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Eating Healthy Food In Our Crazy Lives

Dr. Jyoti Ramakrishna

Eating Healthy Food In Our Crazy Lives

One of the problems with Indian food is that it often involves elaborate preparation. Most of our lives are way too crazy and we end up at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut a lot more than we mean to. If mom and dad both work this is definitely true, but even if mom stays home she often has too much to do to spend a few hours a day cooking as our moms did back in India.

And you know kids – they like to snack all the time! When they come home from school, before they leave for their activities, after activities, before they go to bed, and almost any other time in between. Chips and cookies are easy (say nothing of the soda and juices), yet we all feel guilty inside that we are giving them junk food. Oh, and giving ourselves junk food too!

Yes, we have all seen and read about the need to eat healthier. But who has the time to figure it all out. ‘I’ll watch my cholesterol and carbs when my kids go to college’ we say. And the kids seem to be growing just fine, just a little ‘healthy’ maybe, but that’s OK when you’re young.

The problem is, it’s not OK to delay the call to a healthier diet. We are packing calories, purifed carbohydrates and sugars, fats of all sorts including trans-fats, and who knows what else, into our bodies. This is bad for us, and especially for growing and developing bodies and minds. Sugars and starches are related to a lot of behavioural problems. Body fat acquired at an early age is the hardest to lose. ‘We are what we eat’ the saying goes. Eating right is even more important today when we do not have the time for it, than it ever was before. Because we have access to truckloads of junk food that the manufacturers are busy promoting directly to our kids. And let’s not kid ourselves, we will not be able to lose the weight and cleanse our bodies later. Nor will our kids. The time to act is now.

Easy to say. Also it is really not that hard to do. The first few days are hard when you are trying to change your ways and research your pantry and the grocery store. However, once you figure it out for yourself it becomes very easy.

First keep track mentally or in writing for a week. You think you are eating out once a week, but in reality it may be several times a week. When does this happen? Can you plan ahead and avoid it? Track the snack foods you have at home. Read labels. How much sugar? How much carbohydrate? Is there any protein? Any fiber? What is the fat content as a percentage of the total calories? Are there any trans-fats? Take stock of everything you buy from the grocery store in this way. It is so easy now that everything comes clearly labeled. You can read the label while you are eating and figure it out!

Example: Reading Food Labels
Total calories    100    Calories from Fat  50
Sugars    10g    40 calories    Protein    2g    8 calories
Fiber 1g    Cholesterol    0g

As far as meals go, there are many tricks to make cooking easier. Get frozen rotis, or freeze them when you get or make them. If you are buying pre-made rotis, make sure they have less fat and more fiber. Boil a whole pressure-cooker full of daal or rajma/chole and freeze away in 3-4 containers, each enough for one meal. As an option you can buy cans of various kinds of precooked beans that are just in water with no added preservative. When you make rice or sabji, make enough for two meals so you can keep the rest for another day. Experiment on your family with brown rice if you feel bold! Pasta is an easy meal, look for pasta with fiber, most brands now provide that as an option. Add vegetables to pasta or Maggi noodles when you cook them. Similarly with bread, the ‘lite’ breads have more fiber and now you can also buy ‘whole grain’ white bread for sandwiches for school lunches. Veggie burgers have protein and fiber, and can make a quick meal. Cook in olive oil or canola oil, and use small amounts.

Focus on label-reading in the snack department. Pick foods that have less sugar, more protein and fiber. And foods that have a third or less of calories from fat. Nuts make a great snack in any form once a day at least. Peanuts, trail mix, almost any kind of nut has the right kind of fats to qualify as ‘brain food’, plus they lower cholesterol. Many old familiar snacks are coming out with ‘whole grain’ versions that taste like the original. Stay away from anything in the ‘candy’ department since they will give a sharp bump in blood sugar. Occasional treats (once or twice a week at most) are fine. This includes the infamous ‘fruit snacks’ and juices masquerading as a serving of fruit! Your dentist will not like you as much, but your kids will thank you when they grow up! Buy real fruit instead, and drink water.

Kids will eat when they are hungry. so keep only good options at home. Throw out the chips and the soda. They will get enough of that anyway elsewhere, so you don’t need those at home! Keep fruit out in a bowl in the middle of the kitchen counter and ignore it, they will eat it! (The minute you ask them to eat something, chances are they will avoid it!)

My writing is aimed at the typical Indian family that eats meat occasionally but is mostly vegetarian. This is a good thing. White meat such as chicken and fish are good for you, in fact a daily serving of fish is now recommended, but the same fats can be found in nuts and seeds as well. Meat is a good protein source, as are eggs, but daal and rajma/chole etc beans are substitute protein sources in our diets, and they also have fiber. Let’s all work together to promote to healthier Indian kids and families in New England. Daal-roti khao, prabhu ke gun gao!

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