A colourful plate makes a healthy meal
The world over, India is known as a land of colour. But that doesn’t just apply to our clothes and festivals, it’s just as important for our food. Adding more colour to your plate is one simple and straightforward way to make your diet healthier and more nutritious.
What colour has to do with health
Foods of different colours offer up different micronutrient and fibre profiles.
For instance, orange- and red-coloured vegetables and fruits add carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin to our diet. These are antioxidants that reduce free radicals in the body and are precursors for the formation of Vitamin A. Lycopene also helps in heart health and preventing some types of cancers. Lutein is anti-inflammatory in nature and contributes to eye health.
Purple-coloured vegetables such as brinjal provide anthocyanins, which are not only helpful for anti-oxidation, but also in heart health and preventing strokes.
Green-coloured vegetables provide carotenoids, indoles and saponins, which all have anti-cancer properties. Green leafy vegetables also add folate content to our diet. Folate plays a very important role in pregnancy, promoting brain development and function and preventing neural defects in infants. Many young girls are deficient in folate.
Foods such as onion, ginger and garlic in the white colour range provide phytochemicals such as polyphenols and organosulfurs like allicins, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
What a rich and nutritious diet looks like
Building variety into a diet of staples is the simplest way to ensure a rich and nutritious diet. Thus, the five food groups that we should consume everyday are fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.
With fruits, the perfect way to introduce variety is to eat according to season. Guavas eaten in guava season not only taste better, but also provide the best nutrition.
Among vegetables, we should ensure that all the different types are consumed through the week. Green leafy vegetables, beans, and orange/red vegetables should be eaten at least thrice a week. Gourds should be included in at least two meals each week. A variety of other vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, and banana stem and flower should also find a regular place in our diet. Seasonal vegetables provide additional micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
While grains are a staple, many of us could afford to reduce the amount of grains we eat in favour of other food groups like vegetables, fruits and proteins.
Foods such as dal or whole pulses, mushroom, and paneer are good sources of protein. For non-vegetarians, egg, fish and chicken contribute proteins. Protein-rich foods should be included in at least two meals a day. The yellow-pulses are especially high in protein and Vitamin D, so ensure a shade of yellow in your plate as often as you can – which can be commonly found in the Indian food thali.
Dairy in the form of 400ml of toned milk or curd should form a part of at least two meals a day.
Losing out on our glorious biodiversity
As our diets have evolved for convenience, one of the major fallouts has been a drastic narrowing of our diets. With an amazing mix of physical and climatic conditions, India is one of the most mega-diverse countries in the world. India is also the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world.
However, for most of us, vegetables only mean the few varieties we get at our nearest stores, such as cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, beans, potato, tomato, radish and the like. Many of us have lost the use of interesting vegetables such as banana flower and stem or raw papaya. We also often fail to pay attention to the seasonality of different vegetables such as broad beans and brinjal.
Such diverse produce varying by season provided us with a rich mix of nutrition. However, in limiting our diets to the same few fruits and vegetables throughout the year, we are losing out on a wealth of nutrition.
One of the primary ways to eat healthy is to eat a diverse mix of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, especially in the Indian food thali. Diversifying our palates by making our plates more colourful is the simplest way to do so. Nature has blessed our country with a rich array of fruits and vegetables. We should not lose out on all this richness simply for the sake of convenience.
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