We all know that a balanced diet comprises carbohydrates, protein and fat along with vitamins and minerals.
Carbohydrates, a complex affair
All carbohydrates are not made equal. Complex carbohydrates that come from whole grains, root vegetables and pseudo-grains (millet, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa) provide a whole range of health benefits. The fibre in complex carbs reduces bad cholesterol, keeps us feeling full for longer, aids in better blood sugar management. Replacing half the grains consumed by whole grains is a good place to start.
Protein, a must
Protein is vital for growth and repair in the body. During pregnancy and lactation, protein intake is also critical for the growth of the foetus and production of breast milk. Foods that have all eight essential amino acids are said to be a complete protein. Vegetarian foods are usually lacking in one or more essential amino acids but combining cereal with a legume, which is extremely common in Indian cuisine is an easy way to get all essential amino acids in a meal. Similarly, legumes can also be combined with dairy such as in dahi-vada, khichdi-dahi also becomes a complete protein. Using good quality, unpolished dal can, like Tata Sampann Dals help you get good amount of nutrition from your ingredients.
All fats are not bad
Healthy fats are essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in preventing heart disease, blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Women need more percentage of fat in their diet as compared to men due to its role in reproductive function.
Vitamins & minerals matter too
To get all the essential vitamins and minerals, it is good to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables of different colours in a day. Each of these fruits and vegetables is rich in phytochemicals that prevent disease, boost immunity, reduce inflammation and fight free radicals. While fresh produce is ideal, produce in frozen, dried, canned, fermented, pureed forms all contribute towards the 5-a-day requirement.
Women specifically need to be more careful with their diets during pregnancy and lactation, which places an increased nutritional demand on the body. Other conditions like polycystic ovarian disease and pre-menstrual syndrome can also benefit from lifestyle changes that include a healthier diet free of processed foods.
Here are some specific foods that benefit women’s health:
Iron-rich foods such as red meat (eat in moderation), chicken breast, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, beans and lentils. For better absorption of iron from vegetarian sources, make sure you combine with foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, tamarind, tomato as in tomato in rasam, spinach+tamarind, cereal+orange juice. While men need 8mg iron/day, women need 18mg iron/day and 27 mg/day during pregnancy.
Calcium-rich foods such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, broccoli and tofu prevent osteoporosis. The requirement for women is 500-700 mg/day which is easily obtained from 2 cups of yoghurt or milk in a day. Along with calcium, vitamin D is also important so if you do not have adequate sun exposure in a day, then talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
Phytoestrogen rich foods like flaxseeds and soy products mimic the effects of the female hormone oestrogen and enable proper functioning of the reproductive system, sexual function and metabolism.
An ideal way to ensure a balanced diet is to eat a wide variety of whole and natural foods. Each ingredient in the Indian kitchen is full of nutrition. Choose the right recipes, spices and methods of cooking to get the most out of your meals.
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