Good Eating Habits

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The media today has assailed our senses with the most confusing of all images. Magazines today carry pictures of beautiful women, with well proportioned bodies along with a host of tips on how one can acquire such a body. Yet there is a booming market of junk food that certainly challenges the endeavour of people who are into building and maintaining their bodies. Newer food chains are coming right up to our door steps and the gastronomical senses are under attack. So much so that it requires steely nerves, superhuman effort and lots of motivation to turn a blind eye (and nose) to the culinary spread.

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With so much disposable income in the hands of society, people do indulge themselves every now and then. The malls are a mute spectator to the spending habits of the people and their over indulgence in matters that concern food. This of course comes at a cost and the costs are diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, gastroenteritis, jaundice, infections in the intestines and other such disorders. As a group these are clubbed together as ‘Life style diseases’ and trace their roots in the poor eating habits of our society.

Children are the most vulnerable sections and most parents have little time to pass down traditional nutritional skills. The ages 6-12 years are very crucial for growth and development and poor diet can wreck havoc in the lives of these children when they attain adulthood or even earlier.

Good nutrition and healthy eating has assumed enormous importance in today’s world which is obsessed over body image. Sense of worth, value and positive attributes all emanate from a positive body image. It is therefore important that one eats not only the proper kind of food, but also eats at proper times and in proper amounts. This is the crux of any good eating habit.

Good eating habits and health

What constitues’ good food’ is by and large an agreed position in which wholesome food which does not compromise with the nutritional content, as also the taste, is considered ‘good food’. This kind of food provides with the necessary calories, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals that are vital to the individual’s growth and energy levels.

Junk food

As opposed to good food, is the new age phenomenon of ‘junk food ’. This kind of food provides empty calories and little nutrition. It is neither wholesome nor nutritious, in the sense that it disregards nutritional content and focuses only on the taste and aesthetic appeal. This perhaps explains the huge popularity of junk food and any one who goes to the eateries across the nation, especially in the cities will witness the popularity of junk food, also known as ‘fast food’ connoting the little time taken in the preparation of such foods.

Junk foods are the main challenge to healthy eating habits. Coupled with it are busy schedules that leave people with very little time to eat proper meals. Meals are often hurried affairs, usually in front of the television or laptops and preparation times are even less.

The shelves of food stores are lined with packets of food that need about less than 2 minutes and a simple immersion procedure in hot water and this is not just restricted to the 2 minute noodles that revolutionized the way people cooked food. Tasty food in minutes is the reason behind the enormous demand for junk food.

All about good eating habits

Good food often starts with the right ingredients. This is a challenging aspect to the entire food discourse as most ingredients come with an abundance of pesticides and minerals that eat away into the system. Yet getting fresh fruits and vegetables are as important as cooking them properly because stale ingredients not only mitigate the nutritional content, but are also corrode the taste of the finished product.

Secondly food needs to be prepared properly, under hygienic conditions. Often traditional knowledge is never passed down. In the enormously busy lives that we lead, people do fall short of time to make good, wholesome food that has all the essentials packed in it. What constitutes unhealthy food is often food cooked in excess oil, spices and having high salt or sugar content. Add to this is the way people process their food. Do they boil, roast, bake or deep fry their food? Do they build in a lot of raw food in to their food portions? These may give one the answer as to how ‘good’ his food is.

Indian food is supposed to be one of the most unhealthy foods in the world over due to an over indulgence of ghee or clarified fat and oil in food preparations. This oil content clearly over shoots the currently drawn permissible level of oil that is fit for human consumption. Japanese food is regarded the most healthy in the world over mostly due to its emphasis on using boiled, braised or steamed elements in their cooking. Japanese Sushi and Sashimi are the new flavours and are very well received by the people across the world who are conscious about what they eat.

Obsession with fatty foods

Any obsession with fatty foods starts at a very early age. Mothers are anxious and eager to over feed their wards and in their enthusiasm to produce ‘well fed’ children often are liberal in their use of butter and ghee. Indian staple like the parantha, rice, puris, tikkis etc. are oil laden and as hazardous as American burgers, Italian pizzas and hot dogs that are high on carbohydrate, oil and salt. In fact recent researches have shown that Indian food may be worse than their western counterparts. “…while the trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated oils and fats) in French fries (per 100 gm) is 4.2%-6.1%, it is 9.5% in bhatura, 7.8% in paratha and 7.6% each in puri and tikkis.” This shocking fact was shared at a conference on "Fats and trans-fatty acids in Indian diet" at the Seventh Health Writers Workshop organised by Health Essayists and Authors League (HEAL) in New Delhi, by Anoop Misra, director and head, department of diabetes and metabolic diseases at the Fortis Group of Hospitals.

Healthy way of cooking

Baking is a healthy way of cooking, however only when the trans fat element is absent. Butter or butter substitute like margarine, vanaspati and any kind of oil are the main sources of trans fat and should be taken in moderation. In fact health experts are up in arms against Vanaspati which has a very high TFA (Trans fatty acids).

These findings underlie the fact that our diets encourage deposition of fats and cholesterol and thus pose a definite risk to health. The average age of heart related diseases has gone down and it is alarming to hear of young adults suffering from coronary diseases and diabetes and hyper tension.

Vegetarianism vs non vegetariasm

No food discourse would be complete if it did not take into account this debate which has the world divided in to two halves. While one part is in favour of all things not derived from animals, there are others who think differently. Apart from an ethical stand point, there is little evidence to prove that one is better than the other.

If lean meats or portions that are fatty in a chicken or fish are avoided, they are excellent sources of protein and iron. Eggs are a complete nutritious package replete with calcium, protein among other things. All kinds of fish and sea food are full of Omega 3 oils that are known deterrents to heart diseases that arise out of clogged arteries.

For those who relish non-vegetarian food, fish or meat stews, made with all kinds of vegetables and cooked with very little oil is considered as good food. Steamed fish in mustard sauce, chicken broth, baked meat loaf and other such dishes are not only good in terms of the nutrients they contain but also are extremely tasty options.

Vegetarian food on the other hand also has innate goodness of vitamins, minerals, iron, protein, calcium, etc. packed in all vegetables, fruits and dairy products which makes it difficult to say that eating this kind of a diet is with demerits. It is all a matter of which side one is in the ethical debate and of course palate considerations that make a person choose vegetarianism over the other.

What can I do?

It is therefore proven beyond doubt that good eating habits begin at an early age, as early as when a child begins his first food. Parents can provide the first positive role models in this regard. Meal times need to be viewed as important parts of one’s life and this can be manifested by having proper meal times where the entire family sits down to have food. This has a two pronged effect. Not only does it encourage healthy eating habits, especially among little children who learn to eat like their elders, but it also provides an opportunity for parents to catch up with the events in their children’s lives.

Combined meal times also ensure that every one pays full attention to their food and not the television or other such distractions. This inculcates the basics in table manners, the importance of chewing, trying out a wide variety of vegetables and fruits etc. However all of this can work only when the meal that is laid out meets the optimal standard of ‘good and healthy food’. For example, sitting together at meal times will not suffice if the table is laid out with junk food-whether Indian or otherwise, day after day. Hence the provider of food needs to be intelligent and informed about the concept of healthy eating and introduce it as part of the family’s diet.

‘Snacking’ poses a huge challenge to healthy eating. Every one, whether old or young, unless obsessed with weight issues, loves to snack. Healthy eating can become part of ones life if one takes recourse to healthy snacking. This would mean working in fruits, nuts, whole wheat breads, vegetable sticks, salads, yogurt etc. into the snack bar. A limit should be put on deep fried foods and low nutrient snacks as chips, candies and colas. The intake of protein such as boiled eggs or peanut munchies can be increased. Milk in all its forms as cheese, dahi or custard can be given to hungry children. This also fulfils their calcium requirement. Sugar filled juices that come in tetra packs and other such fast food options usually are high on preservatives and salt. Drinking water instead should be encouraged. Fresh juice made at home can also be given. In case children do wish for tasty, junk food, make these at home by cleverly disguising vegetables in a burger or pav-bhajji or making a snack full of cornflakes, puffed rice, nuts, raisins etc. Such snacks not only help reach satiety levels, are tasty options and give people healthier palates to choose from.

The most important point that one can induce is to allow people have some freedom to choose what kind of food they would like to eat, of course within a specific choice palate. Food should not be a bargaining point as most parents are prone to do. Neither should it be a zone for conflicts. The concept of ‘fullness’ is present even in little babies. It is overenthusiastic parents who have total disregard for a child’s feeling of fullness and by force feeding the child; the child unlearns his instinctive nature and accepts over eating as part of his life. In all likelihood, the child grows up with unhealthy eating habits and a tendency towards obesity. Getting kids involved in meals starting from shopping to laying the table and even deciding the menu not only teaches a child ‘responsible behaviour’ early on in life, but more importantly it inculcates a tradition of healthy eating.

90 degrees

Junk food- Can be used to advantage

However all junk foods need not be unhealthy. A pizza that is low on cheese and meats and high on vegetables is good food, Ditto for a burger that is made out of a baked or grilled cutlet. French fries can be boiled and then slightly tossed in oil. Using a non stick cook ware; lacing the food and garnishing it with herbs and low fat sauces can go a long way in making good and healthy food. Marketable fruit juices can be watered down to lessen the sugar content. Fruit slushes and shakes can up the fruit intake and are also enjoyed by most. So in the end it does boil down to aesthetics. What looks dressy always whets up the appetite and this is challenge in front of most people (whether at home or elsewhere) who are in charge of food and nutrition.

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