Too busy to plan a “complete meal?” Worried you’re not following all the advice that doctors and the media is dispensing? Don’t fret. You haven’t let your children or your family down. No one has the perfect diet. There should be no ‘pressure’ to eat well every single day but, it is important to plan meals well and stay on track. Here are five ways you can make sure you and your family is getting the essential dose of nutrients, without you losing your sleep over it.
 
Rule #1
Balance –Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all necessary for the perfect functioning of your body. Fatigue is often attributed to not getting the proper nutritional balance. Each and every nutrient is important to live an energetic life without disease.
There is growing evidence that the popular high protein or low carb diets may work for weight loss in the short term, but for good health, a blend of carbs, protein and fats are recommended at each meal. The Indian meal of roti sabji- dal chawal made with a little oil for tadka incorporates all these and makes for a very well balanced meal. Adding some protein-rich sprouts to a chutney sandwich makes a complete meal as well – the bread serving as the carb and the coconut in the chutney serves as fat.
Protein plays an important role in building muscle fibers as well as building immunity. Fish, lean cut meats, dals, pulses, and nuts are all excellent sources of protein.  Vegetarians don’t have to worry because they can get their protein quota from our Indian meals which are rich in dals and pulses. Even three katoris of dal gives you approximately 45mg of protein which meets the daily requirement for most people, though athletes and pregnant women may require more. Nuts are protein-rich every which way and there is no need to add soaking nuts to your ‘things to do’ list.
Are you avoiding pulses and beans because you feel they are causing gas and bloating in the stomach? To reduce these indigestion problems, discard the water used to overnight soak the pulses. Adding 2-3 cloves to the water when soaking will reduce this.  
 
Rule # 2
Eat Healthy Carbohydrates — Have you noticed champion tennis players such as Rafael Nadal and Roger Fedrer eat bananas during their matches – bananas are full of the carbs that are needed for the sustaining energy. Carbohydrates are not your enemy – in fact they are your main source of energy. Eat high-fiber carbohydrates, meaning carbs that do not spike your blood sugar and are also high in fiber. They are known as complex carbohydrates and the best examples are whole grains such as whole wheat flour which we use in rotis, and vegetables and fruits, including guavas, apples, and tomatoes. Simple carbs are carbohydrates that have been robbed of their nutritional value, such as simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, including maida based products like white bread and biscuits. A spike in blood sugar causes cravings(amongst other problems) and does not satisfy the body.
 
Rule # 3
Cook Foods with Minimal Nutrient Loss –There have been numerous studies on the best ways to cook vegetables and the results differ in each of the studies. Only one position is conclusive – frying the vegetables kill nutrients the most. Raw veggies are great, but surprisingly a diet consisting of only raw foods is not at all ideal. In the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers report a study involving 198 Germans who strictly adhered to a raw food diet. They had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta carotene.
But they fell short when it came to lycopene, a potent and vital cartenoid found in tomatoes and other red pigmented vegetables. Nearly 80 percent of the persons tested had plasma lycopene below average.
Both nutritionists and researchers many times are at odds on the best way to cook vegetables, but one point that they do not disagree upon is that consuming veggies in any form is better than not consuming them at all. Also, more important than the way you cook vegetables is to eat a variety of vegetables regularly – you should be eating different vegetables everyday and green leafy ones like palak and methi at least 3 times a week. Do you sneak in veggies in any way possible in your kids’s meals – you should add vegetables whenever possible to whatever possible. Add grated carrots to meat cutlets, palak leaves to dals, and coloured peppers in omelets and sandwiches and mix in some greens into your chutneys. Each vegetable is packed with its unique blend of vitamins, minerals and fiber and should be the majority of what is on your plate!
Most people complain that vegetables get boring. If you cook them the same way every week then naturally vegetables will get ‘boring.’ Mix the vegetables up, use different readymade masalas – who says mutton masala is only for mutton. Use different spices and cooking methods. Spring onions and pumpkin taste great roasted in the oven. Try vegetables you never considered before. Roasted beets with raisins, walnuts and a touch of balsamic vinegar with a side of mashed sweet potatoes anyone?
 
Rule #4
Fats — Eating the right kind of fats in the correct quantities does not make you fat. Fats are not only good for health but play a critical role in the body. They help regulate blood sugar and slowly release energy to keep your body satiated. They also have powerful antioxidants for cellular regeneration for repair of hair, skin and joints. Nuts and oils are your best source, butter and transfats are your worst.
Oils – the best oils are unsaturated and remain liquid at room temperature. If your oil becomes solid, then chances are it is not good for you. Olive oil, rice bran oil, canola oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and saffola oil are all good options. The omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseed have been proven to aid in reducing chronic diseases like heart disease and hypertension. A daily spoonful of flaxseed chutney is a great vegetarian way to get your Omega-3 daily.
Nuts – Nuts, especially almonds, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts are also full of heart-healthy fats, protein and fiber. They are compact, non-perishable and make a great portable snack. Use them in cooking, add it in salads or just eat them plain.
 
Rule #5
Get your iron — Without iron(hemoglobin) your red blood cells can’t carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Unfortunately, nearly 50% of Indian women have some form of iron deficiency, mainly due to menstruation and pregnancy. Symptoms of iron deficiency known as anemia, include being tired, pale, cold, and feeling dizzy, and trouble concentrating.
Certain shell fish and beef are the best sources of iron but vegetarians also have plenty of options such as dark green leafy vegetables, liquid gur(molasses), walnuts, raisins, dates, pulses and chole. Vitamin C based foods help with iron absorption so include a bit of salad made with foods such as oranges, tomatoes, capsicums, sprinkled with lemon on your thali to  help with the absorption of plant based iron foods.
Cooking foods in an iron skillet can also boost the iron in your food.
Conclusion
While there should be no pressure to eat well, it is important to stay on the right path to remain healthy. If you think you can eat all your favourite foods in moderation all the time, chances are you will be depriving your body of some essential nutrients. Follow the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of the time you will make an effort to eat nutrient dense foods in balanced meals. The remaining 20 percent of the time, allow yourself to eat the foods you crave and for certain occasions such as holidays and family occasions. And if weight loss is your goal then make this ratio 90-10. This way you are not denied any foods and will not crave and binge on those foods.
 
Box 1
Get your Fiber– Fiber  regulates blood sugar levels, is good for your heart, and most importantly helps you to have a healthy digestive tract by warding off constipation. High-fiber foods include beans, lentils, and green leafy vegetables, whole wheat chapattis and rotis made with grains such jowar, bajra and ragi. Add veggies like red and capsicums, cabbage, and green beans to any meal. The more color on your plate, the better. Salads with spinach and romaine lettuce tend to be more nutritious than those made with iceberg lettuce.
 
Box 2
Limit Sugar — Sugar is perhaps the most harmful of the simple carbs. The dangers of sugar has been documented for decades. As far back as 1957 in his article published in the Michigan Organic News, Dr. William Coda classified sugar as a poison because it is stripped of life forces, vitamins and minerals. “What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates. Incomplete carbohydrate metabolism results in the formation of `toxic metabolite` such as pyruvic acid. This interferes with the function of a part of the body and is the beginning of degenerative disease”.
In 2009 Dr. Robert Lustig’s lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” was posted on YouTube and has received over 2 million times hits. His research indicates that excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years (as have Indians). He also calls sugar “poison” and blames it as the cause of  other chronic ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
There are plenty of healthy alternatives to sugar such as good quality honey and molasses(liquid gur), and stevia.  You can make a powder suing jaggery in place of brown sugar which is simply white granulated sugar with dyes added so it no better that white sugar.
Published in Prevention, April 2012

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