Do you want to look at dietetics from a new perspective? In an exclusive interview, award-winning nutritionist Raksha Changappa busts some myths about food choices and the right nutrition.
By Monali Bordoloi
Her thought-provoking ideas about embracing indigenous cooking methods, while adopting a healthy, modern lifestyle, give enough food for thought. Voted as one of the notable young personalities of Bengaluru, Raksha Changappa is passionate about nutrition for young children. She has also been invited by the New York Academy of Sciences to be part of their landscaping exercise in framing a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Innovation challenge, for Indian students, in partnership with The Infosys Science Foundation.
In a chat with ParentCircle, Raksha talks about busting myths around nutrition and the importance of saying no to your child's unhealthy food choices. Read on to know it all.
Tell us about yourself, and how you developed your interest in nutrition and dietetics.
I come from a defence family. My father is a Colonel of the Indian Army, a 1971 Indo-Pak war veteran and my mother, an economist. Our roots are in Kodagu, Karnataka. I hold a bachelor of science (BSc) honours degree in clinical dietetics, an MSc in nutrition and an MBA in marketing. I would like to think that I am a self-made person. I feel blessed that I have received much appreciation for my work.
What is your advice to parents of picky eaters?
All children are picky eaters. It is a part of growing up. What is disturbing is that in most urban homes, the child is dictating his diet. This happens when parents easily give in to the child's demands for a particular food, which is not good for him. If your child is making unreasonable demands for foods, learn to say no.
What do you think about the trend of Indians moving away from their roots and adopting western cooking practices?
The Indian style of cooking is elaborate and labour-intensive. So for the sake of convenience, people are adopting new styles of cooking that may cut down the effort and time in the kitchen. If they can do so without compromising on nutrition, it is fine. Adopting western cooking practices, for e.g., going easy on spicy food, is acceptable. But switching to microwavable meals or surviving only on nut butter, spreads, bread, and pasta, is not. We have innumerable indigenous easy-to-cook food recipes; all it takes is learning about them and incorporating them in our lives.
What is your take on organic foods? What benefits do they offer as opposed to non-organic foods?
The concept of organic food has been so well-marketed that everyone is ready to pay a premium price for pesticide-free products. However, we are not sure whether the products we are getting in the name of organic are fully pesticide free or not. Here is a basic guideline for a food to qualify as organic:
Organic plant foods: Any produce (grains, pulses, legumes, fruits or vegetables) declared as organic should not have used irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilisers, prohibited pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) while cultivation.
Organic animal foods: For labelling meat (mutton, lamb, beef), poultry (chicken, duck, geese, turkey including their eggs) and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, butter) as organic, farmers should meet animal health and welfare standards, not use antibiotics or growth hormones on the animal or bird, use 100 per cent organic feed and provide animals with outdoor access.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding superfoods, are these really as healthy as they are made out to be?
‘Superfood’ is a marketing term, which will appeal to buyers, who do not mind paying extra for healthy food. Superfoods are portrayed as foods which provide extraordinary nutrient content, but instead, these are usually foods which are grown in limited quantities, usually alien to the country of consumption, expensive and high in only one nutrient. For example, oats. Famed for its soluble fibre (beta glucan), good publicity has ensured that oats is in every heart patient's diet plan. It’s also called a superfood. For me, guava is a superfood. If you eat it with the seeds, you get your soluble fibre. Barley too is a superfood as it has beta glucan content, which is similar to oats. Sadly, guava and barley are not considered a superfood, as there is little profit to be made on selling them.
We must understand that all cereals grains, fruits and vegetables native to a country are a superfood, regardless of what they are called.
What diet would you suggest to a mother trying to lose weight after pregnancy?
For post-partum women, any plan which encourages gradual weight loss is good. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
Is it better to eat three big meals a day or multiple small meals?
I believe in ‘to each his own.’ As long as your daily total calorie consumption is as per your age, gender, health condition and activity levels, both patterns of eating are fine.
Is white rice really unheathy? What alternatives would you suggest?
We have been wrongly taught to label foods as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, based on how the food is perceived to affect our weight. A food is unhealthy if consuming it were to result in an instant, adverse reaction to your health e.g. contaminated food, which may cause food toxicity.
A food is also unhealthy if its excessive consumption causes ill health over time e.g. refined sugar. Consumption of white rice once or twice daily, in an otherwise healthy adult, has no long-term health repercussions, as long as there is no other food indulgence.
Rice is the staple food of half the world’s population and is very entrenched in our culture and memories. Its demonisation must stop.
What healthy and tasty snacks would you recommend for children?
Any homemade snacks can be fed to an otherwise healthy child, even deep-fried snacks or rich beverages. Make sure to avoid too much dependence on packaged, tinned and processed foods as snacks or toppings.
The number of preservatives, additives, flavour enhancers, bulking agents and colours added to a processed food is unbelievable. So, avoid commercially-made nut butter, sandwich spreads, jams, mayonnaise, cakes, muffins, pastries, chips, sauces, biscuits, squash, juice, fizzy drinks. If you can make these at home for your children, nothing better than that.
Breakfast cereals, which are coloured or flavoured, are not a good idea too. In fact, avoid anything which has an extraordinary shelf life, colour and flavour. You must use these only during emergencies.
What is the unhealthiest food consumed in an average Indian household?
That would be white sugar, salt, and oil consumption above the daily recommended allowance. And processed, preserved ready-to-eat foods — foods, which one can eat immediately without cooking, is not good for your health if you consume it regularly.
What’s the most common mistake people make that causes them to fail in their diet?
The following factors can make or mar your diet plans:
Nutrition is a well-paying profession these days. What is your advice for youngsters who want to take it up as a profession?
For youngsters who want to pursue nutrition, I recommend they understand the importance of a good educational foundation, via formal full-time degrees in dietetics or nutrition.
Raksha sums it up like this, "It is important that young people do not get carried away by pop culture and social media, where what’s irrelevant to the field of nutrition — appearance, clientele, fees, networking, is hyped and what’s relevant — formal degrees, depth of knowledge, is not."
For expert solutions and more discussions regarding nutrition, click here!
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