Happy new year. It’s the time of the year when you renew your vow to exercise, eat early dinners and sleep better, only to break them in a couple of weeks. Then, as they say, life takes over and you relegate your health and fitness resolutions to the beginning of next year. You get the picture, right? It doesn’t have to be like that though.

First we need to understand that lack of good health is caused by multiple factors. Pollution, access to open spaces, policies on junk food, etc, play a big but undervalued role. So, your vote to the right politicians really matters.

We can control the big things by voting for the right policies and people. But how do you make the simple changes that can really impact your daily health? Usually this is the stuff that gadgets, influencers and op-eds don’t cover. The place where good health begins is your kitchen.

The utensils that you use to cook, the wrapping that you store your food in and the method you use to reheat food can all affect your micro-nutrient status, especially that of Iron, Calcium, Zinc and even vitamins like B12, folic acid, etc. Micro-nutrient deficiencies can lead to imbalances in hormones, irritability, constipation, etc, all of which can make weight loss an elusive dream. So, if you want sustainable health and weight loss, this is where it all begins.

In fact, if you look around, you will notice that waists were slimmer when our kitchens were larger. Now we have homes with bathrooms larger than kitchens, because intuitively the real estate market knows that in the world of micro-nutrient deficiency, people are spending more time in their toilets than in their kitchens.

So here’s me trying to compress the big idea of sustainable health into three small but significant kitchen rules for a healthier and happier you.

1. Reduce plastic

2. Bring back the iron kadhai

3. Heat, don’t microwave

Reduce plastic

Plastic is a major pollutant not just for our environment but also for the hormonal balance in our body. It releases estrogenic chemicals in our body and disturbs the ratio between our male and female hormones. This is especially important if you have PCOD, adult acne or are a young girl at puberty.

Some quick places where you can start:

1. Use cloth bag instead of plastic bags to shop for vegetables and fruits. Avoid buying veggies and fruits that come individually packed in plastic or thermocol.

2. No plastic tiffin boxes, especially for hot food, and no plastic cutlery. Use your hands. Also, no cling films for fruits and dabbas. France by the way is the first country to ban plastic cutlery. Use steel dabbas and malmal cloth for wrapping rotis, etc.

3. Use steel or copper water bottles for drinking water when travelling and not plastic bottles (including mineral water bottles).

Bring back the iron kadhai

The iron kadhai is an important and undervalued source of iron in your diet.

Much of our lack of energy and enthusiasm, as well as anger, stems from low haemoglobin concentration. Micronutrient deficiencies don’t always need an expensive supplement, they just need an inexpensive change in the kitchen environment. Women who struggle with too much bleeding during periods or the complete lack of it are often prescribed iron tablets. But a lot of them are unable to take the supplement due to the digestion problems it causes. A simple change by cooking in an iron kadhai solves this problem.

1. Say goodbye to your Teflon-coated non-stick kadhais that have made you believe that glory lies in avoiding fat (you know now that it doesn’t).

2. Cook your poha, upma and sabzi in an iron kadhai. Don’t forget to add ghee or oil and spices and I bet you will never fall short of iron ever again.

3. Also, let go of the aluminium vessels and foil too. You can use stainless steel or brass. Exposure to aluminium lowers the levels of zinc, an important mineral for our bodies, especially for brain health and diabetes prevention.

Heat, don’t microwave

First of all, if you are microwaving, it means you are just overcooking and then overeating, followed by overstoring and again overeating. So stop this vicious cycle and if you have to heat food, simply heat it slowly on a flame. Microwaving is harmful for the micronutrients in the food as it heats them quickly at extremely high temperatures at which their bonds break and they are oxidised, becoming toxic for your body.

If for some reason you have to reheat your food often, then do this: Take out the portion you want to eat in a small vessel and then slow-heat it on your gas stove. It may take a minute or two more than microwaving, but the nutrients and taste it retains is well worth the trouble.

If you are unable to heat on a regular stove and microwaving is the only option, use a ceramic or glass bowl and avoid plastic. Every step in the right direction counts.

Post-script: cooking

It is the unbroken thread of wisdom that links us to our past and takes us to our future. A lot of the progress we have made as Homo sapiens has got to do with the fact that we cooked food and made more nutrients available to our body and brain to fuel our dominance as a species. Cooking is underrated, though, and this is where gender biases come into play.

Kitchens are mostly the bastion of women, and the activities in there are undervalued because of deep prejudices against women. But there is nothing lowly about cooking (or women). It takes a calm, collected and creative brain to cook a meal. And then one thing that new India should aspire to is boys who can cook – cook a hot meal routinely and take pride in it. If you ask me, a gender equal society starts from the kitchen.

The 12-week Fitness Project

Rujuta Diwekar is the author of The 12-week Fitness Project, Juggernaut Books.