


How can Ayurveda and Ayurveda Medicine help us? 

Ayurveda doctors are very competent. So, we should just give them a chance. We should reach out to Ayurveda doctors. We should not, and we never, promote self-medication. You should go to an Ayurveda doctor, have your individual consultation, and then start taking some Ayurveda herbs if required.


Ayurveda is approved in Mauritius since 1989, and there are eight Ayurveda doctors in the government sector, and four to six in the private sector. The government of Mauritius is really promoting Ayurveda. All six big hospitals in Mauritius have got an Ayurveda Mediclinic. They have very efficient, very intelligent Ayurveda doctors. And they are very dedicated to the public service. The government of Mauritius is buying a lot of Ayurveda medicine, which is distributed for free to every patient.


You mentioned the Ayurveda project at Côte d’Or, Mauritius. It’s the first time that you are working for the government outside of India. Can you tell us about the project? 

The Prime Ministers of India and Mauritius have announced the setting up of an Ayurveda Centre of excellence at Côte d’Or, for which 10 acres of land have been given to us. It is now in the designing phase, and the blueprint is being prepared. It will come up with a big hospital with at least 50 patients indoor capacity, and soon after, it will be launched as an Ayurveda institute where university level education will be given.


Ayurveda is approved in Mauritius since 1989, but all the lovers of Ayurveda have to go to India to study, which is five and a half years. Now, the government of India wants Mauritius to be self-dependent and to have an Ayurveda institute and a big hospital in this area to cater to all your tourists and all the African countries. This is going to be a launch pad for the African continent.


In how many years are we expecting this centre to be operational? 

The drawings have already been prepared, and the budgeting has also been done. I believe the construction should take off within a couple of months. It will then take like 6 to 12 months to complete, since it will come up in phases. Within one year, we could really start seeing patients over there.

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