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Dr. (Mrs.) M.G. BHATIA, M.B.B.S., D.G.O., has worked at the Pirojshanagar Upchargraha (Colony Dispensary) for the past 35 years. She has played an active role in advising the Godrej parivar on family welfare. Bhatia, who has attended to the health needs of nearly three generations, emphasizes the importance of eating right.

  A Balanced Diet

Part I

housands of years ago Hippocrates wisely said: “Let food be your medicine and medicine your food.?/font>

The World Health Organisation defines health as the physical, social, mental and spiritual well-being of an individual, and not merely an absence of disease. But for practical purposes, it is one’s physical well-being that leads to other spheres of health.

For physical well-being, the following fundamental principles need to be observed:

1. Balanced diet: The correct proportions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins and water.

2. Exercise: Essential for good blood circulation, mobility of joints and keeping weight in check.

3. Hygiene: Good personal and environmental hygiene.

4. Abstinence: Avoiding health hazards like alcohol, smoking, tobacco and drugs.
The human body is a marvellously designed living organism with the ability to grow, regulate, repair and defend itself when given natural, high quality, full spectrum nutrition.

The need for food begins with the beginning of life itself because it is through food that we obtain the chemical components essential for life and growth. Life cannot be sustained without adequate nourishment. Plants can manufacture the foods they need from simple chemicals derived from the soil, water and air, but animals and human beings have to depend on an outside source of food, that is, plants and animals for nutrition. The type of food we eat is influenced by:

  • Environment: Location, climate and weather.

  • Physiology: Hunger, taste, aroma and texture of the food.

  • Socio-cultural factors: Economic, educational, psychosocial (superstition, religion, tradition and taboos).

A healthy diet should value the nutrients in food more than the taste. Our present penchant for fast food has overruled nutrition, giving more importance to taste. Our forefathers had made a careful study of nutrition and knew what was essential in the diet for growth and development. Hence we see the basic diet of different states in India containing well-balanced food. Ideally, our food should contain a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. The amounts depend on the age and sex of the person. A meal of dal, rice and chapatis, vegetables and salads, with lime or pickle on the side, provide most of the nutrients needed for a balanced diet.

The food we consume goes through the process of digestion, absorption, transportation, storage, metabolism and elimination for the maintenance of life and growth, the normal functioning of organs and the production of energy. The process by which the body utilises food is called nutrition. The energy that food provides is measured in calories (kilojoules). An individual’s requirement of calories is determined by age, sex, type of job or activity. Children require higher calories to enable them to grow. Females have smaller frames than males and weigh less so they require fewer calories except during pregnancy, lactation or when they do a labourer’s job. Males also require calories according to the type of activity they are engaged in. The benefits of a healthy and balanced diet are health, happiness, efficiency and longevity.

PROTEINS:

They are vital for all living organisms and are an important constituent of tissues, body cells and blood as they supply body-building material, help to repair worn-out tissues and form antibodies to fight infection and defend the body against illness. One gram of protein provides four kilocalories. All types of foods contain protein in varying amounts. Protein-rich foods are animal foods like meat, fish, eggs and milk. Vegetable sources of protein are soyabean (40 per cent), cereals like rice and wheat (though their protein content is low) and all kinds of pulses. A combination of dal and rice or dal and chapatis provide not only quantitatively but also qualitatively better protein. A growing child (up to five years of age) requires 1.5 to 2 gm of protein per kg. Pregnant and lactating women also require a higher dose of protein. For an adult, protein should make up 10 per cent of the total caloric intake. Animal proteins are fully absorbed so they are known as good quality proteins, while vegetable proteins are second-class proteins though a combination of cereals and pulses provide adequate amounts of protein. For example, rice is deficient in lysine while pulses are deficient in methionine. So they complement each other. A deficiency of protein in children leads to stunted growth and may result in kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition in which the skin and hair become brittle, the body looks swollen and the child is prone to infections.

Nuts and oilseeds are good sources of protein (rich in thiamine and nicotinic acid) but they also contain a high amount of fat.

A healthy diet should value the nutrients in food more than the taste. Our present penchant for fast food has overruled nutrition, giving more importance to taste. Our forefathers had made a careful study of nutrition and knew what was essential in the diet for growth and development.

FATS:

They are an important component of diet and function as:

  • Energy suppliers ?One gram of fat gives nine calories (double the amount given by protein or carbohydrates).

  • They take more time to digest, thereby slowing down the process of emptying the stomach.

  • Help in the absorption of Vitamins A, E, K and D (fat-soluble vitamins).

  • They make food palatable and tasty.

  • A layer of fat under the skin protects the body from extreme cold weather.

  • Fat acts as a cushion for the internal organs in the body.
     

Sources: Animal sources of fat include milk, egg yolk, ghee, butter, cream and fish. Vegetable sources are oilseeds like groundnut and other nuts, sesame seed, coconut, mustard, soyabean and cottonseed.

Effects: A lack of fat makes a person lethargic and the production of hormones and fat-soluble vitamins is affected. An excess of fat causes overweight, which may lead to diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and many metabolic disorders.

CARBOHYDRATES:

The bulk of our diet is made up of carbohydrates, which are found in rice, wheat, fruits, root vegetables and honey. Carbohydrates are also found in sugar, which is added to tea, coffee, soft drinks and sweets.

Function: It is the cheapest source of energy (one gram gives four kilos of calories).
Carbohydrate utilising action:

  • Makes food tasty and palatable.

  • Coarse grains and leafy vegetables contain fibre, which makes the food bulky giving a feeling of fullness in the stomach without any addition of calories. Fibre also delays the process of emptying in the stomach, which helps in proper digestion, and treats constipation.

Effects:
While a deficiency of carbohydrates causes lack of energy leading to underweight, tiredness and poor working efficiency, an excess of carbohydrates is converted into fat which leads to overweight and may cause hypertension, diabetes and heart problems.

WATER:
Two-thirds of our body weight consists of water, which makes up the structure of cells participating in the metabolic process to maintain body temperature, to transport nutrients inside the body and to excrete waste products. An excess of water never causes harm, while a deficiency may lead to infection or dehydration.

So far we have dealt with macronutrients. In the next issue we will concentrate on micronutrients, i.e. vitamins, minerals and trace elements, which also make an important contribution to health.