When it comes to diet and nutrition, we all have many questions/doubts in our mind. As a registered dietician and nutritionist, I have had to sit on the ‘hot seat’ many times as clients fired away questions like in the ‘20 Questions’ game. Because of being unsure about what to eat and what not to eat, their nutrition needs can suffer. Here, I present the top 20 common questions I have been often asked, along with their answers. I hope they will help clear many doubts you have regarding what constitutes healthy diet and also help you to improve your health.
Question 1 – Are potato, corn, beans, and green peas good for one’s daily vegetable quota?
Answer: Unfortunately, these are starches. You need to add vegetables to your daily meals. The more variety in colour you add, the better the variety of vitamins and minerals. Red bell peppers, yellow squash, purple eggplant, green beans, orange pumpkin—try them all. In a salad, soup, with your meat, in a stew, or even with your rice as a pilaf.
Question 2 – I eat well and sleep for 7 – 8 hours. Why do I still feel tired?
Answer: Eating well is good. But you need to be hydrating well too. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, nausea, headache, and dry skin. Ensure that you are drinking enough water and other healthy fluids, like coconut water, unsweetened juices, soups, lemon juice and herbal teas. The colour of your urine is a fairly reliable marker of your levels of hydration. If it’s darker than pale yellow, you need more fluids.
Question 3 – Will cutting out rice from my diet help me lose weight?
Answer: The bottom line is calories. If your total calorie intake exceeds what your body can burn, then you gain weight. Although calories in rice add up fast [1/3 cup cooked rice has almost 100 calories], omitting rice may not be the only way to cut down on calories. Keep a food diary for a week and consult a nutritionist to help identify the hidden calories in your diet.
Question 4 – Is it okay to skip meals if I have a heavy breakfast?
Answer: ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper’ goes the old saying. However, our lifestyles have become much more sedentary since the feudal times. Eating a large breakfast if you are just going to be sitting at your desk the entire day isn’t recommended. It also doesn’t mean skipping lunch if you’ve eaten a lot in the morning. Instead, spread your calorie intake through the day. Large gaps between meals might lead to acidity.
Question 5 – Why should one eat every 2 – 3 hours even if not hungry? Won’t eating so often cause weight gain?
Answer: If you wait until you are hungry, you will eat more than you should be eating. Eating wholesome, balanced meals and snacks every 2 – 3 hours helps keep your metabolism high [which is the key to fat loss], blood sugar levels stable, and energy levels high. It is important to spread your overall calorie intake through the day and include all six food groups [starch, fruits, vegetables, meat/protein, dairy, and fats] in your daily meal plan.
Question 6 – Why do we have to eat banana, chikoo, and mango in moderation?
Answer: These fruits contain more sugar than some other fruits; so the serving sizes are smaller for these fruits as they contain more calories. Half a medium-size mango and half a banana have the same calories as a tennis-ball size apple. The best time to have a banana, mango, or chikoo is post an aerobic workout such as a run to help replenish energy stores in your muscles.
Question 7 – Besides eating spicy or oily foods, what else could cause acidity?
Answer: More than the food itself, what causes acidity is irregular eating patterns. If your stomach remains empty for long due to large gaps between meals or snacks, the acid in your stomach, which aids in digestion, has nothing to digest. This creates an acidic environment in the stomach—what we call acidity. The best way to prevent acidity is to eat small meals/snacks every 2 – 3 hours. You must also drink enough water to help digestion of foods and avoid drinking excess tea or coffee [two cups of tea/coffee are good enough].
Question 8 – Can beans and lentils alone fulfil my daily protein requirement?
Answer: Beans and lentils are good sources of protein. If you are a vegetarian, there are other sources of protein that you can add to your diet. These include: paneer [cottage cheese], light tofu, low-fat or skim milk and yoghurt, and soy beans. Add grilled paneer to your salad, blend tofu with skim milk into soups to make thicker and creamier soups, and have buttermilk/chaas as an afternoon snack.
Question 9 – I hate milk, can I take a calcium supplement instead?
Answer: Taking a calcium citrate or calcium carbonate supplement is okay. However, your body is better at absorbing minerals from foods than from supplements. If you don’t like milk, you can try other sources of calcium such as broccoli, spinach, sardines, and fortified soy milk. Vitamin D is required for appropriate absorption of calcium too, so ensure you check vitamin D levels in your body if you do not get at least 10 – 15 minutes of exposure to the sun every day.
Question 10 – Can I cook food in vegetable-fat margarines instead of oil or butter?
Answer: Yes, you can use vegetable-fat margarines for cooking. An increased intake of saturated fat [butter, clarified butter/ghee, palm oils] will increase risk of heart disease along with a high fat diet. It is important to know exactly what percentage of your daily calorie intake should come from fat. Different types of cooking oils are fine to use in small amount in conjunction with a low-fat meal plan to reduce the risk of heart disease. The general rule is two teaspoons of oil per day per person. See your nutritionist to know exactly what percentage of your total calorie intake should come from fat as per your needs, medical history, and fitness goals.
Question 11 – Is it okay to cook food in extra virgin olive oil?
Answer: Extra virgin olive oil is good only when added in raw form on salads. It should not be used for cooking as it has a low smoke point. This means that when put in a hot pan, it smokes sooner than other oils. When oil smokes, it no longer remains healthy and becomes potentially carcinogenic [cancer-causing].
Question 12 – Which is the healthiest cooking oil?
Answer: All oils, with the exception of palm oils, are healthy when used in small amounts. It is best to use a variety of oils for cooking—rice bran oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, groundnut oil. Keep changing your oil every month; that way you can get both the heart healthy fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—in your diet.
Question 13 – Is it okay to eat something immediately after exercise? If yes, what to eat?
Answer: As per research, consuming a combination of carbohydrates [such as fruit, fruit juice, or a sports drink] and a protein supplement [such as a whey protein isolate powder, which is made from milk] within 20 minutes of your workout allows for best utilisation of the protein by your body. A whey protein supplement could help increase your stamina, strength, and endurance as proteins are the building blocks of muscle tissue. If you are a vegetarian, your overall protein intake might be low. Protein supplements allow your muscles to recover faster. They also allow you to get a larger amount of protein into your body quickly soon after a workout, which helps your body recover better.
Question 14 – Are biscuits and green tea good in-between meals snack options?
Answer: Green tea is a great source of antioxidants and two cups a day is fine, if you have to drink it. However, liquids move out of your system faster than solids, leaving you hungry again. And if you are having green tea only for the anti-oxidants then there are many other sources for the same. As biscuits are a starch, the calories add up fast if you snack on them. So if you have to eat biscuits, go for the whole wheat, oat, or multi-grain variety. But fruits, nuts and seeds in small amounts, and low-fat cheese are better snacking options than biscuits.
Question 15 – What are some healthy “eat on the go” snack options?
Answer: Home food is the best. Keep at least five small snacks in your office bag that are a combination of protein and carbohydrates. The protein will help keep your stomach full for some time and the carbohydrates act as the main source of energy for the brain. Half a peanut butter sandwich made with one slice of whole wheat bread and half a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, fruit yoghurt made with low-fat yoghurt and half a cup of fruit such as strawberries, pomegranate, or peaches are some examples.
Question 16 – Is it okay to drink water immediately after eating meals?
Answer: Ayurveda doesn’t recommend drinking water immediately after meals as the water might dilute the digestive juices, thereby slowing down digestion. It is best to drink water 30 minutes before or after a meal. Drinking room temperature water or warm water aids digestion.
Question 17 – What are good midnight snack food options?
Answer: Foods with protein are best options for midnight snacks. A cup of skim milk, two-thirds cup of probiotic plain yoghurt, and even casein protein, which is a slow release protein supplement are a few good options.
Question 18 – What are some good sources of fibre in foods to help reduce cholesterol levels?
Answer: Here are some easy ways to add extra fibre into your meal plan:
- One tbsp psyllium husk in one glass warm water pre-bedtime.
- Ground flaxseed; add to dosa or pancake batter.
- Oatmeal; great morning breakfast option post morning walk/cardio.
- About ¾ cup whole wheat bran flakes cereal with 200ml milk for breakfast.
- A bowl of beans and veggie salad with dinner packs in a great amount of fibre.
Fibre without water is of no use; ensure you continue drinking enough water. Also, minimise your intake of processed foods.
Question 19 – Will avoiding eating meals after 7pm help in weight loss?
Answer: Most people become less active after 7pm. And also the metabolism is slower towards the end of the day. Hence, the calorie intake should be less as the day comes to a close. So, eating a light snack [ideally an hour before bed time] is okay but skipping meals entirely, especially if you are likely to stay up for several hours past 7pm, might make you hungry as you go to bed.
Question 20 – Isn’t peanut butter fattening?
Answer: Peanut butter is mostly fats and protein, most of which are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. If had in small amounts, peanut butter is a good source of fibre; vitamin B3 [niacin], which helps your body utilise energy out of foods; folate, which helps to form haemoglobin, and many trace minerals. One serving of peanut butter is half a tablespoon. Try Elvis Presley’s favourite snack—peanut butter and banana sandwich!
Remember, diet is only half the story. A sedentary life will cancel all the benefits of healthy diet. If your activity level is low, include some kind of exercise in your daily routine. This will multiply the goodness of your healthy diet.
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