Mukhtar Ahmad Farooqi
According to Francois de La Rochefoucauld “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art”. Eating is necessary in order to live; but to eat with knowledge is a talent in itself. Food is essential for our bodies to
develop, replace and repair cells and tissues;
produce energy to keep warm, move and work;
carry out chemical processes such as the digestion of food;
protect against, resist and fight infection and recover from sickness.
Food is made up of nutrients that are thought to be of two types: macro-nutrients which are needed in relatively large amounts, and micronutrients which are needed in smaller quantities. The macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, protein and water. The macronutrients (excluding fibre and water) provide structural material (amino acids from which proteins are built, and lipids from which cell membranes and some signaling molecules are built) and energy while as micronutrients include minerals, vitamins, and others.
Our hunger can be satisfied by any kind of meal, but to remain healthy and free from disease, our body requires certain kinds of food. The health of an individual is largely determined by the quality of food taken. Foods vary in their composition and no one type of food contains all we need, in the amounts we need. A meal lacking in a particular requirement of our body for a prolonged period can result in disease and even in death. A study of Japanese children has shown that an improved diet has increased the average height of children from what it was a few decades ago. Now let us first try to understand what is meant by nutritious diet?
A nutritious /healthy diet is one that helps to maintain or improve overall health (Wikipedia) or we can say that which gives our body the nutrients it needs to function correctly. Without good nutrition, your body is more prone to disease, infection, fatigue, and poor performance. Children with a poor diet run the risk of growth and developmental problems and poor academic performance.
A healthy diet provides the body with essential nutrition: fluid, adequate essential amino acids from protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and adequate calories. The requirements for a healthy diet can be met from a variety of plant-based and animal-based foods. A healthy diet supports energy needs and provides for human nutrition without exposure to toxicity or excessive weight gain from consuming excessive amounts. Where lack of calories is not an issue, a properly balanced diet (in addition to exercise) is also thought to be important for lowering health risks, such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
A poor diet on the other hand may have an injurious impact on health, causing deficiency diseases such as blindness, anaemia, scurvy, preterm birth, stillbirth and cretinism; health-threatening conditions like obesity and metabolic syndrome; and such common chronic systemic diseases as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. A poor diet can cause the wasting of kwashiorkor in acute cases, and the stunting of marasmus in chronic cases of malnutrition.
Importance of Eating Nutritious Foods
Eating nutritious foods is important because of the following reasons:
Weight Control: A diet that is full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can help us lose, maintain or control your weight. Replace high-fat and high-calorie foods with nutrient rich items;
Blood Sugar Control :Sugary foods cause spikes in our blood sugar. If we consume too many sugary foods like white breads and concentrated fruit juices, over time we can develop Type 2 diabetes. Complex carbohydrates, like those in oatmeal, can help reduce and regulate blood sugar;
Heart Health: High-fat foods cause high cholesterol and a build-up of plaque in our arteries. It’s a known fact that this can lead to stroke, heart attack or heart disease;
Deceased Cancer Risk: Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants that help neutralize the damaging cells known as free radicals. Free radicals are highly unstable and can lead to cancerous cells. Antioxidants create a stable cell environment.
5 Other Benefits include:
Greatly reduce your risk of heart and coronary artery disease;
Healthy foods can decrease bone loss and reduce overall risk of developing kidney stones;
Potassium rich diets can help to maintain healthy blood pressures;
Dietary fibre has been found to help reduce blood cholesterol levels and might actually lower our risk for heart disease. Fibre is also important to maintaining proper bowel functions. Fibre-rich vegetables can help us feel fuller for longer and consume less calories in a meal;
Folic acids or folates are an important part of helping the body form red blood cells. This is particularly good for women who are or may become pregnant;
Vitamin A found in nutritious foods keeps our eyes and skin healthy while also protecting from infections;
Vitamin C is needed for healthy skin as well, aiding to heal cuts and keep teeth and gums healthy. It is also a part of iron absorption in the blood.
How to Make Our Food Nutritious
Various nutrition guides are published by medical and governmental institutions to educate the public on what they should be eating to promote health. World Health Organization (WHO) has given following 5 main recommendations with regard to nutritious diet:
Eat roughly the same amount of calories that our body is using. A healthy weight is a balance between energy consumed and energy that is ‘burnt off’;
Limit intake of fats, and prefer less unhealthy unsaturated fats to saturated fats and trans fats;
Increase consumption of plant foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts;
Limit the intake of sugar;
Limit salt / sodium consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized.
Other recommendations include:
Essential micronutrients such as vitamins and certain minerals;
Avoiding directly poisonous (e.g. heavy metals) and carcinogenic (e.g. benzene) substances;
Avoiding foods contaminated by human pathogens (e.g. E. coli, tapeworm eggs).
With more and more people focusing on getting healthier through eating right and exercising, it becomes imperative to completely eliminate/avoid processed foods from our diet as processed foods lose most of their nutritional value and are substituted with unhealthy fillers like sugar, carbohydrates, artificial colours, sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and salt that are believed to be main factors in weight gain, dental cavities and overall deterioration in one’s health.
M.S. Swaminathan, Handbook of Food and Nutrition, Abappco Publication.
Isaac Asimov, New Guide to Science, Penguin, 1987.
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org