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Food: Our frenemy

The message on World Health Day — you can’t buy or rent good health, you have to work hard to earn it
The number of overweight and obese people in India doubled between 2005 and 2015
The number of overweight and obese people in India doubled between 2005 and 2015
Picture by iStock

Shikha Prakash   |   Published 06.04.19, 12:55 PM

As we step into another year of celebrating World Health Day, we can be proud of how we have been able to combat diseases such as malaria and polio. However, the issue of conquering lifestyle diseases arising out of a sedentary lifestyle is still a big problem. Like always, there is a theme to this year’s World Health Day — Universal Health: Everyone, Everywhere.

In many places around the globe, the struggle for good health is still a fight for better sanitation, immunisation, preventing communicable diseases, dealing with malnutrition and other deadly disorders. At the same time, the world is burdened by a steep rise in the incidences of Lifestyle Metabolic Disorders.

“It is remarkable that the contribution of metabolic risk factors such as high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and that of poor diet and alcohol use, to health loss has doubled in India over the past quarter of a century. On the other hand, the contribution of unsafe water and sanitation, and child and maternal under-nutrition has halved,” Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) has announced.

What is lifestyle disorder?

These are diseases resulting primarily from daily habits and are a result of an inappropriate relationship of people with their environment. The main factors contributing to lifestyle diseases include bad food habits, lack of physical activity, wrong body posture, and disturbed circadian rhythm (biological clock).

Lifestyle disorders are plaguing all age groups, be it children, teenagers, adults or the elderly.

The number of overweight and obese people in India doubled between 2005 and 2015. Twenty-six per cent of all deaths in India happen due to cardiovascular diseases. In urban India, young and middle-aged people are at risk, while in rural areas, the elderly population is vulnerable. Lack of physical activity has been identified as one of the biggest triggers of cardiovascular diseases.

In India, more than 1.73 million new cancer cases are likely to be recorded each year by 2020. Some commonly-used household chemicals and cosmetics contain cancer-causing compounds. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of cancer cases can be linked to environmental exposures to toxins. Similarly, every 12th Indian is said to be diabetic. Some studies suggest that one in 10 adults suffer from hypothyroidism. Hormonal balance is very delicate and is easily disturbed by poor lifestyle choices, exposure to toxins, air pollution and even food rich in fats, sugar and salt.

In my day-to-day practice, I have started to realise how much our eating habits and lifestyle choices are responsible for majority of the illnesses we come across. When I meet patients and their families, I feel almost each individual is having a lifestyle issue. The common metabolic disorders that I witness are…

  • Obesity
  • Fatty liver
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • PCOS
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Poor immunity
  • GERD
  • IBS
  • Pancreatitis
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Migraine
  • Depression

Yet, there is so much information on health, wellness, food and lifestyle on every social media platform, newspaper articles written by medical practitioners, scientists, bloggers and nutritionists. By now we all are familiar with what the problem is and somewhere we also know what needs to be done. But I think the main problem is about where to start because we are all so comfortable with our routines and lifestyles.

Each one of us probably goes to sleep thinking of beginning afresh tomorrow with a workout routine and healthy eating habits. But implementation is always delayed. What is important is to start small, like giving up aerated drinks, cutting down on one’s sugar intake, incorporating exercises three times a week and having an early dinner. One has to be consistent and these small changes need to be sustainable.

A few tips....

  • Quit any form of addiction, be it tea, coffee, alcohol, smoking or Netflix.
  • Try to work out at least thrice a week. It can be any form of exercise — a mix of yoga, walking, high-intensity interval training and functional training. Also, stay active through the day.
  • Go to sleep early and at the same time every day. Resetting your biological clock is very important to restore the body’s homeostasis.
  • Do not follow fad diets; do things that are sustainable and makes you feel energetic.
  • Do not eat all the time. Have a smaller window for eating through the day. Have your dinner early, so that your digestive system gets enough rest to repair and rejuvenate.
  • Eat keeping nutritional value in mind. Don’t give up good fats.
  • Turn your back to refined sugar, excess of salt and oil and processed food. Also, avoid reheated, overcooked food.
  • Chew your food well. That’s the first step to good digestion.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure you sip — and not gulp — water.
  • Take care of your gut.
  • Try and switch to organic food and skincare products.
  • Take supplements. They should be seen as foods. Your doctor is your best advisor.
  • Eat seasonal, local, traditional food and let food be your medicine.
  • The best way to keep track of your lifestyle changes is by maintaining a diary.
  • Mediate, have a hobby and meet people who make you happy because your mental and emotional well-being are equally important.

Let me conclude with something entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn has said: “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

Dr Shikha Prakash is consultant Ayurvedic physician at AMRI Hospital (Dhakuria) and Padaav (Delhi and Dehradun) 

All figures are from Down to Earth and CSE

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