What we eat and drink impacts our health and fitness, our longevity, resistance to disease and quality of life too. What we consume also affects how our bodies respond to the fitness regimen we follow. Driven by the promise of better health, improved results of their workout regime and lower risk of disease, millions across the world have changed their eating and drinking habits.
Mumbai-based Japesh Mehta, and Kshitij Sharma and his wife Simta Sharma in Bengaluru, are among those who have adopted “healthier” food habits by switching to a strict plant-based diet. Such a diet leaves no room for dairy or any milk products (for context, the Indian vegetarian diet includes all milk and milk products). Mehta, 44, a banker and environment activist, turned to a vegan diet to lose weight. The 36-year-old Bengaluru-based cybersecurity consultant Sharma and his wife, a software professional, switched to a plant-based diet to see better results from their exercise routine.
These changes in diet for better overall health are vindicated by a recent study which found a direct relationship between a plant-based diet and a lower risk of bowel cancer among men. The research, spanning over 19 years, involved 79,952 US-based multi-ethnic men. The researchers found that those who ate the largest amounts of healthy plant-based foods had a 22% lower risk of bowel cancer, compared with those who ate the least.
The study also investigated the associations between pre-defined indices of plant-based diets, and risk of colorectal cancer and evaluated whether the association varies by sex, race and ethnicity. They found no such link between plant-based diet and cancer among women, of whom there were 93,475 in the study. Colorectal cancer is the third most common malignancy and the fourth most common cause of cancer death worldwide.
Cancers can be preventable with lifestyle improvement in which dietary factors are very important, says Deepti Khatuja, head clinical nutritionist at Fortis Memorial research Institute in Gurugram. “Various studies have shown that vegetarians have a reduced risk of not just degenerative diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, but have shown to have reduced risk for certain cancers as well. This is because plant foods especially fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and legumes, especially soy, nuts and seeds have fibres which along with maintaining weight also lower the risk of cancers. Along with soluble fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals such as carotenoids, indoles, and isoflavones are also present in plant foods and these have been found to be protective against specific cancers,” explains Khatuja.
Given this the time of the year is when parties peak, it is a timely reminder that what we drink also affects our health. Alcohol especially impacts our health and it also has a pronounced effect on how our bodies benefit from exercise. A team of scientists from the Imperial College of London found that consuming alcohol increases the risk of getting more cancers including mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophageal, head, neck, bowel, colon, rectum, breast and liver cancer. Alcohol is estimated to have caused more than 741,300 cancer cases around the world in 2020, according to a study published in The Lancet journal. The largest burden of alcohol-attributable cancers was represented by heavy drinking and risky drinking, the researchers found.
Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health, warns Dr. Pradeep Jain, principal director and head of the department of gastro-intestine and gastro-intestinal oncology at Fortis Hospital in Shalimar Bagh, Delhi. “Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase risk of harmful health conditions like motor vehicle injuries, violence and alcohol poisoning, among others,” he adds.
Many of us believe we drink within safe limits. Jain shatters the myth and states clearly that there is no such safe limit. If you must drink, do so in moderation, he suggests. Jain concedes that drinking a glass of alcohol indeed provides you with a bit of relaxation by releasing endorphins and boosting serotonin levels. “But this is only a short-term fix which leads to long-term problems. If someone increases their dependence on alcohol to deal with stress, that leads to exacerbation of depression and anxiety.”
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.