Over the years, as food items were bestowed with longer shelf lives, as misinformation began to spread and as our lifestyles accelerated in pace, our diet began to change – and, from a nutritional standpoint, not for the better. This is even reflected in the decline in global health and surge in lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The dietary mistakes listed in today’s article are so commonplace that they’ve grown to be the new norm.
Mistake #1: Imbalance of Maconutrients
The protein, carbohydrates and fats in our day’s meals are often consumed in incorrect proportions in the modern diet. Since each of these is required by the body for specific purposes, imbalances in their proportions may manifest as health problems.
The amount of each food group we should ideally get in our daily diet is –
Protein: 0.8-1.2 g per kg body weight per day.1
The range depends on how physically active a person is. If a person who has a sedentary lifestyle weighs 50 kg, they can aim to consume (0.8 x 50 =) 40 g of protein a day. If they regularly work out, they’d be better off increasing their protein intake to (1.2 x 50 =) 60 g a day.
Filling at least quarter of our plate with protein rich sources like meats, paneer, legumes, beans etc. is a simple way to try and achieve this.
Fats: About 20 to 35% of our daily calories should come from the good kind of fats.
Someone who weighs 50 kg and is 5 feet 5 inches tall would consume about 1200 calories in a day (based on a standard BMR calculation) in order to maintain their weight in a healthy manner.
That means they’d need about 2 – 3 tablespoons of good fats per day (each gram of fat has 9 calories).2
It’s important to get a good balance of these good fats as well through different food sources, especially (as you will soon see) when it comes to our omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids ratio. And, remember – foods like cheese, butter and coconuts all count!3
Carbs: The rest of our calories should come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains for a good amount of fibre in our diet.2
An easy way to achieve this is to make sure that half of any meal’s plate is filled with a good mix of these food sources.
Mistake #2: Using the Wrong Fats
When choosing fats, it’s not only extremely important that we pick the good from the bad, but also consume them in the correct proportions.
Two of the most common mistakes, which exemplify both these concerns, are:
A] Cooking with the wrong fats:
Most people tend to use refined vegetable oils for cooking, because of the infamous reputation of saturated fats. Contrary to popular belief, saturated fats are not linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.4-6 It is the trans-fats, produced upon heating these refined vegetable oils (high in heat-unstable fats), which are responsible for the increased disease risk.
B] Imbalance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids:
Individually, both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids offer many health benefits. Together, they regulate our immune response like a seesaw – omega-6 fatty acids initiate inflammation, while omega-3 fatty acids reduce it. Today, most people consume far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3, which can, over a prolonged period of time, create chronic inflammation, one of the leading causes of lifestyle diseases.3 It is thus important to include omega-3 rich foods like flaxseeds, walnuts, avocadoes, and fatty fish in our diet.
Mistake #3: Overlooking Dietary Fibre
The modern diet notoriously lacks fibre, which, experts believe, has contributed to today’s lifestyle problems like high cholesterol and obesity.
To take high cholesterol as an example, dietary fibre plays a significant role in two ways:
A] It forms a thick gel inside the digestive tract, which traps the body’s cholesterol and prevents it from being reabsorbed into the body, thus lowering cholesterol levels.
B] In a similar manner, fibre reduces the amount of the digestive liquid called ‘bile’. The body then uses LDL (which is the form of cholesterol that creates problems when in excess) to make more bile, which reduces LDL from blood.7-9
The gel-forming ability of dietary fibre may also aid weight loss, because:
A] It slows digestion, which makes us feel fuller faster while eating, thereby stopping us from overeating.
B] It promotes the growth of good gut bacteria, which is believed to reduce the amount of energy we need from food and also play a major role in overcoming obesity.
And these are only a few examples of the benefits of increasing dietary fibre.
Mistake #4: The Abundance of Sugar
A large part of the reason sugar is so well loved, in all its forms, is because it produces feel-good hormones in our brains. However, it also wreaks all sorts of havoc in our body, even leading to addiction.
There’s more – and it directly involves the good gut bacteria we’d mentioned in #3.
The scientific community has only just begun to understand the depth of the give-and-take relationship between our gut bacteria and our body: they regulate multiple functions, our energy levels, vitamin absorption… And even our mood.
The feel-good hormones released by high intensity sweetness include a type called ‘serotonin’. Cells producing this hormone are also present in our gut. When our gut bacteria interact with these cells, they too trigger the production of serotonin.
This, combined with other compounds secreted by these bacteria, is believed to be the link between our gut and our brain. It also explains why the disruption of our intestinal flora (less good bacteria, more bad bacteria) is believed to play a role in psychological issues like anxiety and depression.
Sweet foods reduce the number of the good gut bacteria, by leading to the overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.10 Artificial sweeteners in low calorie foods also disrupt the balance of these bacteria, and are thought to lead to more sweet cravings.11, 12
When this balance is disrupted, other metabolic processes involving them are also affected. It is no wonder that the bacterial composition of the gut has been shown to differ in lean and obese people, as a result of dietary factors.13
Un-sweetening our diet (and replacing them with fibre-rich carbs) would give us a sufficient dose of serotonin without the dangers of excess sugar consumption.
Each of the mistakes that we’ve listed in this article is easily fixed; all it takes is paying closer attention to what we eat. Seeing how these small changes in our eating habits can lead to such substantial repercussions when it comes to our health and wellbeing, it’s time leave these mistakes in the past and look forward to a healthier and happier lifestyle.
1. Martens EA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2014, 17(1): 75-79.
2. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014, 11: 53.
3. Simopoulos AP. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2008, 233(6): 674-688.
4. Dreon DM, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 1998, 67(5): 828-836.
5. Dreon DM, et al. Faseb j 1994, 8(1): 121-126.
6. Siri-Tarino PW, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010, 91(3): 502-509.
7. Brehm BA. Nutrition: Science, Issues, and Applications [2 volumes]: Science, Issues, and Applications. ABC-CLIO, 2015.
8. Fuller S, et al. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 2016: 1-12.
9. van der Kamp JW. Dietary Fibre: New Frontiers for Food and Health. Wageningen Academic Publishers, 2010.
10. Brown K, et al. Nutrients 2012, 4(8): 1095-1119.
11. Smith PA. Nature 2015, 526(7573): 312-314.
12. Yang Q. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 2010, 83(2): 101-108.
13. DiBaise JK, et al. Am J Gastroenterol Suppl 2012, 1(1): 22-27.