Cut the karak chai as experts warn of hidden calories in some foods

Everyday foods packed with sugars and fats can contribute to weight gain and strain the heart

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Hidden calories and food loaded with unseen fats are big contributors to weight gain, according to nutritionists.

From karak chai to sandwiches and smoothies, everyday foods often seen as healthy alternatives can have as much salt, sugar and fat as some of the most common fast-food staples.

Typically, the recommended daily calorie intake for the average woman is about 2,000, while men, who are usually bigger, need about 2,500 calories from food each day to convert into energy.

“People count calories, but not always the nutrients,” said Ilse Onderweegs, a nutritionist at ICO Healthy Living in Dubai.

One hundred calories of broccoli is very different to 100 calories consumed in an apple or muffin. The biggest mistake people make is ignoring the nutrient density of food
Ilse Onderweegs, ICO Healthy Living, Dubai

“One hundred calories of broccoli is very different to 100 calories consumed in an apple or muffin, for example.

“It is not always about calories in versus calories out, but what those calories are feeding your body ― is it nutrient dense or high in fibre?

“Even though it is healthy food, the calories consumed would be more than the equivalent weight in berries or avocado, for example.

“Granola bars and protein bars always [have] hidden calories, and have added sugar and preservatives.”

Children require much less energy to see them through the day ― with just 1,200 calories needed for girls aged 4-8 years old, and 1,400 calories for boys of that age.

Older children and teenagers need a little more, with doctors recommending girls aged 9-13 consume up to 1,600 calories daily, and boys 1,800.

Fat should make up no more than 35 per cent of food intake, ideally with polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids sourced from fish, nuts and vegetable oils.

Excess calories are stored in the body as fat, and can lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular illness and some cancers.

Good carbs vs bad carbs

Ilse Onderweegs, a nutritionist, says simply counting calories can lead to eating all the wrong foods. Photo: ICO Healthy Living

While carbohydrates are essential for regular bodily function, eating the wrong kind can also contribute to weight gain.

Eating carbs increases your blood-sugar level, prompting the release of insulin. Too much of this and the body stores it as sugar in our liver and muscles, but when these areas are overloaded the extra sugar is stored as fat, also leading to weight gain.

Bad carbohydrates are found in white bread, rice, pasta, crisps and snack foods ― whereas healthier carbs can be sourced in brown rice, beans and fresh fruit, but should still be eaten in moderation, experts said.

“The biggest mistake people make is ignoring the nutrient density of food,” Ms Onderweegs said.

“If you feed your body nutrient density your calorie intake will be lower because you will feel full for longer.

“Some fruits have hidden calories, and can be high in sugar, which can contribute to weight gain, like grapes or watermelon.

“Attitudes towards food are changing, as they are with health in general.

"There is more understanding now of the need to feed ourselves with the right foods to have more energy, and feel better overall.

“The more natural foods we eat, with plant products and lean proteins that are not processed, is the best way to maintain good health.”

Top five foods with hidden calories

Granola / cereal bar

Granola and cereal bars can contain surprising amounts of calories because of their high sugar content. Photo: David Corby

471 calories

9 grams of fat

14g carbohydrate

Salmon and cheese bagel

Dubai, UAE, September 16, 2013: 

Ixir, a spa inside of the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, offers its clients a detox diet. The meals are all gluten free. 

Seen here are gluten free salmon bagels.
Lee Hoagland/The National *** Local Caption ***  LH1609_DETOX_DIET_08.JPG

453 calories

14g fat

58g carbohydrate

Butter chicken curry

Handout of Butter chicken curry. Courtesy of Masala Food Fair *** Local Caption ***  Tikka Masala.jpg

497 calories

24g fat

40g carbohydrate

Salami, six slices

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - - -  June 13, 2013 --- Various products with camel meat or camel diary, like camel hot dogs, camel salami sandwich and mint lemonade with camel milk.   ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  DJ-1306-AL-CamelHotDogs-001.jpg

214 calories

18g fat

2g carbohydrate

Karak chai, cup

A handout photo of karak tea from Logma in Dubai (Courtesy: Logma) *** Local Caption ***  al01jl-karak-logma.jpg

100 calories

2g fat

20g carbohydrate

And some healthier alternatives

Baked potato with salsa

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. March 10, 2015///

Burning love baked potato, topped with butter, sour cream, russian salad, sweet corn, black olives, salt and pepper, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, and spring onion. The American style diner Fly Hotdog Restaurant in Khalidiyah. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National 

Reporter: Stacie Overton Johnson 
Section: Arts & Life  *** Local Caption ***  150310-MM-FlyHotdog-016.JPG

80 calories

9g fat

37g carbohydrate

Six banana oat cookies

A serving of six banana oatmeal cookies has just 48 calories and just 0.7g of fat. Victor Besa / The National

48 calories

0.7g fat

4g carbohydrate

Ricotta cheese-stuffed pita

Dubai - May 23, 2011 - A plate of pea hoummus with vegetables and pita bread is a healthy snack for children or anyone in Dubai, May 23, 2011. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)

94 calories

12g fat

20g carbohydrate

Updated: June 29, 2022, 11:29 AM