Making Every Bite Count: Your Guide to Healthy Eating and Balanced NutritionLuke Coutinho
If you happened to scroll through your social media timeline this week, you may inevitably have come across several posts celebrating National Nutrition Week.
The tradition of commemorating this week in India goes back to 1982. The idea behind it was to educate Indians about the importance of nutrition and encourage them to adopt healthy eating habits and follow a sustainable lifestyle. In recent years, the concept garnered so much attention that the Indian government in 2020 declared September as the Poshan Maah or Nutrition Month.
You may wonder, isn’t it common knowledge that balanced nutrition is one of the four most important pillars for our overall well-being? Why then do we need dedicated health awareness days for it? Because the bitter truth is that millions of people in our own country, even today, are undernourished. One myth that we need to burst is that malnutrition doesn’t only affect the rural population. It is affecting the urban and “modern” population too. This could be something as simple as deficiency in a vitamin or mineral. eg: Vitamin D, B12 or iron.
A UN report titled, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 revealed that this number amounts to a staggering 189.2 million people, almost 14 percent of our overall population. The report also highlighted how over 34.7% of the children under age five in India have stunted growth. Over 20% of them weigh too low for their height.
Where on one end of the world we are dealing with hunger and malnutrition, on the other hand, we cannot turn our heads to the concerning extreme fad diets that thousands of people are subjecting their bodies to. And this makes it all the more important for us to spread the right knowledge about food habits that nourish our five selves– physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and intellectual.
As surprising as it may be, every morsel of food we consume can shape each of these selves. We are what we eat. It can influence how we look, think, speak, fight or prevent illnesses, and a lot more.
While there is no doubt that fad diets may seem to work in the short run, helping you shed the initial few kilos, they are not at all sustainable. You cannot live your life on a fad diet. Any crash diet that depletes your body of macronutrients, does more harm than good. It cripples your metabolism.
Following a diet shouldn’t deprive you of food. Instead, it should mean eating more of what’s good for you and less of what’s not. One of the biggest learnings from our years of consulting is to help people understand that food is not the enemy and improve their relationship with it.
In our journey in integrative nutrition and lifestyle medicine, we have firsthand witnessed the magic and wisdom in Indian food. Of course, there is the wrong way and right way of cooking anything. But our staple Indian diet in itself is well balanced, wholesome, and nutritious because it involves an array of fresh ingredients and freshly ground spices. There is nothing wrong with enjoying global cuisines and integrating their goodness into our meals. But we ought to recognize the power in food synergies and Indian food prepared the right way.
More often than not, we hear people label local and traditional foods unhealthy, deeming them too oily, spicy, or causing acidity. But the truth is the food isn’t the culprit. Our sedentary lifestyle, poor quality oils, adulterated ingredients, and overeating are the main culprits. Our constant need for validation and aping the West has given our rich and nutritious cuisine a bad name.
In our new book, Back To The Roots, that I co-authored with Indian actor Tamannaah, I have written about how traditional and ancient practices inspire me. At the time of our ancestors, not only was disease at its lowest, but the happiness quotient in their lives was at its highest. They lived fulfilling lives and found joy in simplicity.
The health benefits of readily available spices and herbs like Haldi (turmeric), jeera (cumin seeds), sehjan (moringa) that they passed down to us have become superfoods that are widely praised even by the West today. Our traditional meal preparations like simple dal, rice, and vegetable or a bhakri (millet tortilla) with dal, vegetables with a dash of garlic chutney, or raw mango pickle make for a power-packed nutritious and balanced meal. For those always crunching for time, even whipping up a piping hot one-pot meal khichdi is loaded with numerous nutrients. This traditional dish is adored by all our clients, not just in India but also overseas. If you love khichdi as much as we do, check out this nutritious recipe and experience the magic yourself.
How Can We Alter Our Lifestyle to Not Make Food the Enemy?
All of us eat a cookie or two sometimes and that is not the reason why the world is sick today. The reason is overconsumption, a sedentary lifestyle, eating with greed, using food to cope with emotions, and so on. All said, there are certain foods that we need to consume moderately or cut down on to avoid an array of lifestyle ailments. A study, involving over 100,000 adults found that eating 10% more ultra-processed foods increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disorders by 10%.
Similarly, another study, involving 20,000 adults concluded that eating more than four servings of processed food daily was linked with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. Every additional serving increased this risk by 18%.
A treat day once in a while is okay, but excessively eating junk food can disrupt the way your cells function. It doesn’t nourish your body but simply makes you hungrier and addicted. The role of food in our bodies is to be broken down into energy. And so we need to ensure its source is clean and capable of providing quality calories.
Studies have consistently linked the large amounts of refined sugar, particularly in sugary beverages to obesity and excess belly fat. Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may cause you to become resistant to leptin. It is a hormone that signals your body about when to eat or stop eating. Foods rich in refined sugar are commonly linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, depression, dementia, liver disease, and certain types of cancer.
So cut down or avoid:
- Refined sugar
- Refined carbs
- Diet sodas
- Excess salt
- Fast foods
- Pesticide laden fruits and veggies
- Junk and processed foods
- Aerated drinks
- Binge drinking
- Diary and gluten if you are intolerant to it
- Refined oils
Even if you enjoy eating junk once in a while, ensure that most of your nourishment comes from natural sources.
Also, understand that we are what we eat. The food that we put in our mouth not only manifests in our physical health but also in our thoughts. Food has the power to impact our body, mind, and spirit. Even the ancient yogic texts attest to this through three types of diets – Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic. While a clean and wholesome diet includes highly vibrational foods, processed and refined foods are low vibrational foods. Clean eating can help you deal with negative emotions like anger, frustration, uplift your overall mood and boost concentration.
The food we eat also influences the production and function of neurotransmitters and hormones in our bodies. For instance, certain foods can stimulate emotions like anger, frustration, anxiety, or grogginess. Excess sugar can make you irritable and jittery. On the other hand, some foods like fermented foods, raw veggies, and fruits, whole grains, help you feel calmer and grounded.
What Are Foods That Boost Neurotransmitters?
- Serotonin – Known as the happy hormone, it is responsible for feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Rich sources include banana, pineapple, all types of nuts, kiwi, tofu, whole egg, and fresh cheese.
- Endorphins – They help us change our perception of pain and stress. Rich sources of endorphins include chocolate and spicy foods.
- Dopamine – The hormone is responsible for making us feel motivated. Rich sources of dopamine include avocados, chocolate, spinach, almonds, all types of seeds, and yogurt.
- Acetylcholine – It sparks creativity, muscle action, and reaction. Rich sources of acetylcholine include beans, rajma, chana, green peas, radish, spinach, strawberries, and whole eggs.
- GABA- It helps us feel calm and focused. Rich sources of GABA include Non-GMO soy, rice, mushrooms, potatoes, and fermented foods.
7 Healthy Eating Tips to Keep in Mind:
We know that the pandemic has restricted our movement. As many of us continue to work long hours in the new work-from-home setting, with no fixed meal timings, heavy late-night meals, and limited movement, our struggle to manage a healthy weight is getting the better of us. So here are some simple tips you can follow to improve your eating habits.
Maintain diversity in what we eat. Photo Credits: Unsplash
- Eat a rainbow: Your body consists of trillions of cells that seek nutrition from the food you eat. The more colorful your plate, the better your immunity. Macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in balanced meals help your immune system fight inflammation, swelling, bacteria, infection, and viruses. Follow simplicity. Keep your meals simple, wholesome, and diverse. As cliche as it might sound, some of the most effective nutrition strategies revolve around incorporating grains, pulses, lentils, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils, and ghee, among other basic foods. So, eat a rainbow for two out of three meals at least.Picture your plate with three quadrants:
> The largest quadrant will consist of starchy and non-starchy vegetables
> The second-largest quadrant will consist of animal or plant-based proteins
> The smallest quadrant will consist of carbohydrates that come from grains and cereals
Follow this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But ensure your portion intakes are based on the requirement of your body, medical condition, weight goals, etc. Keep your medical professional in the loop.
- Chew your food: When you eat mindfully and chew every bite of food, you break it down and make it easier to digest. When mixed with saliva, chewing allows you to extract maximum nutrients from the food you eat.
- Ensure your nutrition intake justifies your movement: If you are in a job that requires you to sit for long hours, keep a check on what you are eating and control your portion size accordingly. Moderate your carb, protein, and fat intake.
- Dealing with emotional eating: Stress can affect the way you eat. It can cause you to overeat or undereat. Chronic stress is associated with a greater inclination towards high sugar and high-fat foods that are major risk factors linked to obesity. While emotional eating may make you feel good and fulfilled at that moment, eating to counter negative emotions will leave you more upset than before. This cycle repeats until you address your emotions at their root.
- Avoid food deprivation: Don’t starve yourself. Studies show that food deprivation can cause nutritional deficiencies. Self-imposed dieting can do more harm than good. Avoid looking online and following extreme fad diets without knowing their side effects. Seek professional advice if you must, to find the plan that suits you best. Remember you are a bio-individual.
- Don’t eat your dinner like a bird: Eat a balanced dinner. Add protein, fats, vegetables, and a few carbohydrates too. Keep a check on your calories and carbohydrate intake, if your goal is to lose weight or manage your blood sugar. Don’t go “no-carb”, go “low-carb.” Use your judgment. Just ensure that your overall consumption during dinner is lesser than your breakfast or lunch.
- Eat at fixed times: It doesn’t matter how busy you are, eat your meals at fixed times. Unusual eating time can disrupt your circadian system and affect your health. Eat early dinners before or close to sunsets, to sync your body to the circadian rhythm.
Follow the Circadian Rhythm
In my free-to-download ebook, A New Way of Living – Circadian Rhythm, I have explained how our bodies were built intelligently. They were designed to work according to something called the circadian rhythm. This refers to a sleep-wake or day-night cycle. It is the rhythm that determines how our body carries out different processes during different times. Following the circadian rhythm of eating and fasting can be beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. A few ways in which you can follow it are:
- Eat your last meal of the day as close to sunset (around 7 pm). Fast until sunrise the next morning to give yourself a good 12-hour break. This is also known as circadian fasting.
- Always keep a two to three gap between dinner and bedtime.
- Your metabolism fires up and is at its peak at noon. So consume your maximum calories at breakfast and lunch. Make your dinner your lightest meal.
- Want to drink coffee? Have it after three hours of waking up. Avoid drinking it in the second half of the day as it is a stimulant that may affect your sleep routine.
- Do not snack mindlessly. Keep a fixed time. Avoid midnight snacking because your body slows down towards evening and needs rest. It is not designed to digest food around the wee hours of the night. It will disrupt your circadian rhythm.
- Eat at a fixed schedule every day. Several studies point out that food intake is a major external synchronizer of peripheral clocks. Your time of eating may affect fat accumulation, mobilization, and the effectiveness of weight loss plans. Timing is everything when it comes to circadian rhythm syncing. So follow this well.
Know more about living your life the circadian rhythm way by downloading my book here.
Remember nutrition is just one pillar of health. Adequate exercise, quality sleep, and emotional detox are equally important in maintaining overall wellbeing. So aim to strike a balance in each of these spheres. . I hope these are a few learnings you can apply to your daily life and benefit from it.
Until next time, eat smart, move more, sleep deep, and breathe better.
– Luke Coutinho
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