A storehouse of articles pertaining to diet and nutrition
Know Your Foods- A Facts and Nutrition Guide
By- Dr. Panchali Moitra
Cereals, pulses, nuts or seeds- You must have come across these terms while reading diet charts, listening to health shows or browsing through nutrition based websites. While we may be aware that each of these food groups encompass an integral part of any healthy diet regime; the process of understanding the nutritional disparity between them and being able to choose the correct combination of each in our daily diet may become a baffling experience. Let’s find out the key facts about each of these common foods and grasp their role in providing optimum nutrition.
An essential part of our daily diet, cereals include rice, wheat, oats, barley, millets, sorghum or jowar, nachni or ragi, maize and breakfast cereals. Cereals provide our body with the energy to perform our daily activities and if chosen wisely, can arm us with adequate dietary fibre, B complex vitamins, essential fatty acids and minerals such as iron and calcium. They are best consumed in whole form as the process of refining removes the fibrous bran and the nutritious germ away and what is left behind is only the nutrient stripped simple carbohydrates.
Studies show that refining cereals may lead to a nutrient loss of up to 60% of fibre and folate; 90% of the minerals like selenium and almost a total loss of B vitamins and poly phenols. Overindulgence in these nutritionally void refined or polished cereals, such as the refined flour or maida based products (white breads, maida noodles, buns, cakes, cookies, etc) and sugary cereals is best restricted as they may lead to obesity and nutritional deficiencies.
There are instances when the word ‘legume’ is used interchangeably with ‘beans’ or ‘pulses’. The fact is that a legume is a broader term which includes all beans, peas, lentils, pulses and even peanuts (Yes, peanuts or groundnuts are not nuts but in fact belong to the legume family). The legumes represent the greatest source of plant protein and are also packed with complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, zinc, potassium, calcium, iron, and phyto chemicals. Nutritionally, the amount of protein present in half a cup of kidney beans (Rajmah) is similar to that present in approx 25 gms of meat and that too without any saturated fats and cholesterol. Often referred to as a vegetarian’s meat; beans and pulses are naturally low in sodium content, so are an excellent source of protein for people with history of hypertension and heart ailments.
Although, the protein content in pulses are higher than those in cereals (almost 2-3 times more than in rice and wheat), they lack an amino acid called methionine. Cereals have methionine in abundance and lack lysine which is in turn present in pulses. Thus in Indian cuisine, we consume cereals with pulses, for instance rice with dals or idli with sambhar.
Nuts and Seeds Nutrition
Nuts and seeds are often referred to as storehouses of vital nutrients as they are dense sources of protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals. They are rich in iron, magnesium and zinc which act as warriors against fatigue and stress; fibre and fatty acids that lower cholesterol; lecithin which is good for reproductive and endocrine health and potassium, which works with other minerals to regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
The Perfect Balance
The perfect recipe to good health is a well balanced eating pattern with a variety of foods included from different food groups. While the eating plan may differ based on the age, calorie needs and medical condition, the perfect healthy diet for an adult with moderate activity levels must typically include 5-7 servings of carbohydrate rich cereals followed by 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 2-3 serving each of legumes and milk products. A restricted intake of fats, oils, sodium and sugar and an emphasis on drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water also helps. Include regular exercises to this plan and you surely have a winning formula for a happy, healthy life.