LUKE COUTINHO practices in the space of Holistic Nutrition, Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine and is the founder of You Care, an online wellness market. He shares some simple wellness tips to help us benefit from the food we eat every day.
Do you remember growing up and having a cold, cough, fever, wound, stomach bug, or flu? The first line of action for our parents or grandparents was to delve straight into the kitchen pharmacy and brew concoctions for immediate relief. Our ancestors relied heavily on the power of food as medicine. If there is one learning I have had over the last decade consulting people across the world, it is this: food, when cooked with quality ingredients and served within the frameworks of nature, possesses the power to heal.
It is not to say that food alone can heal you, because every disease or lifestyle condition is multifactorial. But when you couple clean eating with quality sleep, adequate movement, rest and recovery, emotional wellness, and your spirit, you help the natural in-built intelligence of your body work for you and aid prevention and recovery. It is another reason why deep and advanced cellular nutrition is one of our key lifestyle pillars.
Eating local versus global – which is better?
It is one of the most commonly asked questions. Yes, eating local food is excellent. It is not only beneficial for health, but also support our farmers and the yield of our soil. If you live in a country that is diverse, eating local is important. Different foods grown in different climates suit body temperature, skin, hair, genes, and immune system.
For instance, we have witnessed the magic and wisdom in Indian food. Of course, there is a right and wrong way to cook anything, but, in essence, a staple Indian diet is well-balanced, wholesome, and nutritious, because it involves an array of fresh ingredients and freshly ground spices. Yet, we come across people who label it unhealthy, deem it too oily, spicy, or acidic. The truth is that the food isn’t the culprit. It is our sedentary lifestyle, poor quality oils, adulterated ingredients, and overeating that are the main culprits.
When you couple clean eating with quality sleep,
adequate movement, rest and recovery, emotional wellness,
and your spirit, you help the natural
in-built intelligence of your body to work
for you and aid prevention and recovery.
Think about it. For our ancestors, disease at its lowest and the happiness quotient was at its highest. They lived fulfilling lives and found joy in simplicity.
Many Indian herbs and spices have now become global superfoods. Traditional Indian meals like dal, rice, and vegetables; one-pot khichdi with salad; bhakri (millet tortilla) with dal; vegetables with a dash of garlic chutney or raw mango pickle are all complete meals.
While appreciating this ancient wisdom, we can also stop putting ourselves into a box of only local food. Why? Most medical and lifestyle conditions are not local but global – such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s.
If foods that are not local can help manage your condition, why not eat them? For instance, kiwis originated in China, are commercially grown in New Zealand, and are scientifically documented to help with DNA repair. For those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, kiwis are excellent.
The point is, embracing local foods is super important. But if certain global foods can help with your medical conditions, be open to them.
We need to consume certain foods moderately,
or cut down on them, to avoid an array of lifestyle ailments.
Studies have consistently linked the large amounts of
refined sugar, particularly in sugary beverages, to obesity and excess belly fat.
Stop making food the enemy
Following a diet shouldn’t deprive you of food. Instead, it should mean eating more of what’s good for you and less of what’s not. Fad diets may seem like they help you shed the initial few kilos, but they are not sustainable. They deprive you of macro and micronutrients and cripple your metabolism. You will hit a plateau or put all that weight back on (the yo-yo effect). The first step is to understand that food is not the enemy. You need to improve your relationship with it.
Yes, all of us eat a cookie or two sometimes, but that is not the reason why the world is sick today. The reason is overconsumption, eating with greed, using food to cope with emotions, and so on.
We need to consume certain foods moderately, or cut down on them, to avoid an array of lifestyle ailments. Studies have consistently linked the large amounts of refined sugar, particularly in sugary beverages, to obesity and excess belly fat. Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may cause you to become resistant to leptin, a hormone that signals your body when to eat and stop eating. Foods rich in refined sugar are commonly linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, depression, dementia, liver disease, and certain types of cancer.
Cut down or avoid
- Refined sugar
- Refined carbs
- Diet sodas
- Excess salt
- Fast foods
- Pesticide-laden fruits and veggies
- Junk and processed foods
- Aerated drinks
- Binge drinking
- Dairy and gluten if you are intolerant to them
- Refined oils
Even if you enjoy eating junk once in a way, ensure that most of your nourishment comes from natural sources.
How does food influence your mind?
We are what we eat. What you feed your body nurtures your five inner selves – physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, and spiritual. It is why ancient Ayurvedic and yogic texts speak about three types of food – sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic.
There is a direct link between food and mood. Our body relies on nutrition to manufacture the number of neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel good. Certain foods can stimulate emotions like anger, frustration, anxiety, and grogginess, while other foods can help us feel calmer, composed, and grounded. Excess sugar can make you irritable and jittery. On the other hand, fermented foods, raw veggies, fruits, and whole grains, help you feel calmer and grounded.
Foods that boost neurotransmitters
- Serotonin – known as the happy hormone, it is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Rich sources include banana, pineapple, nuts, kiwi, tofu, whole egg, and fresh cheese.
- Endorphins – help us change our perception of pain and stress. Rich sources of endorphins include chocolate and spicy foods.
- Dopamine – helps us feel motivated. Rich sources of dopamine include avocados, chocolate, spinach, almonds, all types of seeds, and yogurt.
- Acetylcholine – sparks creativity, muscle action, and reaction. Rich sources of acetylcholine include beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, green peas, radish, spinach, strawberries, and whole eggs.
- GABA – helps us feel calm and focused. Rich sources of GABA include non-GMO soy, rice, mushrooms, potatoes, and fermented foods.
7 healthy eating habits you can adopt today
#1 Eat a rainbow
The more colorful your plate, the more diverse your gut microbiome. The more diverse your gut microbiome, the better your immunity. Balanced meals help your immune system fight inflammation, swelling, bacteria, infection, and viruses. Follow simplicity. Keep your meals simple, wholesome, and diverse. As clichéd as it might sound, some of the most effective nutrition strategies revolve around incorporating whole grains, pulses, lentils, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils, and ghee, among other wholesome foods. Eat a rainbow for at least two out of three meals.
Divide your plate into three quadrants:
- The largest quadrant will consist of starchy and non-starchy vegetables
- The second-largest quadrant will consist of quality protein (animal or plant-based)
- The smallest quadrant will consist of carbohydrates that come from grains and cereals
Your portion intakes may vary based on your unique requirements, medical conditions, and health goals.
#2 Chew your food
Master the art of chewing. Digestion begins in the mouth. Eat your food slowly and mindfully. When you bite every morsel, your saliva has digestive enzymes like amylase, lipase, and protease that help you break down this food. It allows you to extract maximum nutrients from the food you eat. The action of chewing and producing saliva signals your stomach to start the production of acids and other enzymes to aid digestion. When you eat too quickly without using your teeth to break it down, you send partially digested and larger chunks of food into your stomach. It can lead to acidity, indigestion, and other gut issues.
#3 Align your nutrition intake with movement
If you sit for long hours, keep a check on what you eat and control your portion size accordingly. But is it okay to be a couch potato? NO. Sitting is the new smoking. So keep moving. Even if you work at a desk job, take regular breaks, and engage in simple stretching. Choose fun workouts that you enjoy — dancing, aerobics, Zumba, swimming, yoga, and keep that body moving. If you are just starting, fast-paced walking or jogging daily for 30 minutes can help. Do not over train or undertrain. Prioritize rest and recovery.
#4 Differentiate physical and emotional hunger
Stress can affect the way you eat. Chronic stress is associated with a greater inclination toward high sugar and high-fat foods which are major risk factors linked with obesity. While emotional eating may make you feel good and fulfilled at that moment, eating to counter negative emotions will leave you more upset than before. This cycle repeats until you address your emotions at their root. Eat when physically hungry and not emotionally.
#5 Do not starve yourself
Studies show that food deprivation can cause nutritional deficiencies. Self-imposed dieting can do more harm than good. Avoid looking online and following extreme fad diets without knowing their side effects. Seek professional advice if you must. Find a holistic nutrition and lifestyle plan that suits you best. Remember, you are a unique bio-individual.
#6 Don’t eat your dinner like a bird
Your dinner should be the lightest meal of the day, but don’t eat like a bird. Make it a balanced meal by adding quality protein, fats, and carbohydrates. If your goal is to lose weight or manage your blood sugar, don’t go no-carb, go low-carb instead. Use your judgment.
#7 Follow the circadian rhythm way of eating and living
In my free-to-download eBook, A New Way of Living – Circadian Rhythm, I speak about our biological clock, the circadian rhythm. It is the sleep-wake or day-night cycle that determines how the body carries out different processes at different times.
Following the circadian rhythm of eating and fasting can benefit your overall health and well-being. Try some of these rules when it comes to eating.
- Want to drink tea or coffee? Have it after three hours of waking up. Avoid drinking it in the second half of the day, as it is a stimulant that may affect your sleep routine.
- Your metabolism fires up and is at its peak at noon. So consume your maximum calories at breakfast and lunch. Let dinner be your lightest meal.
- Eat your last meal of the day as close to sunset as possible (around 7 pm). Fast until sunrise to give yourself a good natural 12-hour break. This is known as circadian fasting.
- Keep a two-to-three-hour gap between dinner and bedtime.
- Do not snack mindlessly. Keep a fixed time. Avoid midnight snacking because your body slows down toward evening and needs rest. It is not designed to digest food around the wee hours of the night. It will disrupt your circadian rhythm.
- Eat at fixed times, no matter how busy you are. Unusual eating times can disrupt your circadian system and affect your health. Studies point out that food intake is a major external synchronizer of peripheral clocks. Your eating pattern can influence fat accumulation, mobilization, and the effectiveness of any fat loss plans. Timing is everything when it comes to circadian rhythm syncing.
Don’t wait for tomorrow. Do it today. Eat smart, move more, sleep right, and breathe deep until then.
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Luke is a Holistic Lifestyle Coach in the field of Integrative Medicine. He uses a holistic approach towards prevention, weight and disease management with expertise in cancer care. His programs are personalised according to lifestyle and revolve around the 4 pillars of good health: quality sleep, balanced nutrition, emotional detox and adequate exercise. He works... Read more