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You are what you eat

Just a change in eating habits can change your mood and your lifestyle.

Anamika Butalia | Print Edition: April 4, 2010

India's age-old home remedies and cures have stood the test of time. Whether in urban or rural areas, dadima ke nuskhe have proved to be as effective as those prescribed by mainstream medicine, including Ayurveda. These remedies emphasised moderation. But, with globalisation, higher salaries and greater indulgences, health problems such as obesity, low productivity, stress and depression have started cropping up on an unprecedented scale.

"Help your body Mumbai", a campaign against chronic diseases recently conducted by Piramal Healthcare, is concerned with rising levels of obesity and lack of fitness. "Young Indians make up 80 per cent of the total population, and in another 10 years, diseases and health hazards are going to make this country a really scary place to live in," says nutritionist Naini Setalvad, who actively contributed to this campaign.

Setalvad says that simple modifications in the daily diet can change the way one feels. She runs the "One Life Programme" and foundation which focusses on promoting the virtues of organic food, adequate nourishment and energy. Setalvad says consuming organic food makes one feel calmer and better. "Everyone knows chocolate is a mood-lifter. But vey few know that banana, potato and cardamom are equally good mood-lifters," says Setalvad.

Everyone should strive to maintain a healthy diet, says Setalvad. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of this. To take an example, turmeric lowers the risk of cancer, helps stabilise weight and is known to help resist Alzheimer's disease.

The corporate world, says Setalvad, is full of unhealthy people, who eat irregular meals and gorge on junk food. Instead, they should follow a balanced diet made up of small and regular meals. The trick is to eat limited meals that make one feel full for long hours. Instead of using refined flour, mixing wheat flour with jowar or bajra, which are both very healthy grains, helps you stay full for several hours. All dry fruits are extremely healthy, and contrary to the notion, neither mangoes nor banana are "fattening".

"There's a lot of bogus information floating around," says Setalvad, who has personally battled obesity. In 1996, she was 32 and weighed 160 kgs. "I went through various medical tests to find out what was wrong. The results always showed nothing," remembers Setalvad. That's when she researched and found that most people are misinformed about dietary habits.

For two years, she "created" a balanced diet and followed it. "I just ensured there was no sugar. But a year into the diet changes and the exercise routine, I found that vegetables, fruits and dry fruits improved my metabolism considerably. I went from feeling lethargic, tired and depressed to feeling fitter and happier, and with high immunity," she says. By 1998, she had lost 100 kgs.

Says Setalvad: "It's never too late to change your lifestyle. And eating the right food always helps." Getting exercise and sunlight is an important part of being healthy, even if it means starting off with a five-minute walk early in the morning. Forty-five minutes is an optimal amount of daily exercise for all (except those who have knee and hip problems). As Setalvad puts it succinctly: Move your body or lose your body.

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