You Just Can’t Trust Nutrition Labels if You Want to Eat Right and Lose Weight

Nutrition 1in

The four speakers featured at the nutrition education workshop held last Saturday, December 27, at the Keshav Smriti were, from left, Dr. Sheela Keswani, Dr. Harpreet Singh, Shobit Keswani and Dr. Gangadhar Gattu.

By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: “So, as you can see, when you eat, the food goes down to the stomach and then ….,” he draws further down and across the white paperboard, “…. and then to the liver …,” he continues with his drawing, adding the kidney and the route food takes to be metabolized in the body. The diagram gets denser with lines as he gets delves into the anatomy of the process and the explanations get more complicated. But, it is at the tail end of the hour long seminar and, realizing that there may be an information overload, he stops, looking up over his glasses with a smile.

With his short, thick spikey porcupine hair and a smile bordering on impish, with a hint of mischievousness in his light humor, Dr. Harpreet Singh finishes his explanations about the nutritional value of the food we eat, especially that which comes with a nutrition label, which is practically everything these days except for alcohol and fresh food. It is a labeling system born out of pressure by the Consumer Protection Agency on the Food and Drug Administration, concluding with the FDA head Dr. David Kessler taking the then controversial step of requiring it on packaged foods in 1994. It has since spread to the European Union and many countries in the world, though the information is not widely understood or used properly.

Eliminating some of the confusion and misconceptions is what Singh, 42, has built his reputation on in his internal medicine practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan and at the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital to which he is attached and is a clinical instructor to medical students. He is also the founder and CEO of VitalChecklist, a Step 2 Clinical Skills mentoring service which has helped students and graduates to enhance their patient centered skills. Born and raised in Ludhiana, Punjab, Singh confessed that as a child he was a stutterer, but learned to overcome it with the use of art and other props. Now, he loves to communicate ideas and his findings as a coach on better nutrition.

Singh was on a short visit to the Bayou City at a workshop put together by Dr. Sheela Keswani, a professor of education at Houston Community College and a trained Alternative Medicine practitioner, speaker and trainer who has held other better health and living workshops in the area. Unfortunately, due to time limitations she was unable to speak to the audience of about 40 people who turned up for the workshop on Saturday, December 27 at the Keshav Smriti on the far west side, despite it being a rainy, cold afternoon and a long holiday weekend. She gladly gave her allotted time so that Singh, who had traveled from Grand Rapids, could respond to the audience’s numerous questions.

Singh explained how to read and make sense of the information on the nutrition labels, starting from the daily caloric intake. “The label is based on 2,000 calories, but the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book recommends 1,400 instead for healthy living,” he went on, showing that at 3.87 calories per gram, this rounded out to about 350 gms, half of which should come from carbohydrates and the other half from protein and fat. “Always note that the labels indicate the number of servings in each package,” he cautioned, as people often would consume more than they needed for daily intake.

Singh suggested catchy shortcut acronyms like SCAN and SPOT to remember what to look out for if one wanted to eat healthy and explained his iCrush program to cut down on calories and maintain or lose weight. With the 1,400 calorie intake, he broke down each meal to 45gm of carbs three times a day and an equal number for fats, adding 15gm snacks in between for diabetics. He then explained the relationship between blood sugar and carbs: going up fast with bad carbs and slowly with good carbs; and the focus on the glycemic index when it really should be on the glycemic load, which takes into account fiber content too.

The workshop started with a talk by Dr. Gangadhar Gattu, a chemical engineer, slim and not exhibiting any bulging abdominal waistline, and his personal quest to control his diabetes through diet and exercise despite a hereditary family history of the disease. It closed with a short demonstration of deep nostril breathing, similar to that in Vipassana Yoga, by Dr. Keswani’s son Shobhit, a 24 year-old medical student who practices holistic medicine therapy too.

“We hope to have Dr. Harpreet Singh here with us for the next year as he launches his VitalChecklist and iCrush programs in the Houston area,” said Dr. Keswani as the program wrapped up. The gregarious Dr. Singh, who was accompanied by his mother and wife Aroma Singh, mingled with the audience over healthy snacks afterwards. He was scheduled to go on to Dallas for a workshop before heading back to Houston for private consultations through January 2 and then returning to Grand Rapids.