Nutrition is one leg of our journey to better health — movement, rest, and relationships are the others. To be healthy, we need to follow basic nutrition principles because diseases have often been linked to poor diet.
We need nutritious food for the body’s growth and repair work, our internal bodily functions, and to work, both physically and mentally. It also helps us build immunity — that much bandied about phrase in COVID-19 times.
Eating healthy is not a weekend warrior activity, but a daily commitment that extends to a lifelong process, says Megha Jaina, clinical nutritionist at Delhi’s BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital. “What we eat directly impacts our quality of life,” she says. We can meet the requirement of our energy levels through the day with our daily diet because the food we eat provides us with all the essential nutrients
Local (within 100 kilometres of where you live), seasonal food eaten fresh and cooked at home, is always the best option. Jaina advocates for traditional foods that are often forgotten. “Food we eat should be adaptable to our genes. What our forefathers ate should not be disturbed or replaced with alien fad diets,” she says.
She also adds that popping supplementary pills at will can even backfire, suppressing immunity. “They should be taken only when you are immunity deficient and the dosage should be prescribed by a doctor,” she says.
The context of how you eat is also important. Eat mindfully, without distraction, and you will end up chewing food better, aiding in better digestion and absorption of nutrients, says Lovneet Batra, a nutritionist from Delhi. Create a meal plan that you enjoy and stick with it for the long-term while maintaining a schedule to regulate the digestive system, she says.
Have: The three Gs of food
The best way to eat is to have the ‘Go (carbohydrates and fibres), Grow (proteins and fat) and Glow (vitamins and minerals)’ food groups in your meal, says Ludhiana-based dietician Garima Goyal. “We are obsessed about our weight; the focus should be on being healthy and fit. From a medical condition to inactivity, everybody has a different reason for excess fat and the ailments that go with it,” she says. Identifying an underlying cause of any ailment is important, to tailor the diet for balanced micro and macro nutrients.
Avoid: The three Bs of food
Anything that is boxed, bottled or comes in bags is processed food, and will come with preservatives (sometimes just too much salt or sugar).
The four whites to minimise
Maida (refined flour), sugar, salt, and milk products are not essential to your diet, though home-set curd is a good probiotic. If you can, cut out maida and sugar totally, and avoid milk especially if you are lactose intolerant or allergic. Eat no more than 4 grams of salt daily.
What should your plate look like
A healthy plate should contain 35-45% carbohydrates, 30-40% proteins, 15% fat. Eat the rainbow, and watch out for portion control.
Grains (cereal foods): These are rich in fibre and carbohydrates that give the body its energy. Whole grains, belonging to the complex carbohydrates food group, are packed with nutrients and take longer to digest than simple grain (maida, for instance) and hence keep hunger at bay and weight under check. A diet rich in whole grains has been linked to lowering of risk factors for several diseases including hypertension, diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.
Lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes and pulses : These are vital sources of protein, one of the building blocks of your body, helping build and heal muscle tissue.
Fruits and vegetables : They give you micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), water, even natural sugar. Thesehelpin keeping organs healthyand givingyou energy.
Nuts, cooking seed oils, and ghee : Are storehouses of healthy fats. Do not overdose but include them in your daily eating as they support cell growth, protect the organs, help the body absorb nutrients and produce important hormones.
Wholesome food recommended by nutritionists include the North Indian khichdi (prepared with rice, lentils and vegetables) plus a bowl of curd; and rice or idli with vegetable-rich sambar and a glass of buttermilk.
The proportionate intake
Lovneet Batra says that lunch is the main meal where you can tap into all food groups. But begin your day with a higher intake of carbohydrates (30% to 35 %) as you need energy for all the work you have to do during the day. The last meal of the day should preferably be a minimum or no-carbs dinner. Make your bowl with about 25% to 30% proteins as the body goes into repair while you sleep. For lunch you may consume an almost equal amount of carbs and proteins (30% to 40% each) with lots of vegetables. For all the three meals, the fat intake can be within 5% to 8%.