A balanced diet is the one which provides healthy amount of carbohydrate, fat, protein, micro-nutrients and water to our body so that it can perform in an optimum way. There are basically five food groups, and a well-balanced diet has food from each group as under:
- Carbohydrate rich rice, roti, bread, pasta etc. (35%)
- Fruits and vegetables for micro nutrients (30%)
- Beans, Lentils (dal/pulses), nuts, meat, fish, eggs for protein (10%)
- Oil and Butter (Ghee) (10%)
- Milk and dairy for calcium (10%)
Nepali way of preparing, cooking and serving food is very healthy. Our main meals usually constitute rice, dal (pulses) and vegetables. Two to three big meals should comprise of 40% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 10% fat and rest of the 30% should be dairy and fruits and vegetables. Let’s look at a typical Nepali thali (plate); it has rice, dal, tarkari (made of vegetables and oil) and sometimes pickles (made of fruits and vegetables). And we generally use very little oil to cook vegetables. Normally, a person will consume about 1 tablespoon of oil in a meal.
A balanced diet is a healthy diet and it also includes not eating or minimally eating foods that are man-made or not natural. For example, many of the boxed and processed food have high-fructose corn syrup which is gaining popularity. If we look at the ingredients on the box, we can see the natural ingredients plus so many chemical compounds that we are not fully aware of what they do to our body.
Having lived in the US for almost a decade, I can proudly say that almost all of the Nepali recipes use plain natural ingredients.
Our sweets and desserts are luckily unaffected by the growing popularity of high fructose corn syrup. In a recent research, it was found that such high fructose corn syrup do not send signals to our brain that we are consuming calories, and so we do not get a feeling of fullness even after eating large portions. Also, they are addictive in nature. A Princeton University Research on rats showed that high-fructose corn syrup seems to be responsible for the growing rate of obesity. It also showed that consumption of high-fructose corn syrup is worse than consuming fat as the former addicts our brain to want it more.
We neither use canned food nor frozen meal. Our normal food is freshly prepared all the time. It sure does consume lot of time cooking it, but the health benefits surely are un-doubtable.
All of our foods are prepared with natural ingredients. Let’s analyze some foods.
- Freshly cooked rice and roti are so much healthier than bread which has preservatives in it.
- Our desserts like fruits salad (fruits and yoghurt) or even sweets like besan ko laddu, badam roll, gajar ko haluwa, kheer (rice pudding), etc. are much much healthier than cake or cookies which do not have much nutritional value.
- Our Nepali way of cooking vegetables is a very healthy one. With just about a tablespoon of oil per person, our tarkari is a very healthy way of eating vegetables. We should refrain ourselves and our kids from eating deep fried vegetables like French fries in a regular basis.
- We normally do not use canned or boxed ingredients like vegetable or chicken stock while preparing meals. There is nothing wrong with such ingredients, except they contain preservatives in them to help maintain their shelf life. Such preservatives are not good for our body and may cause adverse health effects.
Artificial food preservatives, artificial color and flavor enhancers are associated to conditions like asthma, cancer, hyperactivity and we are so blessed our food practices do not use them.
The most common ingredients that we use while cooking not only soothe our taste buds; they also come with lot of healthy compounds. For example, ginger and turmeric are used as spices in almost all of the vegetables that are cooked. Ginger has been in our kitchen since centuries, and has been traditionally used in cold and coughs and stomach ailments. Modern science research has further added the health benefit of ginger: It destroys ovarian cancer cells (a study from The University of Michigan) and inhibits the growth of colorectal cancerous cells (a study from The University of Minnesota).
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties and has been used for cold and coughs apart from being used regularly as a spice in all the cooked vegetables. Modern science tells that turmeric is effective in fighting cancer cells, liver disease and arthritis. In a study (A Potential Role of the Curry Spice Curcumin in Alzheimer’s Disease), this medicinal herb has also been linked to fight or delay Alzheimer’s disease.
Our rich Nepali food culture also uses Flax seed (known as Aalas) in achars and chutneys. We may be consuming it just for it sweet yet nutty taste, but it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids which are very good for brain health. Omega-3 fatty acid is primarily found in fish, but vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians can benefit from eating flax seed regularly. We can eat flax seed as dhule achar or mixed in other achars along with sesame seed powder. Flax seeds also have lignan which helps fight ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Flax seed is also very beneficial in diabetes and for lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in blood. Since they also have very high fiber and protein content, it is recommended to include flax seed regularly in our diet.
Our ancient science of yoga advises us to drink water as much as we can, especially during morning. There is a practice of drinking 2-3 glasses of water in morning among people who believe in yoga. Water is one of the vital ingredients for our body. Modern science tells us that water is by far the best drink we can possibly have. Next to water is milk which is jammed with calcium and protein. We should drink 2-3 three cups of milk a day if possible. Fresh juice should be consumed in moderation as whole fruit is much better due to fiber content. We should choose fresh juice over boxed juices as much as possible.
One of the great drinks we could have is chana ko satu ( roasted gram flour) mixed in water with some regular salt or rock salt and some fresh lemon juice squeezed in it. In Nepal, this drink is usually taken in morning for breakfast. Packed with protein from chana (gram or chickpee) and vitamin C from lemon, it is the best drink we could have in the morning. We can also mix jau ko satu (roasted barley flour) in it if we have.
We could write books on the nutritional benefits of Nepali diet and still have some good points left out. Our traditional food culture is filled with abundance of health which the modern science is slowly discovering.