Everybody wants to be healthy. But most people these days (especially in urban areas) lead sedentary lives and thanks to the availability of junk food (and lack of time), they find it really difficult to monitor and maintain a healthy lifestyle. While physical fitness can be assured by visits to the gym or yoga classes (in addition to so many other fitness options based on your needs), when it comes to diet, there’s only one option – eat healthy.
In simplistic terms, to eat healthy means to eat food that provides a balanced mix of nutrients. In short, you need a balanced diet, rich in vitamins, proteins, fiber, minerals, carbohydrates, antioxidants, etc. You also need to eliminate foods that are high in sugar, fats, cholesterol, and so on.
This process becomes easier if we try to learn about a particular food item and the amount of nutrition it contains. It is quite normal to assume that if a food item has all the necessary nutrients it will be good for us. But really, it would depend on an individual’s health needs – and what works for you and what doesn’t.
For example, a particular food product may contain high doses of iron (such as spinach) which is good for most of us, but if you have a high uric acid problem, it would aggravate your gout. Similarly, if you are lactose intolerant, you need to avoid milk. But you still need your daily dose of calcium, right?
Typically (and this is common knowledge) you need to consume a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, to meet your daily needs of vitamins and minerals – such as bananas, apples, oranges, mushrooms, spinach, carrots, lettuce and other green, leafy vegetables. Limit your protein intake to lean meats, preferably chicken and fish – the latter is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Stick to low fat dairy products that will meet your calcium requirements without adding weight.
Maintain a high fiber diet with brown rice, whole grain cereals, whole wheat, etc. Avoid white sugar and white refined flour by replacing them with multigrain breads and brown sugar or cane sugar. Nuts, legumes and pulses, provide healthy amounts of roughage.
If you’re into fast foods, remember that items like burgers with fries have massive amounts of greasy fat which will clog your arteries. Foods like pizzas, ice creams, fish and chips, and instant pastas are very high in sugar, oil, fats and white flour – all unhealthy.
If you still crave fast foods, check out options like low fat ice cream, yogurt smoothies, grilled whole wheat sandwiches, etc. If you crave fresh fruit juices, stick to the unsweetened variety. And if you must have that bar of chocolate, indulge yourself with a single square of bitter chocolate for satisfaction.
*The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has published a nutrition guide – MyPlate. It is as per the guidelines recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The logo shows a place setting with a plate and glass split into five food groups. Four sections represent 30% grains, 40% vegetables, 10% fruits and 20% protein and a small circle for dairy, like milk or yogurt. This guide recommends portion control and reduction of sugar and sodium.
Find a nutrition guide that lists a wide range of food products with a nutritional breakup of their contents. You will also see what each item’s nutritional content changes to after being cooked. For instance, the amount of fat in a food product increases after it is cooked in butter or oil.
A nutrition guide offers advice on ways to optimize the benefits of a specific food item by cooking it in a specific way. You can learn the appropriate ways to boil, steam, grill, roast, etc., so as not to destroy the nutrients in the food. We often cook some things to death and destroy the nutritional value. Ideally, cook in ways to help retain the food’s natural flavor and nutrition.
A nutritional chart will help you plan meals to meet your daily nutritional needs. Try to list the nutritional values of each food item, to help you plan meals under different food categories based on a variety of combinations and permutations comprising fiber, proteins, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, etc. This will also enable you to decide if you can occasionally afford to indulge yourself with the odd bit of chocolate or dessert. Try to ensure that you consume the minimum number of servings from each food group in order to maintain a healthy diet.
The amount of nutrients your body needs will be different from others’ requirements. This is influenced by your age, weight, life style, activity levels and medical issues. Women who lead sedentary lives must consume less than 1600 calories a day. And sedentary men, active women, children and teenage girls can have around 2200 calories. While very active women, active men and teenage boys can have around 2800 calories a day.
So, the best way to maintain good health and weight is to eat nutritious food and control your calorie consumption. Additionally, stay active, work out regularly and be positive.