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It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.”

― Maya Angelou

Women are inherently beautiful. Yes, they are, irrespective of their size, shape, colour and anything else. But do most of us inherently feel beautiful about ourselves?

They say that a woman’s ovary represents creativity. For creativity to be nurtured, what is needed is huge doses of love, compassion and patience. If what you offer instead, is anger at the self, hatred of the body and an unwillingness to love yourself, is when you see disorders like PCOD/ PCOS manifesting itself in various complex ways on your body.

Scientifically speaking, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome/ disorder (PCOS/ PCOD) have small cysts on their ovaries that most of the time (not mandatory) leads to hormonal imbalance, unwanted body hair, obesity, insulin-resistance, infertility, irregular periods, absence of periods, diabetes, hair thinning, acne, oily skin amongst few others.

PCOS involves the delicate balance of various female hormones and multiple organs of the body, namely ovaries, adrenal glands, pancreas and pituitary gland. Hence, the way to approach it & deal with it should also be very holistic and comprehensive.

Usually contraceptives/ diuretics/ anti-androgen/ anti-diabetic drugs are routinely prescribed to bring balance and treat PCOS/ PCOD. Available scientific evidence suggests that lifestyle modification (LSM) interventions reduce fasting blood glucose and insulin levels in women with PCOS with effects that are similar to drugs. Moreover, it is only fair to give lifestyle a chance before resorting to popping pills with their obvious side-effects. Lifestyle changes, including food, exercise, and sleep, improves the metabolic and reproductive abnormalities of PCOS women. Therefore, it undoubtedly, represents the first-line management for all women with PCOS.

The two main nutritional, exercise & lifestyle objectives for PCOS are to a) lower body fat levels (improve body composition) and b) enhance insulin-sensitivity. And the way to achieve them are-

1. NUTRITION – Eating local, seasonal and fresh homemade meals that are wholesome will ensure that all the required nutrients reach your ovaries and your glands so that they are nourished and well looked after.

Eating wholesome food – Now the prime nutritional strategy for insulin resistance & PCOS is to eat foods that are low in GI. Eating foods that have a low GI keeps blood sugar levels steady and helps your body metabolise fat more efficiently. Generally, the less processed a carbohydrate, the more likely it is to have a low-GI score. So choose to eat rotis, theplas, dosa, rice, paratha etc.

But what is really interesting is that your glycemic response to a food depends on the other foods you eat with it.

Adding fat to your carb-rich food, lowers the overall GI of the meal. Fat slows stomach emptying, delaying the process of converting food to blood sugar. Hence, more the fat, the slower the sugars (‘carbohydrates’) are digested, and lower is the glycemic index. So spread a generous amount of white butter on your roti/parathas, do not dump the coconut chutney when eating idli/ dosa, and do lace your hot, fluffy rice with a spoonful of ghee.

Now if this meal will include proteins too, the GI impact of the carbohydrate foods will be further minimized. This is because by combining foods in a single meal the overall impact is to slow down the rate at which your body releases sugar from any single ingredient. So add a bowl of curd with your butter paratha, some sambhar with your idli chutney, and some dal or egg curry to your rice ghee. And there you have a wholesome meal that is not only low in GI, but also rich in fibre-rich grains, vitamins & micro-mineral rich pulses, and essential fats. The kind of meal your ovaries are going to thank you for!

But haven’t we all grown up eating dal bhaat ghee/ paratha curd? The reason we have invited these host of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like PCOS/ Diabetes etc. is because we have either looked down at our own homemade meals; or tried to eat them in isolation; like eating roti without ghee, having dal but no rice etc. This shift from our traditional & wholesome way of eating to more Westernized diets is called “Nutrition Transition” and is said to be largely responsible for the urban lifestyle disorders in developing countries like ours, today.

2. EXERCISE – Amongst all the exercises, incorporating strength training into your workout regimen is crucial to improve insulin sensitivity and to better control insulin swings. Structured and progressive strength training improves how the body uses insulin and allows glucose to get around the body better. Weight training at least twice a week is hence essential, to bring hormonal vibrancy.

Numerous studies have demonstrated conclusively that strength training also burns fat much more effectively than any other exercise does. Aerobic activity (like cardio, walk, swim etc.) burns fat while you’re exercising, but anaerobic activity (like strength training) burns fat in the minutes, hours and days following exercise, as your body recovers from your workout. Studies reveal that strength exercise burns more calories (or fat) for as long as 24 to 48 hours post workout! Better fat loss means better hormonal balance, better hormonal balance means regular & painless periods, lesser break outs, reduced hair fall and enhanced fertility.

3. SLEEP- Not getting enough sleep impairs metabolism and disrupts hormone levels. With ongoing sleep loss, insulin sensitivity of body reduces. At the same time, your body secretes more cortisol (stress hormone), which makes it harder for insulin to do its work effectively. The net effect: Excess glucose stays in the bloodstream, that not only leads to weight gain but also throws all your hormones off balance.

Make sure you have regulated wake up and bed timings. A deep, restorative sleep is priceless for your hormones as it brings a sense of harmony in them.

And lastly, take it one step at a time, with love, compassion and patience. As women, we tend to be least kind to our own selves. Applaud yourself for every small effort you make in the right direction and gradually, you will see yourself transforming. And do remember that: “You are a woman, phenomenally!”

Keep yourself happy by keeping yourself healthy. Let well-known Mumbai dietitian and fitness expert Munmun Ganeriwal design a nutrition, exercise and lifestyle transformation program that elevates your overall sense of well-being. Contact us now for an in-depth consultation.

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High blood pressure or hypertension is one among the unholy trinity of lifestyle ailments (the others being diabetes and high cholesterol) that affects a growing section of our adult population. One of the problems with high blood pressure is that it can creep on you virtually undetected without any obvious symptoms.

As with diabetes, poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, irregular sleep and stress play a huge role in afflicting someone with high blood pressure. Therefore, it follows logically that addressing these key issues should provide practical, non-medical solutions to controlling blood pressure and staying healthy.

High blood pressure and the myth related to salt intake

Here’s a scenario you may be very familiar with. Mention the “BP problem” and you’ll quickly hear someone say, “namak kam karo” (cut the salt)! That is mainly because excess sodium in the diet is said to cause hypertension, something corroborated by The American Heart Association.

The real problem is when the need to reduce sodium consumption is selectively applied to items that are integral to Indian food culture such as papads and pickles, while there are no restrictions placed on processed food items such as “digestive oats” biscuits (sounds healthy, doesn’t it?) or packaged cereals. In contrast to the benefits of home-made food including papads and pickles – that are cooked with natural herbs and spices and loads of that priceless ingredient called love – the artificial preservatives in the processed food are more likely to cause long-term health issues.

The critical importance of salt as an essential component of good food has been long recognized universally. The salt temples of China are testimony to this fact, as is the infamous salt production ban imposed by the British in India during its colonization. So, the key point is that rather than eliminating salt from the diet to reduce high blood pressure, one should use salt judiciously. Here’s what I recommend in relation to your salt consumption:

¬ Use unrefined salt (Himalayan pink salt)/ black salt/ rock salt for the excellent balance of sodium and potassium that it provides. White, iodised salt gives only sodium, and no potassium. Moreover, black salt (“kaala namak”) – a good source of iodine, potassium and iron- is a natural digestive that also lends its own bit of flavor to the sherbet, fruits and salads, or the raitas that you choose to add it to!

¬ Avoid packaged, processed and industrialized foods, which reduce our body’s ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients. These foods affect the sodium to potassium ratio and the water balance, which in turn has a negative effective on blood pressure.

Pickles, papads and pressure

As briefly mentioned above, one of the first casualties of a problem with hypertension is pickles and papads, that tend to get eliminated from the dining table almost immediately. Not the most prudent choice!

There is a reason why the art of making delicious homemade pickles has been passed on from generation to generation; our ancestors probably recognized the benefits of pickles beyond being mere taste enhancers. Today, it is being increasingly acknowledged- even in the west- that traditional homemade pickles have just the right strain of probiotic bacteria that can play an important role in lowering of blood pressure.

Similarly, papad has its own benefits, a fact that certain communities in India -like the Sindhis, for example- seem to have fully absorbed based on their well-known affinity for this savory snack. Some of these benefits are fairly obvious if we just pay close attention to the ingredients of papad, namely various lentils/ daals (usually protein-rich) and a range of spices such as black pepper and cumin. The role of various spices in keeping us healthy merits a separate article by itself; for now, suffice to say that the spices just add a therapeutic quality to the papads. Let high blood pressure not be the reason for you to give up on home made papads.

Maintain healthy blood pressure with sound sleep

The importance of adequate duration and good quality sleep for our body and mind is only getting reinforced in study after study. Restorative sleep produces hormones important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

Chronic sleep deprivation leads to an increase in cortisol levels that will in turn lead to insulin resistance and lifestyle diseases/problems like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Therefore, to maintain a healthy blood pressure and avoid other lifestyle diseases, give your body sufficient rest and sleep (6-8 hours of good quality of sleep is recommended). Also note that regulating the time you go to sleep and wake up is as important as the quantity of sleep.

Controlling blood pressure with holistic exercise

Walking may be a great first step towards keeping blood pressure normal, but that is certainly not enough. A holistic exercise regimen that includes cardio, strength training and yoga will go a long way in preventing the need for blood pressure medicines.

Strength training/ resistance training is known to increase the plasma adiponectin secretion by fat cells. Adiponectin helps prevent metabolic disorders like hypertension and reduces blood pressure. In fact, greater the adiponectin concentration, lower is the mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Studies have also shown a correlation between yoga and a lower blood pressure. Doing yoga two to three times a week is associated with a drop in blood pressure readings. The amount of change may be small but certainly have very significant long term benefits.

Watch your lifestyle

To conclude, you can maintain good control of your blood pressure by making suitable lifestyle adjustments.

Cut out processed, packaged food that are loaded with preservatives; enjoy traditional, home-made delights; have a holistic exercise regimen and give yourself the gift of good sleep. Just follow these “simple” tips and you may never be alarmed by the readings from the blood pressure monitor!

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References

1. Could Probiotics Help Tame High Blood Pressure, WebMD.com

2. Adiponectin and Hypertension, ResearchGates

3. Resistance Training Promotes Reduction in Blood Pressure and Increase Plasma Adiponectin of Hypertensive Elderly Patients, Journal of Hypertension

4. Yoga May Help Ease High Blood Pressure, WebMD.com

Confused by the misinformation about potential health problems with traditional Indian foods? Get in touch with well-known Mumbai dietitian and nutritionist, Munmun Ganeriwal, a strong advocate of the holistic, wellness benefits of fresh, local, and traditional Indian foods.

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