Smart and easy foods

Smart and easy foods


Bananas are rated by most experts as the ideal snack. A ripe banana offers quick energy (equivalent to 5 teaspoons of sugar) and is also full of more complex carbohydrates, yet it is easy to digest. And they are not so calorie-laden as to be fattening unless you eat them in bunches! Bananas are also rich in potassium, an important mineral that helps to keep blood pressure low. Plus, it’s a “happy food": The food-to-mood relationship is bridged by neurotransmitters in our bodies. Bananas offer significant amounts of tryptophan and tyrosine—precursors to “happy" neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine! In fact, a banana delivers the same dose of serotonin naturally as a Prozac pill supplies artificially. The perfect pick-me-up for mid-afternoon blah.

Illustration by Jayachandran / Mint

Did you know? Jokes apart, bananas follow you from boardroom into the bedroom—potassium and B vitamins are necessities for sex hormone production.

Nutritional info: 1 banana (100g)

Calories: 90kcal

Protein: 1.1g

Carbohydrate: 23g

Fibre: 2.6g

Total fat: 0.33g

Saturated fat: Negligible

Cholesterol: Nil

Sodium: 1mg

Bonus: 362mg potassium, 5mg calcium.


Unless you’re desperate for a hot cuppa, forget caffeine-laden java and give soya milk a shot. Coffee and tea may perk you up at once, but they draw water gradually away, leaving you slower, duller, sleepier. Soya, on the other hand, stabilizes blood sugar, taking away that gnawing in the tummy, that droopy-eyed feeling. Soya is a low-carbohydrate source of high-quality protein with high satiety (meaning your appetite stays satisfied for longer and further cravings are reduced). Just make sure you pick natural over sweetened or flavoured (which are chock-full of sugar, salt and other unnecessaries).

Long-term benefits: By stabilizing blood sugar, soya foods also balance the hormonal see-saw that leads to weight gain. Cancer-fighting isoflavones are an added advantage.

Did you know? The latest superfood to battle hair loss: soya milk (and other soya products, according to a study in the Biology of Reproduction journal).

Nutritional info: 100ml soya milk

Calories: 54kcal

Protein: 3.27g

Carbohydrate: 6.3g

Fibre: 0.6g

Total fat: 1.75g

Saturated fat: Negligible

Cholesterol: Nil

Sodium: 51mg

Bonus: No cholesterol (which occurs naturally in milk), and great for those who can’t have milk because they are lactose intolerant.


Whole fruits in general are a rich source of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But crunchy fruits, such as apples, play an important part in sustaining blood sugar level, because the complex carbohydrates ensure a constant flow of energy. In addition, the apple’s sweetness comes from fructose—simple sugar for a quick energy (and mood) boost—which is channelled slower thanks to that hefty dose of fibre (so no sugar slump later).

Long-term benefits: That mega dose of fibre helps knock down cholesterol levels, reduces risk of hardening arteries, and, therefore, a stroke or heart attack.

Did you know? Apples help you breathe better! The antioxidants in them fight asthma, a couple of British studies have found.

Nutritional info: 1 apple (150g)

Calories: 77cal

Protein: 0.4g

Carbohydrate: 20.6g

Fibre: 3.6g

Total fat: negligible

Saturated fat: Negligible

Cholesterol: Nil

Sodium: 1mg

Bonus: 6.9mg vitamin C (a potent antioxidant) and 159mg potassium (see “Bet on Bananas").


Fresh figs are not easily available in India but dried figs are in abundance. An excellent source of potassium and fibre, figs are also a good source of vitamin B6, which is responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin (the same as with bananas). Plus they offer satiety because of high fibre content. A highly nutritious snack, but calorie-dense, so don’t go overboard.

Long-term benefits: Figs are a good source of calcium, which promotes bone density. They also prevent water retention (potassium at work), treating PMS and high blood pressure.

Did you know? Fig leaves aren’t just good for modesty, they can keep insulin dependency under wraps! One study added extract of fig leaves to insulin given to diabetics, and found they needed less. Cue for a platter of fig-leaf dolmades for lunch?

Nutritional info: 50g (5-6 dried figs)

Calories: 124kcal

Protein: 1.65g

Carbohydrate: 32g

Fibre: 4.9g

Total fat: 0.5g

Saturated fat: Negligible

Cholesterol: Nil

Sodium: 5mg

Bonus: 81mg calcium, 340mg potassium.


Dried apricots are often overlooked in favour of the more common raisins and dates. But it is a perfect on-the-go snack even if you are watching your weight: low on calories, yet so luscious (one apricot gives you only 17kcal), contains hardly any fat and has only a small amount of carbs. Yet it is satisfyingly chewy and has enough fibre to help you outlast the hunger pangs of the next busy hour. Just make sure you get the kind not treated with sulphites (specially bad for the sulphur-sensitive). They are brownish rather than a glowing orange, but taste just as yummy.

Long-term benefits: Apricots are an excellent remedy for anaemia (high iron content); plus the small but significant amount of copper helps make that iron available to your body. It protects the heart, too (high beta-carotene and lycopene content), fights carcinogens and counters high blood pressure (lots of potassium to balance modern sodium-rich diets).

Did you know? Apricots are a Nasa-approved super snack. Astronauts ate them on the Apollo moon mission.

Nutritional info: 50g (about?5?apricots)

Calories: 120kcal

Protein: 1.7g

Carbohydrate: 31.3g

Fibre: 3.6g

Total fat: 0.26g

Saturated fat: Negligible

Cholesterol: Nil

Sodium: 5mg

Bonus: 1,082mcg beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor). Just 2-3 apricots give you nearly 50% of your daily requirement of vitamin A (promoting good vision).


A combination of high quality protein and live bacteria that’s great for digestion, yogurt can be had sweet (add your own favourite fruits), spicy (bring along a pot with a seasoning of curry leaves, mustard and chillies for zing) or crunchy (add some flaxseeds for a vitamin E antioxidant boost). It combats hunger pangs and thirst (try it as lassi) without leaving you too stuffed and sleepy. And, of course, its pro-digestion properties counter the upsetting effects of stress.

Long-term benefits: Builds bones! It is rich in 10 vital nutrients: calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B2, B12 and B5, iodine, zinc, potassium, protein and molybdenum. Live bacterial cultures in natural and probiotic yogurts are another great nutritional advantage since they aid digestion. All in all, a great package to protect against tummy upsets, colds, osteoporosis, anaemia, blood pressure and more.

Did you know? Adding yogurt to your diet may rev up your body’s fat-burning engines, speeding up weight loss and trimming your tummy. Calcium-containing dairy products have been proven a dieter’s friend in studies, and yogurt is the easiest form to eat—skinnier than cheese and more readily available, and even kinder to the mildly lactose intolerant (many people who can’t tolerate milk find they can eat yogurt without any problems).

Nutritional info: 100g

Calories: 61kcal

Protein: 3.5g

Carbohydrate: 4.6g

Fibre: Nil

Total fat: 3.25g

Saturated fat: 2g

Cholesterol: 13g

Sodium: 46mg

Bonus: 121mg Calcium.


A cup of tea is what most of us reach for. Not too bad, if sipped judiciously. Tea contains an amino acid called theanine, which has relaxing properties. Avoid boiling the leaves: All that tannin makes it bitter, making you add more sugar and milk to mask the taste (extra calories, plus you won’t absorb the antioxidants in tea as well), besides causing constipation.

A herbal cup may be better still. For instance, camomile tea helps you relax, peppermint increases alertness.

Long-term benefits: All types of tea have antioxidants that combat free radicals, which helps prevent degenerative diseases such as heart disease.

Did you know? You can actually use tea as a mouthwash. A masala, tulsi or mint cuppa acts as a natural breath freshener (minus milk and sugar).

Nutritional info: Cup of camomile tea

Calories: 2kcal

Protein: negligible

Carbohydrate: Negligible

Fibre: Nil

Fat/cholesterol: Nil

Sodium: 2mg

Bonus: Helps you relax and soothes the digestive system.

Experts: Fahmina Anwar, team leader, nutrition and dietetics services, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon; Swarupa Kakani, chief dietician, Sagar Hospitals, Bangalore; Kajal Pandeya, chief dietician, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi; Deepa Satish, head, dietetics, Wockhardt Hospitals, Bangalore.

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GRANOLA BARS: Whole grains (hopefully), fruits and nuts; but they are often held together with sugary syrups (worst offender: high-fructose corn syrup) or dipped in chocolate or toffee—not much better than high-calorie chocolate candy bars.

If you must: Look for unsweetened/natural multigrain (whole grains that are fibre-rich, such as oats and barley, with perhaps added bran and dry fruits), without chocolate, peanut butter or peanuts.

Smarter choice:A small bag of plain (unsalted) nuts and dried fruits (cashews, almonds, apricot). More satisfying (complex carbs and fibre fill you up); better on the nutritional front ; cheaper; easy to carry. Staff Writer


FRUIT JUICE: Hugely calorific. Also, the sugar high is quickly followed by a crash. Most packaged “juices" are sweetened, so they’ll also make you thirstier than you started out!

If you must: Get it freshly squeezed or make sure it has no additives. And juice-wise, vegetables are better than fruits (less sugar).

Smarter choice: Fruit ‘chaat’ hydrates and satiates (thanks to the fibre in whole fruit, which juice lacks), and has fewer calories.

TEA DRINKS: Bottled varieties contain little brewed tea, but plenty of added sugar—enough to rival fizzy drinks.

If you must: Have black tea, add ice plus a squeeze of lime.

Smarter choice: Green tea is a potent antioxidant. It has thermogenic properties that encourage the body to burn fat, in addition to anti-cancer benefits. Staff Writer


Moms-to-be, please note: The more overweight you are, the more chubby your child is likely to become, a new study says.


Extending the concept of ayurvedic “wellness" spas, lately a dime a dozen, the Amatrra group has launched what it claims is a new concept combining medical services with traditional techniques. The facilities on offer include cosmetic procedures such as dermatology, “aesthetic surgeries" and cosmetic dentistry, alongside ayurvedic therapies, reflexology, nutritional therapy, as well as the usual anti-ageing, relaxation and “purification" treatments. The first A+ MediSpa has been set up in Delhi. Log on to ‘’ or call 46075757. Staff Writer