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Busting diet myths

Planning a healthy meal is hardly rocket science. All you need is the ability to read breakfast cereal cartons that have the urge you to eat more vegetables, fruit and wholegrains and less meats, dairy and sugar. Sanchita Sharma, our Health Editor, writes.

health and fitness Updated: Jul 31, 2010 23:50 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
healthy meal

Planning a healthy meal is hardly rocket science. All you need is the ability to read breakfast cereal cartons that have the urge you to eat more vegetables, fruit and wholegrains and less meats, dairy and sugar.

Most diets repackaged food plans that rely on three basic principles: pushing or banning a specific food or food group; suggesting certain foods change body chemistry and increase or slow metabolism; or blame specific hormones for weight problems.

Ishi Khosla, nutritionist and director, WholeFoods says, "Mono-diets focusing on a specific food group rely on the myth that some foods have special properties that can cause weight loss or gain. The truth is that no one food can do that."

Serial-dieter Rajuli Verma, 38, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September 2008.

"I've been on some diet or the other since January 2004 and two years ago was happy to find that I wasn't feeling hungry anymore. It's only when cancer-induced fluid-retention started in my stomach that I went for an ultrasound and discovered I had Stage-4 ovarian cancer that had spread to my lungs," said Verma.

Three rounds of chemotherapy and a surgery later, Verma has her life back. "I have no family history of cancers. I read up on what could have caused the it, on whether it was acute nutritional deficiencies eating me from inside, but one never knows, does one?" she says.

"Each vitamin or mineral regulates a bodily process, for instance calcium keeps bones strong, vitamin A keeps the skin smooth, vitamin C and E fight infection. When you exclude any, you are putting yourself at risk for illness," says Khosla. Getting too little of a specific nutrient may not cause a problem immediately, but it can cause health problems over time.

Myth: Carbohydrates cause insulin-resistance and weight gain.
Reality: Weight gain is caused by consuming more total calories and getting less physical activity. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are low in calcium, fibre and healthy phytochemicals (plant chemicals) found in legumes and pulses. "Some dietitians recommend vitamin-mineral supplements, but supplements are for boosting deficiencies, and not a replacement for natural nutrients found in food," says Rekha Sharma, chief nutritionist, Medanta.

Myth: Eat dinner before 7 pm
Reality: Dinner should be had three hours before bedtime, but if your lifestyle doesn't allow it, don't fret. It's better to have a nutritious dinner late than an oily snack early. Make sure you don't go to bed immediately after eating. Give your body time to digest the meal.

Myth: Milk, dairy cause weight gain
Reality: Milk is almost a complete meal in itself as it contains 14 important nutrients, including protein and calcium. "Calcium from milk is more easily absorbed by the body than from plant sources. Milk also contains conjugated linoleic acid that reduces fat, preserves muscle tissue and acts as a natural diet suppressant, leading to weight loss," says Khosla.

Myth: Don't mix carbs with proteins, or mix two proteins in one meal
Reality: This is just another form of a mono-diet based on the principle that monotonous food forces you to eat less. The trick is to have a mix of both, so go for complex carbohydrates found in wholegrains, legumes, pulses and nuts along with proteins in meats, dairy and legumes needed to build, maintain and replace tissue.

"Successful weight loss is about lifestyle management— losing weight and keeping it off for at least five years — is basically about eating fewer calories than you burn off," says Sharma.

It's simple math, really, wisdom you get off of a carton of breakfast cereal.

Your daily 'stay-fit, not hungry' diet , fruit and whole-grains.

Vegetables
3 to 5 servings of vegetables a day
One serving size
1 cup raw, leafy vegetables
1/2 cup other vegetables, cooked or raw
3/4 cup vegetable juice

Fruit
1 to 3 servings of fruits
One serving size:
1 medium piece of fresh fruit
1/2 cup chopped or canned fruit
3/4 cup fruit juice
1/4 cup dried fruit

Grains
6 to 8 servings of legumes, pulses, cereal, rice and pasta
One serving size
1 roti, 1 slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked rice
One bowl of cooked dal
30 gm of cereal

Dairy
2 to 3 servings of low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese
One serving size
1 cup milk or yogurt
50 gm cottage cheese
30 gm processed cheese

Proteins/ good fats
2 to 3 servings of meat,
poultry, fish, dry beans, egg whites or nuts
One serving size
100 gm of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish
1/2 cup cooked beans
1 egg white

Avoid hydrogenated vegetable fats such as vanaspati, margarine and those used in commercially-prepared deep fried food.

Cut back on sodium, found in table salt and processed foods; raises blood pressure.

Limit alcohol to one drink a day for women and two for men. Two beers or wine can add over 300 calories