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Healthy Hazards

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

There’s a miracle food to solve your health issues around every corner, but should you blindly help yourself to an extra serving? Pearl Mathias & Purva Indulkar find out how healthy some of these foods really are

Is a shelf in your fridge dedicated to storing mason jars full of oatmeal? And, have you stocked up on avocados or made a big batch of detox juice? You’re not alone. We all have busy schedules, so weaving in the time to cut, chop and grind vegetables to put a salad together for lunch every day is a big hassle. It’s no wonder then, that most of us have a box of healthy snacks at our work desks, something to nibble on instead of potato chips. But, whether it’s a juice cleanse or a glass of milk every night, too much of any good thing can be harmful. How wise is it to try diets based on what the internet tells us anyway? We presented Indrayani Pawar, team leader dietician from Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar, with some healthy foods and asked her what side-effects they could have if they are consumed in large quantities. And, just a heads-up; some of those can be pretty severe!

Your go-to snack during study sessions, coffee breaks and evening drinks, nuts are high in oil, and so, considered to be a prized source of energy. We love to nibble on them raw or sprouted. They are also pressed for oil and used in our cooking and cosmetics. There’s a lot of research that suggests these nuts help you to lose weight. However, this is only true if you eat them in moderation — go overboard and you could put on more weight than you lose. This happens because nuts are calorie-dense, which means that they have more energy per gram than most other foods. Thanks to the phylates and tannins present in them, a common side-effect of eating too much is gas, or bloating. As if that wasn’t bad enough, eating too much at one time can also lead to diarrhoea! Every 30g of nuts contains about 160 to 190 calories, and so the optimum quantity is about 30-50g a day. Nuts should be eaten raw or lightly roasted as high temperatures can affect the essential fats in them. Indrayani warns, “When you’re including nuts in your diet, you should remember that they merely change the quality rather than the quantity of fats you consume. Since nuts are considered healthy, people don’t account for the fat in them — they don’t balance the overall fat in their diet accordingly. This leads to weight gain.” If you’re looking for a healthier substitute for plant-based protein and fibre, pick beans and lentils instead. For heart-healthy fats, use olive oil, canola oil, soybeans, avocado, olives and flaxseed. To enjoy nuts as a snack, switch to dry, roasted soybeans and chickpeas or sunflower seeds.

Smoothies are quick and easy to make and they give you your daily dose of fruits and vegetables in a form that’s easy to consume as well as extremely convenient. Not only do they taste delicious in contrast to other vegetables that people usually detest, they also help with weight loss, improve digestion, help build muscle and strengthen your immune system. However, the biggest problem with both smoothies and juices is that the tastiest ones are loaded with sugary fruits! When you eat sugar (or any carbohydrate), your pancreas releases insulin to help transport the carbohydrate (which is fuel for your body) into your tissues to use for energy later, so you could begin to feel as if your energy levels have fallen and you may even feel hungry shortly afterwards. Also, the initial rush of the sweet stuff leaves you feeling hungry, fatigued, irritable and craving more carbohydrates to balance out the levels. Without realising it, you could consume too many calories, especially if you get your smoothies from a store. To combat this, check the calorie content before ordering, and order the smallest size. Limit the amount of high-calorie add-ins you use when you’re making smoothies at home in order to keep your calorie count under control. Indrayani suggests, “Smoothies are a good option for people who want to eat light on a working day or those who usually skip meals because of a busy schedule. Vegetables can be combined with low-fat curd to avoid extra calories, while nutmeg and cardamom can be added in for flavour instead of sugar.”

Your favourite health food also features on this list. The creamy flavour of avocado blends well with many foods, making the fruit a refreshing, nutritious addition to various recipes. Avocados are also beneficial when they’re used on your skin, as they have nourishing and moisturising properties. They are a popular health food because they’re loaded with healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. However, overindulging in any type of food (including avocados) can lead to weight gain, obesity and even nutrient deficiencies. A medium-sized avocado contains 23g of fat. That’s almost one-third of your fat intake for a day — and roughly 250 calories. So, your serving size shouldn’t be an entire avocado, but just two or three slices of it. If you’re looking to give it up, switch to almonds, almond butter, olive oil, enova oil or walnuts. Indrayani advises, “Avocado is indeed a good source of MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids). However, you should control your overall fat intake and if avocado is part of your diet, avoid consuming too much olive oil, nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans and macadamias, canola oil, butter, olives and peanut oil.”

An essential ingredient in sandwiches, on pizzas and in Indian preparations, tomatoes contain a chemical called lycopene, which is believed to play a role in preventing cancer. They also have several skin and hair beauty benefits. Indrayani explains, “Tomatoes are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals as well as phytonutrients. Deseeded tomatoes can definitely be used in cooking routinely, if you’re looking for something healthy.” But, whether you enjoy placing plum red tomatoes in your salads or snacking on the bite-sized cherry variety, tomatoes come with their own side-effects, including imbalanced immunity, gastrointestinal issues, kidney stones, irritable bowel syndrome and vitamin overdoses, if they’re consumed in large quantities. Eating about two cups of tomatoes every week is a safe option. You could replace the tomatoes with other vegetables, including bell peppers, onion or summer squash.

Every athlete or fitness enthusiast has a can of protein powder in their kitchen. Whey protein contains an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly. Numerous studies show that it can help you build strength, gain muscle and lose significant amounts of body fat. Whey protein has also been shown to have benefits for those who suffer from depression, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, even helping to treat symptoms of HIV and cancer. But, when it’s not consumed in moderation, protein powder can lead to a toxic overload that can cause cellular damage and hurt your kidneys, liver and heart! Protein products aren’t meant to be meal replacements — they’re almost certainly deficient in essentials such as fibre and phytonutrients. Indrayani warns, “Too much protein can put a heavy load on kidney function.” There are several healthier options you could consume in contrast to protein powder, egg protein being the most common. You can also have peas, goat’s milk and brown rice as substitutes. 

This little-known ingredient is mainly used in the production of tequila, while agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is a sweetener derived from the sap of the plant. Due to this, it is often used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and can also be added to breakfast cereals as a binding agent. It is a great alternative to sugar for diabetics, since it doesn’t have the same blood glucose impact as sugar and because it’s derived from a plant, and it is even suitable as a vegan sweetener and a replacement for honey. It has a low glycemic index because it contains fructose rather than glucose, but fructose can be damaging to your liver and heart. The liver processes fructose into triglycerides, or blood fats, which increases your risk of suffering from heart disease and being affected by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This process also increases LDL cholesterol, promotes the buildup of fat around your organs, increases blood pressure, makes tissues insulin-resistant (a precursor to diabetes) and increases the production of free radicals. It’s important to consume any type of sweetener in moderation. Indrayani tells us, “Agave is sweeter than sugar and 1 tbsp contains 60 calories. Hence it needs to be used less than sugar.” The ideal method is to use it as a substitute for table sugar and cut your usual portion down by at least half. You can also try fruit syrups, coconut nectar and unsulphured blackstrap molasses. Or, you could stick to the least processed sweeteners you can find such as raw honey, real maple syrup, dates or plain white sugar.

We know that dry fruits are packed with essential nutrients. They are an abundant source of proteins, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Among their several health benefits, they keep heart disease at bay, maintain cholesterol, improve haemoglobin levels and prevent anaemia. But, when they’re consumed in excess, they lead to gastrointestinal problems, weight gain and tooth decay. Indrayani tells us, “Dry fruits are a good source of energy, especially when one usually skips meals. However, they are energy dense, so eating them in moderation is a must.” Avoid varieties that have added sugar or are sweetened with fruit juice to minimise your calorie and sugar intake. Limit the amount of dry fruits you eat to about 20g and avoid snacking straight from the bag — it leads to overeating! If you’re craving something sweet, why not snack on some real fruit? It is rich in fibre and low in calories.

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