Two handfuls of veggies
As the fixation with what and how much we eat becomes a global one, it’s hard not to come by myriad terms that quantify our food intake and its corresponding calorific value. But the simple-to-complex-to-simple cycle in food, as in fashion, is a vicious one. And going by the tenets of the Scandi Sense diet, the latest entrant to the heady world of food regimens, it seems like it’s back to basics — at least for some time.
A handful of protein
Devised by Suzy Wengel, CEO of a Danish biotech company, the diet is based on her experience of losing 40 kg after the birth of her second son in 2011. When she was able to keep the kilos off successfully, she studied to qualify as a dietician, and recently shared in her book, The Scandi Sense Diet (Octopus Books, Hachette), the principles that had helped her regain her ideal weight and confidence. The first part of the name being self-explanatory given Wengel’s origins, the second half comes from common sense, a notion she insists people apply to their food in relation to its composition and quantity, instead of obsessing over every calorie, or letting their guard down altogether, on the contrary.
In a nutshell, the Scandi Sense Diet is this: you eat three meals a day, ensuring each meal contains two handfuls of vegetables and a handful each of protein, and starch and/or fruit, along with one to three tablespoons of fat. Wengel advises that you see each meal in terms of a flexible meal box, where the handful principle can be adjusted for a meal as long as you compensate for it in the preceding or the next meal. She even allows for indulgences — chocolates, chips, sweet and alcoholic beverages, etc — as long as you enjoy them in limited quantities, and keep the overall balance of your food intake for the day in mind.
A handful of starch (carbs) and/or fruit
“In the nine months [during which I lost 40 kg], I ate three meals a day. One day, it struck me that my meals always had the same basic combination of vegetables, protein, starch (or fruit) and some fat. And when I placed my hand over the meal it reflected my hand size,” says Wengel in an email interview from Langeskov, Denmark.
One to three tbsp of fat
Having fluctuated between a lean and an obese body for most of her life, she admits in the book how she would go on a diet, shutting out several food items, but let go completely once she had achieved her goal. On how the handfuls principle for three meals was different from what she had tried earlier, Wengel says, “The satisfying meals and [flexible] structure helped me gain control of my craving for large amounts of food and sweets — I was not very hungry between meals. The simplicity of not counting calories or weighing my food kept me going without losing motivation. And three meals a day was manageable.”
The Indian context
Given that the book is based on the official dietary advice of the Danish Health Board, and that the climate and food habits are vastly different in Denmark and India, can the guidelines of the Scandi Sense diet be followed here? It is okay to follow the diet in principle, but it needs to be done under expert supervision to get the choice of food right, cautions Dr Eileen Canday, HOD, Nutrition and Dietetic department, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital. “You must consult a registered dietician in India to rule out medical conditions like diabetes or nutritional deficiencies, and to ensure what you are eating is suitable and safe for you,” she says.
Dr. Eileen Canday
Dr. Canday is also not quite comfortable with the idea of substituting a cereal with an alcoholic beverage or a fizzy drink. “This can elevate blood sugar levels if done frequently. Also, these drinks contain empty calories unlike cereals and grains,” she says.
She, however, points to the fact that measuring food using the palm of the hand has been a common practice in India, especially among community health practitioners, who find it easier to explain food quantities in handfuls than precise, standardised units to certain sections. She also draws parallels between the meal box and the thali. “The Indian style of eating in a thali is a good way to balance your diet. A thali is divided in such a way that it comprises whole grains, dals, vegetables and salads along with dairy products like curd or buttermilk. Its components provide you with essential macro and micro nutrients, fibre, vitamins and minerals,” she says.
Considering that in India, it is one person who usually cooks for the rest of the family, the individual needs to be made aware of the handful concept to ensure the success of the diet plan, Dr Canday explains. “Also, the roti is often the foundation of what we eat, and the size varies. Measuring your roti intake in handfuls may be difficult,” she adds.
A 2007 photo of Suzy Wengel when she weighed 90 kg
Wengel, who says it would be interesting to write a book together with an Indian cook, points out that the one thing to bear in mind is that the amount of bread, rice and oil/butter has to be adjusted to the meal-box model, at least twice a day. “You just have to go through the handfuls and ask yourself: ‘Where are my one to two handfuls of vegetables? My handful of protein (also legumes)? My handful of starch (or fruit)? And my fat?’ This way you get your satiety from vegetables and protein, and you don’t overeat bread, rice or oil/butter,” she elaborates.
The author now. Pics/Skovdal Nordic
“It is more a lifestyle than a diet. The basic idea is that you eat a Scandi Sense version of the food you usually have,” Wengel sums up.
An Indian Scandi Sense dish
Chicken tikka masala
Handful 1-2: Tomatoes (eat a salad or some steamed vegetables on the side)
Handful 3: Chicken
Handful 4: Rice or naan bread
Fat: Cream, oil/butter
Dairy product: Yogurt
Flavourings: Masala, other spices, and herbs
The trick is to add enough chicken, eat some vegetables on the side and go easy on the rice or naan. If you are a vegetarian, just eat legumes in handful 3. You can eat two handfuls of starch in one meal, and save another during the day. This gives it flexibility.
As suggested by Suzy Wengel