This article and the next are International Women’s Day special articles and are dedicated to all my wonderful women readers.
Women in general are so busy caring for their families that they have little or no time to care for themselves. Most often than not women try and feed other family members by cooking foods that they like, often neglecting their own preferences and end up eating food without actually enjoying what they eat and hence eating becomes a mere ritual and not a pleasurable experience. The problem becomes worse for working women as they have to adjust themselves between home and office and are exposed to both physical and mental stress and tensions resulting in further neglect of their nutritional and health needs.
As compared to men, women face nutritional challenges at every stage of their life cycle, be it during the blossoming stage at adolescence, the physiological demands during pregnancy and lactation or the hormonal changes at menopause, and need to make appropriate changes in their diets to meet these nutritional challenges. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are often victims of taboos and religious beliefs that do not permit the consumption of certain nutritious foods and this adversely affects the mother’s nutritional status. Women have also been the target of many diet related messages in books, magazines, radio, and television advertisements that have made some of them victims of overly strict diets that have ruined their eating habits and sometimes their health.
Nutritionally no single food or food group can supply all the essential nutrients so a variety of foods need to be eaten to meet nutritional needs. Keep in mind that there has to be a balance between energy intake and other nutrients for the diet to be called a balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet helps maintain weight, improve energy levels and general health, build immunity, increase work output and reduces the risk of developing lifestyle disease such as diabetes heart disease and possibly cancer.
Here are some meal wise tips to help women meet their nutritional challenges
Breakfast: Though it is the most important meal of the day, it also the most neglected by many working women, who skip it as they are in a hurry to reach work on time. Skipping breakfast results in fatigue, drowsiness, lack of concentration and irritability and also weight gain especially if one is involved in a job that requires sitting in one place for long periods of time.
If you want to stay energetic and active, start your day with a nutritious breakfast. Ideally breakfasts should be prepared from whole grain cereals, protein foods and include vegetables or fruits. Whole grains not only provide the body with energy, but also dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Dietary fibre has an important role in maintaining the health of the digestive system and along with protein reduces mid-morning hunger pangs by keeping one feeling full for longer.
White bread, butter, jam and tea are not a balanced breakfast. If your do not have time in the morning to prepare a traditional breakfast item, have poi or whole wheat or multi grain bread or chapatti with a protein rich accompaniment such as sprouts usal, patal bhaji, sambhar, boiled or scrambled egg or egg bhurji. Limit the consumption of cold cuts as they are high in salt and contain nitrates or nitrites as preservatives. Some epidemiological studies have shown that high consumption of processed meats is linked to an increased risk of cancers of the stomach, colon and rectum. Be aware that brown bread may not contain whole grains but may have the brown colour because of caramel. If one is having issues of high blood cholesterol levels opt for oats as they are rich in soluble fibre that helps lower cholesterol levels. Besides eating it in porridge form, oats can be incorporated into a number of other recipes.
Other nutritious and easy to prepare breakfast items include poha, upma, sheera or pancakes (polle). When preparing poha, use the local red rice poha rather than white rice poha and add roasted groundnuts or futana and green leafy vegetable. Instead of preparing upma and sheera with semolina or rava, try oats or wari or rajgira for variety. Add nuts and grated vegetables to upma and dry fruit and sliced banana for sheera. Use a variety of flours to prepare pancakes.
A breakfast item that is not only nutritious but super quick to prepare is a bowl of cereal with milk or almond milk. Among the various breakfast cereals available commercially, muesli is ideal since it is made up of a mixture of wholegrain flakes, dry fruits, nuts and seeds. Before purchasing breakfast cereals, read food labels carefully and choose a brand that is low in sugar (one which contains less than 10 grams of sugar per serving).
See that you include a seasonal fruit in your breakfast to top up your vitamin, mineral and fibre intake. Avoid fruit juices as far as possible. Though juices extracted from fresh fruits are good sources of natural sugars, vitamin C, beta carotene, sodium and potassium, the process of extraction of juice separates the pulp from the juice resulting in the loss of valuable dietary fibre. Fruit juices are sweetened with sugar and this adds extra calories to the diet.
Breakfast also includes accompaniments like butters, jams and marmalades, peanut butter, honey, molasses, chutneys, etc. Butter is rich in saturated fat and hence should had in small amounts. Peanut butter is high in fat but contains protein, vitamins and minerals, making it a healthier alternative to butter. Though jams and marmalades are prepared from fruit they contain a large quantity of sugar and very little vitamins on account of the prolonged cooking process involved and should also be eaten in small amounts.
For most people breakfast is incomplete without a beverage. Tea, coffee and milk are the most popular beverages consumed with breakfast. Milk is a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, D, B2 and B12, but is a poor source of iron, copper and vitamin C. It also contains saturated fats and cholesterol. Adding sugar to milk increases its caloric value. Tea and coffee provide calories depending on the amount of sugar and milk added during preparation.
To be continued. . .
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)