Healthy eating resolutions for 2020

A new year often signifies a fresh start for many people. For some, this means starting an exercise routine, losing weight or following a healthier diet. It is important to remember that our diet pattern has the power to reduce the risk of chronic diseases over our lifetime and together with a healthy lifestyle it is extremely important to prevent illness.

Very often, within a few weeks of setting our new year health and wellness resolutions, we realise that they are unsustainable due to multiple reasons like work and family commitments, inability to take time off our busy schedules, failure to prioritise our health etc. and we end up breaking our resolutions. Thus we find ourselves making the same resolutions year after year. To break that cycle, we need to make resolutions that can not only improve health but also be followed in our day to day lives. The secret is to set simple and easy goals that are easy to follow and are also sustainable.

Here are some examples of attainable and sustainable healthy eating resolutions:

Goal No 1: Eat out less often

During peak working days and holidays, people eat out a lot at restaurants or other roadside shops due to work demands and lack of time to cook meals. When you eat out, you have less control over what you are actually eating. Moreover, a kind of addiction develops to the outside food, ultimately leading to consuming extra fat, salt, and sugar on a daily basis. Try to avoid or minimise the consumption of outside foods.

Goal No 2: Reduce your added sugar intake, little by little

Added sugars are sugars added during the making of processed (packaged) food and drinks and the sugar we add to our home-made beverages and dishes. Added sugar should be cut down gradually as it causes serious health issues, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high triglyceride levels and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Goal No 3: Add veggies to your breakfast

One health-protective habit is to fill half of every plate or bowl with non-starchy veggies. For most people that is easier to do for lunch and dinner than for breakfast. So try to incorporate one serving (that is 80 grams) of vegetables in your breakfast meal.

Goal No 4: Eat two cups of fruits

Fruits are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. High fibre in fruits helps to regulate body metabolism. It is advisable to consume at least 2 cups of fruits (that is 150 – 200 grams) daily.

Goal No 5: Incorporate more probiotics and prebiotics into your diet

Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. The best choices are bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans, and whole-wheat bread. Probiotics are active cultures that help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. Consuming probiotics may boost immunity and improve overall gut health and the best sources are yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut. Having a combination of prebiotics and probiotics in our diet can be a very powerful step to improving our overall health.

Simple tips for a healthier diet and lifestyle

  • Drink at least 1.5 litres to 2 litres of water per day
  • Follow mindful eating, that is chew food properly, eat slowly and avoid watching any screen/gadgets while eating
  • Aim to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day; add more colour in your meals with plant-based foods
  • Include whole grains instead of refined ones
  • Say no to junk foods, processed and preserved foods which are high in trans fat, preservatives, salt and sugar
  • Read the food labels and choose foods that are low fat, fat-free, no added sugar, zero trans fat and no preservatives
  • Try to include small, healthy meals; do not skip meals especially your breakfast
  • Aim for good quality sleep of around 7-8 hours per day

Setting small, sustainable, realistic goals is really the key to success in making habit changes. Any simple diet change is easier if we take slow and small steps. Resolve to make a few small resolutions this year and then just watch how far you go. If you or your loved ones have been diagnosed with heart disease, we recommend that you consult your dietician or your healthcare team to get guidance on the most relevant diet goals for your health condition.

Healthy diet, adequate exercise, sufficient sleep and well-managed stress levels together help to enhance our health and the quality of life. So go ahead and set some simple and achievable goals for a healthy body and mind. Be in the present, avoid distractions, savour every bite and enjoy every meal!

The role of plant-based diet in cardiac care

A healthy vegetarian or plant-based diet is a way of eating that emphasizes on a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pulses and nuts and a lower or zero intakes of animal-based foods (lamb, pork, chicken etc). The important message here is a plant-based diet can also be unhealthy if rich in refined grains (like white rice, white bread and maida products) and deficient in fruits and veggies.

Multiple studies have shown that eating more plant-based healthy foods reduces the risk of incidence and severity of cardiac disorders and protects the heart mainly because they contain zero dietary cholesterol, low saturated fat and more fibre. However, overconsumption of vegetable oils (more than 5 teaspoons per day), seeds and nuts and refined sugars can lead to abnormal blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

On the other hand, red meats and organ meats are rich in saturated fat and cholesterol so should be avoided or kept to a minimum. Fish, especially oily fish, are rich in healthy fats and can be included in your diet provided they are not deep-fried.

There are different types of plant-based diets such as the Mediterranean diet, the vegan diet, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). These diets emphasize on certain foods that are associated with heart disease eg. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, legumes, and beans and a minimal amount of low-fat dairy and non-vegetarian products (fish, egg, lean meat, chicken).

Health benefits of plant-based diet:

  • Plant-based fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals
  • Fruits and vegetables consist of antioxidants, which helps to control cell damage and the inflammation in arteries
  • Proteins from non-vegetarian foods consist of increased saturated fat whereas from plant sources (nuts, pulses, legumes) has only a minimal amount of saturated fat
  • A plant-based diet is also beneficial for individuals with high blood pressure and high cholesterol as it offers all the essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals for optimal health, and are higher in phytonutrients (Carotenoids, ‎Flavonoids).
  • Healthy and balanced plant-based plate are essential to control many disorders like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease and cancers.

Remember, a plant-based diet is not always healthy, particularly as

  • Deep-fried and preserved foods
  • Excessive saturated fat, sugar and salt from any source
  • Plant-based fast foods and snacks like veggie burgers, pizza and fries and chips.

If you have been eating non-vegetarian food regularly and a plant-based diet is difficult to follow for you, then begin small. A moderate change in your diet, such as lowering your meat intake by one to two servings per day and replacing it with legumes or nuts as your protein source, can have a lasting positive impact on your health.

Thus a vegetarian diet is healthy, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Like any diet, a vegetarian diet should be part of an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes adequate exercise and excludes smoking and drinking excess alcohol. It is not necessary to go full vegetarian or vegan to get the best heart health benefits. The focus should be on eating the right foods, avoiding the wrong kind and moderating the intake of healthier animal products (egg, country chicken and fish). As a purely vegetarian diet is low in iron, vitamin D, B12and calcium, the inclusion of 1-2 servings of animal sources or plant-based foods fortified with these essential nutrients helps to overcome these deficiencies.

Fiber intake for better heart health

If you are wondering what the connection is between fiber intake and heart health, read on! In this blog post, I hope to convince you that including sufficient amounts of fiber in your diet is not only important for a healthy gut but also for a healthy heart.

When someone has difficulty in passing stools, the common advice given is “eat bananas”. The reason is that banana contains soluble fiber which helps to regulate bowel movements and thereby addresses the problem of constipation.

So what is dietary fiber? It is a non-digestible form of carbohydrates present in plant based foods like fruits, whole grains and vegetables. It can neither be digested nor broken down like other foods.

There are two kinds of dietary fiber namely soluble and insoluble fiber.

  • Soluble fibers are easily dissolved in water and change into a gummy gel like substance that is partially digested in the large intestine. Some examples of soluble fibers are legumes, lentils, brown rice, oats, barley, whole or cut fruits (with skin and pulp and not in juice form), potato, and dried beans. Apart from helping in blood pressure reduction, the low glycaemic index of high fiber foods helps to control blood sugar level.
  • Insoluble fiber absorbs water, which adds bulk to the digestive tract and helps to regulate bowel movements. Whole grain products, cabbage, green beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts and whole bran are some foods rich in insoluble fibre. Fiber can have various beneficial effects on our body when taken in good quantities every day.

Evidence from medical research

Greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of many cardiovascular diseases including coronary heart disease. Dietary fiber intake specifically from grains is inversely associated with total mortality rates, particularly cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory deaths in both men and women (a National Institute of Health Survey done in USA has shown that dietary fiber intake actually lowered risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases by 24%–56% in men and 34%–59% in women).

In fact, constipation can be a serious threat to heart health as it increases the strain on the heart and can lead to sudden death in individuals with heart ailments. So consuming adequate fiber in your diet not only prevents heart problems but also helps avoid some dreaded complications in heart patients.

What other benefits does fiber provide?

* Fiber can soak up water in the stomach slowing the absorption and increasing the feeling of fullness

* It can cause weight loss by reducing your intake of high calorie foods

* Fiber can promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut, thereby establishing a healthy gut microbiome

* Consuming adequate amounts of fibre prevents gastrointestinal disease, piles and haemorrhoids

 * Fiber is known to protect against colon cancer

How much fiber should I eat?

The Indian Dietetic Association recommends that adult men and women should consume about 25-35 grams of fiber per day, with 10-15 grams from soluble fiber. This can be accomplished by choosing 6 servings of grains (of which 3 are from whole grains), 3 servings of vegetables, and 2 servings of fruits.

Choose high fiber varieties of grain-based foods like whole-wheat chappathis, multigrain bread, millet dishes and unpolished rice like brown rice instead of refined grains like maida products, white rice and white bread. Include a variety of wholegrain, such as brown rice, oats, millets and barley and 2-3 servings of fruits and 3-4 servings of vegetables every day.

Can too much fiber be harmful?

High-fiber foods are good for your health. But too much fiber can produce excessive intestinal gas and abdominal bloating. My suggestion is that you increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of time. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change. Drinking adequate water will help you to avoid the gas, bloating, cramping and constipation that can occur when you increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains suddenly. If you are advised to be on fluid restriction due to heart problems, you should consult your dietician to find out more about how much fiber is good for you.

I hope I have convinced you to incorporate fiber-rich foods into your daily life! It is really that simple. When you think of all the health benefits plus the added bonus that you may lose excess body weight and become fit, why shouldn’t you start focusing on fiber for a healthy you?

Dietary Diversity for Better Health!

As we all know, good nutrition is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle and disease prevention. Eating a variety of foods, or “dietary diversity”, is a widely accepted concept to ensure a healthy and nutritious diet. It is a key component of health, fitness and overall wellness and helps to reduce the risk of major diseases like heart diseases, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, stroke and cancer. In this blog post, I would like to elaborate the importance of dietary diversity and its scoring methods, with an aim to enable you to measure your own nutrition situation and also to assess and improve the nutritional status of all your family members.

Several studies have shown that dietary diversity may be beneficial to a healthy weight, as it is appropriate to promote a healthy eating pattern, emphasizing on adequate intake of plant foods, protein sources, low-fat dairy products, vegetable oils, and nuts and limits consumption of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, unhealthy fats and red meats.

Dietary Diversity Score (DDS) – Dietary diversity is a qualitative measure of food consumption that reflects household access to a variety of foods, and is also a proxy for nutrient adequacy of the diet of individuals. The diverse diet (DD) which has all the food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, and dairy products) is necessary for achieving nutrient adequacy and optimal growth and development. Too much of unhealthy dietary factors and too little of required nutrients are both associated with increased risk of chronic diseases and malnutrition. Thus, dietary guidelines are recommended in improving the diversity of the diet. Nowadays, we are at a greater risk of macro and micro-nutritional deficiencies due to physiological changes, acute and chronic diseases, ageing factor and at times differences in financial and social status. Being aware of the dietary diversity component will improve the nutritional status of children and adults across age groups. Several studies have shown that the overall nutritional quality of the diet improves with a diverse diet. Therefore, diversity in the diet is important to meet the daily requirements for energy and other essential vitamins and minerals not only for those who are at risk of nutritional deficiencies but also for the general population keen on preventing health problems.

Food Group Examples
Cereals Corn/maize, rice, wheat, sorghum, millet,
oat
White roots and Tubers White potato, yam, cassava, sweet potato
Vitamin A rich vegetables &
Fruits
Pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, bell pepper,
mango, apricot, papaya, grapes
Dark green leafy
vegetables
Amaranth, kale, spinach
Vegetables & Fruits Tomato, onion, cabbage, broccoli,
citrus fruits, pear, apple
Poultry & Fish Chicken, fish, lean meat, egg
Legumes, Nuts & Seeds Lentils, beans, peas, nuts and flax seeds,
pumpkin seeds
Milk and Milk products Milk, yogurt, cheese
OilsSunflower oil, rice bran oil, gingelly oil,
groundnut oil 
Spices, Beverages Spices(black pepper, salt), coffee, tea

Benefits of Eating a Diverse Diet:

Ensures optimal macronutrient intake: Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are the macronutrients that your body needs to maintain and regulate the body functions. Most people with average activity should get approximately 50 per cent of their total daily calories from carbohydrate to 20 per cent from protein and 30 per cent from a fat source.

Sources: whole grains, beans, legumes, eggs, dairy products, nuts, healthy plant-based oil.

Helps meet your micronutrient requirements: Micronutrients are needed in small quantities, but they are critical for the perfect execution of the myriad reactions going on inside our bodies. Eating a varied diet increases your chance of acquiring all your essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and reduces the risk of acute infections and chronic ailments.

Sources: coloured fruits and vegetables, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds

Facilitates hydration: Your body contains about 60-75 percent of water. Water is required for several key functions like regulation of temperature, transport and absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste products from the body. Feeling thirsty, dry mouth, tiredness, headache and dizziness indicate that you need more fluids. If your fluid intake is not adequate it may lead to dehydration. Your intake of fluids should be liberal to prevent dehydration (eg: six to eight glasses of fluids every day).Water has no calories and is in fact known to keep your heart, kidneys, joints and skin healthy.

Induces peaceful sleep: Some unhealthy foods like artificial sugar, sweetened beverages, packed and processed foods may lead to several problems like indigestion, bloating, abnormal cholesterol level and high BP. Include a healthy balanced diet rich in variety and promote good sleep and better health.

Leads to a better and happier you: As you start eating a balanced and diverse diet, you begin to have more energy, feel less stressed and start accomplishing more in lesser time compared with when you consume an inappropriate diet. Diet is the foundation of one’s well-being.

In conclusion, eating a well-balanced diverse diet everyday is more fun, more interesting and of course the best way of meeting your daily requirement of essential nutrients. If you have been advised by your doctor or dietician to avoid certain food groups or types of vegetables due to a medical condition, you should request for a periodic re-evaluation and get an updated dietary advice every 3 months.

Magical millets for holistic health

What are millets?

Millet is tiny in size and round in shape and can be white, gray, yellow or red. The most widely available form of millet found in stores is the hulled variety, although traditional couscous made from cracked millet can also be found. The majority of the world’s commercial millet crop is produced by India, China and Nigeria.

It is a delicious grain whose consistency varies depending upon cooking method; it can be creamy like mashed potatoes or fluffy like rice. Additionally, since millet does not contain gluten, it is a wonderful grain alternative for people who are gluten-sensitive.

Millets

Pearl millet known as Kambu in Tamil has 8 times more iron than rice does. It is a great body coolant.

Finger millet popularly known as Ragi is also called as wonder grain as it is a powerhouse of essential amino acids and calcium.

Foxtail millet is thinai in Tamil. This is high in carbohydrate but also rich in fiber.It helps us to keep our body strong & immune. It helps to control blood sugar & cholesterol levels.

Kodo millet is known as varagu in Tamil. It is rich in phytochemicals, that plays an important role in preventing cancer.  Barnyard millet known as kuthiravali has 6 times more fiber in comparison to wheat.

Little millet known as saamai is a wonderful millet which is suitable for people of all ages and can be incorporated in different dishes.

 

How to Select and Store

Millet is generally available in its hulled and whole-grain form. It is available pre-packed as well as in bulk containers. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the millet are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing millet in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture.

Store millet in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place, where it will keep for several months.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Millet

Like all grains, before cooking millet rinse it thoroughly under running water and then remove any dirt or debris that you may find. After rinsing, add one part millet to two and a half parts boiling water or broth. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or it can also be pressure cooked. The texture of millet cooked this way will be fluffy like rice. If you want the millet to have a more creamy consistency, stir it frequently adding a little water every now and then.

To impart a nuttier flavour to the cooked millet, you could roast the grains before boiling them. To do this, place the grains in a dry skillet over medium heat and stir them frequently. When they have achieved a golden colour, add them to the boiling cooking liquid.

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Health benefits

  • Millet acts as a prebiotic feeding microflora in the inner ecosystem.
  • The serotonin derived from millet is calming to moods and brings good sleep.
  • Millet is a small carbohydrate food with lots of fiber and low simple sugars. Because of this it has a relatively low glycemic index and has been shown to produce lower blood sugar levels than wheat or rice.
  • Niacin (vitamin B3) in millet can help lower cholesterol.
  • Millet is gluten-free and non-allergenic; a great grain for individuals with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
  • Millet’s high protein content (15 percent) makes it a substantial addition to a vegetarian
  • Millets are generally rich in Protein, Fibre, Calcium, Iron and Minerals especially Magnesium, Copper and Phosphorous.
  • It helps to lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • It is high insoluble fiber content protects against Gallstones.
  • Phytonutrients in millets, particularly lignan, helps reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Regularly adding millets to our diet is a great way to prevent heart and blood vessel disorders.