What we eat determines how we look and feel. We all know food is a lifeline but really don’t know the exact nature of it. While food consumed in the right quantity and at the right time provides us with happiness and well-being, wrong foods turn our body into a garbage bin.
To maintain good health and function efficiently, our body needs proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. This calls for a balanced diet. While formulating a balanced diet, three points should be borne in mind:
- The daily protein requirements should be met, which amount to about 15-20 percent of the daily energy intake.
- The daily fat intake should be restricted to around 20-30 percent of daily energy intake.
- Carbohydrates rich in natural fibre should constitute the remaining food energy. Also, the body’s requirements of micronutrients should be met.
Our body also needs plenty of water. We must drink 2.5-3 litres of water daily to maintain healthy kidneys and prevent urinary infection. The body needs extra fluid when energy expenditure is high and also in hot weather. Water is required in large amounts to regulate body processes such as digestion, excretion, and for the maintenance of body temperature and electrolyte balance.
There are three basic nutrients that provide us with the energy that we need. These are carbohydrates, protein and fat. To understand the relationship between weight gain and food types we must know how and what contribution these food types have in the process of weight gain.
Bread is an important source of carbohydrates, which play an important role in our life. Carbohydrates are one of the three major groups of nutrients that provide calories; the other two are protein and fat. Every food that comes from plants contains carbohydrates, because they are originally a plant’s own source of food.
Carbohydrates are made up of three elements: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. That’s why they are called carbohydrates: “carbo” refers to carbon, and “hydrate” to water, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen.
Carbohydrates mostly function as our main energy source. Each gram of carbohydrate by weight provides four calories of energy. They are also metabolic primers necessary for the burning of fat. Even the human body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates. Whatever food we eat is ultimately converted into glucose in order to be utilised as an energy source. If you do not eat enough carbohydrates, you will lose energy and endurance (up to 50 per cent). You will also be unable to break down fat completely, which will not only mess up your metabolism, but also trigger health problems such as diabetes. Besides, if your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates, it uses a back-up system: it breaks down muscle and protein into glucose to use for energy, thereby deteriorating muscle. The symptoms: dizziness, fatigue, weakness, fainting and, possibly, even coma or death.
If you consume an excess of carbohydrates, your body stores it as fat. This is what people mean when they say that carbohydrates are fattening. But remember, carbohydrates are not fattening if you eat the proper amount. Even though they should form the bulk of your diet, it is easy to eat too much.
Besides providing energy, foods containing carbohydrates are typically packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. Carbohydrates fuel our muscles and brain, and supply the energy for essential body functions like breathing and heartbeat. Without enough carbohydrates in our diet, our body has to rely on alternate, more inefficient energy pathways that ultimately leave us weak, tired and light-headed.
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates
All carbohydrates are made up of three elements: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. To form different types of carbohydrates, the elements are arranged in a different order. Simple carbohydrates have a very simple chemical structure, while complex carbohydrates are, well, complex! Think of the difference between a straight line (simple carbohydrates) and a road map with many branches (complex carbohydrates). Since they’re both made up of the same elements, the big difference is in how they are digested.
The simplest form of carbohydrates is glucose, or blood sugar. Simple sugars that are found in foods include sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), and lactose (milk sugar). So foods that contain primarily these simpler forms of carbohydrates are known as simple carbohydrates: white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, high-fructose com syrup and molasses.
Complex carbohydrates typically contain more fibre, and have a more complex chemical structure that takes longer to digest. “Starch” is the common term for complex carbohydrates. Examples are breads, cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes, com, peas, lima beans and legumes like chickpeas, garbanzo beans, kidney beans and lentils.
Overall, we need more complex than simple carbohydrates. That’s not to say that simple carbohydrates are bad. We just need less of them. The reason? Complex carbohydrates have more fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Simple carbohydrates tend to be highly processed.
However, remember that milk contains simple carbohydrates, and we definitely need the calcium and vitamin D from milk. So you shouldn’t avoid all simple carbohydrates-it’s more important to pay attention to the total food package. A simple carbohydrate like lactose (milk sugar) in a healthy food like skim milk is fine.
Which is Better – Simple or Complex?
Foods that are less processed retain more of their natural nutrients and are healthier. Think of the difference between white bread (heavily processed) and whole grain bread (less processed, retaining more nutrients). Fresh fruit is less processed than fruit juice and a baked potato is less processed than French fries.
Choose less processed or whole grain foods whenever possible. That doesn’t mean you should never eat pasta! Instead, choose a whole grain breakfast cereal, opt for a sandwich on a hearty whole grain bread, include brown rice or baked potatoes as the starch in your evening meal, and include pasta less often.
Foods Containing Carbohydrates
It’s easier to say which foods don’t contain carbohydrates: fats and meat! Everything else has some amount of carbohydrate, because it ultimately comes from plants. The reason every food derived from plants contains carbohydrates is that carbohydrates are originally a plant’s own food source. There’s only one exception to this rule: milk and yoghurt also contain carbohydrates.
Good sources of carbohydrates are:
- Breakfast cereals
- Sweet potatoes
- Green bananas
- Millets (jowar, bajra, ragi)
Calories in Carbohydrates
- There are four calories in each gram of carbohydrate.
- Carbohydrates contain the same number of calories as protein.
- There are two basic types of carbohydrates (both contain four calories per gram): Simple and Complex.
- Simple carbohydrates are high in refined sugar. Sugar contains ’empty’ calories- i.e. non-nutritious. Too much refined sugar tends to disrupt our appetite mechanism and can cause food cravings.
- The best way to obtain the right amount of carbohydrates (and calories) is to follow a balanced diet as outlined in the Food Pyramid Guidelines.
- If you are trying to lose weight, it is best to follow a diet plan that is low in fat, high in healthy carbohydrates and gives 1,200+ calories.
- Low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diets are not recommended.
Calories in Protein
There are four calories in each gram of protein.
- Protein contains the same number of calories as carbohydrates.
- Protein is essential for good health, but it is better to reduce your intake of high-calorie animal protein (e.g. cheese and meat) and eat more low-fat and low-calorie vegetable protein (e.g. beans, soyabeans, lentils, nuts).
- The best way to obtain the right amount of protein (and calories) is to follow a balanced diet, as outlined in the Food Pyramid Guidelines.
- If you are trying to lose weight, it is best to follow a diet plan that is low in fat, high in healthy carbohydrates with modest amounts of protein and 1,200+ calories.
- High-protein, low-calorie diets are not recommended, neither are very low-calorie diets irrespective of protein content.
Fat is necessary for the diet because it is used as a back-up energy source for the body and protects vital organs. If you do not eat enough fat, your body will try to store what it presently has (in case of emergency!). Too little fat has also been shown to cause heart problems and kidney stones. High fat intake contributes to- excess body weight, since a gram of fat has about twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins.
Some dietary fat is need~d for good health. Fats supply energy and essential fatty acids and promote absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Most people are aware that high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet are linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and a greater risk of heart disease. Whether you are trying to lose weight, lower blood cholesterol levels or simply eat healthier, you’ll want to limit total fat intake.
We all know what eating too much fat will do. But do you know why? It takes 20 percent more energy to convert carbohydrates and protein than it does dietary fat into body fat. In other words, fat is too efficiently stored. A diet too high in fat can cause sluggishness and limit endurance. It is also easy to eat too much fat because it weighs in at nine calories per gram as compared to four calories in carbohydrates and protein.
Fats contain mixtures of three types of fatty acids-saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. When a fat contains more of one type of fatty acid than the other two types, the predominant type is referred to. Foods high in fat include fatty meats, poultry skin, whole milk, full-fat cheese, ice-cream, nuts and many desserts.
Fats can be classified into four major categories:
- Saturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Trans fats (Dalda)
Saturated fats are found in fatty meats, butter, cream, cheese,’ chocolate, coconut, pies, pastries, cakes, most fast foods, biscuits, potato chips, regular milk, regular yoghurt (curd), etc.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), walnuts, vegetable oils, etc.
Monounsaturated fats are found in olives and olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts etc.
Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are hydrogenated, that makes them solids or semisolids (in India, it is commonly known as Dalda).
Trans fats are used in many snacks, viz. cookies, cakes, microwave popcorn, fried foods, and margarine.
Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered to be better than saturated fats. It must be emphasised that saturated fat in the diet is more harmful than dietary cholesterol. Trans fats decrease levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and raise LDL (bad cholesterol). herefore, trans fats are more harmful than saturated fats.
We know that increases in body fat are directly. correlated to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other chronic conditions. The biggest struggle for health care experts has been figuring out reliable methods to slow down or stop our ever-growing waist sizes.
The human body is composed of a variety of different tissue types. The so-called ‘lean’ tissues, such as muscle, bone, and organs are metabolically active, while adipose, or fat tissue, is not.
Since scientists love to classify things, they have divided adipose tissue into three different categories:
- Essential fat, which supports life, and is extremely important for normal body functions.
- Storage fat, which protects internal organs and supplies some energy requirements.
- Non-essential fat, serves no real purpose, and may, in fact, be detrimental to health.
Before adjudging the exact amount of fat present in our body, we must understand the distinction between weight and fat. An individual can be “overweight” and not “over-fat”. A bodybuilder, for example, may have eight per cent body fat, yet at 250 pounds may be considered “overweight” by a typical height-weight chart. Therefore, these charts are not a good indication of a person’s ideal body weight for optimal health, much less for athletic performance.
Body fat percentage varies considerably for men and women, for age and culture, for those involved in different sports activities, and even for different geographic locations.
However, there are some standards. The minimum percentage of body fat considered safe and acceptable for good health is five per cent for males and 12 percent for females. The average adult body fat is closer to 15-18 percent for men and 22-25 per cent for women.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential for your health. Although they do not provide energy, they assist in energy-yielding reactions and promote body growth and development. Vitamins and minerals are vital for human function, each one playing a different role. Read on to find out what select vitamins and minerals do and where you can find them.
Minerals are inorganic substances, which means that they come from the earth. They are found in rocks and soil. We can’t make them in our bodies, so we must get them from the foods we eat. However indestructible the minerals may be, they can still get lost when food is over-boiled o! heavily processed.
Vegetables absorb mineral goodness as they grow and animals digest it through their diet. Minerals work together with vitamins to benefit your body. Just like vitamins, minerals can be divided into two groups – those that are needed in minute quantities and those that are needed in larger quantities.
Minerals needed in larger amounts – the major minerals – include calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and phosphorus. Minerals needed in tiny amounts are called trace minerals and this group includes iron, zinc, iodine, selenium and copper.