‘Navratra’ —the nine-day fasting period rooted in the Hindu religion — offers some great opportunities to re-focus on your diet and take corrective measures. However, if made into a feast, it can be more damaging than your usual diet and lead to weight gain. These days, even restaurants in our cities offer a range of speciality foods loaded with calories — the reason behind the post-Navratra pounds.
The practice of preparing oily, deep-fried snacks and sweets in the name of tradition must be checked. So, remember to take your fast in the right spirit — give up life’s pleasures for nine days to bring back balance in your life.
During the Navratras, alternate grains are eaten and traditional staples like wheat, rice, pulses and most vegetables are prohibited. The usual range of cereals like rice, wheat and millets are replaced by alternate cereals such as buckwheat, chestnut, sago, amaranth and a special variety of rice, known as samak rice (barnyard millet).
In fact, Amaranth, chestnuts and samak are not true cereals. Rather they are seeds of fruits. These are also referred to as pseudo-cereals as they do not grow into grasses, unlike wheat and rice. Pseudo-cereals are higher in protein and rich in carbohydrates like the conventional cereals — wheat and rice. A research on pseudo cereals like buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth found that they had a higher percentage of protein than wheat but also better quality.
They are also better sources of vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, and fibre. One of the spin-offs of using alternative grains is the nutritional advantage of several traditional and rarely-used grains. Most of the pseudo-cereals are gluten free and lend well to easy digestion.
There are people who do not observe the proper fast for all nine days but most avoid consuming eggs, fish, poultry, meat and maybe even garlic and onions. Many also avoid alcohol during this period.
One of the principles of healthy eating is bringing variety into your food and the forgoing of certain foods in favour of others takes care of this. Here is how you can make the fasting period work in your favour.
Your healthy fasting programme
# Eat small portions but do not starve.
# Include plenty of fluids, water, fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
# Include foods rich in micronutrients, anti-oxidants and phytochemicals (disease fighting nutrients)—fruits and vegetables.
# Include variety through alternate foods, cooked healthily and ensure good nutrition.
# Break your fast with coconut water/ milk/yoghurt/buttermilk/vegetable or fruit juice/soup/fruits.
# Do not eat too much immediately after breaking your fast.
Plan one major meal with alternate grains, prepared in minimal oil, and try to have it before sunset. Snack on milk, yoghurt, fruits, nuts, seeds, dry fruits and coconut. Such a diet can help you drop kilos and it will also boost your energy!
Balancing everyday eating patterns with controlled eating — as done during a fast — when practised on a regular, long-term basis, can prove to be healthy. It not only helps in controlling weight, but also promotes digestion, improves energy, prevents diseases and promotes a feeling of lightness and well-being.
Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of http://www.theweightmonitor.com and Whole Foods India