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COVER STORY: Right food for a healthy living

September 19, 2008

Our children today think of a healthy diet as something boring, 'uncool' and fit for ageing grandparents. Milk is replaced by thick sugary milkshakes, fruits have given way to pies, chocolates and brownies, vegetables have lost the battle against French fries and water has been replaced by colas and sodas. We must inculcate love and respect for a healthy diet so that we live a long, happy and healthy life.
So what is a healthy diet? An ideal healthy diet gives us all the energy, nutrition and satisfaction that we desire without giving us any diet related diseases. It promotes growth, fitness and vitality and reduces the risk of obesity, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes, chronic constipation and coronary diseases when we are older. In some western countries childhood obesity and diabetes are already rampant diseases because nutritional food has been replaced by junk food.
 
Imagine a typical meal in a fast food restaurant. A meal saturated with fat, sodium, cholesterol and sugar might please your taste buds but is it healthy for your heart, arteries, liver or intestines? It is acceptable to have such a meal occasionally but with the advent of more and more fast food chains which specially target children and teens with their enticing advertisements, we are at a risk of having a very unhealthy youth.
 
Moderate and well-balanced diet
 
An ideal healthy diet is balanced and moderate. Our diet should be low in fats, carbohydrates, saturated fats and high in complex carbohydrates and fibre. It should have enough proteins, minerals and vitamins for our bodies to stay healthy, fit and energetic. We should eat and drink in moderation. If we feel overstuffed, uncomfortable or suffer from reflux after eating, it means that we have eaten too large a meal.
 
Variety
 
Dark green, deep red or yellow to pale pink and light pastels, these are not the colours of the latest lawn extravaganza but the variety of fruits and vegetables that grow. Eating the same kind of food each day can either develop a serious deficiency of essential nutrients or an excess of undesirable deposits in the body. Have you ever observed the taste and texture of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the market? Ranging from sweet to sour, soft to hard, smooth to crunchy, there is enough variety to please the eye and satisfy the palette.
 
Less sugar
 
The white sugar grains that we love to stir in tea and coffee are not the only culprits. Jams, jellies, cookies, candies, ice creams, cakes, honey, syrups, sodas, canned fruits and packaged juices all are laden with sugars. Such foods are a highly concentrated source of calories and can also cause tooth decay. We can avoid excess sugars in our diet by opting for fresh fruits and freshly squeezed juices.
 
Less salt
 
High level of sodium in diet leads to many health problems including high blood pressure. Processed foods contain a high quantity of sodium which is unhealthy. Some other ingredients to watch out for are monosodium glutamate (a common flavour enhancer used in Chinese foods), sodium nitrite (a preservative), sodium bicarbonate (a raising agent commonly used in baking) soy sauce, brine and pickling fluids. Sprinkle less salt on your breakfast eggs, avoid processed and convenience foods and use lesser amounts of salts during cooking for a better diet.
 
Less fat
 
Fats are essential for our diet as they protect vital body organs and regulate body temperature. Too much fat in our diet can have a reverse effect as they constrict arteries and lead to multiple health problems. Boiled and baked foods are less fatty than fried foods. Lean meat, fish and poultry are better choices than beef. Choosing low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese is healthier than consuming whole milk, butter, cream, margarines, shortening, coconut oil and processed cheese.
 
Drink water
 
Soft drinks, juices, lemonades, milk shakes are high in calories. Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and colas act as diuretics forcing kidneys to expel fluids from our body. Taken in excess, these drinks can cause dehydration, increased pulse rate, body temperature, fatigue and listlessness. Pure water has no calories and is essential for proper bodily functions. Most fresh fruits and vegetables contain a high percentage of water. Water helps to flush out toxins, keeps our body cool and refreshed and helps our skin and hair look fresh and hydrated.
 
Increase fibre consumption
 
Fibre or roughage is an essential part of a healthy diet. It promotes a healthy digestive tract and helps to control constipation, haemorrhoids, piles, ulcer, etc. Whole grain products, bran breads, fruits and vegetables all provide adequate fibre.
 
10 important habits for healthy eating
 
— Always wash your hands before eating especially after coming home from school, playing sports and using the toilet.
 
— Eat your food while sitting. You will enjoy your food more if you eat slowly.
 
— Chew your food properly and not gulp it down.
 
— Drink lots of milk. It is very important for strong teeth and bone formation.
 
— Eat only small amounts of fried food. Fried foods contain trans fats which are not good for your body.
 
— Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. They taste good (yes they do!) and give your body important nutrients it needs to grow.
 
— Limit the amount of salty snacks like crisps, processed cheese and chips that you eat. Too much salt consumption disturbs the balance of fluids in your body making you feel thirsty and dehydrated.
 
— Eat plenty of fish, dairy products, eggs and almonds. They are very good brain boosters.
 
— Try not to watch television while eating. Use mealtimes as quality family time to get together and talk to each other.
 
— Feeling angry with a class mate or a bone to pick with the siblings? Parents refused to buy the latest video game or teachers being unfair? Psychologists suggest that you should not eat when angry, lonely or depressed. Take a bath to cool down or have a nap first. Talking with a sympathetic friend or relative also helps.
 
Obesity is not a healthy condition but neither is being too thin and underweight. Eat proper meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner with nutritious and healthy snacks in between. While growing up, your body and your brain needs a lot of energy. It is important to develop healthy habits, learn to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and practice good hygiene. Once these habits develop in childhood, they'll remain with you throughout your life and help you grow into healthy, happy and successful adults.