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Meet the NetSAW member Who Cares About Children

posted Feb 12, 2011, 1:55 PM by netSAW Info   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 2:14 PM ]

NetSAW Member Spotlight: Dr. Jyoti Ramakrishna, Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Mass General/Harvard Medical School 

Interview with NetSAW member Dr. Jyoti Ramakrishna. 

Jyoti grew up in New Delhi, and went to Lady Hardinge Medical College, where she stayed after her MBBS to do her MD (residency) in Paediatrics. She came to the US in 1989, cleared the exams, and did one more year of Pediatrics in NY as recommended by the Board. Then she came to Boston to do her Fellowship in Pediatric Gastroenterology. Since 1995 she has been practicing this specialty at different academic medical centers, and is currently a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Mass General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Jyoti sees patients and does endoscopic procedures, but also likes to stay involved in clinical research and teaching.


What does a typical day involve for you?

A typical day starts with a drive in to Boston, I have to leave before 6.30am to get ahead of the traffic. I pack lunch and snacks for the kids before I leave, having helped them lay out their clothes etc. the night before. I try to leave before 4pm, so I can pick them up from school. Then we do after-school activities, homework, dinner. Soon after the kids are in bed, I go to sleep too!


What is it that you are most passionate about in your work? 

My primary passion is taking care of children, and trying to help them get better. Within that, I have a keen interest in academic medicine including research and teaching.


How do you maintain the work-life balance to benefit your family?

It is a big juggling act! I am lucky that my husband is very involved as well, and more flexible than me in being closer to home and able to drop the kids to the bus in the mornings, and pick them up on days I get stuck in traffic! We try to do a home-cooked dinner most days, though I am definitely happy on days when I have enough left-overs to make a meal out of!


What has been the biggest challenge/obstacle you have faced in your career and how have you overcome it?

There is always an element of being perceived as 'different' and people not feeling comfortable or sure on how to interact with you. I take this in my stride, and try to set the tone, so that patients, nurses, colleagues, all eventually feel comfortable and learn to respect and trust me. This is the country of white men, and I think just being a small woman means one has to work hard, then on top of that a different culture, different religion, different accent.....all add up. One thing I won't do is speak in an American accent or pretend to be someone I am not. Keeping my identity no matter what has been important, and often challenging.


As a Pediatric Gastroenterologist what general advice would you give to NetSAW moms about developing and maintaining good eating habits for their kids (both young and old)?

Aha, this is definitely the million-dollar question!

Our staple diet consists of roti or rice with some daal (pulses or lentils), legumes (chickpeas, raajma etc), vegetables and yogurt. Fruit is a staple dessert. Protein is in the form of milk, yogurt, lentils and legumes for vegetarians, and additional eggs, meat, chicken or fish for others.


The Good Stuff: 

Lentils and legumes top the list. You get protein, complex carbohydrates that do not cause swings in blood sugar, and fiber. The dark ones even have some iron. The West has not discovered the magic of this food group and hence they suffer from multiple gastrointestinal maladies.

A variety of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis.

Yogurt which has protein, some fat, some good carbohydrates, and most importantly, good bacteria that keep our gut healthy.

For those of us who eat eggs, chicken and fish in moderation, they are all good sources of protein. 

Peanuts, almonds, and cashewnuts are traditionally considered healthy in small daily servings, and modern research shows this is a good idea to get our omega-3 fats!

We use vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola etc to cook in.

Whole wheat in the form of rotis/chapattis (Indian flatbread) is another good staple. 

Even our snack foods, though fried, have lentils and nuts, we have banana and tapioca chips, the samosas and pakoras have vegetables and chick-pea flour, and many sweets are milk, cream of wheat and chick pea flour based.

The Bad Stuff: 

A lot of the bad stuff is what we imbibed from Western cultures, although we have a fair share of our own!

One such thing is Dalda or other such hydrogenated cooking mediums. And just ccoking with a lot of ghee or oil is bad as anyone can guess.

Anyone can guess that the fried foods such as pakoras, samosas, pooris, paranthas etc in excess are bad. It is one thing if you are working hard in the fields, but with our mostly sedentary lifestyles we have to be careful not to eat too much in this category.

And fried or high fat sweet foods have probably been our downfall leading to such a high rate of diabetes. Jalebi, gulab jamun and other milk based sweets, almost any sweet dish in frequent and large amounts is bad for us, but it is hard to stop when something is so delicious! 

 Anything else with processed and over-purified foods – white bread, cakes, pizza, fries, macaroni and cheese – is bad for you.

Soups with a lot of salt, especially from cans, and canned foods with preservatives are not good.

White rice in large quantities is not a good thing, one can actually get brown basmati or jasmine rice.

 The concept of only drinking whole milk and taking full-fat yogurt etc, if options are available, is hard to shake. It is a very un-Indian concept, but when the middle-age spread sets in it is time to reach for the skim or 1% milk and yogurt! Actually this is recommended over age 2 if a child is healthy and growing well.

Yes, researchers in the UK and US have determined that South Asians are at risk for the metabolic syndrome including weight gain and type 2 diabetes. And much as you love to see chubby children, we must watch out for our children from the get go. A little chubbiness is fine, but don’t laugh it off when your Pediatrician warns you that your child’s BMI is on the high side. Childhood overweight leads to problems in adulthood, and our children will not thank us for that.

So - enjoy the good stuff, yes, spices are good in moderation – but draw the line and use the bad stuff sparingly, you will be doing yourselves and your family a favor!