Eat Healthy, Live Healthy
Nutrition influences health in no uncertain manner.By Dr Ulhas Ganu
The important steps towards acquiring good health are: taking care of food, exercise, recreation, relaxation, and rest. Unfortunately, in this competitive world, we fail to do full justice to any of them. Competition and, hence, the working schedule to suit the requirement, is the single cause of such neglect. Obesity has been linked to an increased incidence of cancer. Nothing happens overnight, including obesity. Obesity is a stepwise process, which appears to get expressed suddenly because of associated medical problems. Moderation in food is the key, and calorie intake should be proportionate to the requirement of activity. It is not the quantum alone but the quality of food in terms of constituents that matters. Recently, I came across a very apt statement at the Cheese Factory at Panchgani. Promoting yogurt and cheese, the placard said: “It’s not a diet, it’s eating healthy.” Actually, food is all about eating healthy.
Chemists and nutritionists break down food into protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Yes, water is also a nutrient. Physiologists classify their various roles: building material, solvent, reaction medium, and reactant. It works as a carrier for nutrients and waste products. Further, it acts as a shock absorber and lubricant and plays an important role in thermoregulation. We owe our capacity to withstand higher atmospheric temperature by keeping body temperature fairly constant to water, which contributes about 70 percent of our body content. This requires precise regulation of water balance in our body. Loss of as less as 1 percent of body water is usually compensated within 24 hours by controlling intake or loss to reach a balance.
Water is the only liquid nutrient that is really essential for body hydration. Consumption of water varies depending on the bodyweight of the individual and climatic conditions. Our food also contains a lot of water. Hence, on average, a sedentary adult should drink 1.5l of water a day. Needless to say, those working in the sun or doing hard labor may need to drink more water while those with compromised kidney function are put on a restricted quantity of water. The body manages to ask for water through thirst as it asks for food through hunger. While protein, carbohydrates, and fat provide calories, vitamins, minerals, and water do not provide any calories. Of these nutrients, protein, vitamins, and minerals have a well-defined Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Fats and carbohydrates, though important for supplying energy, have no RDA. It means the amount defined by RDA is to be consumed through food and any shortage that may occur is to be obtained from supplements.
While food consumed all over the world essentially contains all these common ingredients, their source, quantities and the method of preparation makes a huge difference that can have a lasting effect on our health. A normal person with a sedentary lifestyle needs to consume about 1g of protein per kg body weight to compensate for daily wear and tear because of metabolic processes. Protein is needed for conserving muscle structure. It also plays an important role as enzymes. The immune system relies on immunoglobulins, which are made up of proteins. Albumin helps retain intravascular water, prevents edema and forms a depot of drugs as a reservoir to release them slowly, controlling toxicity. Many hormones are also derived from proteins, peptides and amino acid derivatives, though they may belong to a class of compounds called steroids.
Protein, carbohydrates and fat are classified as macronutrients while vitamins and minerals are considered micronutrients. Required in small quantities, these are essential for normal metabolism, growth and physical well-being. Our energy needs are fulfilled through food, which also provides us these macros and micronutrients. Vitamins are a diverse group of naturally occurring substances having actions ranging from antioxidants to co-enzymes, assisting in the biochemical reactions of other enzymes. They have a specific role and hence, have RDA. The Greek word ‘Phyto’ means plant. Many of the chemicals present in plants, designated as phytochemicals, protect plants from infective agents like fungi, germs or even pests. Thus, phytochemicals encompass all chemicals from plants, whether vitamins by classical definition or not, but beneficial for our health. We’ll talk more about phytochemicals in the articles.
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