Experts explain why the calories you get from a burger and salad are not the same and how it affects your body.
Recently, while fielding questions from a client, nutritionist Geetali Nagpal was left stupefied. "If it's merely about the number of calories consumed, why can't I get my daily quota of 1500 calories from vodka instead of resorting to this diet that you've prepared for me?" asked the client. It took the 29-year-old nutritionist some effort to explain the detrimental consequences of her client's theory -chief among them, an addiction to alcohol. But Nagpal admits that similar queries about substituting healthy meals with unhealthy, calorie-dense foods that are more palatable are not uncommon. "For years, we've been told that weight loss can be condensed to the simple formula of the number of calories burnt minus those consumed.
This implies that if an individual burns 2000 calories in a day, and consumes only 1600, she would lose weight, irrespective of whether those 1600 calories came solely from chocolate pastries or nuts and grains. Unfortunately, our body doesn't work on the principles of mathematics," she points out. Nagpal adds that if weight loss was merely dependent on calories, then consuming a cheeseburger or an ice-cream which contains a sizable number of the allotted calories -a demand she claims is common among dieters -shouldn't alter the programme. "But it evidently does," she adds.
Nagpal informs that a gram of carbs and proteins have four calories each, but the same quantity of fat has a whopping nine calories."These figures would indicate that a low-fat diet would outperform those with restricted carbs, but that doesn't actually happen. Popular nutrition plans, like Paleo diet, are comparatively high in fat and provide excellent results," she says.
BLAME IT ON THE CARBS
Irrespective of whether an individual gets his/her daily quota of calories from cheeseburgers or legumes, says celebrity nutritionist Sandeep Sachdev, the process will lead to a drop in weight if the number of calories burnt is higher. "But such weight loss is due to the loss of muscles and not fats, which is an undesirable result," he informs. Sachdev adds that a high fat percentage in one's body can be as deleterious as obesity, even if the weight is within the ideal limit.
Highlighting the manner in which the body assimilates calories from different foods, Sachdev states, "Carb-dense foods like burgers, chocolates and sugars are the first sources of energy that the body turns to in order to perform its regular functions. This is followed by fats and then proteins, which are the building blocks of your muscles. A carefully-crafted nutrition plan should prevent the body from chewing off proteins to source energy, since this leads to muscle depletion. "The body is incapable of consuming carbs in the absence of fats and proteins, and hence carves off its own muscles to meet its protein requirement," adds Sachdev. The depletion in muscle mass, he points out, may result in weight loss, but can spike the fat percentage to dangerous levels.
What's more, high-carb eaters are increasingly more likely to develop diabetes and other chronic diseases. "Sugary foods and beverages affect the insulin regulation system and signal the body to store more fat, which, in turn, can also cause cardiovascular problems," says Nagpal.
Dietitian Kajal Shammi Khaturia claims that dieting trends usually single out one macronutrient as the culprit of all follies. "While fats were seen in a negative light a while ago, carbohydrates are now being considered the most notorious element of our diet.
But we need to remember that they are also our primary source of energy and fuel our daily activities."
She, however, adds that because carbs form a pre dominant part of the Indian diet, one tends to consume more than they think they have. "I have heard people claim that they strictly follow a `no-carb diets', but indulge in salads and sprouts. These meals too include carbohydrates. They are a part of almost every meal."
BECAUSE MASS MATTERS
Aside from the quantity, the quality of food consumed directly affects the rate at which the body burns calories. Foods with a high-glycemic index, like sugar and breads, says Khaturia, slows this process, making the body lethargic and reducing the number of calories that it can naturally shave off. "On the other hand, diets that are rich in proteins boost the BMR, since the body expels more energy in attempting to metabolise and store the food. When you compare the two diets, the difference in the number of calories shaved off each day can be significantly different," she says, adding that proteins also keep individuals satiated for longer, compared to carbohydrates.
BALANCING THE SCALE
The most delectable array of foods, says Khaturia, often have a high glycemic index, and keep you craving for more. "Individuals may claim to stick to the required number of calories, but such foods are designed to make you feel hungry easily. It is unlikely that a person living off sodas, chocolates and breads will be able to stick to a restricted calorie intake," she states.
THE CALORIE TRAP
A gram of sugar, whether it comes from carrots or candies, has the same number of calories, but the way it affects the blood sugar, hormones, metabolic rate and satiety is significantly different, Khaturia informs. "Limited portions of healthier meals will keep you satiated for several hours, while an exaggerated quantity of their unhealthy counterparts will leave you scouting for more. All these factors play a vital role in defining the success of a weight-loss program in the long run."
DIET CHEAT CODES
For those who wish to break the monotony of a sugarless diet with a hint of sweet, Sachdev offers respite."The body is capable of burning off calories immediately when its energy reserves have been depleted. This makes for the best time to occasionally indulge in your cravings," he says, adding that post workout or a full night's sleep are ideal times of the day to dig into a sweet treat.