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National Nutrition Week 2022

Diet goes beyond calories and fads: Nutritionist Mayanka Singhal

The Kolkata-based nutritionist on the right advice to follow, benefits of carbs and fats, and why calories should never be counted(!)

Lygeia Gomes | Published 08.09.22, 08:32 PM
Mayanka Singhal at a workshop on what constitutes a balanced diet for students

Mayanka Singhal at a workshop on what constitutes a balanced diet for students

Soumyajit Dey

Are gluten-free foods healthier?

Is intermittent fasting a sustainable lifestyle choice?

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Can calorie counting help you stay fit?

Should you befriend carbs and fats?

This National Nutrition Week, Kolkata-based nutritionist Mayanka Singhal, who is the founder of Health Junction on Hungerford Street and primarily deals with diabetic patients and people suffering from lifestyle disorders, sheds light on balanced nutrition in an informative chat with My Kolkata. Edited excerpts from the conversation with the nutritionist, who has been practising in Kolkata for over 17 years, follow...

My Kolkata: Recently, a lot of people have started taking nutrition advice from influencers. How can people know which influencer to trust?  

Mayanka Singhal: Right now, the current trend is influencers. Earlier, it was magazines, radio and newspapers. I’ve always said that before you adopt any practice, verify the source of the information. If a nutritionist is qualified and gives out advice after some research, then it is fine. Another good thing to do is check if the influencer is consistent with their advice — that they’re not just giving out advice or diets that are trending. 

One thing to never do is to listen to those social media influencers who share advice from their own experiences. Just because they have benefited from a certain diet, doesn’t mean you will too. Every diet is different and every body is different, so before adopting a diet, I would suggest consulting a nutritionist.  

Calorie tracking is in vogue right now. What is the relationship between healthy eating and calories?

Food goes beyond calories. A calorie is just one unit of energy and yes, it is required but it’s definitely not the centre of nutrition. You can have an ‘optimum’ calorie count and not be eating healthy. Food always works in synergy. My recommendation would be to not get caught up in this because you’ll constantly think about the amount of proteins, carbs and fats in everything you consume. And it’s impossible for any food to give you only carbs or only fats. If you eat pulses, you're getting protein and carbs, it has both. So, adopt a broader outlook towards nutrition and not one that revolves around a calorie count.  

Decode carbs and fats for us… why is there a stigma around them?  

Carbs and fats are two of the three major macronutrients — you need all three macronutrients to be healthy. All your hormones, which regulate the metabolism of your body, are made of fat. The quality of the fat determines the quality of hormones you're going to make. Carbs, on the other hand, make energy. Our brains only recognise glucose as energy, so if we omit carbs, our body is going to feel deprived of energy and that can’t happen. 

Both carbs and fats are essential, and not unhealthy at all. It has to be balanced, of course. Remember to think about the food pyramid —  carbs are the bottom slab of the pyramid and fats are the tip of the pyramid. Indian thalis are the best way to guide you to what should be the right portion of everything.

Omega-3 has been trending in the nutrition space for a while now. What exactly is it and why should one include it in their diet?

In my opinion, this research is industry-driven. Omega-3 is a micro-micronutrient and required in very small amounts, which we get anyway from our regular diets. As long as a qualified nutritionist or doctor is not asking you to add it to your diet, there’s no need to do so. Our bodies have the ability to make these nutrients!

Recently, there’s been an emphasis on organic produce. Is organic produce better than its counterparts and is it really worth the expense?

If someone tells you their produce is organic, you have no choice but to trust and believe them. There are many certificates required for organic production but we know how people can manage to evade the system. 

My suggestion would be to stick to regional produce. Include produce in your diet that is local and seasonal — you can never go wrong with it and you can be rest assured that it will be organic. Locally produced fruits and vegetables are always better than foods that are not native to your country.  

Are vitamin, skincare and protein supplements a good way to go? 

This again is industry-driven research. There’s no research that proves that collagen is going to make your skin look younger or that extra protein will help you lose weight. You only need supplements when you’re suffering from a deficiency. Don’t mindlessly pop supplement pills — it's not a solution.    

Are there benefits to going dairy-free?

There's really no point to drop milk out of your diet unless you are facing certain issues and milk is the reason. You will not be deprived of anything if you give it up, but there are no benefits to dropping dairy, either.  

Is intermittent fasting a good lifestyle choice, in your opinion?

Intermittent fasting is a fad diet. In my opinion, fasting sometimes — once or twice a month —  is fine. But not as a way of life. You cannot be on an intermittent fasting diet for long and not suffer from any deficiency. Yes, you can eat your dinner early, and fast for 12 hours through the night, but don’t start your day without breakfast. Your body needs food in the morning to make certain nutrients that are very important. If you’ve been on this diet, I would suggest getting back to your original food habits.

How can one increase their metabolism rate?

Exercise, that’s the best way of doing it! You can even try portion control — eat a little less than normal so that your body is able to digest and assimilate the food well, which increases your metabolic rate. Weight training also helps a lot for adults and children. 

What is the bare minimum exercise one needs to do to be fit?

Exercise for 150 minutes per week. But this needs to be a full-fledged workout — exercise refers to doing something more than your regular activity. Include various forms of exercise — strength training, weight training, stretching and mobility exercises. Put together a proper routine which is a combination of all of these.

Let's bust some myths!

Eating after 7pm causes weight gain 

An early dinner will help with proper digestion, but eating after 7pm doesn’t mean you will gain weight.

Gluten-free foods are healthier

Gluten is a very important protein. So, no, going gluten-free foods are not healthier unless you have issues digesting it. 

‘Calories in, calories out’ is all that matters when it comes to weight loss

No, body math is much more complex than that.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

All meals are equally important. No one nutrient or meal is better than the other.

All smoothies and juices are healthy

No. In fact, a few of them can be quite unhealthy. 

Eating disorders only affect women

Eating disorders can affect everyone — at any age.

Egg yolks are bad for you

Egg yolks make the egg protein complete. So, they are good for you. If you don’t like the taste, that’s another thing. But if you do like the taste, definitely eat it.

Eight glasses of water a day is the magic number

No! It depends on your activity level. The best indicator is the colour of your pee which should always be colourless. If it is getting darker in colour (without being on any medication) then you need to drink more water. 

Last updated on 08.09.22, 08:32 PM
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