What we eat is what we are. But food habits have been changing drastically over the previous years. “People hardly eat according to their culture or genes, like even the way we eat breakfast has started to change.” This is the observation of diet consultant, Shilpa Mittal. “Cornflakes, which had a wobbly start is now doing quite well in India. It has in fact created a new market and even the Indian makers of readymade cereals are making money from this trend. Some typically Indian good-for-health breakfast like poha and upma is now easily available in easy to cook packets. And all these cereals sell on the health platform with extra fibre, extra vitamins and minerals. A big change from some of the traditional Indian breakfasts which consisted of freshly cooked parathas, dalia, idli, dosa and other goodies.”
Present day diet is too high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and processed carbohydrates and is too low in unsaturated fats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Shillpa explains, “The highs and lows of our diet have also contributed to the increase in incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. The combination of overeating and under-exercising has produced a country filled with overweight and obese individuals. Modern day medicine has lead to an increase in our lifespan but our bad habits have turned it into a curse as these long lives are not healthy lives. We don’t enjoy the benefits of medical technology due to our bad eating habits, sedentary living and smoking.”
Today, even educated people do not understand the dangers of consuming a lot of processed and packaged food. People are hardly interested in preparing home cooked meals and are rather dependent on packaged or outside foods. “We are living to eat instead of eating to live.”
Shilpa insists, “We should know our pitfalls. To improve our eating habits, we first have to know what’s wrong with them. We should write down everything that we eat. Then check if we add a lot of butter, ghee, salt or salad dressings? Rather than eliminating these foods, we have to just cut back our portions. We need to make sure we get enough fruits and vegetables. If not, we may be missing out on vital nutrients. So we should try to replace them slowly for healthy food. Planning our meals in advance can be a lifesaver at times when we have a hectic schedule. When we already know what we are preparing in the next meal we are not tempted to make anything which is not healthy on spur of the moment.”
Given the lifestyle today, it is imperative that we change our eating habits. Her advice, “Eat 5-6 meals a day, do not skip any meal due to lack of time especially breakfast. Include fibre rich foods. Eat at least 2-3 vegetables and 2-3 fruits a day. Switch from refined, packaged dead foods to wholesome and fresh foods. We should include some kind of physical activity in our routine may they be walking, swimming, dancing, cycling or gyming, the one which we enjoy and will continue throughout our lives.”
To build a healthy country a big change in the way people eat should be taught right from childhood. Eating healthy will reduce the incidence of lifestyle diseases and thereby increase the country’s productivity.
This article was first published in Eve’s Times magazine and has been reproduced here with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.