The next most important meal of the day is lunch. According to ayurveda, our digestion is at its peak at noon and our body is able to complete the digest-absorb-assimilate cycle, and there are many active hours to metabolise the food before we sleep. Skipping lunch on the other hand, slows down the metabolism which is not desirable as it can lead to a huge weight gain in the long run. Skipping lunch can also lead to anxiety, stress and tension.
Like breakfast, lunch and dinner also need to be balanced and include wholegrain cereals, protein foods, vegetables (both cooked and salads) along with small amounts of added oil or ghee or sugar to improve the palatability of the meal. Remember lunch should not be so heavy as to make you feel sleepy afterwards but should keep you energised and satisfied. Remember dinner should be lighter than lunch.
Lunch whether at home or packed should be based on whole grains. Rice eaters should choose parboiled rice or brown rice instead of white rice. Parboiled rice and brown rice have a higher fibre, vitamin, mineral content and satiety value as compared to white rice.
Those who prefer eating chapattis, rotis or phulkas should prepare the same from multigrain flour rather than plain wheat flour. Multigrain flours have a higher protein, vitamin and mineral content. When it comes to chapattis and rotis their size, thickness and amount of oil or ghee smeared on top while roasting varies with families and this affects their caloric value. Some families make small thin ones while others make thicker larger ones.
What really matters is the quantity of rice or the number of chapattis or rotis that are eaten as portion sizes have a big impact on one’s total caloric intake.
In addition to whole grain cereals, lunch and dinner should consist of plenty of vegetables every day. It is not only the quantity of vegetables that is important but variety too. Except for the root vegetables, all other vegetables are low in calories, have high water content and are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Include green leafy vegetables and yellow orange vegetables twice a week. Remember half your plate should consist of vegetables both raw as well as cooked.
Root vegetables such as colocasia (arbi), potato (batat), elephant foot (suran), sweet potato (Kongi/ratal /shakkarkhand), tapioca, yam (katekongi, karando and chirko) are starchy and rich in energy and need to be eaten in less quantity.
Round off your lunch and dinner with a fruit. Fruits especially amla, guava and citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C which helps in the absorption of iron from the meal.
There are a number of other accompaniments such as curries, gravies or dry dishes that are prepared from pulses, dals, fish, egg, chicken or meat and eaten both at lunch and dinner. These foods are rich in protein that not only help meet the protein needs of the body but also provides satisfaction to a meal. In Goa, Konkan, coastal Karnataka and Kerala, most of the accompaniments are coconut-based. Contrary to popular belief, consuming coconut is actually healthy. Coconut consists of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids lauric acid and capric acid which get converted in the body into monolaurin and monocarpin and have been shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties.
For many people, meals are incomplete without papads, pickles or chutneys. These foods make a bland and boring meal appetising. Though pickles are prepared from nutritious ingredients such as lime, amla, mango or a variety of vegetables, they contain a large quantity of salt, sugar and oil which are added to preserve the pickles. Papads are prepared from pulses but also contain salt and sodium benzoate (papadkhar) and have high sodium content. Hence, pickles and papads should be eaten in restricted amounts.
Chutneys are an important part of an Indian diet. Chutneys are prepared from a variety of ingredients and are of two types – dry and wet. Dry chutneys are usually powders that are prepared from pulses, groundnut, dry coconut (kopra) and seeds like sesame, flaxseeds and niger seeds along with spices. Wet chutneys have a paste like consistency and are prepared from fresh ingredients such as fresh coconut, coriander leaves, mint, curry leaves, tomato along with tamarind, amla and spices. Dry chutneys are rich in protein, good fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Wet chutneys especially the ones which contain coriander, mint or curry leaves are rich in chlorophyll and antioxidants. Since chutneys have a lower salt content as compared to papads and pickles, they can be consumed more frequently.
When planning the menu for lunch or dinner, remember to add less oil for seasoning (bajar or phodni) and in chapattis. Use cooking methods such as steaming, grilling, roasting and baking instead of frying to cut down on oil intake and calories
Working women in particular should never substitute lunch with fast foods and soft drinks but should carry a nutritious packed lunch and a big bottle of water from home and should take time out from work and eat without distractions.
Consumption of snacks in between meals is a common habit. If chosen wisely, a snack helps recharge a person with energy and prevents overeating at meals. In the absence of healthy snack options a person may end up snacking on foods like potato wafers, patties, samosas, batata vadas, pakodas, French fries, biscuits, namkeen, mithai, aerated beverages, etc, that are high in fat, sugar and sodium. Excessive consumption of such foods along with decreased or lack of physical activity leads to weight gain and obesity. Good snack choices include roasted groundnuts, roasted gram (chana), mixture of roasted nuts and dry fruit, nachni satwa, fruits, curd, chikki, rajgira or groundnut laddoos, dhokla, khandvi, whole wheat bread sandwiches with peanut butter, puran poli, and theplas.
Women should make sure to drink about six glasses of water in addition to other beverages. Water is important for good health and helps prevent urinary tract infection which is very common among women. Working women, especially those who spend long hours in air-conditioned environments, should be all the more particular to drink adequate amounts of water. While at work avoid excessive intake of tea or coffee. Coffee contains caffeine which is a stimulant. It is also a diuretic which leads to loss of water from the body. Tea contains tannins which decreases the absorption of iron from meals.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)