Health feuds are everywhere. Non-vegetarian or vegetarian, vegan or vegetarian, pescatarian or ovo-lacto-vegeterian, high-carb or low-carb: the arguments rage in academic papers, homes, hyperactive internet boards. They are so ubiquitous they may have even become schoolyard insults. “He eats carbs” probably has replaced “he has cooties.” Many a friendship has been broken because of a spat over flax seeds.

The problem is nutrition is not physics. It has no equivalent for the law of gravity. When health scientists declare that X is better for you than Y, there are a lot of caveats involved. Bodies are different, and so are lifestyles and environments.  What works for someone in Wichita, Kansas may not work for someone in Bangalore, India. You’ll remember that high-carb diets which were highly recommended in the ‘60s and ‘70s are vilified now. Unsaturated fats are no longer the Mogambo you thought they were.

The research is of course valuable and important. But none of the academic arguments and counter-arguments are, however, useful in a pinch. Also it takes a while for this knowledge to become mainstream. When you’re trying to squeeze in a health lunch between long meetings, you need quick rules of thumb. We have tried to make it easier for you to choose between some common foods.

Milk or Yogurt

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Yogurt is more protein dense than milk. Compared to milk, yogurt also is rich in probiotic bacteria which are essential for maintaining and restoring the very essential intestinal flora. Because of its acidity (which is higher than that of milk) the calcium in yogurt can be better used by the body. This means that yogurt is a much better source of calcium and is much better for your bones. t is also more calorie dense, but only slightly. 100ml of 3% milk has 51 Calories, and 100g for yogurt has 59 calories. This is a minuscule difference for all the benefits you get.

So yogurt is much better for you, but remember to buy the purest form – not the sugary confections that masquerade as yogurt in supermarkets. This should be easy because yogurt is such an important part of Indian diet. Most of us make it at home!

Verdict: Yogurt, without a doubt.

Tea or Coffee

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  • In terms of stimulation, coffee has a lot more caffeine than tea. Coffee has almost twice the amount of caffeine as the same amount of tea. So if you are looking at an unavoidable all-nighter, coffee is the better choice.
  • But one thing to notable thing is that in a recent study, both beverages, when taken in the morning, left subjects feeling equally alert. Either can be your morning wake-me-up.
  • If you’re worried about your teeth being stained, choose coffee: it’s got much fewer pigments.
  • If you have to drink something in the evening (we don’t really recommend this) pick tea. You’ll sleep much better with tea.

Verdict: It seems to be 2-2. Different strokes for different people.

Brown Rice or White Rice

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There’s frankly not a lot of difference between white and brown rice. There’s some difference in Glycemic Index (the blood sugar spike a food item causes) but it is almost negligible. You won’t eat rice alone, and the Glycemic Index of a single item on your plate is not a very big deal, especially with a small difference like this. Another argument people make in favour of brown is that it has more fibre and protein. Not true, unfortunately. One serving of Brown has 4g, and a serving of White 3g.  White rice is actually more digestible than brown. So when you’re recuperating from a stomach bug, white rice is better. So contrary to what we have all been told, brown rice and white rice are damn near identical. There’s nothing to compare.

Verdict: Wheat! No seriously, eat more whole wheat: a lot more protein, a lot more fibre, a much lower Glycemic Index. We all know you have to eat rice sometimes (biriyani is delicious, after all), but pick the rotis much more often.

Full-Fat or Low-Fat 

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This is a remnant of the ‘60s high-carb obsession. People then removed some fat, and so as not lose the taste, replaced it with more sugar. Anything low-fat has surely been “fortified with energy”, which is ad-speak for “we just doused it in sugar.” This fad has stayed, because, ummm, sugar sells. Now that we know that unsaturated fats have are fine to eat, it’s good to remember that fat keeps you fuller for longer. Also high-fat products are probably more natural. Compare the labels of low-fat and high-fat yogurt next time you are in the supermarket. You’ll see that a lot many things have been added to the latter, than removed.

Verdict: Full-fat everything!

We all intend to eat better. But intentions mean jack squat in the absence of knowledge and habits. It’s habits that make a difference. The only way to eat better is to know better and choose better, every single meal. Make choosing better food simpler, remember simple rules. You will be tempted some times, and that’s ok. You just win by choosing the better food more often than not.

What do you think?

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