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Good Health Musings

In a fast-paced, ever-changing world, we are constantly on the move. Home, family, kids, work and social commitments dominate, as does the proverbial race from home to work and back on weekdays. Late nights at work, long hours of commute, outings on the weekends, friends and family commitments and catching up on chores and rest has become a way of life for many people. Sadly, with such a busy lifestyle where we are multitasking and meeting deadlines, our health gets the short end of the stick.

Nutritionist Malavika Khanna’s session to team Lumière in May ’08 brought perspective. Malavika firmly believes that even minor changes in our hectic lifestyle can bring about major changes in our health. This was the key message in her presentation on nutrition facts and easy tips to incorporate a balanced diet into our busy lives.

We all know that a balanced diet is important. But how many of us make a conscious effort to follow one? Incorporating a healthy mix of food groups right from an early age helps to prevent the need for tablets as age advances, says Malavika. Not to mention that a balanced diet will enhance one’s quality of life immensely. Unhealthy eating habits over a prolonged time period result in hypertension, diabetes and other complicated disorders. More often than not, individuals realize the importance of a diet only when a family member or someone they know falls prey to a condition that could have been easily staved off by adopting some simple eating policies.

Malavika cites several instances when we consciously or subconsciously overlook our diet and attribute our health setbacks to advancing age. We fail to take a hard look at our lifestyle. Women especially are prone to overlook their own needs while taking care of the rest of the family. A mother who makes sure that her daughter drinks a glass of milk and gets her daily dose of calcium will invariably make slight of drinking a glass herself. Despite the need for the same nutrients, women will ensure that their husbands or in-laws eat various kinds of beneficial fruits and vegetables while being content in popping pills to gain the same. Malavika emphasizes the need for dietary attention among women given that they play a critical role as mothers, wives or career-women.

Malavika explains that adopting a good diet is not as hard as it may sound. She points out that many essential nutrients are available right in our kitchens – we only have to actively include it in our day-to-day lives. The Indian thali is already balanced in nutrients and a small twist like adding functional foods such as ginger and garlic and squeezing lime to our food, greatly enhances our nutrient intake without sacrificing flavor. She recommends changing the type of oil we use regularly. An interesting idea to make a fussy child eat is by adding vegetable puree to the dough to make chapattis for thereby transforming the cereal and making it doubly nutritious.

Diet, exercise and lifestyle are the 3 ingredients of Malavika’s recipe for health. One cannot be effective without the aid of the other two. Exercise especially, is more important today than ever before. With our increasingly sedentary lifestyle – sitting at the computer and working long hours – we are not involved in too much strenuous activity. Exercise is important to burn the calories our bodies consume and Malavika strongly urges us to engage in physical activity at least thrice a week. Even simple acts as walking for 15 minutes on one’s way to work or back, getting off the auto rickshaw or bus two stops earlier, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator helps to work out the body. These can be easily adopted by any individual regardless of a demanding lifestyle.

Malavika suggests we keep a few pieces of dark chocolate at the work desk to ease stress and keep one happy, and eating a fruit and one bowl of salad (or at the very least, two washed tomatoes if one is too busy to slice and dice) and drinking 8 glasses of water every day. The last one is significant as many people never hit the required minimum in a day. To help remember to drink water, Malavika suggests setting a “water-alarm” at 2 hour intervals or posting reminders on the computer. However, she points out that aerated beverages or coffee/ tea cannot act as substitutes for water and should be avoided.

Finally, Malavika clarifies many myths about food and eating habits. Firstly, she points out that there are no such things as fat burning foods. If they existed, nutritionists would be out of business fairly soon! Caffeine rich foods boost one’s metabolism but it is only temporary – moreover, they exacerbate problems such as acidity and constipation. Secondly, skipping a meal to compensate for a heavy meal or for losing weight is rarely effective. The body has already digested and converted the food from the previous meal into fat. Many also tend to skip breakfast, which is the most important meal of the day, as the body receives much-needed nutrition through this meal after a fast of 8 hours. Malavika informs that fat-free food is not the same as calorie free and so it is very important to read food labels.

Attending Malavika’s presentation, was a reaffirmation that adopting a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle is rather effortless. Too often, we let our excuses and laziness get the better of us. However, with the easy switches suggested by Malavika Khanna, it is possible to cross that seemingly vast chasm between us and good health, one step at a time.

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