Hippocrates, of the eponymous Oath and known as the father of medicine, famously wrote: “Let food be thy medicine.” According to the World Health Organization, consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of non-communicable diseases and conditions. However, increased consumption of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. We are now consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars, salts and sodium, and many of us do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other dietary fibre such as whole grains. Moreover, the modern high-pressure office jobs and comfortable commute have replaced the traditional occupations and walking habit, resulting in less physical activity and more brain exertion. Consequently, lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular, diabetes, hypertension, asthma and respiratory as well as cancers are on the rise in the country.
In fact, India has the highest number of diabetics at 50.8 million and nearly 60% of those suffering from cardiovascular diseases in the world reside here. Even as these numbers are expected to rise multi-fold in the coming years, health insurance penetration in the country remains abysmally low. According to a government-backed survey from 2016, more than 80% of Indians are not covered under any health insurance plan, with only 6% of the urban population and 1% of the rural population was covered under any form of private health insurance. So, the need of the hour is not only to get a health plan which covers most health issues that you or your family is likely to face, but to also make dietary changes to avoid such problems altogether.
Healthy eating and regular physical activity play a substantial role in preventing chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke, which are among the three leading causes of death among adults in India. Poor diet and physical inactivity among younger persons can lead to an increased risk for certain chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Regular physical activity and healthy eating in children and adolescents can lower their risk for obesity and related chronic diseases. But, beginning to make changes to your eating habits can be daunting - especially if you are not sure where to begin. Here are a few tips that can help you transition to clean eating:
- Eat more vegetables and fruits
- Limit processed foods and avoid packaged snack foods
- Avoid vegetable oils and spreads, and stop eating refined carbs
- Steer clear of added sugar in any form
- Limit alcohol consumption and make water your primary beverage
While these steps might be relatively easy for you, peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting your kids to eat well an uphill struggle. To encourage healthy eating habits among children, the challenge is to make nutritious choices appealing. For kids, you need to focus on overall diet rather than specific foods, be a role model yourself in healthy eating, disguise the taste of healthier foods, cook more meals at home, get them involved in shopping for groceries and preparing meals, and make healthy snacks readily available.
Quick-fix diets do not work. However, it's easy to spot a fad diet as they typically promise a quick fix, promote ‘magic’ foods or combination of foods, implies that food can change body chemistry, excludes or severely restricts food groups or nutrients, such as carbohydrates and makes claims based on a single study or testimonials only. While some medical conditions do require special eating plans, in most cases, sticking to a balanced eating plan, i.e. eating everything in moderation, is more than enough.
Given today’s way of living and our own impulsive nature, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can be challenging, despite the benefits. In order to stick to a healthy nutritional plan, you need to start with realistic expectations and keep unhealthy foods out of the house. You should start exercising and eating healthy at the same time as they both reinforce the benefits of each other. You should also track and monitor your progress and do not let unexpected schedule changes to affect your diet plan. Understand that it takes time to change your habits and have the patience to figure out what works best for you. If you keep these things in mind, there is little chance that you will fall back into the habit of eating junk food any time soon.
So what makes up a healthy diet? A healthy diet and balanced diet depends on individual characteristics such as age, gender, lifestyle and degree of physical activity, cultural context, locally available foods and dietary customs.
According to the WHO, a healthy diet for adults and young children includes the following:
- Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice).
- At least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots.
- Have less than 50 grams of free sugars per day. Sugars is naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
- Less than 30% of your total energy intake should come from fat
- Less than 5 grams of salt, equivalent to about one teaspoon per day. Salt should be iodized.
A balanced, adequate and varied diet is an important step towards a happy and healthy lifestyle. While it is imperative to switch to a healthier lifestyle, it is also equally important to protect ourselves and our family with a good health insurance policy. In case of any emergency, your insurance will help you have a timely and quality treatment. One way of doing so is to get a comprehensive health insurance policy. So hurry up to make sure you are fully protected against the rising tide of lifestyle diseases.
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