You are what you eat - an often heard but sporadically followed wisdom. A healthy body is the core foundation of an active mind and balanced emotional life. Amongst the factors that impact our physical health none is greater than food. Food gives us energy, strength and immunity - nourishes our body – to maintain all its miraculous systems in working order.
Most US-based health information offers food choices that are not relevant in the Indian context. For example, blueberries and broccoli – both superfoods – are unfamiliar, unavailable or expensive for the average person in India. The best chance we have to adhering to healthy food choices is to find familiar, easily available and inexpensive foods that provide multiple health benefits.
Redirecting the food path
The environment today and our lifestyle choices, personal and professional, have us living at the mercy of our senses. Across socioeconomic groups, we eat not what is nourishing but what is readily available, cheaper, attractively packaged, and tasty – usually salty or sugary and creamy or fried. At different points in our lives attempts are made to follow the healthy diet path – mothers cajole or force, peers inspire, spouses coax and finally doctors dictate to us. However, most of us manage to escape the healthy diet road to cruise along the deliciously easy, fast, and (not always) cheap food highway.
Over the days and years malnourishment catches up in diverse forms of physical, mental and emotional disorders. So how do we correct the course? Ideally, we should abandon all unhealthy food and adopt an all-purpose healthy diet – easier said than done. Well, we begin by adding a few consistent good food habits to our daily meals – select a few food items that offer the body more than calories (energy), are readily available, affordable and easy to consume. Energy may be enough fuel for the body to keep going but the body needs carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber to function optimally.
Fruits and vegetables give us vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber
The positives of a daily diet of fruits and vegetables overshadow any possible risks of pesticide exposure. Fruits and vegetables are critical sources of essential nutrients such as vitamin A (vision), vitamin B complex (metabolism), vitamin C (antioxidant, metabolism), vitamin K (blood clotting), iron (oxygen-carrier in blood), calcium (metabolism, teeth, bones), potassium (bones), manganese (bones), magnesium (metabolism), phosphorus (metabolism, teeth, bones) and zinc (immunity). They are also an excellent source of fiber (digestion) and antioxidants (disease prevention). Natural antioxidants are potent remedies to control environment and lifestyle induced illness – cancer, allergies, aging, heart, metabolic and brain disorders.
Take five, or more, daily
We list some foods that, when eaten regularly, will enhance your health and well-being. Besides health benefits, the food choices are based on year-round availability, relative affordability, and easy mode of consuming. Plus, they are low in saturated fat, sodium and calories with zero cholesterol.
Bananas, an ideal snack, are an excellent source of instant energy (105 calories), vitamins B6 and C, fiber, potassium and manganese. They require no preparation, just peel and eat the fruit. Make a sliced banana chaat with sprinkled chilli powder or blend the peeled fruit with milk for a protein-filled fruit smoothie.
Lemons, a permanent feature of detox diets, are a good source of fiber (if eaten whole), iron, potassium, vitamins B6 and C. Making lemonade out of lemons takes onlly a few minutes – wash lemons, slice into half, squeeze juice into a glass of water, and add sugar plus dash of salt or pepper. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is a zesty salad dressing or main dish garnish. Grow a container lemon tree in your balcony!
Beetroots, historically used as detoxifier and blood purifier, are noteworthy for vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, fiber and especially manganese. Slice, chop, grate or quarter peeled beetroots and cover with water plus lid to boil (10 minutes). Eat with salt, chaat masala or lemon juice with or without other vegetables. Slices can be grilled or used as sandwich fillings.
Cabbage, a curative powerhouse, offers abundant folate (brain development), manganese, fiber and vitamins B2, B6, C, and K. At 22 calories/cup, cabbage is included in many detox diets. Discard outer layers to lessen dirt and pesticide. Slice the cabbage, cook covered (10 minutes) with minimal water, sprinkle with spices or lemon dressing and enjoy. Alternatively, steam cabbage leaves in a covered vessel (3-5 minutes) to use as sandwich topping or make appetizer rolls with leftovers.
Carrots are an antioxidant-rich, invaluable source of vitamin A and fiber with only 30 calories/carrot. Great on-the-go snacks – peel, wash and eat raw. Slice, chop or grate them for a speedy salad or main dish sautéed with seasoning. Pureed carrots with ginger make a flavourful soup.
Spinach is a panacea of minerals and vitamins with negligible calories. Its offerings include iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. Further virtues include niacin (blood, brain and skin health) and zinc. Wash spinach leaves thoroughly, toss in a handful walnuts or almonds, add lemon juice or chilli sauce for a healthy salad. Boil and blend with curd for a dip or sauté with seasoning for a main dish.
Peas and Beans are high protein and fiber foods
Green peas, a noteworthy protein source (8.6g), are available in frozen form year-round. A cup of peas, at 135 calories, has high fiber, manganese and vitamin C plus magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, vitamins A, B1, B6, and K. Frozen green peas are a quick and easy ingredient for a boiled salad or sautéed main dish. Peas, tofu and rice with seasoning create a delicious high-protein pulao.
Mung beans are a superb source of protein (14.2g) and fiber for only 212 calories/cup. They have appreciable amounts of magnesium and vitamin B1. Rinse mung beans before boiling in a pressure cooker (10 minutes). Add seasoning and eat with rice or puree to prepare a soup. Otherwise, cook mung beans and rice together to prepare khichdi – easy to digest, nutritious meal – suitable for all especially children or elderly.
Herbs and Spices in small doses go a long way in fortifying us against disease
Turmeric and ginger (fresh or powder) are a must-have – in cooked food or blended drinks. Turmeric provides antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant super-value while ginger has painkiller, digestive, decongestant and anti-inflammatory powers. Coriander and mint add aromatic natural flavours to all meals.
There are many such super-foods offering multiple health benefits – eat them daily in a way that preserves the food’s nutrients and discover better health for yourself.
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