This is a very basic topic which is vital for quantifying our food. Eating home-cooked meals is the gold standard when it comes to fitness. However, a plate of home cooked food does not come with a nutrition label saying X amount of calories with Y amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat. So, how do we get this information?
Step 1: Measure the raw materials.
Measuring your food may seem strange and alien, but it is very important. Guessing the quantities can lead to disaster(in terms of fitness goals):
Many people over-complicate this measurement step while starting out. Then they find it too tedious and stop. So let me first cover what you won’t need to measure:
- Spices(Turmeric, coriander, chilli, garam masala etc),
- salt, (Worried about sodium? Watch this)
- ginger/garlic/green chilli
- seeds used for “tadka” (Indian method of flavoring oil).
- Leafy vegetables
- Small amounts of shallots/onion/tomato (1/2 a cup)
This is because, these things contribute negligible calories/macros to a meal. Water contributes 0 calories too (But it might be convenient to track this to standardize your meals so that you don’t need to calculate serving sizes every time).
Now, there are also things that people absolutely need to measure but often miss out:
- Oil/Fat used for tadka/marination/frying etc (Wondering about healthy oils? Click here)
- Nuts/Raisins/Cream/Butter for garnish
- Coconut (any of its forms: milk, desiccated, shredded, fresh, powder etc)
- Potatoes and certain vegetables(like carrot, beetroot, etc)
- And ofcourse, your main ingredients like grains, meat etc.
Vegetables other than green leafy vegetables may need to be considered because they contribute double or more calories in comparison to green leafy vegetables. Having said that, it is possible to have a ballpark estimate for them without going crazy. Typically, I reserve about 50kcal per meal where I eat a serving of vegetable.
However, whether you use 5 g of oil to cook it or 10g of oil will matter a lot because oil/fat contains 9kcal per gram and can quickly go out of control if left untracked.
Step 2: Find the calories/macros for the ingredients
This step has been made easy by several great apps. I recommend Fittr because it is completely free and it helps you track macros as well as calories without a “Premium” subscription. If you are not a smart phone person and prefer using a desktop/laptop browser, just use google search or myfitnesspal website.
Remember to check for raw/uncooked macros and use weight measures rather than volume measures. Cooked item macros are highly unreliable due to differences in cooking style. Also, weight measures are way more accurate than volume measures.
Step 3: Add it all up
Again, another step made really easy if you are using Fittr app. It will automatically show you the sums. You can also use other apps like myfitnesspal but they keep some of the useful features for “Premium” customers. If you are using a desktop/laptop, there is the myfitnesspal website that can help you or the trusty old excel sheet (Or google sheets) complete with formulas.
(Optional) Step 4: Save it for later
Most people on a diet will eat same quantities of same ingredients almost daily. Such a diet is ofcourse easy to prepare groceries for as well as track.
Contrary to popular belief, same ingredients DOES NOT make a diet boring. Lack of creativity makes it boring. The basic meal of chicken, rice and veggies with a 10g knob of ghee can be prepared in different ways with different spices and cooking techniques.
So once you know the ingredients you like, you should be able to save the calorie/macro for quick access. Again, Fittr makes this easy for you to do.
If there is a certain combination that you always repeat, eg: 40g rice, 100g chicken, 10g ghee and 150g palak, Save the macros of this entire meal as a new food item for yourself.
As you do this every day for a week or so, it will become really easy. Some people who follow IIFYM literally do this multiple times every single day. It takes only 2-3 minutes once you get the hang of it.
It may seem daunting when you haven’t done it before, but quantification of food actually brings in a lot of certainty in the fitness journey. It allows you to understand your body better and correlate the results(or lack of). Even the habit of simply logging your food (if you are not actively controlling your diet) will give you and your trainer/coach valuable inputs.
So now you can find out the calories/macros of your plate of home cooked food. But do you know how many calories you need and what your macros should be? You also need to understand your fitness goal and why your dietary intake is the prime factor controlling your success.