Eating Right and Staying Healthy This Summer
Summer has its own charm. Despite the blistering heat, many of us actually look forward to the season as it is synonymous with vacations. Schools and colleges shut down for the summers and families make their holiday plans. On the other hand, summer is also notorious for ailments like heat stroke, dehydration, stomach upset and diarrhoea. This means we need to take care of our diet and lifestyle to be able to enjoy the season.
Whatever the season, one is always advised to eat a ‘balanced diet’. The concept of a balanced diet is to try to balance the amount of different types of foods one eats every day in order to derive all the nourishment the body needs. Foods have been classified into different groups to make this task easier. Choosing wisely from each food group is important, irrespective of age, in order to balance one’s diet. The quantity of foods selected can vary depending on age, body weight and gender. Foods are generally divided into five groups.
1. Cereal grains and their products. This food group includes all cereals like rice, rice flakes or chidwa, puffed rice or murmura, wheat, dalia, sooji, atta, maida, ragi, bajra, maize, cornflakes, jowar and barley, as well as foods made with these like bread, rusk, biscuits and pasta. Cereals are a good source of energy and protein and also provide us with other important nutrients like fibre, B-vitamins, iron and calcium. As fibre and B-vitamins are generally present in the outer bran layer of cereals, it is better to have whole cereals like unpolished brown rice instead of polished white rice, whole wheat atta instead of maida, whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, and so on.
In summers, select the cereals you are comfortable eating but do pay attention to the type of preparation. For instance, fried preparations like poori and parantha are not recommended as these are energydense and tend to release more heat in the body. Rice and phulkas (rotis) are lighter alternatives. Sattu in
sharbat form is a particularly refreshing drink to be enjoyed during summers. It is made from roasted gram flour and barley (jau) flour.
2. Pulses and legumes. All dals come in this group, viz. chana, moong, masoor, urad and arhar, as well as rajmah, chana, lobia, soya bean, peas, beans and products made from them or their flour like besan, soya nuggets and soya granules. Pulses give us energy and are a rich source of protein. Pulses are also good sources of fibre and B-vitamins, especially those that are eaten with the seed coat (sabut dals). Iron and calcium are also present in this food group.
The dal preparations should not have too much added ghee, cream or fat like in makhani dal. Sprouts eaten after slight steaming and seasoning are a good snack or salad.
The quality of protein from pulses or cereals by themselves is not as good as that present in milk, eggs or meat. But pulses and cereals when taken together, like in the form of dal-chawal or dal-roti, greatly enhance the protein quality in the meal.
3. Milk and meat products. This food group primarily provides us with good-quality protein and hence is very important, especially during childhood when the body is growing rapidly as also during pregnancy. Adults also need protein to maintain the normal functioning of their bodies and to look after repair of worn-out body parts and tissues.
Milk and milk products like curd, cheese, khoa and paneer are also rich sources of calcium, which is crucial for bone health. Full-cream milk is rich in saturated fat and cholesterol, undesirable for those with high blood cholesterol levels or those suffering from diabetes or heart disease. In fact, all adults, whether suffering from a disease or not, should cut down on intake of full-cream milk and products made from it and replace it with double-toned or skimmed milk.
In summers, curd and products made from it like lassi, buttermilk or chaach, smoothies and milk shakes with fruit should be preferred to hot milk beverages.
Meat and meat products include the flesh of animals like chicken, goat, sheep, pig and cow; seafood like fish, shrimp, prawn, oyster and mussel; eggs and meat products like bacon, ham, sausage and salami. Besides being rich sources of protein, meats also contain iron in a readily absorbable form. Since these foods are also a source of saturated fat and cholesterol, lean cuts of meat are advised. Oily gravies and fried preparations are difficult to digest and are not recommended in summers.
Meat, especially fish and other seafood, tends to spoil very fast during summers and hence one is advised to exercise care when buying or eating the same. Due to lack of basic hygiene and safe foodhandling practices in many places, raw meat can be highly contaminated with microbes. Buy meat products from clean stores that have good refrigeration facility (with power backup). Eat meat and meat products only after thorough cooking; else they can lead to food poisoning.
4. Fruits and vegetables. This is perhaps the most neglected food group, with most of us eating very little of fruit and vegetables. Surprising it is, considering a large part of the Indian population is vegetarian! The intake of vegetables per meal on an average is low. In the case of fruits the situation is starker, with a far lower intake quantity in general. What is recommended as desirable daily intake is about half a kilogram of fruits and vegetables (combined weight).
Fruits and vegetables are full of important chemical compounds called phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and fibre and are considered to be protective foods. They protect our bodies from a host of infectious diseases and other diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Of all the vegetables, green leafy vegetables like spinach, methi, cholai and other saags are a storehouse of nutrients. The points to remember while choosing vegetables and fruits are: • Eat seasonal vegetables and fruits. They are
cheaper and are more nutritious. • Always include a variety – don’t stick to the same vegetables every day. Vegetables equivalent to about 3–4 medium-sized bowls for adults (and about half of that for children up to 10 years) and about two fruits every day are recommended. • Try to include as many natural colours. In fruits and vegetables, nature presents a bounty of colours – white, red, orange, yellow, green and purple. Each colour pigment offers a different kind of protection, so go ahead and add colour to your menu. • Eating raw vegetables will ensure you get some vitamins like Vitamin C which get destroyed during cooking. But be sure to wash thoroughly any fruit or vegetable you eat with the peel, to remove germs and chemicals like pesticides that stick to the surface. Eating the peel also ensures you get more fibre. Raw fruits and vegetables are the main sources of food-poisoning outbreaks. These typically get served as salads or desserts in weddings and parties, wherever mass catering is being done with scant attention to food hygiene and sanitation. One must take care to avoid these. The ambient temperature in summers is ideal for bacteria, fungi and other food-spoilage microorganisms to multiply. Many food-poisoning outbreaks originate at home too, as many people omit to wash hands before handling food or leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours – just enough time for microbial degradation.
Summer vegetables like gourds – ghia, torai, pumpkin, cucumber, etc. – which are high in water content are preferred. Mint or pudina has cooling properties. You can have it in the form of a mintade (drink made from brewing mint leaves), chutney, etc. Vegetables and fruits are high in antioxidants (chemicals that help to fight free radicals/charged molecules that cause extensive damage to our body, leading to diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer). Melons (kharbooza and tarbooz) provide special relief from heat as they are high in water content. Tomatoes and watermelons (tarbooz) are especially rich in the antioxidant lycopene, known for reducing the risk of cancer and degenerative changes in the eyes. The inflammation-fighting antioxidants in watermelon may also reduce risk of complications of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and arthritis. Overall, since all fruits and vegetables have some special quality or the other, eating a variety of vegetables and fruits is a great shield against disease.
5. Fats and sugars. Fats and sugars provide us with energy. Fats include cooking oil, butter, ghee, nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts, coconuts, etc.) and oilseeds like til and mustard. Sugars include sugar, jaggery or gur, and honey. Eating too much of both fats and sugars is not desirable in any season. Three to four teaspoons of sugar/honey in a day are more than enough for an adult. If you can actually see oil floating in your dal and gravies, or sticking to your vegetables, you are using too much oil. For a healthy adult with a sedentary lifestyle, not more than four to five teaspoons of visible fat (cooking oil, ghee, butter, etc.) are recommended. Oily and creamy foods should be avoided as they are difficult to digest and will generate a lot of heat in the body, increasing discomfort levels.
Use of traditional spices and condiments is generally recommended in preparing dishes as these have many chemicals in them which are beneficial to our health. However, very spicy dishes are not advised during summer as they are heat-generating and can lead to acidity. Salt is a seasoning that should be added sparingly. The current recommendations for adults are not to have more than five grams (one teaspoon) of salt in a day.
For balancing your diet and eating healthy through summer, you need to include all food groups in your daily diet. You should also choose a variety of foods from each food group. The number of meals one has in a day depends on individual lifestyle. It is, however, recommended to have smaller and more frequent meals rather than two or three large meals in a day. Large meals are more difficult to digest and also increase your tendency to put on weight (especially if you make dinner your heaviest meal for the day!). Actually you should have a hearty breakfast to get you going for the day, followed by a good lunch, a snack with your evening tea, and a light dinner. Try to give a gap of at least two hours between dinner and hitting the bed.