A three-part attempt to get to the heart of a matter that splits society into two opposing camps 

Nutrition for beginners: Starter ground rules for a good diet

OLD habits die hard; which is why I revert at times, as if by reflex, and much to the ire of friend and foe alike, to my former schoolmaster avatar.  So bear with me while I hold forth, for what’s to follow, as parents say before chastising an errant child, will do you good.


There are five food groups that make up the building blocks of a complete diet:



Grains, whole and refined 

Protein foods, like meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds

Dairy products 

Oils, which are fats, liquid at room temperature, that come from plants and fish, are not a food group, though they do provide vital nutrients.

NB: Most balanced diets embrace both veg and non-veg fares, though, to iterate, all required nutrients may derive from a pure veggie regime.  Tofu, mushrooms, jackfruit, eggplant, lentils, beans and legumes, cauliflower, potato, beets and nuts can replace meat, in terms of texture and content.

Nutritional adequacy or the bare necessities of a well-adjusted food regimen

ONCE what to eat is known, the next need-to-know is how to mix them up for a wholesome three square meals.

Calorie intake should sync with how active one is; viz., match energy consumption with expenditure.  To eat or drink too much is to put on weight and vice versa.  The set dose for men is 2,500 calories a day; for women it’s around 2,000 calories.

Eat a wide range of foods to ensure a balanced diet, whereby your body gets all the nutrients it needs, and here’s how you can do just that:

Ground your meals in starchy foods (potatoes, pasta, cereals, rice and bread), which should make up about one-third of what you eat.  Choose wholegrain (or eat spuds with skins on) when you can: they hold more fibre, and help you feel full, thereby nipping your inner glutton in the bud.

Eat lots of fruit and veg, at least five portions a day.  It’s not such a drag as it sounds.  A glass of pure fruit juice (150ml) counts as one portion, and veggies cooked into dishes also make the cut.  Why not chop a banana into your breakfast cereal, or swap that snack for a slice of fresh fruit?  Not on my say so alone— that’s an expert tip, I’ll have you know.

Eat more fish for a good source of protein with lots of vitamins and minerals.  Aim for at least two portions a week, with no less than one portion of oily fish.  Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, fresh tuna, sardines and pilchards), as any New Age fitness guru will tell you, contains omega-3 fats, a big help against heart disease.  Choose from fresh, frozen and canned but — watch out! — some of these may be high in salt.

Non-oily fish, on the other hand, comprise haddock, plaice, coley, cod, tinned tuna, skate and hake.

No catalog of ‘do’s is complete without a supplementary set of don’ts

THE two usual suspects on this proscribed roster are those twin white crystals, de-rigueur for every kitchen worth the name, that indispensable domestic duo: sugar and salt.  If you’re not from Mars, you’ll know that this once must-have pair now lies on the Least Wanted list in any up-to-speed household.

Cut down on, if not out, saturated fat and sugar.  We all need some fat in our diet, but pay attention to the amount and type you eat.  There are two main types of fat: saturated (yum!) and unsaturated (yuck!).  Alas, too much of the first raises blood cholesterol levels, ratcheting up the risk of heart disease.

Saturated fat’s found in foodie favourites like hard cheese, cakes, biscuits, sausages, cream, butter, lard and pies.  Edibles of unsaturated fats include (boring!) vegetable oils, oily fish and avocados.

Most folks eat and drink too much sugar.  Sugary foods and drinks — that means booze too — are high in energy and, if much imbibed, add to weight gain.  They cause tooth decay too, mostly when taken between meals.

Eat less salt.  You may take in too much even if you don’t add the flavour to your food.  About three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and sauces.  Eating too much salt raises blood pressure, which makes one prone to heart disease or to have a stroke.

Seek help from food labels to cut down.  More than 1.5g of salt per 100g means the food’s high in salt.  Adults and children over 11 should eat no more than 6g a day, younger kids less.

There’s more to a healthy lifestyle than foodstuff

GET going to be a fit weight that’s vital to all-round good health.  Being overweight or obese can lead to health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.  Being underweight can also adversely affect your wellbeing.

Physical activity is a must to this end.  Don’t sweat it, though – this doesn’t have to mean hours at the gym or on a jog: there are ways to fit in more action at your own sedentary pace.  For one, get off the bus one stop early on the way home from work, and walk the rest of the way.  Fitness cuts the risk of aforementioned ailments.

P.S. Post your ‘strenuous’ workout, try not to reward yourself with a high-energy treat.

Don’t get thirsty.  It takes about 1.6 to 2 litres of fluid daily to lick dehydration.  This is in addition to the fluid from the food we eat.  Any non-alcoholic drink will do, but water and lower-fat milk are your best bets.

Shun like the devil sugary soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugars and calories, and also murder on the teeth.

When the weather is warm, or if one works out, more fluid intake will be called for.

Don’t skip breakfast.  Some folks miss this key meal in the mistaken notion that it will help them lose weight, when in fact research shows the contrary – this repast actually helps to control weight.  A good brekkers gets one off to a good start, bestowing some of the vitamins and minerals one needs for good health.

Tip-of-the-heap: Start the day on a veritable high with a wholegrain, low-sugar cereal and fruit sliced over the top. 

Contributed by 

John Chiramal

YDF, Thimphu