Few weeks back I was having an interesting argument with my wife on which is a better fruit? The apple or the banana? She had a bunch of numbers on banana and I had a bunch on apple and we ended up with a classic problem of comparison and I remembered the old saying – “One cannot compare apples with oranges” (in this case bananas). There are so many nutrients that a healthy body needs so it is not easy to conclude which is important & which one is not. This argument threw a larger question in my mind – How can we can decide on the quality of the foods we eat? or how to judge the goodness of a food? based on what?
This set me out for the next few weeks in nomadic search for answers in books and of course the internet. I looked at many places and it took a while before I could find answers which broadly satisfied me. While there was always an inner debate as what are the parameters I should choose, I was able to list four items for now. I narrowed down the list based on criticality of the role played by the nutrient and the availability of the same in our foods. I believe this list will evolve with time but for now I want these listed for you to see.
The Fibre content in the foods we eat is a very important and an essential nutrient for our body. It helps in lowering the blood cholesterol level and also reduces the absorption of sugar. It also helps us feel fuller for longer time reduce our craving to eat more. It is also helpful in having regular bowel moment. So in short, more fibre rich foods you eat better it is for you. The good part is that most of the vegetables and fruits have a good amount of fibre but if you are keen on the best fibre rich foods out there then here is a list of foods which are rich in Fibre.
Antioxidants is the other factor which is very important for us as it helps reduce the ill effects of a crucial process called oxidation. Oxidation results in the release of villains called the Free Radicals. These free radicals are independent but unstable chemicals which could set off a series of chain reactions (the state called “oxidative stress”) eventually leading to damage or death of the cell. Antioxidants are our saviours in fighting these free radicals. Antioxidants immediately stop the oxidation process in the cell by removing the free radicals. Oxidative stress has been associated to many problems and diseases and hence foods which have a good amount of antioxidants are considered priceless for human health. Here is a list of foods rich in antioxidants.
Until recently Fat was considered a big bad word without exception. However, lot of research has been able to distinguish the Good fat from the bad fat. The saturated fat has continued to maintain its tag of “bad fat”(we could still eat it in moderation) but Trans fat is a big No-No and you have to find a way to completely avoid it. To make the matter worse, this bloody trans fat might probably be in your favorite cookies, donuts and so many other processed foods.
On the other hand, both monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids is considered to be very good for our body. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in nuts and in the likes of Olive oil and healthy for the heart. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are of two types – Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Both are good for our health but Omega 3 is much more important and also we get a lot of Omega 6 but not so much of Omega 3.
Lets get to know Omega 3 better. Well, to start with there are 3 types of Omega 3 fatty acids – ALA, EPA and DHA and simply put we need DHA the most. ALA variant can be sourced from many plant-based options prominent being the Flaxseed. Our the body can convert the ALA variant it gets in to the DHA variant but it doesn’t do a good job of it and it gets worse as we age. For EPA and DHA, the primary source is the sea based algae and hence vegans and vegetarians will struggle to get it from their usual sources (non-vegetarians tend to get this from fish and salmon but these sources could have its bad influence on our health because of other undesirable ingredients). So given the importance of DHA variant of Omega 3 fatty acids for the body it is advisable to go for a natural vegan supplement to be consumed regularly.
Lastly I think Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load are too important a factor not to consider. Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of every food we eat which indicates the amount of raise it causes in our blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels. Higher the raise in blood sugar from a food, higher is its GI. When the blood sugar levels rise above normal, the body produce a hormone called Insulin to bring the sugar levels back to normal. The sugar that we consume on a daily basis is considered standard and has a value of 100. All others foods will have a lower value and this will range from 50 to 100. Higher the value, more glycemic the food is. It is worth noting that, unlike in schools where 100 is seen the perfect score to get, here it means it is bad for our body in most cases (except when we are in bad need of energy very quickly).
Glycemic Load (GL) is actually a better measure of the impact on the blood sugar as GI doesn’t take into account of the portion size of the food we take. So basically, GL of the food is derived by multiplying it’s GI with the Carbs it provides for a given portion size. So for example, Watermelon has a GI of 120 but a GL of 4 (for 120 grams) and on the other hand dried dates has a GI of 60 and a GL of 42 (for 60 grams). Here is a list of commonly eaten foods and its GI and GL for a given portion size.
Why GI and GL are important? Well, to put it crudely, if the blood sugar levels keep increasing regularly to very high levels and if this happens for a relatively long period then this could lead to a health condition called Diabetes. So, we should try to eat as foods with lower GI as much as possible.
So there you are. Fibre, antioxidants, good fat (esp. Omega 3 fatty acids) and Glycemic load are important aspects that should be considered when judging a food. Mind you not all foods score highly on all factors and as long as the foods you choose score highly on at least one factor (but doesn’t score too badly on others) then it is good enough. Mind you, this is not a definitive list as we still need to be mindful of nutrients like Protein, Vitamins & Minerals. If I do identify something which meets the above criteria then I will come back and update this article (for e.g. vitamin B12 might be able to make it to the list on its own). However, for now, the above gives you an idea and hence should help you to rethink on what you are eating right now and what positive changes you can bring to your diet.
Thanks you note
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