Take a bite!

Ahead of the World Nutrition Day on May 28, experts give some smart solutions

For some, it’s a source of comfort; for others, the cause of agony. There are people who couldn’t care less about what they eat, as long as it’s quick and convenient. And then, there are those who painfully count every calorie that goes into their mouths. Despite countless books and online articles on eating the right foods, at the right time, here we are…skipping breakfast, indulging in lavish weekend brunches at cool restaurants, shopping for ready-to-eat goodies at the supermarket, sipping on our favourite aerated drink.

Sadly, not many realise the heavy price we pay for poor food choices — from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes to obesity and hypertension, the onslaught of lifestyle diseases starts at a young age, depleting the body of vital resources.
The solution is simple: A balanced diet. “It’s a diet that consists of all food groups — vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and legumes/beans — included in optimal amounts to sustain the tissues and organs of the body, maintain desirable body weight, stay healthy, prevent infections and chronic diseases, and promote overall well-being,” explains Pavithra N Raj, dietician at Columbia Asia Referral Hospital.

Watch what you eat

You don’t have to renounce foods you like to stay healthy. Moderation is the key, says Graisy Joseph, chief dietician at Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru. “It’s perfectly fine to eat white rice — I do too — as long as you control the portion and complement it with equal servings of vegetables. Yes, brown rice is healthier and rich in fibre. But if you consume it like medicine, the diet won’t work for long. Food needs to be relished,” she elucidates.

However, it’s a good idea to stop relishing the trans fats (found in packaged foods). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease every year. Replacing trans fats with unsaturated fatty acids (found in nuts, avocado, vegetable oils, etc) reduces the risk of heart disease.

Listen to your body

As the human body ages, the muscle mass reduces and metabolic rate comes down. Calorie and protein needs decrease, while micronutrient needs increase. “It is wise to include at least four servings of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains. As men have a higher percentage of lean body mass, they require more protein than 
women,” says Varsha Peram, a nutritionist with eKincare, a Hyderabad-based integrated healthcare benefits platform.

After the age of 35, most people have a tendency of gaining weight. “Along with physical activity, a well-planned diet that is low in carbohydrates and fats, with a 
moderate amount of protein, is recommended for optimal health,” notes Pavithra.

That’s easier said than done, rues Graisy. Especially in the case of women, who are busy taking care of everybody else’s needs at the cost of their own health! “Many women with osteoporosis, thyroid, arthritis, anaemia, etc, find it really hard to make nutrition their priority,” she says.

Don’t forget the mind

Nutrition plays a vital role in mental well-being too. “Several studies have found omega-3 fatty acid levels to be lower in the plasma and fat of individuals suffering from depression,” informs Varsha.

Experts concur that these vital brain functions are hampered when nutritional requirements are not met. Apart from omega-3 fatty acids, deficiencies in vitamins B and D can also cause clinical depression, mood disorders and conditions like Alzheimer’s. So, ensure adequate intake of green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meat, eggs and seafood to keep your mind healthy.

Start with small steps

When it comes to diet plans, the biggest mistake people make is to go all guns blazing, only to run out of steam in a couple of days, weeks or months. Dietary changes are best made in a slow, steady and sustainable manner. “For the first two weeks, stick to homemade food and gradually from the third week, start reducing the calories, carbohydrates and fats. The body will need time to adjust to the restriction. A sudden drop in calories is not a good idea,” avers Pavithra.

Given the growing prevalence of obesity among Indian children, the need of the hour is for adults to lead by example. “You cannot buy ready-to-eat stuff and expect the child to stay away from junk food. The same principle applies to skipping breakfast and eating at irregular hours,” maintains Graisy.

Experts say…

  • Stop counting calories. Think of your diet in terms of colour, variety, and freshness. Munch on fruits, salads, and nuts, when hungry between meals.
  • Learn to make healthy choices. While eating out, opt for baked, roasted, boiled, or steamed foods instead of deep-fried items.
  • Read the labels before buying packaged and processed foods. You’ll be surprised by the amount of sugar and unhealthy fats in them.
  • Practise mindful eating. Resist the temptation to watch television or stare at your smartphone while eating.
  • Avoid binge drinking. One alcoholic drink a day for women and not more than two for men is the recommendation.
  • Limit the intake of coffee and tea to two cups a day.

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