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Decipher, absorb and digest

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-05-2014 Madhuri Ruia

Today there is a lot of information about nutrition and fitness. An obvious fallout of this informational surge is the birth of dietary myths, fads and quick-fix solutions. The latest, fastest and best weight-loss diet or a brand new way to slim without lifting so much as a finger, is always doing the rounds. And if this weren’t enough, people are relying on smartphone health apps or the World Wide Web to replace professional advice on nutrition.

These apps and other health-tracking devices worn as wrist bracelets count your calories, remind you to drink water every hour, measure how many steps you take every day and even the quality of your sleep, among a host of other things. Alongside, debates on the best diet abound. For instance, some might argue that cutting down on calories is more important than cutting dietary fat, while others profess that fasting and juicing and vegetarianism help you to put your best dietary foot forward, because they detoxify the body, promote an alkaline state—and only a toxin-free, alkaline body can promote weight loss and health.

Dietary principles spawned by myths and fads are at best only half truths and rarely, if ever, focus on nourishment. Nourishment takes into account how diets evolve and pan out over several meals, days and months to keep us healthy. Nourishment also involves key diet planning principles which must always form the basis of all diets.

The first of these principles is adequacy. Here one needs to ask if the diet plan that has been chosen helps people to derive satisfactory energy, largely derived from the macronutrients which are the proteins, carbohydrates, omega fats and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin B12. Small amounts of iron are lost on a daily basis and unless these losses are made up with iron-rich nutrition, which includes lean meat, eggs, spinach, tomato juice and kidney beans, weakness, listlessness and poor concentration may result. Just like iron, there are several other nutrients that work in similar ways, so the quality and quantity of their intake matter. That’s why a juicing cleanse for several days, which omits significant amounts of the foods that provide energy, leaves one feeling drained and fatigued.

The next diet principle is balance. More specifically, the term balance in nutrition implies using sufficient amounts but not too much of one type of food. Diets should include some dairy, some lean meat and several servings of wholegrain like brown rice, oats and other wholegrain, as well as a spread of colourful vitamin and antioxidant-dense vegetables like broccoli, purple cabbage and pumpkin.

Another powerful dietary principle that ties all of the above is variety. Eating the same foods day in and day out is not just about lacklustre nutrition but also limiting in terms of nourishment. This is because every food, even from the same food group, is unique in terms of its nutrient profile, and every food in excess may contain some harmful substances. For instance, papaya is loaded with soluble fibre, but an excess could lead to indigestion and affect the menstrual cycle in some cases. Brown rice is rich in a substance called gamma-oryzanol, which helps to regulate blood cholesterol levels; wholewheat, on the other hand, does not contain any gamma-oryzanol but is a good source of omega nutrition.

The next time you plan your diet, remember the virtues of adequacy, balance and variety.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.

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