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What counts: Nutrients or calories?
342

What counts: Nutrients or calories?

It is not the calories of your food that matter but the nutrients it provides
Biscuits versus meals
Illustration by Lokesh Mishra and Syalima. M Das

Do you tend to look at nutritional labels when buying packed food items? If yes, then have you wondered how they calculated the energy (Kcal) that any product contains? 

If the answer is no, then it is way simpler than you think. Let’s understand the calorie (energy) calculation from the nutritional label of the world’s highest-selling biscuit. 

A pack per 100 grams contains 7 grams of protein, 77.3 grams of carbohydrates, and 13 grams of total fat. The dietary guidelines of America and India state that one gram of proteins and carbohydrates carry 4 calories and 9 calories for a gram of fat. 

The total calories from proteins (7X4) equates to 28 Kcal, 309.2 Kcal from carbohydrates (77.3X4), and 117 Kcal from fats (13X9). When you add all these, it comes to 454.2 Kcal/100 grams. A 10-rupee pack of biscuits weighs 130 grams, which means around 590 Kcal from just a pack. Eating three-four packs can fulfill the overall calorie need of a day. (Nutritionally deficit and bad way to do so). 

All adults need 2000 Kcal daily on average. Comparing the calories from biscuit packets might make you feel like it is difficult to get the required amount of calories from a balanced and nutritious platter. Voila! It is not.  

There are many nutritious choices that can be put up on the platter. The choice of foods, however, is subjective with different ethnicities. 

Let’s have a look at the sample of every meal platter from regular kitchen sources. The meals will also give you an insight into the number of macros it has and the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) which is 45-65% calories from carbs, 20-35% calories from fats, and 10-35% calories from proteins.  

Let’s dive right in then… 

Breakfast 

Research suggests that you should aim to consume 15-25% of the overall calories from the first meal, ranging from 300-500 Kcal for women and 375–625 Kcal for men. Health experts recommend ending the overnight fast with complex carbs, proteins and fibres.  

“Warm lemon water or barley infused water should be consumed 30 minutes before breakfast to prepare your organs for the first meal,” says Sonia Velarsan, Dietician, Certified Diabetic Educator and Doctoral fellow in Nutrigenomics at Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research, Chennai. 

Oatmeal having 50 grams (gm) oats and 200 milliliters (ml) low-fat milk, 10 overnight soaked and peeled almonds, and an apple would be one variety of breakfast options to start your day. This whole meal contributes around 480 Kcal. You can also make a choice of veggie poha or three-four idlis with a bowl of veggie sambhar. (All three have almost the same calorie count). 

“Oatmeal provides complex carbs with fibres, vitamins A, B6, D, calcium and potassium which make you feel full for longer. Almonds provide omega-3 fats, and apple acts as a probiotic and provides natural sugar with fibres. “These foods help to maintain a good gut as well as keep the blood sugar levels in check”, pointed Velarsan. 

Breakfast meal
Healthy Breakfast | Illustration by Syalima M. Das

Pre-lunch snacking 

Tomas Kleiva, a Germany based nutritionist emphasises having a small meal in between two large meals for better sugar control. He prefers to consume proteinaceous snacks along with fibres. 

A research led by author Junyoung Yang from the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Food Management at Ewha Womans University in Korea, published in Nutrition Research and Practice in 2020 implicated that a high protein snack did not raise the blood glucose level rapidly and thus results in better post-prandial (after food) blood glucose control. 

Velarsan says that a bowl of ripe papaya and soaked black grams can be a good pre-lunch snack as it provides ample protein, fibres, vitamins A, C, E, and some minerals. All constitute around 160 Kcal. 

Lunch 

“Aim for a healthy lunch and not a perfect lunch”, stresses Kleiva. 

People tend to gulp high carbohydrate foods like pizzas or sandwiches, which makes them feel sluggish or less productive post lunch, Kleiva says. 

High-carb foods raise and drop the blood sugar level at the same rate. This is when the individual starts feeling sluggish or sleepy. A not-so-heavy healthy lunch with protein, good fats, and carbs is the solution to this problem. 

100 grams of cooked brown rice, a bowl of moong dal, grilled/sauteed tofu, a bowl of cooked cabbage, and a bowl full of cucumber and tomato salad could be a good way in refueling yourself for the rest of the day. 

“This meal provides you with good amounts of protein, good fats, carbs, fibres, vitamin B12, K, C, B6, and several minerals,” pointed Valersan. It carries around nutrient-dense 760 Kcal, she further added. 

Healthy lunch
Healthy Lunch | Illustration by Syalima M. Das

Evening snack 

Kleiva says that the science behind evening snacking remains the same as pre-lunch snacking. It prevents one from overeating at dinner. He also emphasized consuming a light dinner for better digestion, stable blood glucose, and mindful sleep.  

100 grams of cottage cheese sounds good as an evening snack that is full of proteins and other nutrients like vitamin B12, B6, calcium, and zinc, he says. From 500 ml of milk, you can extract around 100 grams of cottage cheese.  

This nutrient-dense snack carries around 96 Kcal and is commonly called ‘chenna’ in some Indian states, Valersan further added. 

Dinner

Dinner is the last meal of your day that influences your sleep, recovery process, and metabolism. Health experts point towards having a wholesome light dinner. 

“Due to the fancy lifestyle, people eat outside like butter chicken, paneer curry, or pizzas that are not only heavy but also push them towards lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes or hypertension”, Valersan warns. 

Two egg whites, 100 grams of cooked okra, 1 chapati, and a bowl full of cucumber and tomato salad look ideal for dinner. This whole meal carries around 180 Kcal and is also a low glycaemic index meal providing nutrients like proteins, fibres, vitamin B7 (biotin), B6, B12, C, and iron. 

“Having a light dinner influences your happy wakefulness, better regulation of bowel and also some weight loss along the way”, added Kleiva. 

Healthy Dinner
Healthy Dinner | Illustration by Syalima M. Das

The calorie run with nutrition

If we look at the overall calories from three large meals and two small meals, it constitutes around 1650 Kcal. In addition to it, cooking oils such as olive and mustard oil should be used up to four teaspoons. A teaspoon of ghee over rice at lunch, onions, and several spices to enhance the taste compensates around 350 Kcal. Now, this makes the all-day meals platter of 2000 Kcal. 

premeal snacks
Pre-Meal snack and additions | Illustration by Syalima M. Das

If you are wondering if these meals which look nutrient-dense would be able to fulfill the macronutrients properly and be within the distribution range as per the guidelines of health agencies? Yes…! 

These five platters fill around 90 grams of proteins, 77 grams of fats (majorly good fats), and 260 grams of carbohydrates (majorly complex carbs and fibres). On comparing the calories all three macros carry and comparing them with the macros distribution range guidelines, it is within the range of 18 per cent calories from proteins, 33 per cent from fats, and 51 percent from carbohydrates. 

To conclude, those four packets of the largest selling biscuits might be on the same page as this all-day sample platter in terms of calories, but the former can never fulfill the nutrition as the latter.  

It is not the calories, but the calories with nutrients that matter. Choose wisely. Eat sensibly. Live virtuously. 

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