While healthy living, as a concept, is gaining an increasing amount of momentum in India every day, a recently released report revealed that more than half of all deaths in India from 2010–2013 were due to non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers.1
This staggering statistic strongly indicates that it’s time to move past being interested in, and actively work on, improving our lifestyle habits. Genetics do admittedly play a small role here, but the development of these diseases is largely driven by our lifestyles, with nutrition being in the forefront.
Working towards a healthy lifestyle may, initially, seem overhelming – where do I even begin? – but it’s much easier when you have a breakdown of the specific steps required.
Here are a few easy-to-implement ones, to help get you started:
1. Simplify Your Diet
For most, the term ‘diet’ evokes images of constant hunger assuaged only by tasteless, pea-sized meals that just leave one craving for some actual food.
These kinds of diets are not sustainable and tend to do more harm than good in the long term.
A study of the world’s longest living populations has shown that there’s a decidedly simpler and more satisfying way to eat right:2
Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (anything apart from potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes)
Fill a quarter of your plate with starch or grain (potatoes, rice, rotis), and
Fill the remaining quarter with protein (paneer, yogurt, legumes, beans)
This simple breakup instantly balances our meals, giving us the right amount of macronutrients, as well as a good dose of micronutrients. And, as we’ve already discussed, these two classes of nutrients together hold the key to combating malnutrition – one of today’s underlying causes of lifestyle diseases.
2. Eat a Healthy Breakfast
This isn’t really news for most people, but it’s true and can make a significant difference to our health status. A healthy, balanced breakfast sets up a day of healthy eating. If we skip breakfast or eat refined grains and sugary cereals, we continue to crave food through the day – that’s a result of the blood sugar rollercoaster (a sudden rise and fall in our bloog sugar, caused by simple carbohydrates).
Following the plate-breakup in #1 is a great start to identifying the components of a healthy breakfast. Eggs, whole grain toast and fruit, or a more traditional idli and sambar give us an ideal mix of nutrients and, more importantly, keep us satisfied without wreaking havoc on our blood sugar.
3. Eat More Protein
Protein isn’t just for fitness enthusiasts. Every function of our body, from our immune system to the muscles that help us move, is driven by protein; which, according to a study, 88% of Indians don’t consume enough of on a daily basis.3
Getting enough protein does two things: it ensures that our body has all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, and it keeps us full for longer. Also, since protein is much more filling than carbohydrates, and has little impact on our blood sugar, a protein-packed lunch helps avoid the post-lunch slump that can otherwise occur (due to, once again, the blood sugar rollercoaster).
4. Replace Sugary Drinks with Healthy Options
Sugary drinks are loaded with high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), which is even worse for us than regular sugar. That’s because HFCS is processed slightly differently than sugar, and leads to a decreased feeling of satiety, which tends to make us consume more than we normally would.4 Even diet sodas are full of artificial sweeteners that have been shown to drive cravings. Moreover, these drinks have literally no nutritional value.
Living in India gives us access to a wide range of healthy, nourishing drinks like fresh juices, coconut water, buttermilk and herbal teas. All of these are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, making them both refreshing and really good for us. Including these in our diet can boost nutrition and increase energy levels, too.
5. Prioritise Sleep
Although it isn’t directly related to nutrition, insufficient sleep is one of the strongest risk factors for weight gain and many lifestyle diseases like diabetes.
Adopting a regular pattern of sleep, with a stable bedtime routine, can have a marked effect on our quality of sleep and, consequently, health.
A helpful tip: avoid electronics some time before you plan to sleep, as the light from them tends to disrupt our sleep.
6. Move More, Sit Less
Studies have shown that the harmful effects of sitting for long periods of time and generally following a sedentary lifestyle can be compared to smoking. [You can read more about it here]5
Increasing the amount of motion in our day-to-day lives is as simple as taking a flight of stairs instead of the elevator, or standing up and doing a few basic stretches every hour at work.
This, as with the rest of the tips in this article, only involves a small change/addition to your routine, because that’s what it’s all about: simple, incremental changes that are easy to sustain.
Once that’s done, we can develop these steps into daily habits that synchronously take us closer to a healthy lifestyle – something that won’t just help us avoid diseases, but can also dramatically improve our everyday lives by making us feel lighter, happier and, most importantly, in charge of our own health.
1. Singh J. What is killing India? live mint. 2016 9 February 2016.
2. The Island Where People Live Longer’, NPR: Weekend Edition Saturday, May 2, 2009
3. Martens EA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 2014, 17(1): 75-79.
4. Hamilton MT, et al. Diabetes 2007, 56(11): 2655-2667.
5. Lee, I.M., Shiroma, E.J., Lobelo, F., Puska, P., Blair, S.N. & Katzmarzyk, P.T. (2012).