In my previous post, I gave a brief introduction to eating healthy food, but I did not divulge into too much details as to what constitutes a healthy diet. This post is a continuation of it. What is a healthy diet then? Actually there isn't much to say about healthy food. Almost everyone knows what is healthy and what is not. So I won't even try to enumerate them. Staying healthy has more to do with the grit and self control more than anything else. You subconsciously already know when you are about to eat unhealthy.
Disclaimer: I am neither a nutritionist or a fitness adviser. I don’t have any certification. Take all my advice with a pinch of salt. I have been into health and fitness since 2008 and that is probably my only credibility. I am not liable for any health issues that might arise following my advice. Risk is all yours.
The biggest problem with eating an unhealthy meal is that it will undo a lot of your hard work. One day of bad meals undoes a week's worth of dedicated healthy eating. Remember that always. Cakes, sweets, deep fried food, simple sugars, all of these are unhealthy. Anything and everything that you eat outside is almost always unhealthy (even if you think it is healthy). The outside chicken or egg sandwiches may sound healthy, but they are not, because they mix a lot of flour with almost no meat or egg, to make it. And even the meat used is most likely old thrown away meat from the meat shop. Trust me on this. Sometimes they serve you meat that is not what the menu says, especially in the small restaurants.
If I am sounding too negative, it is because that is the truth :). Most of our health and fitness problems are related to controlling our desires than anything else. Unhealthy food always tastes good, and I don't have a snake oil to cure the desires. But if you are still reading, then perhaps you have figured out a way to control your thoughts and desires and want to learn about healthy food. But before understanding what constitutes a good diet for you, we need to understand some basics about food. Lets start with macronutrients.
Macronutrients are nutrients that are required in large amounts for our body to function properly and hence the name marco-nutrients. Each of these nutrients provide energy in the form of calories for the body to do its job. They come in three flavors -- carbohydrates, proteins and fats. While there were studies at different times each pointing fingers at carbohydrates, meat and fat for most of the health related problems and obesity, neither of them is really bad. For a healthy body, we not only need to eat the macronutrients in the right proportions, but also in the right quantity and quality. Now lets get into the details.
These are made up of simple chains of sugar and starch that the body can break down into glucose, the essential, primary and preferred source of energy. Glucose is the simplest form of carbohydrate that can be easily converted to energy and used by our organs, and this is the preferred source of energy for the brain. Did you know that while the brain is only 2% of our body weight, it requires about 20% of our resting matabolic rate? A resting metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns calories if you are completely at rest. These calories go into basic functions of your body such as keeping the heart and lungs pumping, brain functions, etc.
Your brain is a massive consumer of calories. You definitely need carbohydrates to keep that brain running happily. Fun fact -- did you know that chess grandmasters can burn off 6000 to 7000 calories during competition? Then why do carbs get such a bad reputation? The reason is quite simple. It is the quantity and quality of these carbs that one consumes that is the problem.
Poor quality carbohydrates are sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, jaggery, honey etc). These sugars are not bad by themselves if eaten in moderation, but most people have absolutely no control over them. Cakes, sweets, ice creams, soft drinks, packaged fruit juices, all of these have way too much added sugars, and on top of that, we eat and drink them uncontrollably. Now that is a problem. A problem both of quality and quantity. Other bad carbs include all of processed foods such as white flour, bread, refined pasta, white rice etc. These are certainly better than sugars, but still have a lot of calories in them.
Now coming to the moderately good carbs, we have brown rice, whole wheat foods etc. However don't trust the packaged food that says whole wheat or multigrain, because they are usually made of white flour with only a little bit of added multigrains or whole wheat. Nobody ever said these are 100% wheat or multigrain. Just adding a few grams of multigrain allows the food industry to label these products as multigrain bread and what not, while it is mostly just white flour.
The good kind of carbohydrates are the ones found in vegetables and fruits. Naturally occurring carbs are best absorbed by the body because they also come with micronutrients (which I will come to in a later post) and fiber. And yet, too much of anything can be bad. So just eating sugarcanes or bananas all through the day will not help. Now that I touched upon fiber in food, that's a nice segue into understanding dietary fiber, glycemic index and glycemic load. But you will have to wait for the next post to know more about them :)
I know I went through a lot in this post, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg. But hopefully you now have some idea about what is a good carbohydrate and a bad carbohydrate. To summarize
- Grit and self control is a far more important attribute to have than knowing what constitutes a healthy diet because everybody has the knowledge, only a few execute
- Eating outside food is always unhealthy, avoid it as much as possible
- Macronutrients come in three flavors -- fats, carbohydrates and proteins
- Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy and you need adequate amount of it
- Eat healthy carbs such as brown rice, whole wheat, millets, oats, sprouts, fruits and vegetables
- Avoid unhealthy carbs such as sugar, fruit juice, ice creams, cakes, soft drinks, jams, sweets, snacks etc
- While sugar replacements such as jaggery or honey may sound good, too much of those is still bad, so prefer reducing sweet tooth than looking for replacements
More tips in my next post...