As we are ending another year, and are also inching towards the end of the decade, it is getting increasingly clear that saving our health (and even our sanity) amidst the onslaught of mixed marketing messages, ever increasing list of new foods and interesting innovations, confused, and ever changing nutrition research findings and our own blatant veering towards comfort and convenience (over everything else), is a tall task. It needs special skills to be able to eat right and to separate wheat from the chaff, so to say.
Below are the 5 easily learned skills that can help you start 2019 on a healthier note.
'Anti-Sugar' to 'Anti-Added Sugar'
It’s a fact that not all sugars are created equal. In US (hopefully in India too soon) there is a new requirement that asks companies to distinguish between added and naturally-occurring sugars on food labels, and that a good thing. It’s important to know the difference.
Added sugars are those not naturally found in foods or beverages and are added during manufacturing. It is these sugars that are actually a health risk for us so it pays to be mindful of their intake.
Sugars that are a natural part of the food are not that harmful.
Identifying Processed Foods
It is important to learn to distinguish between mechanical and chemical processing. It’s not the mechanical processing (grinding and packing a food for example) that’s the problem, but it is the chemical processing, where artificial chemicals are added for reasons like improving the taste, boosting shelf life, deordorizing, masking lack of another ingredient (like sugar in fat free foods), bleaching, and cutting costs, that is the problem. It is these additives - preservative, colourants, flavor adders, texturants - that cause trouble.
In fact, on the other hand ‘positively processed’ foods and drinks like sprouted foods (as sprouting has been shown to increase the amount and absorbability of certain nutrients) or fermented foods, are actually good for us.
Omega 3 vs Omega 6
We read about the importance of omega 3 all the time, as it is a much valued nutrient. But besides knowing all about omega 3, it is also important to know about its counterpart omega 6.
Because unfortunately we are all consuming way too much of it unwittingly, and it is increasingly getting clear that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, early aging, and even some forms of cancer is the wide disproportion between our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the most diets today is somewhere between 25-50:1.Whereas the ideal ratio is somewhere between 3-1:1.
So it is critically important to not just boost the intake of omega 3 but also dramatically reduce the amount of omega-6 fats in our diet. To do that boost intake of omega 3 sources (fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts) and cut down omega 6 by using less of vegetable oils, cut down hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and margarine and also packaged foods.
Locating Hidden Salt
Our body needs just 500 milligrams of sodium everyday, and intake till about 2,400 milligrams per day for an adult is also acceptable. Yet, most of us easily consume around 3,000 – 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, often much-much more. And most of this comes hidden in the processed foods we eat.
It is important to read labels carefully; it’s there in everything from canned foods to papads to even ketchup and bread. If a label mentions more than 1.5 gm of salt or more than 0.6 gm of sodium in 100 gm of any food, skip the food.
Go easy on regular suspects like cured meats - salami, bacon, ham and sausages.
Catch Excess Caffeine
With caffeine the amounts we consume is the key. Too much can be bad for us, as it is a diuretic, and thus dehydrates the body.
An adult can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine without any harmful effect. 1 cup (250 ml) of coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine.
One should not consume more than 4 cups of coffee on daily basis. Coffee and tea are the two most prominent sources but it's also found in chocolate, coffee ice cream, high energy sports drinks and frozen yogurt. And remember iced tea too can contain as much sugar and caffeine as carbonated colas. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications contain caffeine.
(The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)
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