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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Narika, Fremont
I typed the word – nutrition – in the Google search bar. About 1,480,000,000 results (0.63 seconds) appeared with a display of the first 11 links.
Whoa! I paused, then I typed – Nutrition for South Asians. About 97,700,000 results (0.60 seconds) was the result. I let this number sink in. What could I tell readers about nutrition in 1000 words or less that would actually be useful?
I narrowed my research to four questions. What are the principal do’s and don’ts for nutrition and healthy eating? What restrictions do health conditions pose? Are credible, well-researched guides available to help us develop individualized plans? Can we adapt these guidelines to cuisines we enjoy?
This article is about healthy eating using Indian, South-Asian and other preferred diets. In a nutshell, abide by these overarching rules:
Follow a heart-healthy diet
Reach and maintain a healthy body weight
Always eat breakfast
Don’t follow fad diets
Don’t skip meals
Next, download your free copy of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 published by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA. This authoritative guide provides an in-depth discussion on diet for proper nutrition and good health.
Its key recommendations are: daily consumption of foods and beverages should be within a caloric level appropriate for you. Adopt a healthy eating pattern that includes:
(1) a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
(2) fruits, especially whole fruits
3) grains, at least half of which are whole grains
(4) fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
(5) a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
(6) Oils (fats that are liquid at room temperature and high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats).
These recommendations for healthy eating patterns should be applied in their entirety, given the interconnected relationship that each dietary component can have with others.
The Dietary Guidelines suggest that we get about half of our calories from carbohydrates. Fruit, vegetables, all grain-based foods and dairy products all contain ‘good’ or ‘whole’ carbohydrates in the form of sugar and starch and fiber (as opposed to refined or processed carbohydrates). Most carbohydrates get broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy; they can also be turned into fat (stored energy) for later use.
“Good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet; they lower risk of disease. Most of the dietary fat should be of this kind and is found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils (corn, olive, soybean, etc.). Saturated fats found primarily in meat and dairy products should be limited. The trans fats created by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils should be eliminated.
A healthy eating pattern also limits added sugars and sodium. The Guidelines suggest that less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake should be from added sugars and less than 10 percent from saturated fats. Sodium consumption should be less than 2,300 milligrams per day (slightly less than a standard teaspoon of salt). Your daily diet should include 4,700 milligrams of potassium which offsets sodium’s effect on blood pressure and has other health benefits. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, leafy green vegetables, and potatoes. For example, a medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium, 8 oz of plain non-fat yogurt contain 580 mg and a baked potato about 600 mg. The dietary guidelines provide a detailed listing of foods containing potassium. Meat, milk, and some cereal products contain potassium but in a form that is difficult to absorb. Alcohol consumption by adults should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men.
A Harvard Health publication points out that “one of the first principles of healthy eating is to choose nutrient-dense foods that pack, calorie-for-calorie, the most amount of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. That’s why the Guidelines say that the 2,000-calorie-a-day reference diet should include nine servings of fruit and vegetables.” (this can be made up by including 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day) It recommends including a “good” fat with every meal and urges limiting dairy intake (noting that dairy products are fairly high in calories) and choosing fat-free and low-fat dairy products to avoid cholesterol-boosting saturated fats. The Nutrition Source at the Harvard School of Public Health patterns the Healthy Eating Plate© on these Guidelines.
To help Americans of Indian origin better manage diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension, obesity and hyperlipidemia, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) commissioned Dr. Ranjita Misra, now Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at West Virginia University, to edit the second edition of the book Indian Foods: AAPI’s Guide To Nutrition, Health and Diabetes. This excellent resource on nutrition and healthy eating with Indian cuisine includes chapters on East Indian, South Indian, Maharashtrian, Gujarati, North Indian and Nepali cuisine as well as diet and lifestyle recommendations to prevent heart disease, and tips for those living with diabetes and kidney disease.
Dr. Misra recommends the Dietary Guidelines “as the Bible to go by,” and advocates following it to build a personalized eating plan, using the AAPI Guide and similar sources to tailor it to your cuisines of choice. I spoke with Dr. Misra at length, and she offered several tips that you’ll soon see in the sequel to this article.
In conjunction with a healthy-eating plan, everyone – children, adolescents, adults, and older adults – should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Consult your doctor to account for your specific health requirements, and get on the nutritious and healthy-eating bandwagon with these few simple rules. Develop your own healthy eating plate and enjoy varied, tasty, healthy and nutritious meals every day!
Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. Sukham provides information, and access to resources on matters related to health and well-being, aging, life’s transitions including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death in the family and bereavement. If you feel overcome by a crisis and are overwhelmed by Google searches, Sukham can provide curated resource help. To find out more, visit https://www.sukham.org, or contact the author at email@example.com.
“Copyright © 2011 Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, http://www.thenutritionsource.org and Harvard Health Publications, health.harvard.edu.”