Oily vadas pose a health risk and are linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes
Vada, the universally popular South Indian snack, is steeped in legend. It is also the favourite snack of Lord Hanuman, the God of strength. Though its nutritional value is intact, thanks to the pulses and lentils, the oil in which it is fried is driving a hole through the heart, say doctors.
Forty-two-year-old V.V.Gunasekaran of Bypass Road in the city was a voracious vada eater till a year ago. Today, this offset printing press owner has become a campaigner against the oily snack after his family members were afflicted with heart disease.
His vada-loving uncle had heart trouble last year while his brother-in-law has two stents owing to coronary blocks.
“The first question the cardiologist asked my brother-in-law was whether he was a vada addict. After seeing many of my relatives becoming victims of vada, I stopped eating it. No doubt, it is a mouth-watering snack, but it also damages the heart. Since I ask my friends to avoid vada, they have stopped calling me for tea or coffee,” Mr. Gunasekaran says glumly.
Doctors warn those who are above age 40 to go slow on the crispy delicacy. Vada is linked to cholesterol, sugar and obesity.
Dr.G. Durairaj, senior consultant cardiologist, Madurai Heart Centre, says that vada is discouraged by doctors primarily due to its oil content.
“It has high calories and, naturally, the sugar level goes up. That is why I always say that vada is dangerous for diabetic patients. The roadside shops selling hot vadas use oil that is suspect,” he points out.
Reusing the oil several times over to fry the vadas raises bad cholesterol levels which ultimately affect the heart. According to Dr. Durairaj, a person needs to consume only 10 to 15 ml of oil a day. The oily vada, therefore, has no place in the daily diet. Limit its consumption, doctors warn.
L. Ramani, an LIC employee at Sellur, is witness to her colleagues becoming vada addicts. “Men are more addicted to vada than women. In our office, there are many over 50-year-olds who have undergone an angiogram and then stopped eating vada on doctors’ advice,” she says.
Ms. Ramani wonders why Maduraiites have such a craze for vadas. “The combination of uluntha vada and chutney is tasty… but if it is taken daily it is deadly. That is what I learnt from seeing my friends,” she observes.
Veterinary doctor S.Sankar of DRO Colony and S.Ravi of Chinthamani too have recommended discipline in eating the vada. “We see people eating vadas after their morning walk. Vada is a fried oily item. The purpose of exercise is to stay healthy. What is the use exercising if you invite bad cholesterol into your body in the morning,” Dr.Sankar asks.
Those who have shed the vada habit have no regrets. For instance, Mr.Ravi (43) habitually ate eight vadas per day till recently. After his doctor told him that he was a borderline diabetic, he stopped eating it.
However, entrepreneurship expert R.Jayaraman says that the vada is a good business venture, especially in Madurai, and people should simply focus on quality and hygiene.
“Vada shops are small-scale units doing roaring business. It is a good combination with idli and pongal. Vada is the poor man’s food. But, take it occasionally. Walkers should know that walking is to burn out calories and there is no point in eating vada after walking since you get back the calories,” he points out.
Interventional cardiologist A. Madhavan of Apollo Speciality Hospitals explains how oil overtakes the nutritional value of vada and makes it harmful to the heart. “Repeated use of the same oil, which we call transfatty oils, is highly dangerous. It increases bad cholesterol and sometimes takes away the good cholesterol in the blood. Naturally, the blood vessels get damaged,” he says.
He says the oil undergoes a chemical reaction when heated repeatedly. Its colour changes and its viscosity increases. Consuming transfats increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, and it is also associated with a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
“Walkers lose 300 calories by an hour’s walk, while they gain 600 calories after taking two vadas. They never get the desired weight reduction,” the doctor notes.
A temple priest who had a heart attack some years ago is still addicted to the vada, despite being hospitalised twice.
Doctors describe the vada as the “oily cousin” of idli, which is the safest dish ever. But the standard breakfast of idli-vada mixes the good and puts the heart under stress.