Dr. Trushna Bhatt is an expert in food and nutrition. Here she shares her essential tips for eating healthy every day.
Indian cuisine includes probably the widest variety of foods and recipes, and the beauty of the Indian diet lies in its perfect balance of nutrients. Eating patterns differ countrywide, but the mineral-vitamin-protein-carbohydrate combination remains the basis of all meals. The cooking style and spices used may vary, but the fundamentals are similar. Healthy Indian food provides many options for a diet that balances all the essential nutrients in the amounts the body needs to function properly and stay disease-free. Though the processed food, sedentary lifestyle epidemic has shifted the scales, which is why we need to reassess some of our choices, specifically food in this case.
Here are some basic guidelines for choosing healthy alternatives in your daily diet.
Nutrients include macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which the body needs in greater amounts for basic energy. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, which are needed in smaller amounts for other body functions. Each of these play pivotal roles in the smooth working of our bodies.
These nutrients are available from the five broadly classified food groups: cereals and pulses; fats and oils; fruits and vegetables; milk and milk products; and meat, fish and poultry. Each person's food needs are different, as per their age, sex, physical activity level and overall health. The National Institute of Nutrition provides recommended dietary allowances (RDA), or estimates of nutrients to be consumed daily, to help ensure these requirements are adequately met.
Carbohydrates should provide approximately 55 percent of your daily calorie intake. Roti and rice are the main carbohydrate sources in our diet. The protein requirement for an adult is approximately 1 gram per kilogram of body weight, and the calories from fats should be a maximum of 15 to 20 percent of your daily caloric intake.
Getting Enough Protein
It is easier for nonvegetarians to get protein through eggs, meat and fish. For vegetarians, however, pulses and legumes provide the required amount of protein. Indian food uses these ingredients in many ways, and thus is generally protein-rich. Apart from their use in traditional daals, pulses and legumes are used to make pancakes, dosas, cheela and vadas, among other dishes.
Eating legumes in the form of sprouts for breakfast or lunch is very healthy. For example, when we want to skip eggs at breakfast, we can substitute sprouts or paratha stuffed with lentils, and our protein needs are sorted! This is particularly important for people who eat vegetarian foods only on particular days of the week or times of the year.
Fats Are Important
Oils and fats lubricate our joints and provide important minerals, and so play an important role in our health. But it is easy to overeat these and put on weight, especially because the body stores an excess of these as fat.
Rather than eating one particular type of fat, we should eat different types of oils to get a healthy balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Ghee, a saturated fatty acid, should be eaten in small amounts; however, transfatty acids, such as those in Dalda, are a strict no-no. Your health determines what you should eat or avoid; for example, a person with diabetes needs to avoid eating sugar, but a healthy individual may choose to consume it in moderation.
A Look at Daily Meals
For a healthy diet, the three most important meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner. A popular proverb says, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper." Proteins and fats are more difficult to digest than carbohydrates, so we should eat all the proteins and fats we need at breakfast and lunch. The body metabolism slows down during sleep and physical activity for most of us is lowest in the evening, so dinner should be the lightest meal of the day.
Between these three meals, eat a few small meals loaded with nutrients every couple of hours to ensure that something goes into your tummy and provides a nutrient shot. These small meals kill your between-meals hunger pangs and make you feel full, all while giving you some calories. Long gaps between meals may make you hungrier and lead to overeating and, possibly, weight gain.
Breakfast should be the heaviest meal of the day, considering that one has fasted for the whole night. Starting your day with a glass of lukewarm water helps flush out toxins. Breakfast should include a good amount of carbohydrates that provide energy for various activities throughout the day.
Poha, upma, dosa, idli and cheela — made from any one pulse or a mix of pulses — are just a few of the many healthy breakfast options Indian cuisine offers. You can enhance the nutrient value of these items by adding seasonal vegetables. Pairing a portion of these carbohydrate- and protein-rich dishes with fruit or a glass of milk makes for an ideal breakfast. It's always better to eat the fruit rather than drink its juice because the whole fruit gives you the added benefit of fibre.
The first small meal should be taken mid-morning, two to three hours after breakfast. It can be a glass of lemon water or coconut water, or a few nuts.
Lunch is the second major meal after breakfast. People are turning towards unprocessed foods in their natural form; fruits and vegetables are the natural choice. Seasonal fruits and vegetables dictate certain recipes, thus ensuring the use of fresh produce as intended by nature. So, include these in your everyday diet. However, while they are one of the healthiest food choices, fruits contain fructose, a kind of sugar, so eating fruits in excess might lead to high blood glucose levels. This is particularly important to keep in mind for people with high blood sugar levels. Similarly, excessive intake of raw vegetables (roughage) may cause bloating.
Fruits and vegetables can be a part of salads. In India, salads are usually part of a larger meal, not a meal/snack in itself, but do include salads in small meals or eat them prior to the main meal. This will not only provide the sometimes-elusive vitamins and minerals, but also fill your tummy, ensuring portion control for the other higher-calorie menu items. If you would like to lose weight, eating more salad may help.
A small meal can be taken two to three hours after lunch. Puffed rice, khakhra, buttermilk, popcorn or roasted rice flakes work well here.
Dinner should ideally be a light meal consisting primarily of carbohydrates and vegetables and few proteins and fats. You should aim to finish dinner at least two hours before bedtime to give your digestive system enough time to process it well.
The humble Indian eating pattern of roti and sabji is a good example of a light dinner. Other healthy alternatives could be stuffed paratha, pulav or dalia with vegetables or our very own khichdi. Such easy-to-digest foods are best for end-of-the-day meals because they don't let the extra protein and carbohydrates get converted to fat in the body.
Keep It Local
Diet is such an integral part of our existence, yet few understand the fundamentals of a healthy diet. For instance, a popular notion about 'dieting' is that you must starve yourself, but a healthy diet is all about picking — and sticking to — healthy alternatives, and eating the right amounts at the right times.
It is common to try anything that is touted as being healthy without giving it much thought. We look towards the West for every change that could enhance our quality of life, with diet being no different. In our quest and zeal for eating healthy, we often include foreign-origin foods that are heavy on the pocket and not at all necessary. The perfect examples of this are broccoli, avocado and quinoa. Our own foods have numerous healthy alternatives, and food choices vary by region in this vast country. Quinoa is a super grain, but wheat, jowar and bajra dalia offer the same nutrients.
All we need is to understand and use indigenous, native foods, stick to the basics of a balanced intake of all five food groups and use foods in a combination that enhances their nutritive value. Picking up healthy foods that are inexpensive and locally available makes the diet sustainable and, thus, effective.
The Bottom Line
Healthy dietary habits mean a lifelong commitment to eating healthy, fresh and nutrient-rich foods in controlled amounts at the right times. A healthy diet alone will prove insufficient for your overall health, though. Only a combination of healthy eating with exercise is a long-term solution for healthy living. Taking a 30-minute walk every morning will not only get your stomach growling for some much-needed and deserved breakfast, it will also pump up your heart, exercise your muscles, bones and joints, and keep movement issues at bay.
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