A 12 year old jaipuri handpainted ceramic mason jar from the remotest corner of the highest shelf on my kitchen cabinet plunged to death yesterday! As I was brooming the pieces to safety, my son came to give me a helping hand. Allured by the colourful though broken pieces of a decade-old jar from my collectives, he asked what it was for. “It is a chutney jar”, I replied. His matter-of-factly response struck an old chord in me: “Why don’t you make chutneys?”
There are atleast 2 chutney jars in every Indian's house: one for that ingeneous spicy-tangy dip on-the-go and the other to soothe our sweet tooth. We are dysfunctional without chutneys and pickles. While pickles are high in oil and salt content and have to be consumed in extremely limited quantities, chutneys have an advantage of liberally occupying a large segment of our plates. I would confess that just typing this blog piece is hyper-activating my salivary glands and that is the power of these succulent preparations, which have anointed our culinary existence for umpteen number of years across all parts of India. Be it the good old south Indian breakfast idlis and dosas, or the effervescent parathas, mid day cravings or your favourite kabaabs, no time to cook up a dish to go with your rotis, or a lazy Sunday eve snacking, chutneys are always to your rescue!
When versatility and health tie the knot!
The most striking part of these lip-smacking delicacies is that they don’t come with standard recipes! The ingredients and preparation can be twisted from one kind to the other based on preferences and type of meals they are to go along with. But it is not all about the taste buds that chutneys talk about. They can be extremely healthy additions to our daily diet. Extremely low on refined carbs or saturated fats, and blended with a cheerful spectrum of spices, chutneys are unarguably by far the yummiest creations emerging from our kitchen counters! Certain key elements of chutneys existing from ages, like coriander, curry leaves, mint, methi, asafoetida, tomato, onion, garlic, tamarind, mango, indian gooseberries (amla), caraway or ajwain leaves, coconut, peanuts and roasted gram are bundles of nutritive goodness. To complement these classics, vegetables like carrots, beetroots and capsicum, to name just a few, have also crept into the ambrosial world of chutneys to carve their niches! Incorporation of green leaves renders chutneys abundant in chlorophyll and antioxidants. Coriander, mint, fenugreek and curry leaves are rich source of vitamins, iron, folic acid and essential minerals and since there are not cooked their nutritive value is also kept intact. The digestive benefits of gooseberries, asafetida, ajwain, tamarind and methi, good fats from coconut and peanuts, complex carbs from grams and other legumes, antimicrobial property of garlic, onion and ginger and the numerous benefits of spices added into them make chutneys win hands down! All rolled in one, with super-satisfied buds and super-soothed bowels, what more can one ask for!
But as every good thing in life comes with a disclaimer, our dear chutneys also carry a caveat: The salty and sugary struggle! We need to be extremely judicious with the quantity of these two flavours we give to chutneys. We usually undermine and overdo this aspect. Overenthusiasm often makes us add that extra spoon of salt and consume too much of those sweet chutneys, both being wickedly disastrous for our health! A slightly wiser option to exercise would be using a few dates for sweetening instead of sugar and perhaps a sprinkle of rock salt or black salt to get those extra minerals (although the sodium chloride level is same in all types of salts). Nevertheless, stay moderate with the salt while preparing, and minimal with the sweet one while eating.
What makes our soul cry out for chutneys?
Our meals are incomplete without something tangy and spicy hitting our palates. The craving for tang, sour and spice is as natural as call of nature and just the sight of chutney gets our saliva inundating our oral cavity! Ever wondered why? Ivan Pavlov’s dog gave us all our answers long time back! Our salivary glands get into action with not just the taste (unconditioned response) but even with the sight of sour and spicy delectables (unconditioned response). This Pavlovian or classical conditioning mechanism ensures provision of sufficient saliva to dilute the extremity of the flavour as well as to aid in bolus formation and digestion. Little did we know that there existed, such a profound connection between unflinching love for chutneys and our 8th standard science chapter!
Already noon? As I drool away to concluding this chutney chant, time to put the chutney jar on to the mixer and churn out some tantalizing savory to oomph up your luncheon!
We all have atleast that one vegetable from childhood etched in our memory that made us cringe but our mothers shoved down our throat mercilessly and successfully! My mother was an expert of disguising and plating the most obnoxious vegetables for meals. I have been bulldozed by Kamal-Kakdi curry so much that I can perhaps sketch the cross-section image of this lotus Stem with greater precision than I can draw a lotus flower! But from the time it seemed holocaustic to now when I cannot stop singing praises for it, this extremely underrated veggie has travelled right up my ascending colon to my heart!
The splendid and majestic Lotus, taxonomically christened as Nelumbo nucifera, is not considered glorious (enough to be crowned as our national flower) just flippantly. It is indeed one of the most remarkable plants, coming close to the coconut palm, every part of which provides us with a plethora of benefits. The lotus plant has been used as core ingredient of East and Southeast Asian traditional medicines and cuisines for the longest time possibly known. The flower and leaves, apart from their ornamental charm are used as tea infusion for soothing gastric disturbances and lowering blood pressure. Lotus seed commonly known as makhana is an abundant source of proteins, vitamins and minerals, and is an excellent snack option for weight watchers, diabetics and health-conscious. And the lotus rhizome, the stem right down till its root, is a not-so-popular but nutritionally rich food.
The rhizome is plush with dietary fiber but low on fat, making it an amazing food choice for keeping calories in check. A 100g serving carries only 74kcals contributed by 3g of proteins, 15g of carbs and 7 g of fiber. Don’t be surprised if your stomach and intestines gurgle a bit for the first time. It is the acids and gastric juices getting into the assembly line. You will soon be rid of any constipation or acid reflux problems. So, try out a bowl of crunchy lotus stem for super smooth bowels!
Each serving of lotus stem provides us with essential minerals like magnesium (23mg) and phosphorus (100mg) for maintaining blood sugar levels and DNA integrity respectively, and, potassium (556mg) and iron (1.2mg) for controlling blood pressure and red blood cell formation. Amongst other phytonutrients, zinc and copper also constitute a large percentage of its mineral repertoire. High potassium content of lotus stem counteracts the sodium flux and prevents retention of excess water and keeps your kidneys flushed. How more magnificently ironical can nature be for bestowing on a plant growing primarily in water, the ability to drain out yours!
Containing 44mg of ascorbic acid that amounts to 73% of our daily dietary value, we surely cannot discount out the vitamin C quotient of the lotus rhizome. Bite into these succulent stems and see your skin and hair growing as luscious as a lotus bloom!
Pyridoxine of the vitamin B complex is involved in a signaling cascade with neural receptors that influence mood and behaviour. So, if you have been thinking all this while that it is the lotus flower symbolizing peace and tranquility, you know now where the peace of mind actually ‘stems’ from!
The lotus stem, though very delicately flavored, can be transformed into amazing cuisines. From sautéed dishes of Japan and Chinese soups and salads to spicy Indian curries and chips, it has carved a niche for itself in more than half of Asia. The only care we need to take is hygiene. Since it is grown in swamps, it is harvested and sold muddy. It stickers along aggregates of aquatic microflora which can compete with the natural intestinal microbiota and cause acute infections. It should not be consumed raw for this reason. And since it is a pretty sturdy and versatile shoot, you can explore different ways to cook it.
India is home to an extensive variety of classical vegetation which often don’t get their due credit. Staying ignorant about or underusing their potential is plain criminal! Despite the abundance of goodness this pocketed stem carries, it goes unnoticed. And if this versatile handsome fellow doesn’t slam the beauty-with-brains category, then who else will?
Everyone is busy exasperating over our kitchen waste polluting the environment, but nobody is thinking about what lands on our table is doing to the same environment even before it turns into waste! Very few know while the rest are conveniently ignoring the harsh fact that the food choices we make have a massive impact on the environment. Food before reaching our kitchen goes through a laborious process of production, processing transporting, selling and storing. The time taken to complete this cycle determines the carbon footprint of your comestibles. Carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a process associated with human activity. Be it a chemical plant or a crop, each process has its own carbon footprint. The food on our plate also has!
Eating ‘green’ may sound clichéd, but is unarguably the only way we can direct our efforts towards reducing the environmental damage, a lot already done and even more in the pipeline.
What is happening ?
Pesticides and fertilizers going into crops have skyrocketed. They may accelerate and maintain crop growth but ambiguously pollute air and water quality apart from posing serious threat to health of farmers and workers.
What can we do?
Choose organically grown crops. And even better, if you have the space, grow them! They not only are healthier but also taste good, devoid of the causticity of pesticides and fertilizers.
What is happening?
A large chunk of fertile forest lands are being converted into grazing lands to grow animal feed like soy, corn etc. for livestock and meat industry. Methane released from digestive process of ruminants like cow, goat and sheet has a large carbon footprint. Seafood too is a big benefactor of carbon footprint with the amount of fossil fuel burnt in open-ocean fishing fleets. Producing livestock for human consumption dispenses almost 15% of the emitted global greenhouse gasses.
What can we do?
Eat from the lower half of the food chain: vegetables, fruits, limited quantity of dairy and less of red meat will surely cut down on your bit of contribution to global destruction!
What is happening?
The mention of glamorous gourmet preparations undoubtedly makes us drivel in excitement. Imported exotic consumables and perishables like berries, nuts, greens use enormous energy resources for transportation, storage and most of them require high-end refrigeration. Needless to say, the carbon footprints left behind are gigantic.
All our frozen goodies are the real baddies wearing colourful capes of deception!
What can we do?
Go local. Clichéd again. But works amazingly; not just for your health but also for the environment. Opt for fresh, locally and naturally grown fruits and vegetables.
It may require an extra bit of effort but next time buy your stuff from a local market or directly from a farmer than dumping into the supermarket trolley. Not only will you help with your bit to cut down transportation footprinting but also are likelier to get fresher rations and greater satisfaction of helping a farmer get his/her due! Estimated by The Natural Resources Defense Council, that importing of fruits and vegetables contributes to smog-forming emissions equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from 1.5 million cars! If this doesn’t alarm us then what will?
Did you recently gobble up a pizza delivered from your favourite eating joint?
While you were busy counting the number of pieces you will lay on hands on, the carbon footprint of your pizza delivered has been already tabbed and accounted!
Based on statistical evaluations, a pizza restaurant on an average consumes:
All put together, it leaves us gasping for breath at the catastrophically whooping figure to deal with!
We are all the time talking about mindful eating. But mindfulness is significant only if it helps maintain both physiological and ecological equilibrium. As against a heap of cheesy pork pasta, a locally grown organic fruit or vegetable footprints far less on the carbon dioxide scale and can be sustained for longer periods as practice due to its availability, digestibility, compost-friendliness and health turnover!
On World Environment Day, put the first step forward. Stop your hands from pulling out that packet of frozen peas, visit the Sunday fruit market, ‘beef down’ you red meat consumption and instead of placing a home delivery order for your burger, walk down to the dining place tonight!
Going green puts a great responsibility on not just what goes off our plates but what touches our palate.
How often do you pinch your eyebrows and use the nearest support to get up from a grounded position? And by you, we assume, a normal 'un-ailing healthy' person. If your answer is quite often, then we have to unfortunately remove healthy from the paranthesis and all that remains is an 'unailing' not-so-healthy individual of you! Seeing young individuals unable to even get up from a chair without taking support, makes us wonder how miserably we have shelved health and fitness on the last rack of our priorities. Basic functional tasks like walking up the stairs, touching your toes or simply getting up in an upright position from a grounded one, they all pose a very important question to us: are we fit? Our strength doesn’t lie in the amount weight we plate onto the Smith machine, but in lifting our own weight with ease.
Fitness is a conglomeration of various parameters and there cannot be an isolated test to calibrate our fitness quotient, but there is one such test that has been around for a while but gained popularity in the recent times to access our basic muscle strength and coordination: The Sitting-Standing Test.
Designed in 2012 by Dr. Brazilian Claudio Gil Araújo, an exercise and sports-medicine expert, to assess muscle strength, balance and flexibility, this test evaluates your ability to sit on the floor and rise unaided, that is without using your hands, legs, elbows/forearms or knees for support. There are basically 5 ways of support we can seek during this activity: hand on floor, forearm on floor, knee on floor, side of the leg on floor and hand on the knee. You will surely relive your school days doing this because this activity comes with a scoreboard! These 5 support points form the basis of assessing your fitness level.
You are entitled to a maximum score of 10; 5 each for sitting and getting back up; and this is perhaps the only test you would have ever taken where you start with a full score, a perfect 10! But with every one support point you use, you lose a point on the your assessment sheet. Talk about reverse psychology!
Oh wait, that doesn’t end there. You can lose an additional 0.5 points for an unsteady and wobbly execution. Now talk about reverse psychology hung-over with performance pressure!
The good thing is that you are not assessed on your speed. You can choose to go slow or bolt up and down, as long as you are able to maintain your balance and not sacrifice that half a point on the altar of over-confidence!
Sitting and getting up seem almost effortless and involuntary activities, but the amount of hard-work that goes behind them, only your muscles know. And by muscles, we mean a lot of them, not just one.
The primary parts of our body that assist in sitting and standing and give us an erect posture are LEGS-our pillars, SPINE-the structural framework, and TORSO-our beam support.
Nobody is devoid of muscles. We all have every single muscle fibre genetically designed for Homo sapiens. But the strength, agility, flexibility and stability differs from one person to another. Foremost, we need to keep our muscles moving for them to function, and secondly, we need to constantly strengthen them in order to execute basic or advanced movements. Fundamental strength and functional training with or without weights, resistance exercise, yoga and cardiovascular exercises, are all essential in equity to provide strength, flexibility and balance to our body. It is incredible to see that the simplest of lifestyle activities can be such a crucial parameter to assess where we stand on our own fitness pedestral.
The Sitting-Standing test is a fantastic yardstick to assess us impartially. It may burst our bubbles and dishearten us once our scores are chalked out, but like may other touchstones life throws at us, this too shall show us the mirror and prompt us to get our shoulders to the wheels. It is undoubtedly a world full of traffic jams, unsatisfactory jobs, and relationship heartburns. But then we also see early morning walkers, laughter clubbers, gym lovers, sportspersons and yogis. For every couch potato, there is a triathlete and for every broken new year resolution, there is the new gym opening in the neighbourhood! The balance hasn’t been lost as yet. We need to derive our motivation from the active and shun passivity. Someone rightly said “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live in?”
It is not important to be a heavy lifter, but to be functionally fit, is indispensable. So keep your muscles roaring and your SST score soaring!
Have you been forgetting things lately? You forgot where you parked your car the evening you went clubbing with friends, or that Sunday family picnic trip got delayed because you couldn’t find your keys, or the days you travelled overseas on work and you forgot to take your phone charger along, or perhaps that exciting day of the week watching soccer finals with your friends and you had to order in some grub but you couldn’t recall where you placed your wallet! The worse wasn’t over; at a family reunion you couldn’t recognize your aunt who used to feed you with the best parathas and took you for city fairs!Now, do you recall what you had feasted upon on all the above-mentioned days?
Definitely NO. Well, then your answer to the first question lies in that of the second. You certainly are having difficulties with the memory centre of your brain. And more than certainly, all the years of feasting has casted its spell on your hippocampus! Although these events of short term memory loss happen more often than we know with almost all of us at some point of time, they can be warning signs of an impending crisis; a pathological crisis which can lead to an irreversible damage to our cognitive functions.
Memory loss and dementia are the hallmarks of the most common neurodegenerative disorder, Alzheimer’s disease. Although this disorder afflicts older adults, the symptoms and manifestations can be visible earlier in life too- the frequency and intensity of which may vary between individuals depending on factors like genetic disposition, lifestyle and presence of metabolic disorders. While truckload of research and inference has gone into the genetics and therapeutic aspects of it, very few are aware of a crucial link it has with another very critical facet of or diet, the sinful sugars.
Memories... Tangled and Piled
The brain functions primarily in 2 ways: one, using almost 25% of the blood supply of our body to obtain nutrients, and two, ensuring smooth neurotransmission across neurons to control all body functions. Any disruption in either of these can lead to serious brain dysfunctions. Unfortunately Alzheimer’s disease influences both these aspects. The role of amyloid beta protein has not been elucidated during normal functioning but in Alzheimer’s disease, it builds up into lumps or aggregates right at the synaptic junction between nerve cells and hampers effective neurotransmission. At the same time, another protein Tau which is otherwise responsible helping the framework of neurons stay organized to transport nutrients into the cells, undergoes phosphorylation and collapses into tangles or twisted strands. This causes the neuronal framework to collapse and start degenerating or disintegrating, thereby preventing any further entry of nutrients and essential supplies into the cell which eventually dies. For this reason, Alzheimer’s is called a neurodegenerative disorder.
This brings us back to elucidating how diet can modulate neurodegeneration.
Excessive sugar intake in our diet causes a large part of it to travel to the brain. Glucose is extremely essential for the brain towards various functions, but when there is more than what’s required, it turns catastrophic! Glucose causes damage proteins via a chemical reaction called ‘glycation’ that produces substances called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). These AGEs further modify amyloid beta proteins to form aggregates at the neuronal junctions. Simultaneously, AGEs through a complex signaling cascade cause phosphorylation of tau protein, which get restructured into tangles resulting in subsequent neurodegeneration. On the backend, a pivotal enzyme MIF is actively involved with our immune response to any possible accumulation of abnormally modified proteins. But in scenarios of excessive unwanted sugar intake, glucose yet again through glycation, modifies and inhibits the protective function of MIF.
So, basically not only does it cause the damage but also constrains the protective mechanisms!
The magnitude of casualty sugar can cause in the brain is inapprehensible. And for this very reason, diabetics are considered to be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Sugars, especially refined and simple ones like baked flour goodies, few cereals, sweets, aerated drinks and sweetened beverages should be totally avoided for metabolic as well as neurological wellness.
Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It is a disease of the aging and can be excruciatingly debilitating for the patients. There is no prophylaxis for it either, except a few minor lifestyle changes that can be incorporated to slow down the process. Cutting out those nasty sugars from our diet and following a balanced meal system with limited complex carbs and loads of fruits, vegetables and lean meat, is the best nunchaku for avoiding early onset of Alzheimer’s till ofcourse, genetics uses its chainsaw! If not prevent, a mind-ful diet can ameliorate manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease to a great extent.
Baggages. We carry them everywhere; domestic issues, workplace stress, personal relations, heartburns of the past, and so many more. We shed a few as we travel up, but few baggages land up on our plates and travel straight down to our intestines! The dejected ones call it filling up the emptiness and the health experts implicate it as Emotional Eating: a condition where one uses food to satisfy their emotional hunger rather than their physiological hunger.
Physiological hunger entails:
Emotional eating is purely based upon impulsion rather than nutritional requirement and the sufferer tends to binge upon foods that spike up their blood glucose levels to give a sense of fulfillment. Fries, chips, burgers, pizzas, ice creams, chocolates, cakes are some of the most exploited ones for instant gratification. Fluctuating mood and emotional cues like euphoria, sadness, depression, anxiety or general lack of interest can drive one towards emotional eating, turning food into a reward system for the brain to cope up with oscillating emotions.
This reward system encapsulate 4 aspects:
Emotional eating is not just a temperamental mess to deal with. It has underlying physiological impacts, often long term, if not contained in its early phases. Since taste is the paramount criteria to lure a mind, the foods consumed are hyper-palatabile and act like addictive substances for the brain to generate a sense of pleasure. This hyper-palatability loaded with simple carbs, sweeteners, saturated fats and oils, it is nothing short of a catastrophe in disguise with metabolic disorders and obesity consequentially striking the system at lightning speed.
What exactly goes wrong?
It is all in the brain! Hypothalamus is a tiny part of the brain doing some big stuff out there. Apart from maintaining daily physiological functions, its key function is to regulate hormones, appetite, emotional responses and sexual behaviour. This hypothalamus has a complicated relationship with the ‘satiety hormone’ leptin. Leptin is the hormone for regulating energy expenditure through negative control of feeding. It inhibits appetite or hunger by signaling the hypothalamus when your calorific intake is sufficient enough thereby preventing you from overeating and gaining weight. It is produced liberally by adipocytes or fat cells in a simple mathematical proportion: more the fat cells, more leptin oozed out into the blood stream. By this logic, overweight or obese people should have more leptin floating around and should prohibit them from over- or binge-eating, but this does not happen. Rather, such individuals are more prone to binging and gaining further weight, making this mechanism more complex than it seems. Obesity figures in a walloping compromise on the leptin-hypothalamic axis. It renders the body leptin-resistant. In this condition, leptin, although is secreted normally by the adipocytes in response to high fat content, the brain refuses to acknowledge its presence. The pathophysiology of leptin resistance has not been clearly elucidated although diet-induced hypothalamic inflammation and leptin receptor mutations are considered to be the primary causes of it. As a result, the brain senses starvation while the body suffers obesity. Hunger remains unhindered and continues to bolt the body with more and more calories.
How do you clear the mess?
Staggering back on trail is far less easy than going off-track. There is a monster to tame and you will have to give in, give up and give way to all that has been guzzling you offlate.
Emotional eating is not accomplished overnight. It creeps in stealthily from the dingiest corners of your heart and treks right upto the brain without any noise. The alarming part is that you lose control. It may start with just a handful of peanuts to munch on, moving on to gulping down a shake and before you realize you are neck deep in a tub of icecream!
The other word for emotional eating is self-sabotage. Well, really. The magnitude of damage emotional eating can inflict on you is unimaginable. Once the orb of obesity is created, there is a gargantuan hill to cross. Nevertheless, there is always a plan B. Talk to your therapist, dietician or nutritionist for expert advice. You may have to work upon your emotions and also shed all those extra pounds you gained for polishing off the pizzas and chocolates before rearranging your physiology. Developing and practicing strategies to cope with the emotional turmoils are not always easy, yet achievable. Be gentle to yourself and tell yourself more than often than you can do it. Let not your emotions control your eating behaviour. They can weigh you down and can weigh you up too.
Next time your emotions play the dirty devil and wheedle your cravings, remind yourself, food is fuel, not a reward!
"The mind is your greatest weapon"
I read this quote anonymously written by some philosopher who either had a flair for creating random thoughtful insights or had tangibly experienced the power of this weapon. This quandary existed with me only till I started practicing martial arts. Martial arts have a way with minds. Not only do they make your body flexible, but your mind too.
Applying your brute physical force to kill is not difficult. Controlling that power is. How we use our internal energy or ‘Qi’ draws that big bold line between a bouncer and a martial artist! Martial art is way beyond the depiction of super-flexible heroes flying 10 feet up in the air and knocking out baddies. A martial artist carries an entire monastery inside; there cannot be more tranquility and control elsewhere. The union of physical and internal energy, harmony of yin and yang and the ultimate equilibrium of movement, endurance and self-control forms the doctrine of martial arts.
A common point of contest is whether martial art endows us with mindful control or are people with a disciplined psyche more equipped to learn martial art. Like an elastic which cannot show how much it can stretch till it is actually pulled across, mind can display its tensile power only when acid-tested! There is practically nothing that a mind cannot achieve if tendered value, practice and discipline. Martial art offers exactly that. You do not need a perfect body or an ingenious mind to be a martial artist, rather your body and mind will sculpt up naturally during your tryst with a martial art. Martial art is never fought. It is played; it is imbibed; it is practiced. Not only is it an incredible form of exercise, but also a conduit for holistic development.
Martial arts employs 3 basic principles:
Armed (swordsmanship, kalaripayat) or unarmed (muay thai), combat-oriented (mixed martial arts, boxing, wrestling, etc.) or spirituality oriented (tai chi), martial arts has been an intense subject of cognitive neuroscience, ingraining a profound understanding of the relationships between your internals and externals. Your opponent, surroundings, your body and mind, the elements of universe, your ontology of judgment, loss and victory, fear, submission, and eventually the metaphysics of life and death, all make up the external you integrate with.
"The best fighters are never angry"
A martial artist is often conceived to be a robust, insistent, temperamental and aggressive person ready to punch your face or deliver a choke on slightest trigger, someone to keep one-arm-distance away. But contrary to this very prejudiced view, he or she exudes exceptionally calm and assertive energy, a deeper perception, lack of aggression and a non-conflicting demeanour. Martial art doesn't teach you to kill. It teaches you to control your powers to safeguard life. And this wisdom doesn’t develop overnight; it comes effortlessly only with persistence and practice. But despite having a universal acknowledgment of these assets, why is martial art not a part of our lifestyle? Either it is the fear of injury or lack of cognizance towards its long-term benefits that makes martial art more of a hobby than a lifestyle practice. Out of a vast pedigree of martial arts, one can choose the type best suited to his/her individual disposition. Nevertheless, it takes an enormous amount of commitment and devotion to accomplish it.
The connect between body and soul is unfathomable. Like the body that has its split second of life and death, the mind too has its moment of truth. It is only by invigorating mindfulness that this connect can be established. Practicing martial art is not just empowering, but also enlightening. Never to forget, it is an art. A form of art, which requires the inscrutable balance of a strong mind and a fit body. Not only does it teach you self defense but also self-control. Tai chi stands as a classic example of cultivating life energy and creating internal force by blending meditation and exercise. As a result of this interplay between movement- and breath-control, the level of mental acuity and tranquility Tai chi infuses is mind blowing, literally!
Every form of martial art ushers mental, emotional, and spiritual discipline into the player which no other physical activity or sport can. It isn’t called movement meditation just frivolously! Martial Art is all about building up power to act and mental strength to decide when to and when not to use that power.
It is not to awaken the beast inside you, but to manifest the best in and out of you.
The World Health Organization defines Health as a "state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” and the primary source for health, functionality and sustenance of life is food.
The nutrients provided by food are required not only for physical vigor but also for mental and emotional wellness. The brain utilizes nutrients for its structural integrity and functioning. What we eat affects the way we feel and conversely, the way we feel often pushes us towards certain types of food. An unhealthy diet regimen, starvation or binging can lead to severe mood fluctuations and very often psychological distress. Similarly, a rough day or an emotionally draining phase can easily incite cravings for chocolates or sugary foods to provide instant blood glucose spikes giving a sense of satisfaction, thereby launching a vicious cycle that eventually causes systemic dysfunctions.
The 'Science' and 'Signs' of Happiness
It’s all about the feel! Our mood can determine how we perceive, act and react and the brain dictates us what or how to feel. Which raises the next obvious question as to what ordinates our cerebrum or is the brain a self-reliant organ. On a scale of 1 to 10 how surprised will you be to know that there exists a phenomenal connection between our gut and our brain? Whatever gets into our gastrointestinal system mandates how our brain directs the penumbra of mood and behaviour.
So what exactly goes on inside our brain that correlates our choice of food with our mood? There lies a neurological circuitry that connects food to mood! To decipher this, we need to first understand how the complex network of nerve cells consolidates our central nervous system to the body through neurotransmission of signals to and fro.
Neurotransmission is nothing but transmission of signaling molecules or chemical messengers called neurotransmitters from one neuron to another target neuron/muscle cell/gland cell across synaptic junctions to get the desired response. This signal can be of physiological functions, pain, hunger or emotions, etc. As microscopic as it may sound, neurotransmission is nevertheless an energy-consuming process.Since food is the fuel for our body functions, it directly regulates production, secretion, availability, and action of neurotransmitters too. There are more than 100 neurotransmitters identified till date, of which a few directly regulate mood and one's emotional/mental state. A quick glance over these, their mode of action and their response characteristics to nutrition, would help elucidate the neurobiology of wellness.
There are some more substances that play a substantial role in optimizing neurotransmitter levels and influencing our mental well-being.
Food for Thought
Isn’t it astonishing to see the opulence of food options available for improving and sustaining our mental health? Yet, unfortunately these choices are not exploited liberally enough. Mental health is undeniably the most crucial facet of our overall well-being. We may be free of physical ailments but even a modest warp in our emotional or mental state can derail us. Mood is very frivolously spoken of; a person with the quintessential 'mood-swings' is often a subject of disparage, humour and mockery. Hardly anyone, for that matter, the patron himself/herself, would try to fathom out the cause and consequences of his/her state, let aside remediating it! Our mood can determine where we channelize our energy and intellect, use our physical strength and maintain the mind-body balance. And the nutrition we absorb from the food we eat determines the way our mood curves. Food is, ergo, the best prophylactic as well as a therapeutic commodity for our mood.
Lastly, it is not just what we eat but also how we eat that affects the action of nutrients on the brain. The age-old injunction to “enjoy the food you eat and eat slowly” should not be undervalued. Eating the right kind of food, at the right time, and in the right way, is paramount to address and employ its benefits. A piece of dark chocolate gulped down as you hurry out for work at 9am will show little to no benefit. Rather, grab a piece as you play with your kids, or sit with your besties or cuddle with your partner, or just slow down your racing feet, savour its delicacy and feel the endorphins exuding through your blood stream!
An anxious mother walks into a paediatrician’s clinic with her 2 year old hyperactive son for a customary checkup. Her first concern (which no longer baffles the doctor) is “My son is not gaining weight. I try to feed him every 2 hours but he is refusing to eat. Is he healthy?”. On a closer examination, the paediatrician observes the child’s weight to be dangling in the lower quartile of his ideal weight category. He smiles at the mother and exclaims, “Your son is perfectly healthy, sound and active. I am glad someone brought in a thin child today; and that, I do not need to prescribe a weight loss diet chart for a 2 year old!”
We unfortunately belong to a society where the health, wellness and growth of an infant and a child are measured with the figures on the weighing scale and the thickness of skin folds! Excessive formula feeding, incorrect eating pattern and choices, physical inactivity and of course, not to rule out genetics and ethnicity, have been a few causes of childhood obesity.
Physical activity and nutrition and are the foremost aspects for growth and development of children. Easy access to media and indoor entertainment, too little outdoor activity, mindless overfeeding and extravagant binging, and poor nutritional quality of food has turned spirited dynamic little imps into sluggish unhealthy youngsters. Children are fed to fill their tummies rather than to fulfill their nutrient requirements. And these children grow up into equally unhealthy adults plagued with multiple metabolic and psychological disorders.
Dating back to days where the sole available nutrition source for an infant was mother’s breast milk and home cooked food, limited access to junk food and high physical activity played a positive role in building up immunity and providing adequate nutrition for growth. With passing decades, a plethora of quick-fix, instant, palatable meal options and a drastic decline in physical activity lead to an alarming incidence of unhealthy weight gain, obesity and debilitating life conditions in children as young as 5-10 years of age. And with the prevalence of overweight and obesity surging manifold every year, children and adolescents have to be put on weight loss diet plans to combat this monstrous evil and reform healthy habits.
Overweight and obese children are likely to remain obese through adulthood and susceptible to a myriad of infirmities like diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia, fatty liver, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, asthma, sleep apnea, immune disorders, lower hip/back pain, arthritis, bowed leg, flat feet, muscle weakness, behavioural disorder, menstrual abnormalities and PCOS, cardiovascular disorders and even cancer. Obesity at a young age only amplifies the psychological miseries an adolescent is likely to go through later in life. 8 out of every 10 obese kids suffer from poor self esteem and depression as a result of being bullied, few even go ahead to develop headaches and intracranial pressure, which turns severe during adulthood and may require critical intervention. More about the complications of childhood obesity can be cited at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20354827
While fundamental lifestyle patterns in children are more feasible to buckle down, genetic factors can be tough opponents! Mutations in LEP (the hunger hormone leptin) and its receptor LEPR, genes from the hypothalamic leptin-melanocortin pathway like POMC-ADCY3, PCSK1, MC4R, BDNF, and other gene loci like NTRK2B and SIM1 are implicated in severe childhood obesity and confer strong susceptibility to adulthood obesity. Gene-environment interaction studies reveal that with sustained healthy lifestyle practices, the adverse effects of these mutations can be suppressed to a large extent, or at least delayed, if not abrogated.
Additional information about the genetics and epigenetics of childhood obesity can be acquired from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3639324/
World health organization has acknowledged obesity as one of the most afflictive health conditions. The statistics are unnerving. On an average, 1 in every 5 children from primary school are overweight/obese and by the time they leave primary school, the ratio goes down to 1:3! Almost 50% of all overweight children lesser than 5 years of age hail from Asia with India scoring the second position after China across the globe. Child nutrition, lifestyle and dietetics is a rapidly growing field and has attracted the attention of researchers to understand the mechanism of this vicious cycle engulfing the quality of life of millions worldwide.
Ironically, childhood obesity is an issue that can be tackled at its elementary level at home. Adults/parents or caregivers have to put in basic, yet conscious efforts towards inculcating healthy eating habits and establishing active lifestyle by not only mentoring their children but also setting examples. To start with, understanding the nutritional requirement of a child as early as his/her infancy is of absolute importance; understanding that by feeding empty calories to a child will only debilitate growth and health; recognizing the need to provide a balanced diet with appropriate portion control and not overfeeding children with calories ad libitum; staying involved and participatory in most of their choices; and last but not the least, encouraging plenty of physical activity to keep their mind and body agile.
Eggs are increasingly used nowadays without the egg yolk as we falsely believe that yolk contributes to increase in body weight of an individual. A new study has found that this practice of discarding the egg yolk to maximize dietary protein intake is disadvantageous.
In reality, egg yolk contains protein and some other nutrients that are not present in egg whites. The yolk also is said to contain a component that helps the body to utilize the available protein in the muscles. The study further suggests that eating protein that is naturally available, like in egg yolk, is more advantageous to our muscles instead of acquiring protein from isolated protein sources as discussed at https://www.sciencedaily.com/.
Study Environment & Results
The study involved 10 men who performed resistance training exercise and then consumed egg whites containing 18 grams of protein or whole eggs. Researchers injected these individuals with two important amino acids and took repetitive blood and muscle biopsy samples to study their appearance and the effect of these amino acids in protein synthesis in muscles before and after resistance exercise and training.
Eating whole eggs or only the egg white provided an individual with the same amount of dietary amino acids in the blood, almost 60-70% was available to build new muscle protein.
But, measure of protein synthesis in the muscle offered a drastically different response-eating whole eggs immediately after resistance training lead to greater muscle-protein synthesis than eating egg whites. This study shows that simply adding fat to a protein source in the diet after exercise is not going to boost protein synthesis in any way. Recently, nutritionists and dietitians have been stressing the importance of protein nutrition and even research shows that we need more protein in the diet than that we assumed to be enough for our body sometime back. To fulfill this need, inexpensive protein sources work best and eating egg protein in its natural environmental existence is more useful that getting isolated protein.