Article Contributor: Andrew
Confused by macros? Unsure of the best sources of protein? Does the term ‘superfood’ overwhelm you with too many choices?
Whether you are on a diet for weight loss purposes in the UAE or you simply want to eat a more nutritionally balanced diet, learning some simple terms about nutrition can help.
The world of nutrition in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has seen immense growth over the last few years. Mainly because of the relationship between fitness and nutrition.
However, nutrition really doesn’t need to be confusing. You don’t need to eat like a rabbit or drink gallons of wheat grass juice to improve the way you look, the way you feel and improve your overall lifestyle. Keep it simple and you can’t go wrong.
Good nutrition isn’t just something you need to think about when you are trying to lose weight. Many men and women in Abu Dhabi and Dubai only tend to look at what they eat and drink on a daily basis when there is a problem like being overweight or a medical condition.
However, with or without the help of a professional nutrition personal coach in the UAE, you should look at the positive effects changing your lifestyle (nutrition and diet) can provide.
Before we take a look at the nutrition terms you should know let’s take a look at some of the reasons why good nutrition matters for all ages, men and women.
Without doubt, one of the best ways to improve the way you look is to take a look at your diet and make some changes.
The way you look doesn’t just refer to looking slimmer, more toned and more muscular.
Eating well will make your skin look better, it will help your hair look better and it will generally improve your appearance on the outside.
Eating better at home and making better choices when you eat out in the UAE will have a dramatic effect on your fitness levels.
When you fuel your body well it will generally run better. Ensuring you are getting the right amount of macros, minerals and vitamins will help you improve your fitness levels because you’ll have more energy during your workouts.
There are so many health conditions that can be either improved or even reversed when you improve your diet.
Diabetes for example has seen an increase in cases exponentially since many societies have adopted a more sugary and fast food lifestyle.
Inflammation and inflammatory diseases like arthritis are on the rise too.
Keeping a close eye on what you eat in the UAE will help prevent these conditions and it’s never too late to start.
When we say weight management we’re not talking about weight loss (although eating well will help you lose weight.
Maintaining a ‘healthy’ weight is the key to becoming fitter and healthier. What confuses many people is the range of foods they should eat in order to maintain their weight.
Gone are the days when salad’s were the only way to ensure you stayed slim. Whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian or vegan the choice available is unparalleled compared to the past.
What are macros? There are 3 main types of macros that you need to know in order to eat well.
Carbohydrates are generally considered to be the primary source of ‘fuel’ for your body on a daily basis. Most sources advise that your carb content should contribute around 45% – 65% of your daily calorie intake (more about calories below).
However, as you are probably aware not all carbs are created equal which is why even the word ‘carb’ fills many people with dread. Don’t be scared of carbs, your body needs them but it’s much better for you to choose the right carbs.
Good carbs include:
Beans, lentils, pulses
Basically, try to eat carbs as close to their natural state as possible.
Bad Carbs include:
Refined flour products including breads, cereals, crackers, biscuits
Grains that ‘whole grains’ like white rice
When you think of protein you might automatically think ‘muscle’ and while it’s true that protein is the most important macro for building muscle there are many other processes in the body that utilise protein.
As well as muscle building, protein provides structure to cell membranes, organs, skin, bones, ligaments and more.
So how much protein do you need to consume? This really depends on the individual but even if you don’t want to get bogged down with numbers a good figure to look at is around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Obviously someone who wants to be a bodybuilder in Dubai or Abu Dhabi would be consuming more protein than someone who’s not interested in hypertrophy.
Good sources of protein include:
Animal protein including beef, chicken, fish, seafood and dairy
Beans and pulses
Whole grains including brown rice and quinoa
Nuts and seeds
Natural soy based products including tofu
Protein to avoid when possible include:
Highly processed fast foods
Deep fried meats
So many people avoid fats in their diet thinking that all fats are bad for you.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Fats, in moderation and high quality fats are vital for the body and can also be used as an energy source.
Fats are needed for cells, for insulin and for protection of the body’s vital organs as well as being needed to break down fat-soluble vitamins.
Depending on your activity level and your lifestyle most adults in the UAE should eat around 20-30% of their calorie intake from fats.
However, as you probably already know not all fats are equal. Saturated fats for example are needed but the amount of saturated fat you eat should be around 10% of your calorie intake.
Good sources of fats include:
Vegetable oils including extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil
Fatty fish including salmon, mackerel and sardines
Fatty vegetables like avocado
Nuts and seeds including walnuts and brazil nuts
Grass fed butter (in moderation)
Fats that should be limited or avoided include:
Artificial spreads and margarines
Palm oil based products
Full fat dairy (limit)
Deep fried foods
Too much saturated animal fats
Baked good that include vegetable fats (palm oil)
Fasting may be a term you are already familiar with for religious or cultural reasons.
However, fasting as a style of eating is becoming more popular because science and nutritionists are providing more evidence that a fasting style of eating can provide many health benefits. Fasting is less concerned with what you eat, it applies to when you eat.
The basic principles behind fasting as an eating style (it’s not a diet) in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are to restrict the times that you eat and then fast completely outside of your eating hours.
For example, popular fasting hours are the 18/6 or the 16/8. The 18/6 method means you consume all your calories for the day during a 6 hour window and then fast for 18 hours. It’s not as difficult as it sounds because much of that time is spent sleeping.
Using the 18/6 method as a template. You might decide to consume your calories during the hours of 12 – 6pm. In reality this means you are just skipping a meal, breakfast.
Of course with any eating style fasting works best when your nutrition is generally in good shape to start with. In other words, during your eating window you can’t simply fill up on junk food and still expect to see and feel the benefits of eating using the fasting method.
So what does fasting do and how does it help?
According to the Hopkins Medicine website fasting does help with weight loss and weight management because it can help you burn fat which ultimately can make you leaner.
Thinking and memory improvements are reported by many men and women who follow a fasting style of eating. Physical performance is increased and maintained over a longer period of time.
Certain medical conditions can also be improved including diabetes and obesity.
Fasting as a style of eating is generally safe for adults but before you change your diet you should seek advice from your doctor and consult a professional personal trainer in Abu Dhabi or Dubai who has extensive experience in providing nutritional advice.
The words calorie and nutrition go hand in hand. In fact, even the word diet is tied with the work calorie but what exactly is a calorie?
Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy. When you have even just a basic understanding of calories it can help you lose excess weight and maintain a healthier weight in the UAE for the long term.
In technical terms, a calorie is a unit of energy that a food or drink provides. Nearly all food items in a supermarket nowadays contain the calorie content of a food or drink on the label. This makes it much easier for you to count your calories if you are on a calorie controlled diet.
Don’t confuse total calories with other things on a food label. You will find that fast foods, prepared foods and higher sugar content foods generally contain more calories on a per serving basis.
Why are calories important? A calorie in itself is just a unit of energy. We all need calories in order to function, play, work, sleep.
Although gluten isn’t necessarily an important term to know when it comes to nutrition it’s a good idea to know what it is because many food labels now show whether a food or drink contains gluten.
The rise in cases of gluten sensitivity has prompted food companies to include whether a product contains gluten or not but it should be pointed out that a sensitivity to gluten is very different from a gluten intolerance or allergy.
Gluten is a protein that is mainly found in certain grains and therefore in many products you eat from bread to sauces to sweets to pasta. People may have a gluten ‘sensitivity’ which can cause bloating, heartburn and even inflammation.
If you suffer from digestive issues after consuming grain based products that are high in gluten (wheat) it would be a good idea to get yourself tested for gluten sensitivity or simply cut down on the amount of gluten you eat.
From a nutrition point of view, knowing your metabolic rate is important because it measures the amount of energy expended during a given time period which can then translate into what your body needs nutritionally.
Everyone needs a minimum number of calories (your basal metabolic rate) to sustain functions of the body. However, your BMR will always be different to someone else’s BMR because factors such as your age, your activity level, your muscle mass and your lifestyle in general play an important role.
How is your metabolic rate measured? Measuring your metabolic rate can be a complicated process. There are calculators online that will provide you with approx. measure. If finding your basal metabolic rate interests you, speak with a personal trainer or a fitness expert who has access to a metabolic rate testing lab in the UAE.
The GI (glycemic index) is a rating system that contains carbohydrates which shows you how quickly each food affects your blood sugar (glucose) when that food is consumed on its own.
It’s a useful reference for men and women who need to keep an eye on their sugar levels (diabetes) but can also be used to help you lose weight and generally cut back on consuming too much sugar in food and drink.
However, people can find the GI system a bit misleading at times because lower GI foods may not necessarily be healthier from a nutritional standpoint.
High GI foods tend to be:
Processed foods with lots of added sugar
Refined grains like white rice
Low GI foods tend to be:
Wholegrain foods including brown rice
Some fruit and vegetables
From a nutritional perspective, low GI foods can help with weight loss if that’s your goal because your blood sugar levels will rise and fall more slowly. This means it might help you stay fuller for longer and reduce the need to snack between meals.
The term ‘superfood’ seems to be used more and more as science continues to provide a deeper understanding of the nutritional elements contained in foods.
Technically, the term is misleading because there is no single food that is so nutritional that you could live on it alone.
Superfoods tend to have a higher concentration of certain nutrients which in turn can help you lead a healthier lifestyle but when a product is marketed as a superfood you need to take that information lightly.
Because of their nutritional benefits you will find the foods below often termed as superfoods.
Although many foods contain higher levels of some nutrients (vitamins, minerals, healthy fats) they should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet in the UAE.
According to a study by the National Library of Medicine organic foods can contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides and may provide additional health benefits when compared to commercially grown crops and livestock.
The term organic refers to foodstuffs that are grown without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and those that are not genetically modified.
The debate surrounding the use of GM crops continued but when possible, from a nutritional point of view eating organic does tend to be healthier for you.
Of course the cost of going completely organic is prohibitive for some people in the UAE. Organically grown vegetables and organically reared livestock are often more expensive but if your budget allows it, switching to organic as part of a healthy eating lifestyle is a good idea.
Diets around the world have changed over the decades to include more foods that are higher in added sugar.
When you consider the amount of sugar in fast foods, pre packaged meals and soft drinks it’s no wonder that in UAE diabetes has reached such large numbers.
Diabetes affects all ages too with increasing numbers seen in children and teenagers.
So what does insulin have to do with nutrition?
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use glucose and keeps your blood sugar levels balanced. When you consume too much sugar in your diet there is a risk that you may become insulin resistant.
Insulin resistance, caused by the overconsumption of sugar makes it harder for the body’s cells to take in glucose. This can ultimately cause a range of health problems from being overweight to eyesight issues and even damage to vital organs.
To keep your insulin in check it’s vital that you keep an eye on your diet, reduce the amount of added sugars and generally try to lead a fitter lifestyle through proper nutrition and regular exercise.
Don’t get too confused by all the nutrition terms you will hear relating to healthy eating in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Just try to take sensible advice and enjoy a well-balanced diet that is fresh, contains an appropriate amount of carbs, proteins and fats.