Metabolism: Whats the magic number?

So what does Metabolism really mean?

Metabolism and Weight.jpg

Metabolism constitutes all the chemical processes within cells that together sustain life. But its most often spoken about in the context of food and how our body processes food. People love talking about their Metabolism. Often blaming it for a lot more than it deserves. But most of these discussions are in the abstract. What if we told you that there is a specific number that allows us to talk and work on our Metabolism in more concrete ways.

Enter BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate as health junkies everywhere know it. Your BMR is the minimum amount of energy your body needs while at rest. In a nutshell, BMR gives you the amount of calories you require through all the things that go into keeping you alive – breathing, blood circulation, body temperature control, cell growth, brain function, and contraction of muscles. Just these activities account for over 60-70% of the day’s calorie needs. The higher your BMR, the more calories you burn on a daily basis (by just living!). 

Factoid : Did you know your body is burning around 1.1 calorie/min even while you are reading this!

What determines your BMR?

Men have a naturally higher BMR than women (probably misleading generations of men into thinking they are fitter!). After the age of 30, BMR falls by about 2-5% every decade. This explains all the ‘Dad Bod’ talk these days! Evolutionary hacks developed by our body mean that our BMR gets a boost during winters, so we can do less with more. This is probably why grandmothers have always advised adding butter, ghee and lots of nuts to your diet during winters! When you fall sick, with every degree of rise in body temperature, your BMR increases by 7%, exactly why you reduce those pounds during illnesses.

Body composition also influences BMR. People with higher fat mass are low on their calorie utilising capacity (i.e. lower BMR’s). Exercise! Work those muscles like there’s no tomorrow! Living a predominantly sedentary existence decreases your BMR. Years of obesity can lead to serious Hormonal disorders, diabetes and heart disease. 

The first step in figuring out how you want to treat your body and understand your food intake is to calculate your BMR.

We’ll do it for you. Click here to give us your stats, for a calculation of your BMR.

So how do I boost my BMR?

Its simple:

1. Eat smaller and frequent meals i.e. – healthy snacking is good for you!


Snacking between meals is a wonderful way to ensure that you don’t overdo things during mealtimes. But snack wisely. Not all snacks are equal. Find fruits, nuts, vegetables and other foods rich in nutrients! superbites superbars, granolas and roasted nut mixes are excellent snacks between meals.

2. Eat from all the food groups – Carbs, Fats, Proteins and Micronutrients

Chose foods that make sure you’re eating from all the food groups in a balanced way. Do not completely cut out fats from your diet. Fats are critical in numerous functions of the body and unsaturated fats are wonderful addition in the form of Nuts, Seeds, Oily Fish and Avocado.

3. Exercise, Move and Get Active

Exercise hard! Work those muscles, not only to burn calories but also o-EMPLOYEE-EXERCISE-facebook.jpgto build up and maintain lean tissue. The World Health Organisation recommends 3-4 hours of exercise every/week is recommended globally by World Health Organisation. Adequate sleep is also an absolute must. At least 6-7 hours of sleep at a stretch gives your muscles sufficient ‘repair time’. This is that time of the year when your metabolism is at its peak (thank the cold weather!).

4. Sleep well

Poor sleeping habits can really hurt how our body breaks down food. Sleep deprived people have a very hard time metabolising carbohydrates effectively. So get yourself 6-7 hours of restful sleep to allow the body to repair itself of damages during wakefulness and to break down those foods.

Apart of these, remember that Proteins are central to lots of body functions. But they’re also great at helping you burn calories. Nutritionists recommend 1 – 1.2 g of Protein per Kilogram of Body weight to maintain existing muscle mass. Protein intake is especially helpful in healing muscle wear and tear from your intense workouts and physical activities. A diet rich in the right kind of lean proteins leads to a lean body mass, which in turn gives us a calorie burning a boost. Thus boosting your BMR! Vegetarians, take note. You need protein intake to keep your metabolism in a healthy balance. Vegetarians can get their protein from nuts, dairy, soy and legumes. 

In summary, Eat Wisely and Frequently.Exercise. Be Active. Sleep. Repeat.

Click here to give us a few of your stats and we’ll give you your BMR.

And you can get started on a rewarding journey to better understand your body and its adventures with food!

Further Reading

eat.delete by Pooja Makhija is an excellent primer on BMR and how to manage it

Metabolism – Wikipedia Entry

Sleep and Metabolism – Wikipedia Entry

superbites BMR Calculation Page

What can Brown do for you? – Lessons from Maillard Browning and Caramelization

At superbites, we are crazy about all things nuts. And we’re total suckers when you add science to the mix. We have often been asked, ‘Why roast nuts?’. Well, there are two reasons for that: (1) Roasted nuts taste brilliant; and (2) Roasting makes nuts even more nutritious!

‘Lets Science the shit out of this!’

Nuts are loaded with phytochemicals that are absolutely great for you. But research suggests that the human body can only access these nutrients if their carriers (nuts in this case) are roasted. Roasted nuts aren’t just delicious, they are also digested a lot more easily. Roasting turns all the phytochemicals into a form that is easier to absorb and process. In other words, roasting makes the best nutrients in nuts bioavailable.

Food geeks will yell out in unison that we are ignoring the contribution of the ‘Maillard Reaction’ – a browning of foods that unlocks both flavours and nutrients. Frenchman Louis-Camille Maillard first observed this browning in cooked foods and wrote about it in 1913. As always, the French know their food!top_chef_masters_maillard_reaction

Years of subsequent research by other scientists confirmed that the browning was caused when the Amino Acids in foods react with sugars at temperatures around 154°C. This reaction unlocks hundreds of new compounds which bring amazing new flavors to the food. Depending on the amino acid makeup of foods, a distinctive set of flavor compounds are formed during the Maillard reaction. This browning is seen in a whole range of foods like fried nuts, onions, breads, roasted coffee, steaks and meats.

In nuts Maillard browning is a quite a delicate process. Go Nuts - Like a Cavemantoo high with roasting temperature, and you risk killing off the best nutrients and overdoing the nuts. At superbites, we slow roast nuts in small batches, and make sure they’re super-crunchy and nutritious! We cook up cashews, almonds and pistachios in plain, salted, sweetened and spiced varieties. Even cavemen knew they were making the right choice!

What’s Caramelization? Isn’t that the same as Maillard Browning?

Caramelization is quite different from Maillard Browning. True, at first sight, they seem similar to both our eyes and taste buds. But Maillard Browning is caused by the breakdown of amino acids in tandem with sugars.

Caramelization on the other hard, is merely the browning of sugars when they are broken down. When exposed to heat, sugars brown starting 160°C and then melt past 180°C. With every degree of temperature increase, the color of this syrup changes from a light yellow and gets closer to a deep brown. Now for the cool part; along with the color change, the taste evolves as the syrup turns into a rich, complex and aromatic form.

Now typically we associate caramelisation with that delicious gooey brown sauce that we pour over our triple scoop ice cream sundae. But lots of other interesting foods are a result of these browning phenomenon.Sesame-Roasted-Carrots

Here’s an interesting fact: Carrots are the cool kids on the block. They undergo the Maillard Reaction and then caramelize as the heat’s turned up further! (Waits for you to gather your mind which has just been blown away.) At first, the inherent amino acids in carrots break up on heating, explaining the Maillard reaction. Carrots have very high glucose, sucrose and fructose content. At higher temperatures, these sugars caramelize. Don’t be embarrassed to show off this bit of food wisdom the next time you’re at a dinner party!

Why are we at superbites talking about Maillard Browning and Caramelization? Because our Candied Cinnamon Almonds see both phenomena. Order your jar today to taste two wonders of science in one awesome snack!

Pick up a trail mix or our delicious candied cinnamon almonds or one of many kinds in our nut catalog and munch away!



Further Reading

Maillard Reaction – Wikipedia Entry

Frying, Boiling and the Maillard Reaction – Science Fare

Even our Naked Ancestors loved Nuts! – superbites blog

What Caramelization? – Science of Cooking

Umami – What’s Maggi got to do with it?


Picture this. A woman in her twenties bargains with a storekeeper and passes him a crisp Hundred Rupee note. The storekeeper looks to his right, and then to his left, before sliding a yellow pack into the woman’s shopping bag. A hundred rupees for a pack of Masala Maggi!

Welcome to the prohibition. It won’t be long before speakeasies serving up Maggi’s various ‘Mera Walla Taste’ recipes crop up in our cities. I’m imagining gangs dividing Bombay for Maggi bootlegging rights. Maggi seems to ignite serious emotions in people all over India and abroad. Over the past two months, people with no political or social affiliations are crying themselves hoarse about how the government has no right to take away their Maggi. Its strange that instant noodles gets people so riled up!

maggi ban

So, how did we get here? A few months ago, authorities at the seriously understaffed FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) found above normal traces of Lead and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in some Maggi packs in Uttar Pradesh. For decades, surveys of soil and water all around the country have yielded alarming stats on heavy metal levels. So news of excess Lead didn’t really surprise anyone. Our food and water are already making sure we get a lot more lead than we need! But, no ones ever won a rational argument with a regulatory agency. Its also typical of India’s regulatory authorities to first turn a blind eye for decades and then go ballistic with the regulations. Excess Lead is terrible, but lets talk about something more interesting

The MSG issue brings to mind some interesting history and lots of good science. While Nestle stridently denied the presence of MSG in Maggi, they did admit to the addition of Glutamates to the 2-minute classic. So whats the big deal with MSG or even Glutamates. And whats it got to do with people being so darn addicted to their Masala flavoured Maggi?

As kids, we learnt about the 4 basic tastes – Salty, Sweet, Bitter and Sour. But it surprises many when you tell them that there’s a fifth taste our tongues are able to discern. Its called ‘Umami’. By adding Glutamates to their product, Nestle was just trying to suck up to our Umami taste buds!

tongueUmami’s story

In 1908, a Japanese chemistry professor, Kikunae Ikeda was out for dinner with his family. His cucumber soup tasted a lot better than usual. He realised that the addition of kelp (a seaweed) was responsible for the difference in flavour. After an investigation, he concluded that the tastiness came from ‘savouriness’ present in certain foods like seafood. Such foods are able to ignite taste buds in ways that really make people fall in love with the flavours and tastes. He coined the phrase Umami. In his native Japanese, umai meant delicious and mi was essence.

Ikeda said, “Those who pay careful attention to their tastebuds will discover in the complex flavour of asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, a common and yet absolutely singular taste which cannot be called sweet, or sour, or salty, or bitter…”

But it was not until 1985 that the scientific community embraced Savouriness or Umami as an ‘official’ taste. This only confirmed what the master chefs of the Far East knew all along. But now we had good old fashioned science to back up the theory.

So whats the chemistry of Umami?

The real source for the Umami is the amino acid L-glutamate. Umami is the feeling we experience when receptors in our tongue meet the glutamate in food. The taste and aroma of these broken down ‘natural food chemicals’ is what lends the deliciousness that lots of wonderful foods from the East yield. Just how sweet is perceived as the taste of carbohydrates, umami is perceived as the taste of proteins.

Umami is like a savoury, broth like, full-flavour taste. It helps intensify the taste of salt and sweet, and balances bitter and sour flavours. Chefs had instinctively known that there was something extra that made their food tasty. Umami helped explain a lot that was vague about “taste” until then.

The good news with Umami-rich food, is that amino acids are available in a free state, so they can be easily absorbed and used by our bodies. This is probably why foods like Chicken Soup (loaded with broken down protein chains) are so therapeutic when you are ill. Glutamate is crucial for a healthy metabolism and works like a neurotransmitter in our brain. So all in all, there’s more good than bad that can come from the pursuit of Umami.

The Sources

There are umami_weblots of natural foods to get more Umami into your cooking. Foods that age (gracefully) like the cheeses – parmesan and gorgonzola, or roasted, fermented, ripened food are rich in Umami. Umami is also responsible for the incomparably complex, yet satisfying flavour of slow cooked food like soups and broths.

Other common sources that can easily be incorporated into daily cooking are ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, sardines, clams, wine, beer, green tea, walnuts, soy, olives, sea weeds, corn, peas, chicken, and fermented foods like Miso, Worcestershire and soy sauce. So grab an Umami source and elevate your home cooking!

The experts love it!

In his wonderimgresful book ‘Cooked’ food writer Michael Pollan wrote, “To work its magic, umami needs to be in the company of other ingredients. Just like salt, glutamate seems to italicise the taste of foods, but unlike salt, it doesn’t have an instantly recognisable taste of its own.”

Slow cooking the wonderful natural sources of Umami seems like one sure shot way to unlock those flavours. When cooked on a slow, low heat, the long necklaces of proteins in these ingredients break down into their constituent amino acids like glutamic acid resulting in tastes that are delicious and memorable.

Chefs all around have praised the positives of slow, low heat cooking and the use of umami-rich ingredients.Umami brings a multi-layered flavour profile that’s often the difference between a hastily put together meal, and one thats taken time and energy to put together.

Are food companies just being lazy?

Kikunae Ikeda’s story has a great commercially successful ending. He patented processes to manufacture and sell Glutamate commercially as the flavour enhancer (wait for it…..) MSG! Since its invention, Restaurants and Cooks everywhere have used MSG in abundance to simulate the Umami effect on our taste buds.


Indians are monstrous snackers and its no surprise that savouriness is by default our single biggest weakness. Today MSG (or its cousins) are found in food in Restaurants and Fast Food outlets everywhere in India. 

But MSG has received a lot of bad press over the years. The evidence that suggests that MSG is the work of the devil, is sketchy at best. The symptoms attributed to MSG-related allergies are too run-of-the-mill to hold up to any scientific studies. All studies now reflect, that UNLESS used in very large quantities, MSG is safe for human consumption. In fact, lots of smart people even believe that its ability to increase the perception of salt without adding table salt, is a great way to reduce salt intake across the board.

So in summary, its ok to use MSG in moderation. But its a lazy substitute when there are so many wonderful natural sources of Umami. While cooking, find ways to use naturally glutamate-rich vegetables like tomatoes or mushrooms. Use cheeses, fish and meat liberally. Even seaweed sometimes to simulate that ‘restaurant tastiness effect’.

keep calm2-Minutes of Silence for Maggi!

Through smart marketing (convincing the world that the Big B is an addict) and the right dose of Umami, Maggi has conquered the hearts and taste buds of Indians here and abroad. Lots of people were replacing most meals with the 2-minute classic. While the FSSAI’s move relied on poor science, and hubris, its unquestionable that 200 calories made mostly of Saturated Fat, Carbohydrates and almost 800 mg of Sodium isn’t what the Big B or anyone else really considers a wholesome meal. So lets all keep calm and switch over to smarter, healthier snacks. Also, lets not forget the Umami!

PS: 2 minutes of silence is probably in order for the lakhs of Maggi packs that Nestle had to destroy after paying Ambuja Cements 20 Crore Rupees for the task. Most people are thinking, ‘Damn, its worth so much more alive, than dead’

Keep it Real,


References and Further Reading

Despite ban maggi being sold at Rs 102 per packet in South Delhi

Wikipedia Entry on Kikunae Ikeda

Scientists have discovered a super-nutritious seaweed that tastes exactly like bacon

Mindless maggi ban shows weak state strikes –

What’s the difference between MSG and Glutamate

Buy ‘Cooked’ by Michael Pollan

Happiness is Umami