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Do or DIET!
Sita Menon
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September 02, 2004

tkins. Sugar Busters. Zone. If you're a diet buff, you'll know for sure what these are (for those who don't, these are names of popular diets that are followed zealously by millions all over the world).

But you're fed up. The heck with dieting and weight loss and fancy names, you say, as you prepare to slip back to your usual eating habits.

Wait. Don't give up hope. Here's how to make the best of these diets:

Say 'yes' to protein

Most people shudder at the word protein, because the thought of the fat content in most protein-laden foods are enough to give them horror visions of the scales tipping dangerously.

The fact is, you need that protein intake. You need a healthy immune system and you need the muscle mass to exercise (you didn't think a mere diet was the key to weight loss and overall fitness, did you?).

That is why you need to be wise and adapt the Atkins credo, which advocates having protein in every meal.

But Dr Sushila Sharangdhar -- registered dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association, former chief dietician at Mumbai's P D Hinduja National Hospital and consultant dietician with several Indian companies -- has a word of caution.

"I would hesitate to follow the Atkins diet blindly," she says. "This diet places vegetarians at a severe disadvantage because their diet base is non-vegetarian. If you cancel carbohydrates, the protein choices for vegetarians are milk and dal. That's not a complete plan."

What you can do: Dr Sharangdhar says moderation is the answer. Make sure you do have your protein intake. But also make sure you don't go the other extreme and cut down all carbohydrates.

"Your body needs nourishment from all the six food group sources -- cereals, pulses, milk, fruits and vegetables, fats and sugar. Striking down any one food group entirely means denying your body one nutrient," she says.

Variety is the spice of any diet!

High-protein, low-carbohydrate is the Zone mantra. They also tell you to strike a 40-30-30 ratio between carbohydrate, protein and fat in your diet.

Now that is free license to eat whatever you want -- as long as you stick to that ratio and eat wise. You also won't complain about having to eat the same food every day. Should be a good deal, right?

Dr Sharangdhar has this to say, "The major function of carbohydrates and fat is to give energy. The Zone diet suggests cutting down on carbs and fat is because, with today's sedentary lifestyles, a hearty consumption of both food groups converts into fat calories and weight gain. The point is to simply eat in moderation and engage yourself in regular physical activity."

Cut the sweet!

The Sugar Busters have a simple solution to weight loss: if it is sweet, it ain't worth the calories! So cut out the sugar. Replace with vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources.

This is the rule of thumb: if you are accustomed to cutting down on super-sweet, high-calorie foods, it stands to reason that you will lose weight because you will cut down on your calorie intake.

Dr Sharangdhar says: "I tell everyone who comes to me to cut down on sugar. Those are the key words. Cut down. Not cut out completely."

Veggie's the way!

This is taking off on the earlier point, but there is something to be said about the merits of vegetables in your diet. What do they give you? Vitamins. Fibre. Protein. And you don't need to starve because they fill you up pretty good!

What you can do: Have a healthy-sized bowl of vegetable soup to set the course for your lunch and dinner. What that does is soothe the hunger pangs, besides being a good source of nutrition.

Dr Sharangdhar maintains, "As a policy, you have to realise that 'fad diets' are temporary and do not offer long-term gains. Cutting down on any one food is not a wise lifetime option. Weight management is for life. So you need to have a balanced diet that takes in all the food groups."

Share your favourite low cal diet/recipe with us.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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