Eat wisely and well

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HEALTH FIRST If you eat out regularly, make sure that you choose fibre-rich salads and vegetables from the menu.

The lifestyle of professionals and executives is getting busier with time. Salaries offered by MNCs and software firms are attractive, no doubt, but the job often includes long hours at work, tele-conferences on weekends and tight deadlines.  The work environment gives little opportunity for any physical activity. Those who are required to sit in front of the computer most of the time quickly develop a sedentary lifestyle without even realising it. 

As a young executive, you might not feel concerned today, but a few years of a sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical exercise and an unhealthy diet can take a toll on your physical fitness and health. A sedentary lifestyle is known to raise the risk of poor blood circulation, obesity, diabetes and heart problems. The incidence of diabetes and heart disease is on the rise among Indians. These diseases are now occurring at a much younger age, and often seen in people who are in their 30s and 40s.

Impact of changing food habits   

A traditional Indian diet is well balanced in terms of nutrition. But in recent years, new trends have emerged in our grocery shopping habits. Visit a supermarket and you are enticed by rows and rows of ready to eat and processed food products, instant soups and noodles, fizzy drinks, snacks and sweets, and even parathas all clamouring for space in your shopping cart!  As a result, we are consuming a lot of convenience and processed food, instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.  

We often eat out or order takeaways, either out of necessity, for convenience, or to please our jaded taste buds. With both partners working, many nuclear families outsource everyday meal preparation to cooks. Many office-goers eat lunch in the office canteen or at restaurants rather than pack it from home. On weekends, it is a Chinese meal one night, while kids cajole parents into ordering pizza the next day. Such transformations in our food habits are here to stay. So we need to be aware and find ways to make healthy food choices.

The two most important choices you can make to stay healthy are :

- Nourish your body properly
- Stay physically active

The key is to take preventive measures when you are in good health. It’s important to remember that good health does not come overnight. It takes time and effort. Many of us have “health spurts” when we intensely diet and exercise for a couple of months and then slide off track.  Eating well and staying fit does not only mean eliminating fats or carbohydrates or hitting the gym. It’s about incorporating small “doable” changes into our everyday routine.  

- Build activity into your routine

Try to build physical activity into your daily routine. It can be walking, gardening or simply dusting or re-arranging the furniture at home. Take the bus to office; this way you will walk to and from the bus stop. Use the stairs rather than the elevator. If you can walk up five floors and not feel breathless, your fitness level is fine. Walk to the market for your groceries. Try doing some light exercises when watching TV.  On weekends, take your kids to the park and you can share some quality bonding time as well as get fresh air and exercise.

- Take small breaks at work

If your job involves sitting and working at a desk for long hours, physical problems like wrist pain and back pain may be lurking round the corner. It is important to take small breaks at work every 2-3 hours. Walk to the water cooler to refill your bottle or walk to a colleague’s desk instead of sending her a text message!

If you work at your computer for long hours , look away from the screen every 30 minutes to give your eyes some rest.

- Use processed food in moderation

Lack of time for cooking, or staying away from family means that young professionals are increasingly consuming processed foods which contain trans fat, sodium and refined sugar. In addition, most processed, frozen and ready to eat food is loaded with chemical preservatives, artificial colour, additives and flavour enhancers which can be harmful if consumed regularly.  For instance, MSG or ajinomoto, which is used as a flavour enhancer in soups, salad dressings, frozen foods and in restaurant food, can cause nausea and headaches.

- Do not skip meals

Do you find that you have no time to take a lunch break in office because of an important assignment? Do you habitually delay lunch or dinner because you have a meeting? 
Skipping meals and irregular meal timings can disturb your system and can lead to digestive problems and acidity. It makes sense to follow a fixed time for having your meals.  An ideal meal plan is to start your day with a good breakfast, have two other balanced meals and an afternoon snack.  

- Eat more home-cooked meals

Good nutrition is about a balanced and varied diet. When cooking at home, you tend to pay attention to the freshness of produce and the quantity of ingredients used. As an emerging trend many busy professionals regularly resort to convenience foods or eat at restaurants. Salt is often used liberally in restaurant food, and it can be dangerous for your health, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. If you eat out regularly, make sure that you select fibre-rich foods like salads and vegetables from the menu.

- Drink plenty of liquids

Water is important to regulate body functions. Try to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water during the day. If you work in an air-conditioned office you should be extra careful. Contrary to the general belief, air conditioning can dehydrate your body quickly.
Buttermilk, lemon juice, milk, light coffee, green tea and coconut water can provide you instant refreshment during the workday. However, keep in mind that some soft drinks and fruit juices may contain a lot of extra calories. One 335ml can of cola contains about 140 calories entirely from sugar.

If you have any health problem, please consult a nutritionist and a doctor before you embark on any diet-exercise plan.

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