By DOUGLAS IMBROGNO
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dr. Shrikant Bembalkar grew up in Mumbai, India, eating in an Old World-style, his family gathering individual ingredients from the markets and his mother whipping up vegetarian meals from scratch.
After completing his post-graduate work in America, Bembalkar became a board-certified internist and joined a practice in Beckley, about 60 miles southeast of Charleston, W. Va., where he has lived and worked for the past 40 years.
Needless to say, the eating habits of contemporary America are distinctly New World, with fast food, restaurant meals and prepared foods causing so many people dietary issues.
“When you practice internal medicine in southern West Virginia, and when you read newspapers every day and see TV every day, and medical journals, what you see is a tsunami of problems related to being overweight and obese,” said Bembalkar.
So, Bembalkar wrote a book about how to eat in a more healthy, nutritious fashion with the title “DLC-1,000+: Defeat the Barriers to Healthful Eating,” a title which takes a little decoding.
It stands for “delicious” and “low calorie,” and the 1,000+ signifies being aware of the calories you consume, supplemented by whatever foods you like, so long as you keep them in balance.
The book, which was honed in discussions with his son, Gireesh, is not a conventional diet and nutrition book. It features no recipes or lists of tips, but instead features a character named George, who has a health scare in his life after having his cholesterol levels checked and after an acquaintance dies unexpectedly from a stroke.
George turns his health around by learning to cook according to principles Bembalkar sums up as NEET: nutrition, ease, environment and taste.
The book unfolds as a dialogue between George and the acquaintances — who all have health and dietary concerns — for whom he cooks. Over the course of the conversations, George explains the healthy eating style that changed his life.
The tale is intended to help readers figure out what a suitable diet for a variety of tastes, cooking skills and budgets is.
Bembalkar chose a storytelling style to navigate what he calls the “jungle” of delicious and tempting foods now available to the modern consumer.
“Most of the time, information as such is available on any topics at your fingertips. What becomes most difficult is to translate that information into something that is easily understandable and interesting to read,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do — something that is entertaining and, at the same time, gives them ideas about how each individual can do things in their own way to help themselves.”
As George’s guests pepper him with questions, the answers that come emphasize that it is most important to be aware of the calorie intake of the foods you choose, rather than the amount of food you are eating.
“The most important thing a person has to learn is: It is very important to pay attention to what you eat,” Bembalkar said. “It is very important to make sure you are eating nutritional food. It is important that you create your own taste that satisfies you. People who will be reading the book will understand what is important nutritionally.”
A large part of a healthy diet will include plant-based foods, he said, but that may be supplemented by other foods.
“Once you recognize that you must pay attention to calorie content of whatever food you’re eating and also create variety in your diet, then you win the game,” he said. “You can supplement with meat, fish, poultry, so long as the calorie content is within what your needs are.”
There are many diets out there and most will work, if you stick with them and as long as your calorie content fits your body’s needs, Bembalkar said.
Our diets will improve if we overcome whatever sets of barriers we face to nutritional eating, he said.
“I do not eat hamburgers anymore,” Bembalkar said. “That is my personal choice, but if someone eats a hamburger, I am not going to condemn him, so long as his overall nutritional balance is fulfilled and he’s doing what he should do if he wants to have a healthful diet. He can supplement his plant-based food with whatever foods are his choice.”
The doctor said he hopes readers find themselves in one of the several characters in the book and take charge of their own diets.
Among the characters are: Doris, who wants her new family to stay healthy and eat well; Farrah, who has moved away from her West Virginia home to a Chicago apartment and has never cooked for herself; Catherine, a traveling saleswoman who is always eating on the run; and Benjamin who is “scared stiff” about his cholesterol levels and weight gain.
Each reader will bring a particular challenge that they face to healthy eating and good nutrition and they might be different, depending on the person, Bembalkar said.
“Those are the barriers I describe in simple stories: Information is not my problem but taste is my problem; or taste is not my problem but convenience is my problem,” he said.
As a result of finding themselves somewhere in the book, then a reader is going to find out how to deal with those issues, Bembalkar said.
The food choices a consumer now faces are like wandering into a jungle, he said.
“The jungle is a dangerous place but, at the same time, the jungle is an exciting place once you know how to enjoy the jungle,” Bembalkar said. “Then you can enjoy all the different things that are available, provided you keep a balance and understand the good and the bad about each product.”
It’s all about keeping your diet in balance with the type of sound nutritional guidelines that his character, George, imparts to his friends in the book.
“Look at a piece of chocolate. It has 80 calories and has so much fat and sugar,” Bembalkar said. “If I want to eat a candy bar, I’ll be fine. If I want to empty a box of chocolates every day, then it’s probably not fine.”
So, if you are struggling with how to improve your health through your diet, George has some advice for you, his creator said.
“It is entirely about the barriers a person faces in trying to eat healthfully.”