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Eat Healthy with Italian Food

Italian and Chinese cuisines are probably the most ubiquitous of all cuisines in the world – because they’re delicious, and can be healthy too. We’ve already talked about healthy options in Chinese food.

So, how can you really eat healthy Italian food?

Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of sauces – cheese based sauce and vegetables based sauce (tomato, pesto, garlic, etc.). Cheese, as we all know is higher in fat. Now, fat is not bad, but in a whole dish with cheese based sauce, it adds up to a lot of calories. And the most basic reason why people get fat, is because they consume more calories than they expend.

Besides this, the vegetables based sauces like those made from tomato supply you with lots of lycopene, which has been proven to reduce chances of prostate cancer in men.

Pasta is primarily carbohydrates. Whole wheat pasta is better since it has a lower glycemic index and has higher protein and fiber content, helping you build those muscles, to burn more calories! :)

Eating grilled meat (chicken, fish, red meat) as a main course is also a good option. The meat is high in protein and red meat is high in iron as well. Salmon is high in omega 3 oils. Often, its grilled in olive oil, which has a high content of cholesterol lowering power. The fat from olive oil keeps you full for longer along with the heart healthy benefits of olive oil.

A side dish of mashed potatoes in Italian food is very tempting. Potato is not bad by itself, but mashed potatoes are often loaded with cream and butter to make them soft and delicious. That’s where the hidden calories reside. Besides, a side of other grilled veggies would give you lots of nutrition. And from the grill, they’ve acquired a hint of sweet due to caramelization.

If you love the bread basket, take it easy. Ask the restaurant for whole wheat bread. You’ll be surprised how often they have it, but don’t bring it out!

I have a sweet tooth, so desserts are hard to resist :) But portion control is key. Split a dessert with your friends to minimize the damage. You could also end with a cheese platter with your friends. As a general rule, hard cheese has less fat than soft cheese.

Among the places with healthy Italian food options in Delhi are – Flavours (Defence Colony), Big Chill (multiple locations in Delhi), and any of the nicer restaurants now cater to healthy lifestyles.

Buon appetito!

— this article is written by a dietitian @ FitHo
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Calories Count – Home Cooked Indian Food

Thanks to food regulations, its quite easy to know how many calories are in your bag of chips, or that bar of chocolate. Even restaurants have started providing the calorie count for their foods. But one gray area for calorie counting is home cooked Indian food.

Most people assume that home cooked food is healthy. While it might be healthy in some households, it can’t be used as a blanket statement. Beyond using quality fruits and vegetables, there are three factors that decide how “healthy” the food is:

- Additives like oil, sugar, etc. These can really pack on the calories.

- Cooking process – Overcooking vegetables can deplete them of some nutrients.

- Portion sizes – Clearly larger portions means more calories.

Note that many spices like cinnamon, pepper, turmeric, coriander and cumin are almost calorie free, but are high on antioxidants.

Calorie estimation of home cooked Indian food can be done with a few simple tools. First you need a small weighing scale-easily available in the market. And some measuring spoons and cups. Also, get hold of a calorie chart for basic grains, vegetables and fruits that you use. You can also use Fitho’s calorie counter to search for your food, calculate it’s calories and see its full nutrition facts.

Using measurement instruments, you can figure out the weight of your cooking ingredients. And for each of the ingredients, look up the calorie count by weight. Let’s take an example – Yellow Dal.

As a standard, raw Dal pulses provide 4 calories per gram. Say you use a 100 gms for cooking. You add water (0 calories), salt and spices (negligible calories) and 1 tbsp olive oil (119 calories). The total dish is about 520 calories. Say this produces 8 cups of Dal. That is about 65 calories (520 divided by 8 ) per cup of Dal. Similarly, it is easy to tell the calorie count of a cheese omelette – how much cheese, how many eggs, and other ingredients – add the calories to get the total value.

As standard values, 1 gm of carbohydrates provides 4 calories, 1 gm of protein provides 4 calories and 1 gm of fat provides 9 calories.

This might seem a little involving, but once you’ve figured out the basics, it gets much simpler. To make it easier, you can just take a print-out of the calorie count of the basic foods that you use. Most of us repeat many of the standard food items and they’re cooked the same way each time, so very soon, you’ll have the calorie counts for all your home cooked Indian foods.

While calorie counting is important, its important to consume healthy food rich in nutrients. 100 calories of chips and fruits have the same calorific value, but very different nutritious value. So, besides the quantity, the quality of calories is equally important!

— this article is written by a dietitian @ FitHo

Healthy Chinese Food Options

Chomping down on Chinese food while watching the 2008 Summer Olympics at Beijing could seem like the ideal way to pay homage to the host country. Some Hakka Chow, Chilli Chicken, Schezwan Fried Rice and Veg Manchurian…fantastic deliciousness. But if you get on that diet, your body will look more like Mahesh Bhatt than Mahesh Bhupathi.

Nutrition analysis of Chinese dishes show that they are extremely high in calorific value, sodium content, high fat content and high in simple carbohydrates (which behave like sugar in your body). Many Chinese dishes are high on soy, which increases sodium content drastically in the food. Excess sodium leads to increase in blood pressure and retention of water, which increases your weight and makes you look bloated and fat.

So, whats the solution? Clearly, not eating it is a bad solution :) But you can make healthy Chinese food choices while giving your order.

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite… those little steamed eatables called Dim Sum- You think its healthy because its steamed. But Dim Sum is primarily made of maida (refined flour), which causes your blood sugar to spike (watch out diabetics) and promotes fat storage. For starters, go for stuff that’s stir fried, chicken satay, flavored veggies, or a clear soup with veggies and/or meat in it. Or you can skip the starters and go for the main course

The main course is like a mine field of bad health bombs. Stir Fried dishes are good, since they are relatively low on sodium, are cooked fast and in lesser oil (since its not deep fried). Stay away from that Manchurian. First its wrapped in maida (refined flour), then its deep fried. Then its soaked in a high sodium sauce. Is there a better way to spell HEALTH D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R. Basically, stay away from anything that’s served as dough wrapped balls in sauce. All sauces, from Black Bean to Sweet and Sour are drowning in sodium. And some of them have loads of sugar added, like Sweet and Sour or Garlic.

For your starch options, there’s another mine field. The noodles are all made from refined flour and then they are soaked in oil and flavoring (including soy) – you know what that does, so stay away from it. The fried rice is a slightly better option, since its rice based, but again, lots of oil and soy, since rice soaks both of them fast! The best option is steamed rice. Besides, the relatively lower calories, it reduces your sodium intake. Also, it gives you a chance to really taste the flavor of the dishes. Try jasmine rice, it smells fantastic.

In dessert, I’m yet to find a true Chinese dessert. All the standard Indian versions of Chinese dessert are pretty unhealthy- Darsaan (fried dough with sugar), sugar coated walnuts, fried ice-cream. Do I even need to get into why these aren’t healthy Chinese food options. Chinese joints aren’t known for their chocolate based delicacies. Stay off it, even its on the menu :)

Our advice, go for the fresh fruits for a light and a sweet finish. Don’t forget to get some of that green tea or jasmine tea. You know, green tea is good for you.

It takes some questioning the wait staff, to solve the health mystery of a new dish. But don’t be shy – eat this way while watching the Olympics and you’ll be 1 step closer to looking like Michael Phelps. Have you seen the 6 pack he’s got?

— this article is written by a dietitian @ FitHo

Healthy Mughlai Food

There’s a common myth that to get in better shape or stay in it, you need to eat a diet of steamed, bland, tasteless, sugarless, fat free food. But that’s not true at all. Lets take Mughlai food as an example. When you think of Mughlai food, you probably think greasy deliciousness – no good for you. Again, wrong (about all of it being greasy).

Its about making the healthier choices in it. For e.g. all the tandoori kebabs are high protein and relatively low on oil. They are marinated in some oil to make them moist and help them absorb flavor, but then they are cooked in a Tandoor, with no added fat. Tandoori kebabs are packed with protein. Protein takes longer to digest in our system, thus it leaves you feeling full for longer. Chicken/fish based kebabs are better choices than red meat, since its easier to separate the fat, or often, its just lean meat that’s used for cooking the kebabs.

Even the Tandoori vegetarian is not all bad. In a Tandoor, they get caramelized on the outside, adding that hint of sweetness, making it delicious. While they are still somewhat raw on the inside, so it preserves more nutrients than completely cooked vegetables.

With lentils, its best to go with yellow dal, since the black dal (maa ki dal) is cooked in cream, which loads it with fat. Chana is also a good option, since its got lots of fiber and protein. Raita is yoghurt based, and you know how good yoghurt is for your health.

Feel free to gorge on the raw or vinegar based onions/green chilli (don’t worry about the breath- that’s why we have after mints). Sprinkle lots of lime on your kebabs – it makes them moist and delicious, along with adding all that Vitamin C, which helps to build immunity.

What you want to avoid is the curried and masala rich food- like the butter chicken, kadai meat, etc. They have high fat content from the cream and oil that is used. And its saturated fat, so its the kind that clogs your arteries and raises cholesterol and blood pressure. Also, avoid kebabs that are made from mince meat like sheekh kebab. Mince meat often has a lot of fat in it and the cooking process also uses some, so these kebabs are loaded with calories. The Naan is mostly made from refined flour (maida) which basically has the same effect on your body as sugar.

The next time you hit that Mughlai food joint, use this guide to decode your healthy options and you should be set!

— this article is written by a dietitian @ FitHo

Healthy Paratha – An Oxymoron?

I know “healthy paratha” sounds unbelievable, but there are options to make a paratha healthier. Use less ghee/oil and make it from whole wheat (atta), as opposed to refined wheat (maida).
All these things can be done at home, but when you go out to eat, its always a fight. I love my all paratha, but not the lard that comes with them. So, I mostly stick with eating rotis when eating out. The restaurants just don’t seem to understand that food can have flavour without dousing it in a vat of lard.

There is one restaurant that actually understands that, or claims to. Its called ‘Not Just Paranthas’. A chain of restaurants in Delhi, that serves over a 100 types of paratha. The best part is that you can get most of these as healthy paratha called ‘diet paratha’. I hate the term, but these are basically made from whole grains, roasted instead of fried and served without ghee if you ask for them too. And they are stuffed with all the goodness that you ordered.

The first time I came across this option, I couldn’t believe it. But its true. Eating the ‘healthy paratha’ is much better choice – its got fewer calories, less fat since they skip the ghee, more fiber and protein since its made from whole grains, and does not affect your blood sugar since it does not have refined wheat (maida). Its a no-brainer.

— this article is written by a dietitian @ FitHo