Yie Chun forced herself out of bed to get to work by 8 a.m. fighting a headache and lack of energy. “If only I could get my coffee before I leave home, I’ll be fine”, she thought.
This may be a familiar scenario played out in hundreds of homes across the world as people struggle to stick to a healthy diet that leaves them energized, agile and disease-free.
Back in the “good old days” when we used our bicycle and tended the fields or cooked for the family, the body’s constant physical activity was a buffer against any dietary indiscretions that could deflect us sideways.
But the twin factors of lack of exercise and unhealthy dietary choices are resulting in soaring rates of obesity, overweight, high blood pressure and diabetes in Taiwan and around the world.
What Is a Healthy Diet?
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC), the founding father of natural medicine.
With the body of evidence mounting about the value or danger of certain foods and the continual emergence of new “weight loss” diets, it is easy to get confused with what to eat and what to avoid. But unlike fads and fashions that have come before, let’s look at the facts that speak for themselves.
The Taiwan Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of foods daily, including starchy foods in each meal, meats, legumes, milk products, fruits and vegetables daily and limiting sugar, fats and alcohol. These guidelines mirror similar recommendations in other countries as common health problems are experienced on a global scale.
Dieticians and nutritionists agree that excessive intakes of refined carbohydrates, especially sweetened cold drinks and fruit juices are associated with obesity and NCDs (non-communicable diseases).
The top five American health organizations basically said the same thing: “Choose a diet rich in grain products, vegetables and fruits and one that is low in saturated fat, fat and cholesterol and moderate in sugar and salt”.
The Food Pyramid:
The food pyramid developed by the US Department of Agriculture and revised every 5 years is a fairly good guide for consumers on how to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy and active. Combined with regular exercise and control of alcohol and smoking, the food pyramid ensures a reasonable state of health.
Big Is Not Always Best
In many cultures a big, healthy body is a sign of robust health and strength. But nowadays our changing food habits may also result in being overweight and at the same time being malnourished! That’s because of the “empty calories” phenomenon found in many convenience foods such as french fries, cakes, chocolates and pastries. These foods can be described as energy dense (too many calories) but nutrient poor (not enough vitamins and minerals).
Modern scientific research backs up the age-old advice of Grandma and Mother to “eat your vegetables”. A generous daily helping of vegetables (3-5 servings) will ensure an adequate vitamin and mineral supply. Vitamins and minerals lubricate the wheels of our metabolism, helping the chemical reactions in our bodies run properly. Among those biochemical processes aided by nutrients is the regulation of sugar and burning of fat.
A New England Journal of Medicine study of 120,000 participants over a four year period found that the food most associated with adding weight were french fries, potato chips, sugary drinks, meats, sweets and refined grains. The foods most associated with shedding weight were yogurt, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Why would that be so?
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
The below chart explains why certain foods are better for you than others:
Nuts French Fries
Take longer to chew Cooked starch is quickly broken down
Contain fat and fibre that need more time Causes spike in sugar in the bloodstream
Your stomach stays fuller and you feel The body secretes insulin, leading to hunger
satisfied longer… signals…
…so you eat less at your next meal …so you eat more at your next meal
You lose 0.30 kg You gain 1.50 kg.
Source: New England Journal of Medicine
The Benefits of Traditional Foods
Grandma’s good advice was usually complemented by a preparation of nutritious food made as her parents did. There is a lot to be said for the way food was obtained and prepared the old fashioned way:
- No added chemicals; most food was grown organically before the arrival of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
- Minimally processed—all the nutrients in the freshly harvested food were retained.
- Easily processed by the body since that is what our bodies have been accustomed to over thousands of years.
- The food is highly nutritious since the body can assimilate and extract more readily the nutrients in the food.
- Locally grown: fits to our genes and personal psychology.
- Prepared with love by mother or grandmother.
The Inherent Risks of Fast Foods
As urban life becomes increasingly complex and time poor, we look for quick, easy-to-grab foods that are more convenient. Moreover, these foods are often delicious and cheap on the budget—too tempting to resist!
Unfortunately statistics in the USA reveal the rates of obesity have increased steadily over the last 30 years, a time period that has witnessed an explosion in the numbers of fast food restaurants, vending machines and convenience stores. In Taiwan and other industrialized countries the stories are the same.
Taiwan research reveals that the prevalence of obesity of primary school children increased from 0% in 1954 to 12% in 2002. The obesity prevalence rate of adult males and females were 14.6% and 15.8%. Lifestyle diseases like obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, which are directly related to inactivity and poor nutrition (high-fat foods, too much salt and sugar, and too little fibre, fruits and vegetables), are increasing in young adults.
Source: From dietary guidelines to daily food guide: the Taiwanese experience, Min Su Tzeng DrPH
What Are the Benefits of Eating Right:
Peaceful and undisturbed sleep
High energy the whole day
No need for excessive supplements or medicines
Strong appetite before all meals
Digestive system strong and fully functional
Recover quickly from any illness or ailment
Body feels light
Mind feels joyful and content
Eight Tips for a Healthy Diet:
You may make up your own rules but here is a sampling from a variety of experts:
Eat in moderation
Choose foods that look like they did when they came out of the ground, i.e. the less the food is processed the better it is.
Be an omnivore
Get some exercise
Rise with the sun and sleep during darkness
Drink plenty of water
Eat in a relaxed, happy frame of mind
Living healthily is as important as earning money and getting a good education. Our life quality increases one hundred fold when we are healthy and energetic. Healthy eating is a major component of a healthy life. Healthy eating must go together with right exercise and right thinking. Balance is the mantra for healthy eating—eating in moderation. A balanced diet is the best way to ensure an adequate intake of essential nutrients. By using the food pyramid as our guide there is no reason why we cannot attain and maintain optimal health through wise eating habits.
Balanced diet, nutritious food, regular exercise, happy frame of mind, fast food, obesity, vitamins, minerals