Updated: Jan 11, 2018
New Year 2018 is here! Time to soak up the new enthusiasm and renew determination to positively change ourselves. Here’s an idea for a lifelong resolution - embrace good nutrition in daily life. The benefits are better health and happier life. Sounds worthy, doesn’t it!
So, how does one embrace nutrition? First, everyone has to understand two basic concepts – what to eat and how much to eat. It is a valuable life skill.
On this blog, we will focus on the first part.
All foods are made up of two types of nutrients, macro nutrients - required in bigger amounts (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micro nutrients - needed in tiny amounts (vitamins and minerals). Each of these nutrients have their own roles in the body.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source that fuel all external physical activities as well as the essential internal functions like brain, nerves, digestion, circulation, excretion, etc. All foods contain carbohydrates but in different forms.
Sugars are simplest form of carbohydrates that are quickly absorbed by body. They mainly contain calories and lack other nutrients. These also cause unhealthy rise in blood sugar level and weight gain. Sources are plain sugar, white rice, white bread and other foods made from refined flour (maida), any food or drink with added sugar, etc. These foods have given bad reputation to all carbohydrates. The following ones are necessary for a healthy diet.
Complex carbohydrates include starch that require more effort to be digested and absorbed by the body. They give the feeling of fullness for longer and contain other nutrients also. Sources are all whole grains, legumes, tubers like potatoes, many fruits and vegetables.
Fibers are the third type which are also complex and are either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibers get absorbed and help to regulate blood sugars as well as cholesterol and weight. Sources are apples, carrots, legumes, oats, nuts etc. Insoluble fibers are not digested and help in smoothly moving and removing the digestive wastes. They are present in varying degrees in all sources of complex carbohydrates.
Protein build and repair tissues, so they are responsible for growth and development in children, teenagers and pregnant women. They are also key elements of our hormones, enzymes and immune system. Proteins too provide energy but not as the primary source and excess protein in diet get stored as fat.
Animal sources of protein are eggs, fish, meat and dairy while plant sources are pulses, legumes, seeds and nuts. Proteins from animal sources are considered ‘complete’ and more easily absorbed by the body. Those from plant sources can also be complete by adding different varieties and combining with healthy carbohydrates.
Fats provide concentrated source of back up energy. They insulate and cushion vital organs like heart, kidneys and intestines. Their role is also critical in brain function, lubricating joints and to absorb certain nutrients. So fat should not be misunderstood as a ‘bad’ nutrient as such. But one needs to be smart in choosing the right type and sources of fat.
Healthy unsaturated fats: These help prevent heart disease and stroke. The often heard omega 3 and omega 6 fats are also in this category. Consumption in moderation will not cause weight gain. Sources are vegetable oils, avocado, fish, nuts and seeds (sesame, flaxseed, etc.)
Not so healthy saturated fats: They raise bad cholesterol, which increases risk of heart disease. Here I would say, they are fine to be given in moderation to children but adults should be cautious and limit intake. Sources are animal source foods like red meat, chicken, sausage, ghee and butter and some plant sources like coconut and palm oils.
Worst and dangerous Trans fats – these are hydrogenated fat (dalda ghee) hidden in processed foods with a commercial motive to enhance flavor, texture and shelf life. They also invite heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes and of course weight gain. Sources are cookies, biscuits, donuts, chips and many packaged foods. Just stay away!
Vitamins and Minerals are essential for cell function, growth and development. Vitamins are either fat soluble (Vitamin A, D, E and K) or water soluble (B and C.)
Minerals are also of two types: macro minerals (calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorous, chloride and sulphur) and trace minerals (iron, iodine, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, cobalt and fluoride.)
Each of them have important roles and deficiencies occur when they are missing or low in diet. Adequate amounts are highly protective against many diseases. Sources are all wholesome nutritious foods. Certain foods are high sources of specific vitamin or mineral - like yellow fruits and green vegetables are rich in vitamin A, citrus fruits in Vitamin C, dairy in calcium, meat and legumes in iron, etc.
Water is often forgotten but vital as it makes up 60% of our body. It has crucial roles like cellular and metabolic functions, transporting oxygen and nutrients, removing waste, regulating temperature, cushioning organ and lubricating joints, keeps our skin looking good …just to name a few. Hot weather, exercise, breastfeeding, vomiting and diarrhea increase fluid requirements. In general, drinking 3 liters a day will keep a lot of health problems away!
Ten Basics of Embracing Nutrition in Daily Life:
1. Enjoy a variety of wholesome foods
2. Opt for wholegrain cereals as healthy carbohydrates
3. Eat a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables plus a variety of nuts and seeds.
4. Choose healthy fats
5. Limit salt and avoid added sugar
6. Prefer home cooked foods, make smart choices if eating out
7. Festival and celebration foods – enjoy as occasional treats!
8. Turn your back on junk food
9. Water is the all time best beverage
10. If you consume alcohol, keep it mild. No smoking and drugs.
Regular physical activity, yoga, meditation and good sleep wonderfully complement nutrition and vice versa!
Embracing nutrition is a choice we can make for better health and happier life. Ensure the right to good nutrition for yourself and your loved ones. Let this be a resolution to stick to for life. It may take some time and continuous reinforcement to change old habits but the benefits will certainly pay off.
Stay nutritious and unlock the potential!