Everybody wants to ‘go on a diet’. Everyone knows that ‘you have to watch your calories when you diet’, but not everyone understands what exactly ‘calories’ are/mean! Most people associate calories with only junk food/ sweets/chocolates as they know that they are ‘high calorie’ stuff. But what many don’t know is that almost all foods have calories and that the body needs calories for energy purposes.
So why are calories getting a bad reputation? Well, that’s because we live in a world of abundance and we choose to feed our bodies with foods that have too many calories and too little nutrition.
To understand calories better, let us start with the some FAQ’s:
What are calories? Calories are the units used to measure energy.
Where do we get calories from? From the food we eat (fruits, vegetables, grains, pizzas, pooris, cake, chocolates, etc.) and from the beverages we drink (milk, juices, coffee, alcohol, etc.). The energy is stored in these foods in the form of ‘macronutrients’ namely carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each of these macronutrients gives us ‘energy’ in varying numbers:
Carbohydrates= 4 calories per gram
Protein=4 calories per gram
Fat= 9 calories per gram
Since all foods have calories and since our bodies need calories-how does one know what to eat and what to avoid?
Good question! To make things simple-let’s divide calories into three groups:
Good; Bad and the last……UGLY!!
1. Good calories: are those which come from ‘nutrient dense foods’. These are foods that are loaded with other nutrients like minerals, vitamins, fiber, essential fatty acids which the body needs, in contrast to the number of calories the food contains.
These can be found in regular foods that are familiar to most people like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains like brown/parboiled/semi-polished rice, whole wheat atta, jowar, bajra, barley, ragi/nachni, nuts and seeds, lean meats like chicken/turkey (skinned out), fish, soy and other dry beans/pulses. Healthy and natural fats are an important component of a balanced diet. Include natural fats like butter, ghee, olive oil , traditional Indian oils like coconut, til, mustard, peanut oil. Healthy fats can also be found in free-range poultry, wild caught oily fish, full-fat dairy products and eggs. Try to get the maximum calories through these foods and you will end up getting most of the nutrients that the body requires including the calories needed for the body to function normally.
2. Bad calories: These would be foods that man has changed from its natural format-like polished/white rice, white bread, refined flour/maida, juices, milkshakes, etc.
The trick is to ‘go slow’ with this group. Try to avoid or limit these foods as these have been stripped off their nutrients.
3. Ugly calories: or ‘empty calories’ are those foods that provide no other nutrients other than calories. These are usually foods that are either loaded with sugar or fat/oil/ transfat (vanaspathi, margarine).
Best examples of these would be cola/aerated drinks, alcohol, sweets (candies, cakes, pastries, donuts) fried foods like chips, fries, namkeens, pakodas, pooris, etc. Avoid eating these on a regular basis as these will provide you with only calories that you don’t need!
Now that things are hopefully a lot clearer, there are two more things to keep in mind-PORTION SIZES and regular EXERCISE!
Too much of even ‘good’ things can be bad for you. Eating balanced diets and exercising regularly is the key to staying healthy!