Consider taking a careful look at what you eat. The answers might be just there! Here’s how a lot of common health issues can be handled better through diet

Food as medicine has largely been neglected as a philosophy. Not all health conditions can be alleviated through diet, but many can be, and often without setting up secondary health risks. It’s easy to blame stress for all ailments. But, the cause for many problems — from headache to obesity and diabetes — could be on your plate.

Mood enhancement

There’s no question about how what you eat reflects how you feel. Research has shown that certain food or diet have the ability to trigger mood swings. For instance, low-carb dieters are reportedly said to have more anger, depression and confusion. Apparently, without the right amount of carbohydrates, our happy hormone serotonin takes a dip and we experience craving, depression and sleep disruption. One does not have to go carb-free to trim down. “A diet rich in whole grains, pulses, rajma, sprouts are good sources of carbohydrate. Pulses have 65 per cent carbohydrate,” says Niti Desai, dietician and nutritionist in Mumbai. The key is to choose carbs that don’t cause jump in insulin levels, that could drag down one’s mood. Combining protein and carbohydrate can help in digestion and maintain a healthy sugar level. Try a mix of food high in fibre — beans, oats, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, and those with essential fatty acids such as omega 3 — walnut, flaxseeds, fish etc. Avoid concentrated sugar. Alcohol may appear to make you feel better, but it is a depressant and can leave one feeling blue. Caffeine too can interfere with one’s mood. Eating regularly is a key factor in improving one’s mood.

Combat weight gain

Always go for natural, unprocessed food. Sources of sugar, such as soft drinks, sharbat, syrup, candy bars etc should be avoided, as should monosodium glutamate (MSG) frequently added to processed and fast food. MSG is often hidden under names such as antolyzed yeast, says nutritionists. Research has shown that people who consume large amount of such flavour enhancers are nearly three times more overweight than non-users. “It affects the signalling system in the body that affects your appetite and also the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite and metabolism. With no control over your appetite, you consume more food,” says Sonal Rathod, dietician and nutritionist in Mumbai. Similarly, yeast present in commercially-made items such as pizza, burger, French fries and others are high in sugar and salt. Consuming them in excess can result in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), damage your gut and intestinal lining and lead to weight gain. Calorie per gram is less in these food and are less filling compared to rice, dal and chapatti. Eat more probiotic food that contain good bacteria — such as curd, tofu and soya. Regular exercise helps fish out toxin from the body and helps combat obesity.

Keep off headache

Stress causes the release of brain chemicals that can affect blood vessels in the head and bring about headache. “Stress need not necessarily be the cause of your headache; people who skip breakfast get migraine easily,” says Niti. Anyone who skips a meal realises that after a while they start to get edgy. It’s most likely because your blood sugar level is dipping. Brain cannot use fat, and if it does not get enough glucose it triggers headache. Eat regularly with small meals every two or three hours. “Products such as cheese, alcohol, caffeine and chocolates contain compounds that can set off headache,” says Sonal. Exposure to certain chemicals in food can make your head throb. Experts recommend practising relaxation exercises to get into a calm state of mind.

Smooth and easy

Get your recommended fibre intake of 25 to 30 gm a day and you can lower your cholesterol, improve digestion and increase weight-loss. But too much fibre eaten too fast can cause stomach discomforts. Protein bars, drinks, ice-creams, high-fibre yogurt and many other commercial products are packed with inulin, a type of fibre. Too much inulin taken in too quickly can cause bloating, cramping and gassiness. It sits in the stomach for a long time and blocks your intestine. Drinking enough water helps fibre move down smoothly. Slowly increase your consumption of fibre, getting it from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, rather than through artificial sources. Very rich, spicy and outside meal can also cause stomach discomforts.

High on energy

There’s relationship between what you eat and how alert you are. Research has shown that consuming fatty foods can leave you feeling fatigued. Your body has to work overtime to digest the food. Hence if you take saturated fat, simple carb food such as biscuits, soft drinks, cookies, chips and include excess sugar in tea, coffee, your insulin level increases, causing drowsiness. The ideal meal is a mix of fibre, right carb and moderate amount of fat. Eating regular meal and being active will get your blood pumping and you feel alert and energised. Exercise, brisk walk and strengthen muscle tone as per your capacity. Eat your way to better health. You will be healthy and full of energy.