When it comes to your diet, the most current advice is perhaps the kind that begins with ‘eat less’ or ‘restrict fat’. I’ve never been convinced and I’m not alone. Most of us may feel overwhelmed with conflicting nutrition and diet opinions but I’ve learnt that deprivation is not the solution, creating a balance is. It is essential to get the right type and amount of foods to support a healthy lifestyle.
What is a balanced diet? A diet that focuses on providing all the nutrients that your body needs. It comprises of macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fat along with micronutrients which include vitamins and minerals. Each of them has a different role to play in maintaining various body functions.
These nutrients are derived through a combination of the five major food groups – fruits and vegetables, cereals and pulses, meat and dairy products and fats and oils. The rules seem simple but that’s not the whole story – how much do you need daily, when is the best time to eat proteins or carbs and what should the portion size be?
Carbohydrates: The truth about carbs may be hard to digest but nutritionists say they’re an important part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. In India, 70-80% of total dietary calories are derived from carbohydrates present in plant foods such as cereals, millets and pulses. “Half of your total calories of the day should come from carbs. The problem is that we emphasize more on refined carbs in the form of breads, biscuits, white rice and wheat flour. We forget that carbs come from other healthier sources like whole grains which include brown rice, millets and oats that have a higher nutritive value. These are also great sources of fiber,” explains Dr. Mukta Vasishta, Chief Dietician at Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi.
Your meal would be incomplete without fiber – both soluble and insoluble. It helps with digestion but few people are getting enough. Eat, don’t drink your fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables (besides potatoes and corn) and whole grains are also foods with a low glycemic index which means that they don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels and help maintain them. The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) suggests 30 grams of cereals and millets along with 100 grams of starchy vegetables.
“Your breakfast should definitely have cereal or bananas or some form of good carbs that keeps you fuelled until lunch,” she suggests. Don’t curfew carbs, it’s all about quality and quantity. Simple carbohydrates like glucose and fructose are found in fruits, vegetables and honey, sucrose in sugar and lactose in milk, while the complex polysaccharides are starches in cereals, millets, pulses and root vegetables and glycogen in animal foods.
Men: 2320 Kcal/day
Female: 1900 Kcal/day
Proteins: Wellness and Nutrition expert, Dr Shikha Sharma tells me, “About 30 to 35% of your diet should consist of protein. This could be in the form of pulses, milk, leafy greens, eggs, white meat or sprouts.” I’d agree since protein is the main component of all of your body’s cells, as well as your hair, skin and soft tissues. Moreover, we burn more calories in digesting proteins than carbs. Since men tend to be muscular and usually weigh more than women, they require more protein.
Dr. Rupali Dutta, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Fortis-Escorts Hospital highlights the issue of protein deficiency in our country and recommends that we should have one helping of protein with every meal, be it in any form like whole dals, cottage cheese or gram flour or 30 grams of pulses as per NIN. A recent survey conducted by the Indian Market Research Bureau revealed that 9 out of 10 people of the sample consumed inadequate amount of protein. This could be due to the increasing consumption of convenience foods that are high in carbs and sugars and low in protein.
In India, iron deficiency or anaemia affects about 50% of the population, more women than men. “Since women go through several hormonal changes from pregnancy to menstrual and menopause, they need to maintain a steady dose of calcium, Vitamin D, folic acid, iron and biotin,” says Dr. Shikha Sharma. Another crucial aspect that Dr. Shikha throws the spotlight on is the need to drink adequate water. Lack of it can lead to acidity and water retention. Anywhere between six to eight glasses of water is needed to keep your body hydrated.Recommended Dietary Allowance of Calcium –
Female: 600 mg/day
Lunch: Make it a mix of high-fibre whole grains like brown rice, barley or jowar, starchy carbs and some good source of proteins like cottage cheese, pulses, chicken or fish. Include some probiotics like yoghurt or buttermilk and fibre from fresh salads to complete your meal.
Dinner: Pick foods with a high satiety value that keep you full for longer and curb midnight binging. Fill your plate with greens to load up on vitamins and minerals. Limit carbs but don’t cut them off. Combine them with some healthy fats like fish, nuts and seed oils. Your body can use these for regeneration and repair overnight.
Fuel up at the right time