By Professor Dr. Kansuda Wunjuntuk, Lecturer for the Food, Nutrition and Dietetics Program, Department of Home Economics, Faculty of Agriculture, Kasetsart University
We are surrounded by an amazing variety of delicious food in Thailand. The country is blessed with fertile land that makes it easy to grow the best fruits, crops and vegetables in abundance and good infrastructure to bring all these to our table. But in order to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, it is essential to make good eating choices early in life.
Your body needs adequate essential nutrients every day in order for it to function properly and to stay healthy. For many, keeping the right balance of nutrients could sound quite challenging, but fortunately, with just minimal effort, you can have the essential nutrients your body needs at all times by being a little more conscious of your daily intake.
Calories you consume serve as fuel to allow your body to perform different functions, such as walking and running. It also includes automatic functions such as breathing, food digestion and blood circulation. Knowing how much energy or how many calories you need each day depends on factors such as age, gender, metabolism or activity level. Here is a simple table to help you see the recommended daily calorie requirement.
|Groups||Age||Daily calorie requirement|
|Low energy consuming group||Children (6-13)|
|Medium energy consuming group||Young adults (14-25)|
|High energy consuming group||Athletes|
Those who exercise regularly
Macronutrients and micronutrients
Nutrients are chemical compounds in everything that we eat that the body uses to function properly. Aside from providing energy, they are needed to develop new tissues and help the body synthesize some essential chemicals. We must know how to distinguish between the two types of nutrients. Macronutrients are all energy-providing nutrients, namely carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We measure them and try to eat a consistent amount each meal to be able to achieve our health goals. For example, eating three meals a day, including eight servings of carbohydrates, could be beneficial. One serving of carbohydrates is equivalent to half a cup of cooked brown rice or noodles or whole wheat pasta, or a slice of whole grain bread, or half a cup of sticky rice. For protein, 3-4 servings a day is ideal, such as an egg or two tablespoons of low-fat fish, chicken or pork. Try to avoid fats as much as possible, and choose unsaturated oils such as soybean oil, rice bran oil, olive oil, etc. for no more than 2-3 tablespoons a day. And do not skip meals as this can disrupt your metabolism.
Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are needed by the body in small amounts. Although they do not provide the body with energy, they are essential for metabolism. A lack of these nutrients can cause some diseases or disorders. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, and are also full of fiber, which contributes to your digestive health and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Eat at least 400 grams or 2 cups of cooked vegetables daily, such as cauliflower, pumpkin, cucumber, mushroom, tomatoes, morning glory and kale. Have at least 3 servings of fresh fruit a day – four rambutans, one gluay nam wa or gluay hom banana, or six small slices of chilled papaya, or an orange. Be adventurous and try different fruits and vegetables that are easily available in the market.
Balanced meal in a healthy plate
For better portion control and to ensure that what you eat contains the right balance of macro and micronutrients, it is highly recommended to prepare your own “healthy plate” for your meals. With just one glance, you can see if the portions or servings correspond with the recommended daily requirements. Ideally, a good half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, and the more colorful, the better!
If you are trying to control your weight, feel free to adjust the portions. Cut down on the carbohydrates and replace them with whole grains such as whole wheat, barley, quinoa, brown rice and others. Adding more protein in the form of fish, poultry, beans and nuts to your plate can also help you achieve your goals.
Here is a sample of a delicious healthy plate that features all-time favorites. It is both delicious and nutritious because it offers a good balance of macro and micronutrients, and fiber as well. It will give you enough energy to face your daily tasks, and keep you going until your next meal.
1 cup brown rice
1 piece pla tu (steamed local mackerel)
2 cups pak thom (steamed vegetables)
1 boiled egg
1 small serving of chilled papaya, for dessert
If you train yourself to plan your meals, eat a variety of foods and enjoy a healthy plate each time, you will gain the benefits of a nutritious balanced diet that will supply you with the energy you need. This is a great way to stay healthy, maintain a balanced life, and ensure a better and happier future.