You are what you eat. It’s not just a cliché, it’s a motto to live by. Our food choices and eating habits go a long way towards determining our health graph over the course of our lives and every life stage — infancy, childhood, adolescence pregnancy, lactation, menopause and ageing — has its specific requirements and nutritional demands.
From breast-milk for infants — that’s the best because of its protective and immunological ingredients — to the needs of toddlers and children, nutrition during the growing years must be based on diets rich in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, plus fruits and vegetables to provide the needed variety of essential fibre and vitamins.
Both during childhood and adolescence, energy requirements remain high because that is when growth spurts occur; it is also the time during which there’s a lot of enthusiasm for sports and other activities. All generate increasing energy demands, so it’s a good idea to include foods rich in calcium and iron. Childhood and adolescence are also stages when fast food cravings are evident — it’s okay sometimes but try to inculcate healthy and regular eating habits that will last for life.
At every stage aim for variety in the food that you eat: carbs, vitamins and veggies, and judicious amounts of lean meat, fish and chicken along with plenty of water. For fruits and vegetables, a simple rule is to go by colour — eating foods of all colours of the rainbow will cover the need for various nutritional elements.
As the years creep up it’s time to start cutting down on salt and fats, step up the intake of fruits and vegetables, and continue with healthy eating habits.
Pregnancy and lactation have their own requirements; you will get fat, but that’s for a specific purpose, so don’t even dream of crash dieting. Nor do you need to ‘eat for two’ — a glass of milk or a sandwich in between meals is adequate. What is important for all women of childbearing age is to increase the intake of foods rich in folates.
Old age comes with one of its biggest threats — bone-thinning or osteoporosis, for both women and men. Now it’s even more important to continue with low salt, low fat and high fibre diets, and foods such as soy milk and tofu, chickpeas, flax seeds, lentils, cracked wheat, barley, etc. It’s important to maintain variety in your diet.
Seniors need to consciously aim at diets specifically suited to their needs. When the digestive system begins to slow down, fluids and high-fibre diets assume increasing importance as does low salt and fat intake. Many people prefer to take five small meals to three larger ones — either way, as long as you maintain physical activity, you’ll be rewarded with an active old age.
So next time you reach for a snack, ask yourself; what does this food choice say about me?