Healthy eating is rarely a one-size-fits-all prescription. A nutritionally balanced diet varies on many accounts. Age, gender, profession, socio-economic standing and one’s culture - everything comes into play. For most people, food is first cultural and then nutritional.
Food habits like any other cultural customs are internalized by people from an early age. This determines how one’s taste buds and appetite develops over time. Yet, when you search the term “healthy recipes” on Google, all you come across are Eurocentric examples of what a nutritionally balanced diet must look like.
Here - the bulk of the search results will lead you to a healthy eating diet plan consisting of recipes which can be considered mainstream for Caucasian, non-immigrant Americans. This is not to say these diet plans are not proven to be healthy. Instead, what we are trying to illustrate is that our perception of healthy eating should be wider and more inclusive.
And then of course, diets can further be expounded depending on your gender, health conditions and affordability. As some of the healthy options are out of reach for the most underprivileged amongst us. Even as we age, we have to take extra precaution about what we choose to consume. Certain foods that may have seemed healthy at one point, may not be advisable at a later point in life.
Thus, there are many considerations and exceptions that should be addressed before we ascertain a particular diet to be healthy and the other not. Sure, you have to be aware of the nutritional content of what goes into your food. But at the same time, the diet that you subscribe to should make you excited and look forward to everyday.
Modern diet trends are contradictory
Ever so often there is a new fad or trend in the food industry. People seem to be all crazed about whatever the latest diet trend is. Many claiming it to be a miraculous discovery and the disapprovers calling it out to be a useless fad. Amidst so many contradictory diet trends, what does healthy eating really mean?
Keto is the next big thing and Atkins was all the rage back in the day. Yet, both follow similar guidelines. Both emphasize a high protein, and low carb intake for diabetes management and to assist weight loss.
Again on the topic of protein, different diets have varying takes on how to source it. While most diets incorporate animal meat to meet their moderate to high protein demands, veganism and vegetarianism do away with it completely. On the top of that, while vegetarians can consume animal by-products, any type of animal extract is a big no in the vegan cookbook.
This is not to affirm that one diet reigns superior compared to the others. Every diet has some benefit or the other backed by their own philosophies. But, in comparison, these diets seem to be contradictory to each other. Although each may work well in their own place. It is only obvious that it is not any singular diet which is the epitome of health.
Picking a diet which suits your lifestyle and taste preferences would be the best choice. It is a good idea to try all different kinds of diets to see what fits you best. But it is of no use to jump from one trend to another just to find ‘the one’ which will change your life completely. No one diet in this world is akin to a miracle.
A diet’s popularity depends on its marketing, which is why they keep going in and out of fashion. People tend to latch on to different diets in different seasons, without analyzing what would be the best for them. The food industry does all it can to promote these trendy diets. While one diet is advertised as being the gospel for weight loss, another promises clear skin for life. Many people fall for these clever marketing tactics and are disappointed when they do not look like what they had imagined.
Fats vs Carbs - The continuing debate
In the 90s, low fat diets were trending; fat had begun to be held as something you should completely avoid in all forms to be healthy. More recently, the tables have turned and now it is carbohydrates that are regarded as the enemy of healthy eating.
Studies have suggested that diets high in saturated and trans fats can increase risks of cardiovascular disease. However, healthy fats are an important part of a regular diet. Lesser than required fat intake can result in rashes, a weakened immune system, hair loss, and vitamin deficiencies.
Carbs have a similar story. A recent research by Harvard has suggested that people who have low carb or high carb diets may have reduced life expectancy. Evidently, higher than required carbs are harmful, but so are lesser than required. What is the verdict then? The same research has found people who eat moderate amounts of carbs (50-55% energy from carbohydrates) live longer than those who have high carb or low carb diets.
Excess of both carbs and fats can be harmful, but so can be taking them less than required. The key is to have a balanced amount of both in your diet.
What does healthy eating mean to us?
We at Nymble believe that the joy of food is in eating it. Set aside all the diets and their restrictions for now. Remember that eating is the most essential part of being and feeling alive.
Food is about identity, culture, habit and of course, taste. The key distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is that we cook our food the way we like it. Our intellect and cultural evolutions ensured the need for our food to taste good. That is what forms the basis of our eating habits today.
Good tasting, well-cooked food is healthy food.
We do not deny the fact that certain high fat or carb foods need to be had in moderation. Some items are also to be avoided if a nutritional expert advises you so because of any health issues. Plus, a variety of dishes from across cuisines are important to stave off boredom and take joy in your meals. We believe in helping you eat inline with your food habits and designing your own meal plans.
What does healthy eating mean to different people groups?
Healthy eating can mean different things for people of different age-groups and health goals. Each will have unique nutrient requirements and expect different results.
Children have dietary requirements that are different from full grown adults. Of course, infants should be limited to a narrow diet owing to their biology. As kids grow older into toddlers, their appetite increases and so do the types of food which they can eat.
We advise parents to provide their children with the same meals as the rest of the family as their appetite grows. Their meals should have plenty of fruits and veggies. This is to prevent them from growing up to be picky eaters. Discretionary foods, such as biscuits, cakes, chips, ice creams, cold drinks, and the like should be limited as they are not nutritionally beneficial.
Patients with diabetic and cardio-vascular issues
Contrary to popular belief, there are no foods or food groups that are off limits for diabetic patients. The key is to eat in controlled and balanced portions. Avoid sweetened products, and have roughly the same amount of carbs in each meal. Inconsistent carb intake can mean inconsistent blood glucose levels. This may prove harmful for people with diabetes.
As for people with cardio-vascular issues, it is to have food low in saturated and trans fats. Red meat and high fat dairy are rich in cholesterol. These are to be consumed sparsely, if not completely avoided.
People trying to gain or lose weight
In theory, weight gain is simple - increasing the amount of calories taken each day. Yet, the type of calorie plays a very important role. Increasing fat intake will increase the fat percentage of the body. Usually, an increase in protein intake is encouraged, especially for people hoping to build muscle.
Similarly, losing weight sounds simple enough, with a mere decrease in caloric intake. However, reducing the wrong food groups may result in different sorts of deficiencies. Not enough protein intake may cause one to lose muscle mass. For people looking to gain or lose weight, a twofold approach is recommended; to increase or decrease the amount of correct food groups.
Women who are expecting
Along with all the other innumerable hassles of pregnancy, comes the problem of having the correct foods in the right quantities. ‘Eating for two’ borders on a myth, as pregnant women do not really need to double their caloric intake. Only a slight increase is required.
A regular diet should consist of healthy carbs, fruits, veggies, meat, and healthy fats. Nutrients like calcium, protein, iron, are more necessary than others for a healthy mother and child. Alcohol, fish rich in mercury, and caffeine should be avoided.
Nutrition needs for the elderly
It is advised for individuals above 65 to consume a diet rich in protein and fiber. Also, you should replace saturated fat foods (such as butter and coconut oil) with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat foods such as nut butters and avocado. This is to reduce the likelihood of developing chronic diseases susceptible to the aged.
Healthy eating on a budget
People from modest economic backgrounds can not afford healthy food items which are on the pricier end. But cheap fast food takeaways are not the alternative. There are many ways you can consistently try to maintain a healthy diet. A cost-friendly grocery list always comes in handy.
This Reddit thread - “Eating healthy for $50 a week” offers many budget grocery list ideas.
What does a nutritionally balanced plate look like?
We are often faced with the question - what would an ideal plate of food look like? Many attempts have been made at postulating this. One of these that happens to be very popularly used and widely accepted is the healthy eating plate recommended by Harvard.
According to it, half of your plate should have vegetables and fruits - with vegetables consisting of a bigger porting. Of the rest, a quarter should be healthy protein and another quarter should be carbs. To go with it, some sort of fat in moderation and plenty of water. The quality of carbohydrates matters more than the quantity, and processed meats are to be avoided as much as possible. For drinks - tea, coffee, and most importantly, water is recommended. Sugary drinks are to be limited.
The chart also has a stick figure motioning a sprinting action, at the bottom left corner. This hints that exercise is also a crucial addition to a nutritionally balanced diet. This model can be applied for any cuisine or traditional diets.
At the end of the day, it is not any trendy diet or even Harvard’s healthy plate alone that can do much for you. Decide what is right for you according to your dietary preferences or restrictions, lifestyle, and most importantly, taste. Set your own terms and don’t be limited by definitions, especially those that contradict the ways of life of your culture or country.