Obesity sickens and kills more people than malnutrition because most of us eat too much of the wrong foods. People are eating far too much fat, meats, salt and sugar and not enough vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. The result is more disease and death than caused by drugs, alcohol, tobacco and unprotected sex combined.
Globally, 2 billion adults worldwide are overweight and obese, and close to 800 million are undernourished. Around 57 of the 129 countries that have data on obesity and under-nutrition show societies are struggling simultaneously with both problems, wrote researchers last week in the journal Nature.
Economic growth and flourishing economies only partially address the problem. Money can buy you food but can’t make you choose nutritious options. Availability, price, taste and convenience drive the food choices we make and very often, high-quality food is unavailable, unaffordable or unappealing.
But there is still hope. Here are the five ways to help you eat healthy:
Choose local produce
Mediterranean diets high on olive oil, fish and fresh vegetables is healthy is something we all know. What most of us don’t know is how nutritious indigenous foods are. Books such as Sunita Narain’s First Food: A Taste of India’s Biodiversity fill gaps in our knowledge of the varied nutrition options around us that are getting lost in today’s McFood homegenisation.
Eating local produce also shortens the farm-to-fork chains, which results in less nutrition being lost in transit and storage. Public health experts, governments and industry have to streamline storage, distribution, processing and marketing chains to ensure fresh produce packed with nutrients reaches markets without decay.
The devil, as always, is in the detail. Many of us count mealtime calories but forget to factor in our calorific tea and coffee breaks. Sugar and milk in each cup of tea can add 50-100 calories, as can sugar and cream in coffee. Add to that biscuits, crisps and salty savories you have through the day and you’re looking at an additional 400-500 calories through the day.
One regular packet of chips supplies half of our daily intake of fat and salt; and one bottle of cola or two glasses of sweetened juice give twice the daily added sugar allowance for adults and children. And just because a package or drink is labelled “no sugar added” doesn’t mean you can have it in unlimited amounts because it may have natural sugars and sweeteners that also widen waistlines.
Even a small pack or a tiny platter of packaged food may contain multiple servings that are usually disproportionately small for foods that are high in fattening calories. With serving sizes – the recommended amount you should eat at one go – not being standardised, food manufacturers make serving sizes smaller than average to lull you into believing you are fewer calories, fat, sugar and salt than you actually are.
If you eat out a lot, just one portion of starters such as chicken wings, cheese toasts or spring rolls can derail diet. One way to do so is to avoid fried foodstuff altogether – this includes burgers that have fried cutlets — and keeping fattening meat portions under 200 gm of cooked white meat (roughly two decks of cards).
Rather than the main meal, you could go for meals where grilled meat is a condiment added to salads, vegetables and wholegrains. Enjoy a complete meal that makes you feel full for a while and avoid things that are fried, baked or cooked in a thick, creamy sauce.
It’s routine to box leftovers in the US, but people in countries like India and France shy away from doggy-bagging unfinished food. Much like Indians, the French believed leaving expensive food on the plate showed social status and taking home food was a sign of poverty and something fine-dining restaurants didn’t do, reported a study on attitudes to doggy-bagging in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. It helps that the French serve small portion sizes and dining in India involves helping yourself to portion sizes you can finish eating.
The takeaway mantra is simple. Apart from the three taboos – salt, sugar and trans fats found in processed foods— freshly cooked food is never completely bad as long as you don’t have too much of it. Even cholesterol-rich eggs and full-fat milk with essential fatty acids have more benefits than high-calorie processed snacks. Cutting out any one food category is a bad idea, have small portions of banned treats instead. And never scrimp on nutrition.
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