Parents today are very cautious about what they are putting on the plate for their kids. Their carb and fat intake is duly monitored and most parents advocate a healthy diet, except occasional consumption of junk food. But it isn’t as easy as it sounds and parents and children often struggle to identify healthy options from the unhealthy one. Often harmful ingredients hide in plain sight in food items that we assume to be healthy. Also, in households where both the parents are working, they cannot be always around to monitor what their child eats. Which is why it makes more sense to educate children to eat right.

I think that most often advising adults on nutrition does not help. They take your advice home and do nothing about it. While children like to learn, which makes it a fruitful teaching experience.

Nutritionist Pooja Makhija’s discussed how parents can create a healthy equation with food for kidsat SheThePeople Women Writers’ Fest in Mumbai. In conversation with serial entrepreneur Ruchi Makkad, Makhija spoke on her book N for Nourish: Make Food Your BFF, an easy read which any ten-year-old can pick up and understand. As teenagers prefer to listen to professionals over their parents, it is an important book that can guide them to adopt a diet full of nutrition.

What made her write this book

Pooja said that she gained an interest in child nutrition after becoming a mother. “I think that most often advising adults on nutrition does not help. They take your advice home and do nothing about it. While children like to learn, which makes it a fruitful teaching experience. It is gratifying as they spread the word and speak about it with others,” said she.

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But as a parent, it is a struggle even for her to get her kids to listen to her advice. “My girls have grown up, and now suddenly Mumma knows nothing, and Google knows better. So I wrote this book so that they could read it and understand its credibility as it is coming from a professional.” She also added that her daughters have helped her proofread the book, thus making it a fast and fun read. “Mumma, why are you repeating these same lines? Don’t spin the yarn so much. Why are you saying this again in this chapter?” they would say.

How to start one’s journey to fitness?

On being asked why we act like headless chickens when it comes to fitness, taking one bit from here and one bit from there, Pooja said that to start fitness one should understand food, nutrition, and their body. “You know better than anyone else about what suits your body. We will be ready to cut off carbs, but cutting off carbs is like cutting off an arm. It would be best if you did not want to try things on your body. It is pretty simple as it is sugar and not carbs which needs to be removed. And carbs are not sugar, they are energy givers, and one must eat them. But sugar should be given up,” she said.

Makhija then asked why do we never change the way we charge our phones or wash our clothes? “Because it is tried and tested. But weight loss and the human mind are so intrinsically attached that we’d believe anything. We are so gullible when it comes to weight loss. If I tell someone that I hang upside down to eat, and thus the food does not accumulate, they will believe me.” Pooja added that food is the sole way one can recharge themselves. And what one needs is better health in the 21st century since we have everything else.

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“Different Diets are not sustainable”

Speaking on various diet fads that are very popular among people who seek weight loss Pooja said, “They are viruses attacking us with zero cure because our bodies have become so resilient. And people follow all these diets which are not sustainable. Intermittent fasting and the keto diet is not long-lasting. Once you leave it, you will gain weight again.”

Weight loss and the human mind are so intrinsically attached that we’d believe anything. We are so gullible when it comes to weight loss. If I tell someone that I hang upside down to eat, and thus the food does not accumulate, they will believe me.

She advised everyone to make a list of things they gained and lost during these diets. “Did you get hangry? Angry? Crampy? Moody all the time? Did you have hair loss? Did your bones become brittle? Make a list of things you lost and gained. But mostly, focus on health and feeling fit and strong. You should be the boss and not a nutritionist or a doctor. They will make money out of it and tell you what you already know”, Pooja states.

How to blend cultural traditions with our diet?

On mixing our moderns diets with traditional cultural foods passed down by our mothers and grandmothers, Makhija said that our predecessors knew much better than we do. “However, they did not know how to back it up with science. They knew well how to use the properties of different ingredients. But this knowledge is not paid any heed. We read some western journal telling us turmeric can help us remain healthy and then say, “Oh, this is what dadi ma said all along.”

She further added that no food is good or bad for you, and there is always a middle path to khaana. One should eat in a limited amount. “I can have 2-3 tsp of ghee but not so much even though it is considered healthy. Kuttu ka atta is good, but to what extent? One should eat to suit their stomach. Only you can say what suits you.” She explained how rice suits her, but her daughter prefers rotis. “My digestion is very different from my daughter’s. Even twins will have different gut bacteria.”

She again emphasised that other than sugar, there is no bad. “Refined sugar is bad. And there are many kinds of sugar; honey, brown sugar, gur, and high fructose corn syrup is the worst.” She questioned the audience as to why we are complicating food so much. “We prefer gur over sugar, but that is like a needle in a haystack. One kilo of gur and one kilo of sugar will have as many minerals as one apple. But we end up pacifying ourselves that gur is healthy. It isn’t healthy, it just tastes sweet, and we like it.”

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“Health is wholesome”

On being asked how Pooja would advise people to go about their fitness, she said that balance needs to be achieved, both at the kitchen and the gym. “Diet is more important since your 16 hours of eating period can wash down your one hour of gym. But you need to understand what is your way. A nutritionist can tell you to drink vegetable juice every morning at six, and you can force yourself to do it for a few days and even more, but that is not alright. Do what makes you most comfortable,” said she, adding that diet should never be forced. It is all about one’s needs and requirements, and what they feel is their way of feeling fit.

Saumya Rastogi is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.

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