Do trending diet labels really work, or are they just fads? MW hosts a Zoom roundtable with the country’s top nutritionists to get answers.
Does Keto remind you of a fancy meal plan, or have you been toying with the idea of going on a vegan diet that your bestie swears by? Also, is the vegetarianism versus non-vegetarianism debate on your last searched history followed by keywords infertility and low-cal diets on incognito mode?
Pathbreaking diets and how safe and successful they actually are is always a hot topic, and the temptation to try them for quick body transformations is natural.
When Man’s World India hosted a roundtable with the country’s top nutrition experts and medical practitioners for a reality check on the myths and realities of these diets and nutrition theories, the findings were revelatory.
On the panel were Dr. Anjali Hooda Sangwan, obesity and metabolic disease specialist, Ishi Khosla, a clinical nutritionist, Lovneet Batra, who is a clinical nutritionist in Fortis La Femme, Delhi, and an author; Dr. Shikha Sharma, who has studied medicine and trained in weight loss programmes, and contributes to various national publications.
Here’s their take on each:
Protein supplement-packed diet
Is it safe for men to consume protein supplements to bulk up? When we field this question, Dr. Anjali begins by explaining that when one works out, muscle break and injury happens, and protein supplements are needed for regeneration and are safe. “It’s important that protein is replaced for people who go to the gym, otherwise when you stop the workout and have not had protein, you are either going to gain weight or have low energy levels,” she says.
Dr. Shikha adds, “Western athletes, for instance, have a proper nutrition coach, who calculates how much protein and the kind of protein needed — vegan, plant, or whey protein. In India, people think either all proteins are good or bad. So, while it is important that you consume protein supplements to sculpt your body, the choice of protein is very crucial.”
However, a balance between protein from supplements and diet is what Lovneet Batra focuses on. “People like to put protein in the pocket of supplementation and don’t evaluate it in their overall diet. Especially right now, with the lockdown, the kind of workout one does need to be complemented with the protein requirement,” she says, adding, “Athletes and gym enthusiasts take protein right after the practise and workout, and their other meals are low-calorie, which should not be the case.”
On the other hand, Ishi Khosla believes that in workouts done for routine fitness, dietary protein is more than enough. “If you are eating a well-balanced diet, even if you are a vegetarian, in very rare cases supplements are required,” she says.
Several studies suggest that low-calorie diets, that are less in quantity, induce infertility in men. Dr Sharma says that there has been a rise in infertility due to these diets. “Most infertility specialists agree that sperm morphology is changing so rapidly that every decade sperm count is reducing, and this is due to quick fixes like low-cal diets,” she says.
VLCD (very low-calorie diet) also causes infertility. Dr. Hooda says they do VLCD for a certain type of patients, and it’s always under supervision. But when a patient is doing a diet of 500 to 800 calories a day, he is not having cholesterol, which the hormones are made from. “When they go off fat and cholesterol, they do not have enough hormones to produce that optimum amount or quality of sperm,” she adds.
Khosla links gut health to infertility and says, “Infertility, low sperm count, and women’s miscarriages are directly linked to the gut and the hormones. When there is malabsorption in the gut, nutrients are not going to be picked up.”
One diet that people have been raving about for a while now is the near-magical Keto. Sure, it keeps insulin and weight in check, but when it comes to sustainability and quality of life, Batra, who is often approached by a lot of people who want to try it, doesn’t recommend Keto.
“Wanting quick results when it comes to weight loss has made the Keto diet pick momentum because it gives that promise to shed those many kilos in a certain number of weeks. But what is important is maintaining a balance in the diet, and not getting obsessed with one goal,” she asserts.
Dr. Hooda puts patients on a Keto diet if they have gut dysbiosis or a health condition that needs them to be off grains for some time. But it’s not something she recommends for in the long-term. “Maybe do it for a month, and do it under supervision. Going cruising into keto and getting out of it is a way – you don’t just wade into it and get out just like that,” she cautions.
“Being a fat-dominant diet, Keto doesn’t work for women over 50 — by having too much fat, they develop bad estrogen, and tend to end up gaining weight. It also has side-effects like increase in creatinine when done wrong, and can cause hypertension when an excessive amount of protein is eaten,” Adds Dr Hooda.
Dr. Sharma agrees, and points out how the quick-fix mindset is pushing nutritionists to become weight-loss dieticians, which is not enough use of their expertise. A high-fat diet like Keto, says Khosla, may bring down carbohydrate consumption but that’s not the way to keep weight off.
Being on a vegan diet limits a whole lot of foods, but is a vegan diet essential to achieve a fitness goal? Being monitored when on a vegan diet is key, says Khosla, because you can develop nutritional deficiencies.
Khosla thinks that the advantages of a vegan diet come into play when from eating a lot of protein, it brings you back to plant protein, lowers inflammation, and reduces oxidative stress.
Dr. Hooda finds the vegan diet to be very restrictive, and has seen vegans turning malnourished. “Scientifically, vegan is not considered the most nutritionally great diet. It can really bring down your vitamins and when people are on a vegan diet, they also tend to not eat the entire pyramid. Just like Keto, a vegan diet is a fad, and is designed for people with heart disease and hypertension, but there should be no two extremes — neither too much animal fat nor avoiding dairy,” she advises.
Dr Sharma points out that labels are not important, and talks about how obesity has increased in the US over the last 20-25 years because in the quest to eat healthy, people are eating “so-called diet and vegan cookies and zero-sugar beverages, without understanding that zero sugar doesn’t mean you have aspartame, or zero-fat doesn’t mean you have trans fats, which are more harmful”.
Vegetarianism vs non-vegetarianism
For a firm believer in personalised nutrition, like Batra, the choice between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism can be managed with food combinations, and a diet can be made healthy, regardless of health problems. “However, there are certain cases like inflammation and gluten intolerance, or if someone is not able to procure the right quality of milk or chicken and the quality of the food is compromised, and that’s a bigger issue than vegetarianism or non- vegetarianism” says Batra.
Dr. Hooda says it’s a very personal choice, and adds that “In India, we are a predominantly vegetarian society, and meat is not a very big part of our life. I think it’s for the best as it is quite harmful, and must be minimised”. But she says the problem with our vegetarians are they don’t eat enough vegetables.
Khosla says: “Fish, poultry, or lamb are all different, but even if you take them all in modest quantities and your overall lifestyle is healthy, it’s not going to do any harm. So, rather than calling it vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism, moving to an anti-inflammatory, healthy diet with a lot of vegetables and healthy fats must be the goal,” Khosla states.
All our panellists agree that eating everything in a balanced way is the key to good health and short-cuts and labels are neither sustainable nor healthy. So, in case you’re on one of these shortcut roads, save yourself the trouble and take a U-turn.