Saturday, April 30, 2011

Are you skipping meals?

In today's world, hectic lifestyles have triggered a host of health related issues. Some of these directly relate to our eating habits. The most common thing to do on a busy day is to skip breakfast and postpone lunch. Irregular meal timings and skipping meals have become commonplace.
Occasionally, skipping a meal is okay and does not have any major effect on the body. However making it a regular habit is bound to trigger some negative changes in our metabolism. The body tries to adjust to this irregularity by lowering the BMR(basal metabolic rate) and conserving energy by storing the food.  

Why do we skip meals?
The most common reason cited for this is "Lack of time": Too much work, too little time is an oft repeated excuse. This is like saying that you don’t have time to fill the fuel tank as you are too busy driving. My suggestion for the super-busy is - "Don’t skip breakfast" .
You are eating after an entire night’s fast and the first meal of the day will sustain you through the day.

How to make sure that you are as regular as possible for your meals? I hope the tips below will help:

a. Wrap paranthas(Indian version of pancakes)/wraps in foil and eat on your way to office.

b. Pack your sandwiches the night before and just eat them on your desk with your regular cup of tea/coffee. Some easy sandwiches are bread with spreads like cheese, jam, marmalade, ketchup or any other spread you like. Make sure to use whole wheat bread.

c. Boiled eggs can be made in a jiffy and are ideal for your mornings

d. Keep a jar of munchies handy to eat on the move. These can be mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, raisins), a mix of roasted chana(whole gram), puffed rice and ground gur (jaggary) or roasted mungphali (peanuts/groundnuts).

e. If you have no time to cook,you can opt for readymade cereal with milk, fruits and honey.

f. Carry a fruit in the bag for hunger pangs.

g. Down a cup of plain milk (full cream)or a milkshake, if you know that you might not get lunch.

h. Buy a lassi(sweetened buttermilk)/ chaach(salted buttermilk)/ flavored milk/ juice (all of which are available in disposable packs) from the nearby dairy on your way, or better; stock them at home and grab one on your way out.

Other reasons for missing meals include dieting, parties and eating disorders. To know more about them watch out for my next post.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cake'Walk' to better health

The lasts few post on this blog have been focused on nutrition, but now its time to talk about physical activity which goes hand in hand in shaping our lifestyle and is linked with the state of health. Eating the right foods is important , but to get the maximum health benefits we have to include exercise in our daily routine.

Today I'm going to talk about the simplest and easiest exercise of all times…Walking

Why walk?
1. A brisk walk of 30 min./day helps prevent or delay the onset of some of the major lifestyle diseases like osteoporosis,type 2 diabetes,peripheral vascular disease (PVD), cardio-vascular disease and stroke. Plus, it'll give you strong bones and toned legs.
2. It improves your blood circulation which gives a boost to all organ systems of the body including the immune system.
3. Easy to do. No training required.
4. Anytime anywhere exercise -You can walk anywhere from your own balcony to pavements to gardens and beaches.
5. No special equipments required.
6. You can do it alone. Just switch on the Ipod/ music player and you are ready to go.
7. Most sustainable activity of the lifetime. People of all ages can suitably do it and at their own pace too!
8. Flexibility of routine. If you have had food then you can walk at a slow and steady pace. If you choose mornings, then you can have a brisk pace. If you want variation, then jog and run.

I'm so busy..when should I walk?
Research has suggested that even small bouts (10 minutes each)of aerobic activity has beneficial effects on the overall health of a person. Here are a few things that I believe we can easily do to include walking in our daily life:

1. Walk instead of driving- to your nearest general store or grocery shop.
2. You can walk and talk- Pace in your cabin while talking on the phone.
3. Park your car a little further than usual and walk the difference
4. Make use of your company compound- Take a few rounds before heading home.
5. Use that park nearby- Take a stroll post dinner or jog in the mornings (whichever suits you).
6. Window shop regularly- You can walk a lot this way.


Remember
a) Carry a bottle and sip water regularly if you plan to have a brisk walk in the hot weather. This will prevent dehydration.
b) If you are a diabetic do not go on a brisk walk on an empty stomach.
c) Kindly consult your health care provider if you have any medical condition which demands attention like pain in the knees or a heart problem.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Are you a couch potato?

Most eating preferences are habits, influenced by a person’s lifestyle.
 
When TV viewing  replaced our entertainment options, it did not only revolutionise our free time activities, but also modified our eating habits to a large extent. Family meals started moving around our favourite soaps. Playtime got reduced by cartoons. Holiday treks  were replaced by movies and popcorn. Research has linked excessive TV viewing  to obesity especially in children. The proverbial "couch potato" image is scientifically true.Research also suggests that we tend to eat more food and remember less about what we ate when we are busy watching TV.
 
So how does one get out of this habit?  Ideally switch off the TV, computer etc. and concentrate on just food while eating.
 
"Hey, I'm supposed to have small regular meals, you cant seriously mean that I switch off the TV every single time I eat?? What about the evening snack time?"
 
True, TV viewing is such an integral part of our life, we cant just shun it. However, indulging in visual gluttony IS unhealthy.  To begin with one may start with the below suggestions that make for a healthier TV viewing:
 
1. Dance when you are "watching" a song. Its fun!

2. Be active- Do stretching or holding exercises during breaks
 
3. Shift the TV in your gym- Walk on the treadmill, work on the cycler or do your weights without missing out the new series

4. Don’t watch repeats. Are you really that bored?

5. Choose healthy snacks -drink lemonade or ginger ale instead of a cola/beer when you are watching a movie. I find it easier to chomp on fruits instead of popcorn. No putting bags in microwave/pressure cooker; just wash an apple/pear/grapes/strawberries/ cherries/jamun and eat them like that. They are packed with fibre and antioxidants too! Perfect for weight watchers.

6. Keep your hands busy- Do your nails (cut them, file them, paint them), chop/clean/peel veggies. this'll prevent you from snacking. You can just sit holding hands with your spouse too! Even she/ he needs to watch her/his waistline, plus it is more romantic this way.

7. To skip watching TV altogether - unwind by indulging in your hobby- painting, dancing, sports, reading, listening to music etc.
 
Hope this helps.Watch this space for more tips on how to eat healthy and be fit.
As always, I look forward to your queries and comments.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Looking for comfort?

A few days back I was talking to my cousin and it turned out that both of us were on a cooking spree. On the top of it we were gorging on desserts. Why would we do that? As newly married women, things like new people, new job, relocation, rearrangement of priorities and new responsibilities were our main concerns. As it has been said “Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.” So there we were, eating and sharing our concerns.



Mental stress and depression are by far the major reason when many of us reach out for comfort foods. As Peter De Vries stated “Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.”

Comfort foods are generally foods which trigger our memories e.g. some broth which your mother cooked when you were ill. Or, they can just be your favourite foods. Most of the time, these are loaded with calories.

A number of hormones and neurotransmitters are involved in regulating our mood. Serotonin is the one which has been extensively researched upon. It is one of the controlling neurotransmitter for carbohydrate ingestion [1]. With increased levels of serotonin, a feeling of well being is induced.
Glucocorticoids like Cortisol are released in the bloodstream in stressful conditions, they create a craving for the comforts foods (high in fat and sugar).

Factors which affect neurotransmitters
1. Tryptophan - It is an essential amino acid (the building blocks of proteins). It is one of the main amino acid needed to make serotonin.

2. Insulin (a hormone secreted by pancreas which helps in the uptake of glucose molecules from the bloodstream into the cells) - the ingestion of carbohydrates results in a surge in insulin levels of the body. It clears the pathway of tryptophan which is then easily absorbed and is free to make serotonin. When we take simple carbohydrates (like sugar) then the insulin increases rapidly as compared to complex carbohydrates. It means that ingestion of sweets makes us feel better. But as soon as the effect is over we again feel cranky and thus repeatedly reach out for sugary foods.

3. Theobromine- this chemical is present primarily in cocoa beans from which chocolate is made. It is a vasodilator which means it can lower our blood pressure by relaxing the muscles of our blood vessels.

4. Caffeine - Caffeine acts as a stimulant. It increases our heart rate and blood pressure which makes us more alert. But it can make you dependent to the extent that you have withdrawal symptoms when you avoid it. It is commonly found in beverages like tea, coffee, energy drinks, colas etc.

5. Tyrosine- it is a non- essential amino acid. The cells of the brain convert tyrosine into dopamine, norepinephrine & epinephrine. These are body’s built-in opiates which help to dull pain. Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) helps in the conversion to dopamine.

6. Vitamin & mineral deficiencies- Deficiency of essential vitamins like B- complex, vit D, vit C and minerals like iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, calcium and zinc leads to irritability and more sensitivity to stressful situations.Niacin (vit B-4) requires a special mention as it is a requisite for all the life sustaining reactions in the body. In fact it is present in the pathway of changing tryptophan to serotonin.


We reach out for comfort foods only when we are stressed, so eating them occasionally is not a problem...right? No. Because in reality, we consume much more calories than required in a short time period. Also, the daily stresses may precipitate it to become our regular habit. We should instead focus at prevention so that there is no chemical locha (imbalance) in our brains.

How do we prevent mood swings?

1. Have a healthy breakfast – whole cereals e.g. oatmeal, whole grain breads, Daliya (porridge), bran cereals, poha(rice flakes) are a good way to start the day. They have complex carbohydrates which help in boosting mood and keeping it that way for a longer period of time.

2. Eat fruits everyday – Fruits like oranges, grapes, pineapple, mango, kiwifruit, blueberries, papaya, avocado, pears or any other seasonal fruit should do the job.

3. Drink water - Have at least 8 glasses of water every day. Dehydration enhances irritability and atmospheric temperature changes affect mood. On a hot day people are observed to be more irritable. Avoid dehydrating beverages like colas, black tea, coffee and energy drinks.

4. Eat vegetables – vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, beetroot, carrots, celery are rich in minerals and vitamins. Eat variety in your diet.

5. Don’t stay hungry- Having regular meals helps in regulating the insulin mechanism. It will prevent from reaching out for a high calorie food (like cookies/donuts/samosa) to relieve hunger pangs quickly.

6. Opt for healthy alternatives – Eat a fruit instead of a Kachori(a lentil filled salted indian croissant) or a cookie when hunger is the driving factor. Apple, papaya, pineapple or any seasonal fruit is a better option than gorging on fat filled goodies.

7. Include healthy fats- Sources of healthy fats (here, omega-3 fatty acids) include nuts, walnut oil, seafood (tuna, halibut), flaxseed oil

8. Exercise regularly

9. De-stress by activities – Cultivate your hobbies. Do yoga or meditation to de-stress.

In spite of the preventive factors; sometimes in our day-to-day living we do come across stress and need a quick relief. Let’s look at few foods which are a healthier option than donut with crème latte or macaroni with cheese.

Mood enhancing foods that might work for you!

1. Bananas – packed with carbohydrates, potassium & magnesium. Ideal if no meal has been taken due to long working hours.

2. Fresh Fruit juice- these have simple carbohydrates and vitamin C. The released insulin will have the desired effects and vitamin C counters oxidative stress in the body. They are also rehydrating. Avoid fruit juice concentrates which are high in sugar.

3. Walnuts- are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and magnesium. Deficiency of both of these interferes with mood.

4. Salad with greens – it fills you with complex carbohydrates and necessary vitamins. Spinach is a very good option

5. Milk shakes- they give proteins resulting in a sense of fullness. A skimmed milk version helps in calorie control.

6. Whole meal cereal with milk and cut fruit – It will serve as an ideal breakfast if counter early morning crankiness.

7. Dark Chocolate – it has theobromine. A very small piece should have the effect which means it should give the desired sense of calm and satiety.

8. Tea – it contains caffeine and theophylline (a flavanol similar to theobromine). It’ll temporarily elevate mood and dispel drowsiness.

9. Coffee- caffeine in the coffee increases heart rate resulting in alertness. It is habit forming.

Remember “If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution”


PS: I’m always eager to answer your questions and hear your suggestions. So please bring them to light.

Ref:
1. Biol Psychiatry. 1998 Nov 1;44(9):851-64. ‘Hypothalamic serotonin in control of eating behavior, meal size, and body weight.’ Leibowitz SF, Alexander JT.