Updated Sep 11, 2015 01:42pm

Should you really have another jalebi? A nutritionist speaks out

An iftaar isn't complete without the sugary excesses of jalebis, and it's wreaking havoc on our waistlines! — All photos by the author, unless specified
An iftaar isn't complete without the sugary excesses of jalebis, and it's wreaking havoc on our waistlines! — All photos by the author, unless specified

Every year when Ramzan approaches many of us make ourselves a promise: take advantage of the month’s dietary changes to lose some weight and get back in shape.

"Yes, it will happen this year," we tell ourselves as we imagine looking less like Peter from Family Guy come the end of the month.

Yet when Eid al-Fitr celebrations approach, we still can’t head to the trial room with a 'small' sized kurta without the sales clerk raising his hands in alarm and asking us to pay for the garment before trying it on, , and we find it difficult to devour the Eid feasts without our shalwars sobbing in protest.

No, instead of shrinking, our bodies grow large enough to develop their own gravitational pull. In fact, I can see a small moon revolving around mine, though it could also be a doughnut.

At this stage, I think it is prudent to mention that this article is for those whose weight-loss plans make more U-turns than a certain political party’s chairman. If you are a thin person, congratulations, go dip those aslee ghee kay french fries in your bucket of ice cream and have a good day. No, this article is for those of us who subconsciously loosen up their kamarbands when they hear the azaan at iftaar time.

Our inability to convert fasting into healthy weight loss stems from the calorie-rich traditional foods which grace our dinner tables during iftaar. We know these foods aren’t very nutritional, yet when they sneak their way on to our plates, there is very little we can do but eat them (only to enter self-loathing later).

Exactly how rich are these foods? (The following calorie counts are a range from various sources on the internet.) Dr. Ayesha Abbas, a professional nutritionist who can be found at the Medi Clinic in Karachi, was kind enough to offer some insight.

Deep fried aloo (potato) samosas = 250 to 310 calories

Typically consumed with yummy chutneys, these large fried potato pastries are not just delicious, but shockingly calorie rich. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the mood for an aloo samosa I can’t just have one, I typically eat two before moving on to other treats. That’s up to 600 calories consumed in an appetizer!

Dr. Ayesha, “If you must have a samosa, then the baked variety is certainly a healthier option. The aloos themselves are good as they contain vitamin C. But I can’t recommend more than one samosa a day. There are better options such as grilled chicken or fish.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? According to mnm.com, on average a 3.5mph walk for 60 minutes will burn 300 calories (varies according to your weight).

Deep fried meat samosas = 140 to 190 calories

Available locally in varieties of chicken or beef, these are half the size of their aloo cousins and feature a lighter pastry, hence total fewer calories.

Dr. Ayesha, “Growing kids love keema (mince) samosas. They are tasty and provide them with the energy they need. They are also rich in iron. But again, I wouldn’t recommend to have more than either one vegetable or keema samosa a day. The calorie content is simply too high.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? Everydayhealth.com says by running at 6 miles an hour for 13 minutes you should be able to shake off 150 calories (varies according to your weight).

Deep fried spring rolls = 120 to 140 calories

Over the last few years, fried spring rolls have become a regular feature on iftaar tables. They are certainly delicious. The crunchy crust of the exterior makes for a tasty combination with the crunchy vegetables and tasty meat filings inside.

“I would recommend a spring roll more than a samosa as it contains veggies like cabbage which help with digestion. I would suggest making an atay ka (flour-based) roll and steaming the veggies. If you must use oil, just spray a little and bake it.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? If you aren’t fond of moving, then perhaps you can try standing? According to the BBC, you can stand for three hours and burn 150 calories. Now go stand in that corner! Or try to find a really long tarawih prayer.

Deep fried pakoras = 45 to 60 calories

It is difficult to resist these fried onion, potato and chili pepper fritters. So difficult in fact, that many polish away ten pakoras without thinking. Now just take a moment to do the math. That’s a lot of calories.

Dr. Ayesha, “These aren’t very nutritional, but you can add veggies such as spinach to help people with constipation. Those who have issues with blood pressure should avoid pakoras made with baking soda. I really wouldn’t recommend more than two pakoras a day.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? Livestrong.com mentions you can burn between 1.5 to 2 calories a minute by just kissing. So after twenty minutes or so of kissing, you should burn away a pakora. The real challenge is to find someone who will kiss you after you’ve had one though.

Dahi phulki = 350 - 450 calories

Dahi phulkis certainly carry more calories than I expected. Sadly, the culprits here are the deep fried phulkis made from besan (gram flour), which stack up the fat content. But as the good doctor explains, there is a hack for chefs to make their dahi phulkis healthier.

According to Dr. Ayesha, “Use skimmed yoghurt for the dahi, and for the phulkis, after you fry them, leave them in warm water for some time, and then gently squeeze them later to release the oil.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? Dance baby, dance! It may be Ramzan, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance at home alone (just make sure the curtains are closed). Livestrong.com says a person weighing 155 pounds can burn up to 450 calories by dancing at vigorous speed. You could also dance like Tahir Shah in ‘Eye to Eye’, but then to burn 450 calories may take a few weeks of continuous dancing.

Spicy Channa topped with Wholewheat Papri = 289 calories (Eat Fit)

Cholay may have high calorie content, but they are certainly nutritious. The cholay chaat is usually prepared with spices, chutneys, and veggies, and is a good option.

Dr. Ayesha says, “Cholay certainly look good on the iftaar table and are an excellent option with a nice selection of veggies. The whole-wheat papri can also add the right crunch.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? Depending on your weight and the intensity of the viewing, you can burn over 70 calories an hour by simply watching a film! So after you eat those cholay, go watch Sholay.

Fruit Chaat = 125 calories (Eat Fit)

— Photo courtesy bitlanders.com
— Photo courtesy bitlanders.com

Dr. Ayesha says, “There is nothing I can recommend more wholeheartedly than a mix of fruits. Eaters suffering from sugar issues can avoid adding glucose rich fruits such as mangoes. If you wish to add some more flavor, just use some chaat masala, but do avoid adding sugar.”

How long does it take to burn the calories? Reading can spend around a calorie a minute, so you can use up the energy from the fruit chaat by sitting down with a couple hours with your favorite read. Heck, you probably burned 10 calories thanks to this article alone!

Jalebi = 150 calories

The good news is that one piece of jalebi has only 150 calories. The bad news as, Boromir (Sean Bean) from The Lord of the Rings would say, “One does not simply eat one piece of jalebi!”

Unfortunately, these fried intensely sugary treats have little to offer your health. How bad are they? Well, a blog on The Huffington Post lists jalebi as one of the ten most fattening foods in the world.

Sorry jalebi, that’s not a good list to be on.

Dr. Ayesha agrees, “No. No nutritional value. Just no.”

Rooh Afza = 90 calories

— Photo courtesy cheflingtales.com
— Photo courtesy cheflingtales.com

This favorite drink for Indians and Pakistanis alike has long been served regularly at iftaar tables. It has developed quite a reputation and good will, especially amongst the older generation, and for good reason. The original formula was said to have contained a mixture of fruits, vegetables, flowers, roots, and herbs. But is the drink so natural today?

From the product’s listing on Amazon.com, one can have a closer look at the ingredients of the modern mass market Rooh Afza.

Rooh Afza carries a healthy dose of FD&C Red 40, a synthetic dye produced from petroleum which today gives the drink its red color. Red 40 has been banned in many European nations. According to ukfoodguide.net, it is banned in ‘Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway.’

In other countries foods containing the dye carry the warning, “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Livestrong.com claims the dye can result in hypersensitivity in some people, hyperactivity in children, may be associated with cancer, and in some studies damaged the DNA of mice. Meanwhile, the UK Food Guide claims the dye has been linked to cancer in mice.

On the other hand, Red 40 is approved for use in the USA, and is found in countless foods across the country. Ultimately, the choice to consume a product carrying this dye is yours.

So what do you think... will you be changing up your iftaar habits?

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