This post was updated on October 7th, 2018
Nutrient deficiency is a huge problem that modern science is running out of answers for. It’s time to rely on age old Ayurveda for answers
Before we move to the answers, let’s look at how “modern science” take on nutrition. The main classes of nutrients that the body is supposed to need are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins & minerals known to science as of today.
I know you are trying to remember the definition you were taught in school, something about being a source of energy & consisting of sugar and starch. Most of your recent reads on carbohydrates must have convinced you that it is the primary villain among foods.
Don’t fret if you can’t recall the definition, most food scientists don’t either! The Institute of Medicine recommends having atleast 130mg of this villainous stuff everyday! 45 to 65% of your total calorie intake should be in the form of carbs. Some people confuse the word “sugar” in carbohydrates with the sweetener in your house & diabetes, which is why they restrict their carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates actually help prevent diabetes though!
The Institute of Medicine recommends 0.8 grams of protein daily for every kg of body weight & everyone agrees vehemently. Some even conveniently take up a high protein diet for various reasons, ranging from body building to glowing skin and weight loss! Protein repairs muscles and builds bones and teeth. It also strengthens immunity. However, excess of anything (even a superfood) is bad.
I weigh 60kgs, so my recommended daily protein intake is 48 grams. If you did some back of the envelope calculations & think all you need is 24 grams of protein rich food each in your lunch and dinner, you got it wrong. 100 grams of chicken has only 27 grams protein. It gets more difficult for vegetarians. 100 grams of khichdi (with white rice) has 3.6 gram of protein.
If carbohydrate is the villain, fat is the devil incarnated for most people. This is due to the wrong notions taught to us right from school. Fats are an essential part of the diet & lack of it can interfere in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Unsaturated fats like the ones you get from fish or soybean oil are good for health. Saturated fats that you get from coconut oil, whole milk and butter was considered bad until the end of last year. A new study confirmed the human body “can do perfectly well with fats as its main energy source.” The 30g of saturated fat a day limit for men, and 20g for women are being relooked at.
Cakes, biscuits, crackers, popcorn and foods that have a type of fat called trans-fat, which is also found in natural foods (beef, lamb, milk, etc). However, natural trans-fat differs slightly from processed ones. The difference it makes to the human body is massive though. Trans fat from natural sources can be actually beneficial for the body, preventing heart attacks. A trans fatty acid called Vaccenic acid present in natural trans-fat is converted in our body to rumenic acid, which has anticarcinogenic properties.
Every story needs a hero and our nutrient potboiler with its twists and turns has one too. Everybody loves vitamins, but mostly in the form of supplements. Everyone has their favourites, from women who love Vitamin E for its benefits to skin and hair to vampires who I think need Vitamin D. Hectic lifestyles don’t allow us the luxury of following a balanced diet that can provide us with the required amount of all the 13 vitamins. People either notice the symptoms of vitamin deficiency themselves or realise it when they visit a physician.
The result is always the same, vitamin supplements. Convenient, yes, but it brings in a lot of unwanted side effects into the equation, sometimes resulting in just the opposite of what was intended.
An increasing list of minerals is being classified as “essential minerals” required for normal bodily functions. The list has crossed 20 on last count. The five major minerals that everyone agrees to are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Have you ever heard of copper deficiency? It’s a very rare condition as we seem to do really well with the recommended 2mg per day. On the other hand iron deficiency affects 25% of the world’s population. Along with magnesium, iodine and zinc, they form the most common mineral deficiencies in the world.
There are 3 ways to get your daily shot of minerals; balanced diet, fortified food & supplements. The minerals that can be fortified are calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iodine, copper and potassium. Remember, supplements are supposed to be taken along with food and are not meant to replace them.
Be food aware
We can no more hide behind the veil of a hectic lifestyle and keep stuffing ourselves with stuffed Indian American pizzas. I think we all know that by now Panic sets in when even after sacrificing fast food, you still end up with nutritional deficiencies. At this point you turn into a health enthusiast, do some reading and find out that chemically processed food is the next hurdle you have to clear.
In the taxonomy of health food “processed’ is the antonym of “cooked”. Bread baked in your kitchen or some local bakeries is very different from the one bought off a supermarket shelf. Shelf life of baked bread is optimized when the pH is between 4 and 5.8. This is done by adding an acidity regulator. Processed food has chemical ingredients that never make it to a normal kitchen. They are loaded with salt, sugar or trans-fat and sometimes with all of them.
Why do I have nutrient deficiency?
Sadly, this is a question that is cropping up more and more not just among people who consume processed food, but even those who have the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. The answer is scary. Indian soil is being stripped of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C due to modern irrigation techniques, including pesticides. No wonder, these are the most widespread deficiencies.
As far as food is concerned, Gen X will be remembered as the most unfortunate. Our forefathers had organic food and hopefully our children will have only organic food too. Our forefathers did not have to distinguish between good and bad food and we do not have the intellectual capability to do so. As per “research” today, oats are good for health and red meat is not!
A healthy diet is not enough
Modern science is just 200 years old. 200 years is a very small time to understand how a certain food affects our body. Ayurveda is a 5000 year old science, but what lends it more credibility is that the body of knowledge is wisdom personified. The facts remain as is over kalpas, just like the principles of arithmetic. Modern science will definitely make progress at a quick pace, but do not expect it to be all knowing in another 100 years.
Since we can’t wait that long, it would be wise to follow the principles of Ayurveda, even if critics would point out that a lot of information has been lost, leading to half knowledge. A little knowledge is dangerous, but less dangerous than completely wrong information!
The beginning of the answer
Ayurveda’s answer to the problem requires a complete change of mindset to understand. For starters, Ayurveda does not classify nutrients, it classifies people. According to Ayurveda, there are three doshas and a person can be of any one prakriti or a combination of them:
You can find out your prakriti here: http://www.prokerala.com/health/ayurveda/prakriti-analysis/prakriti-test.php
Based on your prakriti, Ayurveda not only recommends diet, but also what to wear, how to stay fit and so on. Please bookmark my blog and I’ll take you through the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda & help you stay healthy in spite of your hectic schedules & stressful lives. Here are the posts that will follow:
- Humans can’t create, so eat natural
- The Ayurveda Diet Plan
- Know what you hate to eat
- Eat local
- Eat seasonal
- Ayurvedic Superfoods