By Rumina Rizvi
When I took Food Science as a subject in my O’ Levels, little did I know how much I would benefit from it in years to come. Eating a healthy diet means eating the right amount and variety of food. Eating well plays an important part in maintaining good health. Our eating pattern should emphasize on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as low or no-fat dairy products, and lean animal proteins. What really matters, though, is knowing yourself. You need to make responsible eating choices within the context of your preferences and lifestyle.
Having an understanding of nutrition basics can be extremely helpful. To compliment a healthy eating habit, an active lifestyle is also essential. Below is a quick run-down of nutrients in our food and the pivotal role each one of them play for a healthy balanced diet to meet our body’s needs.
Carbohydrate-rich foods are the primary source of energy for all body functions. Your body breaks down carbohydrates, or carbs, into fuel for use by your cells and muscles – that’s why eating a moderate amount of carbohydrates is necessary for most people. There are two types of carbs – sugars and starches. Sugars are simple carbohydrates that can be easily digested by your body and include foods like cake, soda, candy, jellies and fruits. Starches are complex carbohydrates that take longer to be digested and include foods such as breads, grains, pasta, tortillas, noodles, fruits and vegetables.
Many carbohydrate-rich foods are loaded with other nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are not only great carbohydrate sources, they are also excellent suppliers of vitamins A and C and many other vitamins and minerals. Most dairy products are also great sources of carbohydrates.
Some foods rich in carbohydrates have fewer nutrients. Foods made from sugar (white, brown, powdered and raw) as well as corn syrup, honey and molasses are simple carbohydrates that provide little to the diet except extra calories, and that can lead to excess body fat. Use the top tier of the Food Guide Pyramid as your guide, and limit your consumption of sugary foods – even if they do contain carbohydrates.
Fibre is an important kind of carbohydrate that comes only from plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains. The two types of fibre are soluble and non-soluble. Soluble fibre helps control blood sugar and may also lower cholesterol. Non-soluble fibre doesn’t appear to lower blood sugar or cholesterol but may help reduce the risk of colon cancer. It also helps maintain bowel function.
When choosing packaged breads, grains and cereals, use food labels to determine how much fibre a food contains. The fibre content of manufactured foods is listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Adults need between 20 and 35 grams of fiber every day.
Good sources of fibre include wheat bran, whole wheat, oatmeal, beans and legumes, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and bananas.
Proteins are responsible for growth and maintenance of all body cells and structures, like bone, muscle, blood cells, skin and hair. They are also the primary component of enzymes, proteins which help facilitate many of the chemical reactions within the body, including digestion. A healthy diet should include 2-3 servings of lean protein each day. Try baked or grilled chicken, fish and beans. Some grains are also very high in protein. Mixing quinoa with grilled vegetables makes a very satisfying lunch or side dish. It’s important for women to eat enough calcium in their diet. Low-fat dairy products are also excellent sources of protein. Try reduced fat yogurt, cottage cheese and milk.
Vitamins & Minerals
Fruits and vegetables are key in providing many of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for health. For e.g. iodine, in iodized salt which prevents goitre. Women between the ages of 19 and 30 should consume 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables each day.
Among the different types of vegetables, current dietary guidelines recommend 3 cups of dark green, 2 cups of orange, 3 cups of dry beans and peas, and 3 cups of starchy vegetables each week.
There are many easy ways to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Eat a salad with each meal. Try having an egg white omelet with mixed vegetables in the morning. Substituting cut vegetables or a piece of fruit in the afternoon for a snack instead of chips or processed snack is an easy way to cut calories. Fruits and veggie smoothies are also an excellent choice for a healthy lifestyle.
Fats, or lipids, are an important part of our diet and shouldn’t be eliminated altogether. In appropriate quantities and types, fats will provide much needed energy to get us through the day. Additionally, they support and cushion our internal organs, protecting them from harm. Fats are found in almost all types of foods, from butter and oils to dairy products, meats and processed foods.
It is recommend that hydrogenated and trans fats be avoided. Other fats should be minimized whenever possible. Generally speaking, fat should be restricted to less than 30% of your caloric intake each day, and saturated fats should be less than 10%. Try grilling vegetables or chicken instead of frying them. It’s an excellent way of cutting back fats. There are so many marinades and spices that you can use to flavour your food, you won’t even miss the fat. Instead of using fattening salad dressings, a little olive oil with some balsamic or other vinegar is an excellent dressing. Also, try some of the lower fat varieties of foods like milk, cheese and mayonnaise.
Finally, one of the staples of a healthy diet is sufficient water and fluid intake. In addition to regulating body temperature, it is found in every cell in the body and is necessary for their maintenance. Water is an essential component for many chemical reactions and aids in digestion and excretion of waste products. While the body does produce water as a by-product to many chemical reactions, it must be taken in regularly to maintain important body functions. It is important to maintain adequate hydration through regular consumption of water.
For more information, click here to read the labels and nutritional value of any processed food you consume. This will give you a clear guideline on what’s good or bad for you.
About the author:
Mother to two wonderful kids, Rumina Rizvi works for an Islamic Education Academy, catering to a large community of Muslims, conducting Quranic and Islamic studies. She also works with New Muslim Care Halton Chapter for our New Muslim Revert brothers and sisters and feels privileged to be living in this part of world, learning and exploring knowledge of Deen and contributing to her community.