Two chefs let us in on the secret to happiness: eat right
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Whether it’s guilty pleasure, comfort or nostalgia, food has always held emotional meaning for us. Is it any wonder, then, that our pursuit of happiness begins with what we’re putting on our plates?
In the book The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription For A Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, And Lean, Energized Body, clinical psychiatrist Drew Ramsey and health and fitness editor Tyler Graham draw on neuroscience and nutrition data to explain how a change in diet can stabilize the mood and boost brain health. They call this way of eating the happiness diet, which includes foods that are rich in nutrients like vitamins A, B 12, D and E, and folate, iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, fibre, and omega-3 fatty acids.
But, as Meenakshi Kulkarni, a Pune-based nutritionist, points out, the body’s nutritional demands vary with age, so it’s important to tailor the “happiness diet” to every age group. “It’s important to remember that nutritional requirements change with age. The nutrition a 20-year-old needs differs greatly from what a 60-year-old would need, and it’s imperative to plan meals and intake accordingly,” she says.
On the International Day of Happiness, we asked two chefs to tell how can one eat their way to happiness. These are their age-appropriate nutritional strategies that can help ease anxiety and leave you feeling happier at every stage:
Social and work pressures, low self-esteem, and the reality of adulthood combine to create anxiety. “Fad diets at this stage often do more harm than good. I would suggest a balanced and nourishing diet that includes all food groups,” Anahita Dhondy, head chef at the restaurant chain SodaBottleOpenerWala, says. Balance is key. “Have three meals a day, with a good source of protein, plenty of vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats,” Kulkarni says. Pay attention to getting the requisite nutrients, adequate amounts of vitamin B and C, magnesium and zinc.
Expert tip: Include more fruits, nuts and seeds in the diet. Chef, author and TV show host Vicky Ratnani suggests snacking on walnuts, almonds, raisins and cranberries. “Or try a home-made trail mix,” he says. Ensure one portion is protein—be it a whole egg or paneer—with sides like whole wheat pasta and green leafy salads.
This stage can be extremely challenging for mental health in men and women. “Fibre and protein tend to go missing from the diet at this time. We also eat a lot of processed foods and large portion sizes that are no longer needed. Opt for high-fibre grains like brown rice, oats and quinoa. Don’t miss your quota of fruits and nuts,” Kulkarni says.
Expert tip: Ratnani believes that at this stage, it’s important to cut down on carbs and load up on fibre and omega 3. “Slow down on fats as well. Opt for low-carb vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms. Sarson ka saag is excellent. Sprinkle chia/flax seeds and nuts on salads, add wheat bran to your aata (flour), and enjoy a fruit salad or a chunk of dark chocolate for dessert.”
60 & above
The risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s is extremely real in today’s times. “Physical inactivity, smoking, obesity, and a diet rich in bad fats and sugar can aggravate problems at this age. It’s important to get enough omega 3 to improve brain and blood vessel health,” Kulkarni says. “Include more fruits, vegetables, oily fish, olive oil, whole grain and nuts in your diet. Go extremely slow on carbs. Ensure enough selenium; this will delay the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, which is common,” she adds. Dhondy advises “portion control”. “The body doesn’t need as many meals now, so opt for smaller and nutrient-dense meals four-five times a day,” she says.
Expert tip: Selenium is found in mushrooms and brown rice, so ensure your diet has those, or opt for a supplement after consulting a doctor. Ratnani advocates a low-carb diet. “I would suggest minimal bread, rice and potatoes. Fruits instead of juice, because seniors need their fibre. Ensure your plate has fish, beans, eggs, and minimal salt,” he says. “Fortified milk may offer the calcium and vitamin D you need. Up your protein content—paneer, tofu, and chicken—to combat the muscle loss that happens at this age,” he adds.
Dhondy suggests good, wholesome food. “The aroma of food in the house can awaken your senses, get a smile on your face. So choose foods that are appropriate for the stage of life you are in.”