Dec 13, 2017

Plant-based Sources of Protein

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Before I proceed further, let me state upfront that I’m not a complete vegan yet. I do consume dairy products, out of habit (milk in my tea, curd). Though the quantity is less, I’m hoping I could put an end to it soon. I believe the commercially available dairy is harmful to health because of the various hormone injections, excess use of antibiotics etc. So I don’t consider dairy to be of any nutritional value, even though the media shouts on top of its voice with “high protein, high calcium” slogans.

I had earlier written about plant-based sources of calcium. Do check it out if you haven’t yet done so already.

Let’s come to the most “talked about” macro-nutrient - protein. I’m not going to get into the details of why we need protein. It is essential for various functions in the body, supports growth, maintenance and cell repair. What’s most relevant in today’s context is the requirement of protein.

It is usually estimated based on body weight (0.8-1.8 grams/kg of body weight). For a sedentary person, 0.8 gm/kg of body weight is sufficient. But if you have a physically demanding job or you do intense workouts, the requirement will increase upto 1.8 gm/kg of body weight.

Most of us would belong to the 0.8 - 1 gm/kg of body weight category.

For an adult with 54 kgs weight, 43.2 gms of protein is needed. 
For a child with 18 kgs weight, 14.4 gms of protein is needed.

Almost all children-targeted junk foods such as processed cheese, flavoured yoghurt, milk additive powders and milk supplements latch onto the “high protein” tag. If you look at the nutrition labels, the protein levels are very low. Even if they have adequate protein, they end up being high in sugar and/or salt, preservatives and artificial flavour enhancers.

So it is best to look for natural, plant-based sources of protein than rely on packaged foods for our protein needs.

Here’s a list of plant-based sources of protein I have compiled from IFCT-2017 tables.

1) Amaranth seeds (rajgira) are rich in protein, ahead of the much-publicized quinoa. Even though quinoa is rich in protein, it is not a native grain to India, has high food miles and is super expensive. I had earlier written about why Indians don't need quinoa and how a typical combination of rice/millets + various dals can help us get complete protein. Do take a look if you haven’t already seen it.

2) Each region of India has various lentil-based recipes, from numerous varieties of dals, sambhar, kootu, bisibhelebaath, usal, adai, pesarattu, chillas etc. Many avoid idlis for breakfast, saying “Oh, they are carbs”. Made with urad dal and usually served with sambhar or chutney podis, what more protein do we need? Sambhar is usually made with thuar dal or moong dal. Chutney podis are made with urad dal, channa dal and healthy seeds like sesame seeds, flaxseeds or peanuts - all high in protein. Mixed with a tsp of gingelly oil, the meal is complete, wholesome and highly nutritious. But we would rather choose a slice of store-bought brown bread and a preservative-loaded, high-sodium peanut butter. I seriously wonder why we need those expensive, artificial protein shakes and supplements, when our cuisines celebrate the protein-rich legumes in every possible way. Show-off, inflated egos, blindly aping the West, dismissing traditional cuisines because they are not “cool” ?

3) Curry leaves and drumstick leaves feature yet again in my list. Apart from protein, they are also high in calcium, iron, fibre and Vitamin A. If you don’t like to chew curry leaves, make it into a chutney podi and sprinkle on top of your protein-rich idlis or sabzis.

4) All varieties of beans such as cluster beans (guar / kothavarangai), broad beans (averakkai) and fresh peas are good sources of protein. Most of our Indian spices and condiments are also protein rich. Though we cannot consume 100 gms of say, methi seeds at a time, we can consume it in multiple ways throughout the day - a tsp of soaked methi seeds early morning, in sambhar or any gravy dish, roasted methi powder in rotis, pickles or thokkus, sprouted methi in salads etc. Instead of gulping down a protein-loaded shake in one meal, it is beneficial to make 3 wholesome, balanced meals with various sources of protein, thus providing opportunities for our body to absorb all essential amino-acids.

5) All nuts and edible seeds are rich sources of protein. Add a handful of groundnuts in poha for breakfast or add it to your salads - steamed or roasted. A handful of almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts will not only give you adequate protein but also essential fats. Sprinkle a tsp of toasted sesame seeds in your salads, add it to your parathas, make a chutney podi, make laddoos with jaggery - sesame seeds are so versatile and super healthy. They are the richest source of calcium too.

If you still believe that milk is essential for children because of high protein, well, let me share the facts - around 100 ml of whole milk (cow’s) contains only 3.26 gm of protein. The dairy industry has brain-washed us enough into believing that milk is high in protein, high in calcium and a mandatory food for children. None of this is true. It’s high time we question such beliefs that are blindly being passed on from one generation to the next.

“Anything in excess is bad” - this principle holds true for protein as well. A high protein diet can lead to kidney damage because of the excess strain on the kidneys. More details in this NYTimes article.

Dec 6, 2017

Review of Hershey's products

 I recently stumbled upon this article on Hershey’s growth plans for India. Two figures bother me - 

1. Their net sales in India grew 16% year-on-year during the Sept quarter, making it the fastest growing among Hershey’s core markets outside the US, which include Brazil and Mexico (as quoted in the article)
2. Hershey India plans to invest $50 million in India in the next 5 years.

Increasing sales, more investment coming to India, but at what cost? Our children’s health.

I remember this brand vividly because around 2 years back, my daughter used to ask me to buy Hershey’s Chocolate syrup for her, whenever she accompanied me to the supermarket. I had bought it twice but she didn’t like the taste of it when mixed with milk. The picture of the pack you see was bought in early 2016 and was lying in a corner in my pantry. Before I throw it out, I thought why not write about it first. 

As far as I could remember, this was the only product from Hershey’s lined up in the supermarket shelves in late 2015 or early 2016. Now there are so many other offerings from Hershey’s - milkshakes, milk booster, spreads and what not. 

First, let’s look at the ingredients of the Chocolate syrup. 

Hershey's Chocolate syrup

Ingredients - Sugar, Water, Invert Sugar, Liquid Glucose, Cocoa powder, Malt extract, Thickening agent (415), Class II preservative (202), Salt

Sugar features right on top (even before water). 
Invert Sugar and Liquid Glucose are all variants of sugar as well. 
As per the nutrition information, 100 gms of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup contains 63.6 gm of sugar. 

1 serving (approx 2 tbsp) equals 39 gms of chocolate syrup, which means 1 serving contains 6 tsp of sugar (25 gm).

If your child likes chocolate flavoured milk, mix a tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder with 2 tsp of sugar in a glass of milk and serve. What is the need for such sugar-heavy syrups?

Let’s not forget the Class II preservative - 202. 
Potassium Sorbate - inhibits the growth of mold (thereby helping the pack to last for 13 months from manufacture)
Has the potential to damage our DNA and is toxic to our white blood cells.
Sorbates have been associated with asthma, eczema, eye irritation, nasal irritation and behaviour problems among children. It also aggravates food intolerances.

If you see a mention of Class II preservative, it is better to stay away from such products. I had earlier written about it in Kissan Tomato Ketchup article as well.

Hershey’s milk booster 

Ingredients - Sugar, Water, Invert Syrup, Cocoa Solids 99.0%), Mineral (Tricalcium phosphate), Vitamin (Ergocalciferol), Edible Common Salt, Permitted Class II preservative (202), Thickening agent (415) and malt extract

As you would have observed, the ingredients list is very similar to that of chocolate syrup, except for the fortification of calcium and Vitamin D. 

Sugar features right on top here too.
As per the nutrition information, 100 gms of Hershey’s Milk booster contains 54 gm of sugar.  

The recommended serving size is 20 gm, which means 1 serving contains 2.5 tsp of sugar (10.8 gm)

Here’s the funny part - in the instructions to use, the pack states that “Pour approx 20 gm (4 tsp) into a cup with 160 ml of hot or cold milk. Add sugar to taste, stir well”.

In the task of “forcing milk down the child’s throat”, how much sugar are we giving?

The ad model Tara Sharma (yesteryear actress who is now in the business of promoting junk, just like her peers) is instructed to say that a glass of milk with milk booster gives twice the calcium as that of a glass of milk and is essential for growing kids. I wish there is a celebrity who would promote sesame seeds, ragi and curry leaves as high sources of calcium. Until then, let me keep reiterating. For those of you who haven’t read my earlier article on plant-based sources of calcium, please check it out here.

Hershey’s Milkshake

Yet another packaged drink that is promoted big time in cartoon TV channels like Disney. The tagline states “30% more calcium and 5 essential vitamins for growing kids”. 

Ingredients - Water, milk solids (10%), Sugar, Liquid Glucose, Emulsifier ((471), (460(i)), Cocoa Solids (0.25%), Mineral (Calcium Carbonate), Edible Common Salt, Sequestrant (339(ii)), Mineral (Zinc Sulphate), Vitamin E (Acetate), Vitamin A (Acetate), Vitamin D2(Ergocalciferol), Vitamin B1(Thiamine Chloride hydrochloride), Vitamin B2(Riboflavin)

Phew, that’s a long list of chemicals. Reminds me of Michael Pollan’s quote -  
Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar B) unpronounceable C) more than five in number or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup” 
A serving of 200 ml tetra pack contains 20 gm or 5 tsp of sugar. Do we need to feed our children so much sugar in order to ensure they get their required calcium and vitamins?

Hershey’s cocoa with almond spread

Given the increasing demand for Nutella among the urban elite Indians, here is a sugar-loaded spread from Hershey's.

Ingredients - Sugar, Edible Vegetable Fat (Palm Oil), Milk Solids, Cocoa solids (4.7%), Almond paste (3%), Antioxidant (322(i)), Edible Common Salt.

Sugar features right on top here too, along with fat from palm oil.
100 gms of Hershey’s Cocoa with almond spread contains 54.8 gm of sugar and 31.4 gm of fat.
And also note the measly 3% of almond paste.

High on sugar, high on saturated fat…The pack states “Enjoy the delicious taste of Hershey’s spreads with bread, roti, paratha, idli, dosa, cake, biscuit, fruit, waffle, doughnut, croissant etc.

Seriously? Have we all forgotten how to make chutneys? Do we need a sugar-heavy, fat-heavy artificial spread, when our cuisine has 100s of chutney varieties? 

All four products mentioned above are extremely HIGH IN SUGAR. These are unnecessary and unhealthy junk foods that don’t deserve a place in our pantry or in our children’s diet. 

If your kid asks for any such products, take time, sit with them and explain to them that these are bad for their health and that these have harmful chemicals. For kids above 10 years, show them the list of ingredients when you take them out for shopping. It is high time all of us learn to understand and decipher the ingredients. 


Nov 30, 2017

Book Review: A House For Mr. Misra by Jaishree Misra

I love Kerala for its delectable cuisine, beautiful sunsets, backwater rides, eye-catching greenery and friendly Malayalis. Whenever I plan a vacation, my first instinct is to set off to Kerala. So when the synopsis spoke about “Malayali way of life”, I was curious about this book.

A House for Mr.Misra” talks about the personal story of the NRI couple - the author and her husband to build a beach house near Trivandrum. Their struggles and challenges in various forms to get the house constructed form the crux of the story. Right from buying the plot, getting the required approvals, negotiations and hassles with architect and builder, dealing with cryptic coastal regulations, neighbour’s taunts to random strangers throwing silly tantrums, the story could have easily slipped into a serious tone. But the author has made sure to bring out humour in every challenge faced.

The narrative is hilarious, well supported by witty phrases which along with interesting twists and turns, makes for a delightful read. The author’s command over the language reflects so beautifully throughout the book. And the challenges she faces are quite relatable - be it the conversations at a Government office, crowd gathering to watch over random fights between two parties, loopholes to circumvent rules and regulations etc.

Here are a few lines that I found very funny:
“The ceiling fans were so massive, that they would have put jet engine propellers to shame.”
“I was clearly one of those awkward customers that she and her colleagues moaned about at the water cooler"
“I had picked up enough Malayalam to read cinema posters and bus boards, only so slowly that the bus was usually disappearing down the road by the time I’d worked out its destination”
And the one on “Lungis” that cracked me up - 
“How this ensemble ever survives a film fight sequence without falling right off is one of gravity’s biggest unsolved mysteries and one that Malayali men the world over guard fiercely” :-)
A short, easy and fun read is what “A House for Mr.Misra” is all about.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

Nov 29, 2017

How to cook indigenous rice varieties

Being a South Indian, rice has always been a staple in my diet since childhood.  Though it was hand-pounded rice in the early days, my family switched to the fully-polished silky white rice, just like everyone else in the country.

Because of my PCOD related issues, I started looking for alternatives to rice. I turned towards millets regularly since 2013-14. I didn’t move away from rice completely and tried to include millets atleast 3-4 times a week. 

Around the same time, I also started to look for rice varieties that are healthy, native and have a low glycemic index.

The popular opinion that’s been cleverly crafted to spread fear of diabetes is “avoid rice”. Many of us switched completely to wheat, a grain which is not locally grown in South India. Some of us even took a step further and switched completely to oats and quinoa, both of which are not native to India.

As I mentioned in my earlier article on rice, India had more than a lakh varieties of rice till 1970s and now there are hardly 6000 varieties available. Many farmers are currently trying to revive some of the native varieties of rice.

They are extremely nutritious, high in complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They are suited for local weather conditions and are pests resistant, making them naturally organic. So double win, both for our health and for our ecology. A kilogram of any of these rice varieties range from Rs.80-Rs.150. Yes, they are slightly more expensive than the polished white rice (around Rs.50-60 per kg) BUT way cheaper than the hyped-up, imported quinoa (around Rs.900 per kg).
 The more we embrace such native, indigenous rice varieties, the better the availability and price. 

Let me share the varieties of rice I have tried and their cooking procedure. I hope to keep this post as a one-stop reference on indigenous rice varieties. So please bookmark it and share it with your friends. I have included the actual pictures of meals cooked using these rice varieties, so you get an idea on the colour and texture.

1) Kichli Samba rice

Suited for variety rice preparations like lemon  rice, pulao or biryani. This is a perfect alternative to polished basmati rice. It gives a brilliant aroma while cooking and a nutty flavour. High in fibre and B vitamins.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 10 minutes. 
For 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 2 whistles in medium flame. 

If making the pulao or biryani in a pan, use 2.5 cups of water and cook covered in low flame for 5 minutes.

2) Poongar rice

I have tried the boiled rice variety. It is very beneficial for women and helps to correct hormonal disorders. Very filling and tasty. Can be had with sambhar or rasam.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 30 minutes. 
For 1 cup of rice, use 2.5 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 5 whistles in medium flame.

3) Seeraga Samba rice
This is my most recent find and my family looooves it! My daughter goes for 2nd or 3rd serving when I make a peas pulao or veg pulao with this rice. “I love this rice, Amma”, she says. 

Very flavourful, easy to cook. More tastier than basmati rice. I guarantee you that the aroma will take your biryani to a different level :-)

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 10 minutes. 
For 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 2 whistles in medium flame. 

If making the pulao or biryani in a pan, use 2.5 cups of water and cook covered in low flame for 5 minutes. 

4) Kullakkar rice

This red rice variety is extremely filling. High in zinc and iron. This rice takes a little longer to cook but very tasty. Has a nutty texture.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice in 3 cups of hot water for atleast 1 hour.
Pressure cook for 8-10 whistles in medium flame.

5) Matta rice
This rice is unique to Kerala cuisine. I use the boiled rice variety and goes well as part of a South Indian thali.

It is quite filling and you may not eat as much rice as you would normally do.

Wash and soak 1 cup of rice for 1 hour.
For 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water. 
Pressure cook for 6 whistles in medium flame. 

6) Rajamudi rice

This red rice variety is native to Mysore region of Karnataka. It is easily available in many organic stores across Bangalore. This cooks real fast and can be had as part of a typical South Indian meal. It digests easily and can be given to children too.

No soaking is required.
For 1 cup of rice, use 2.5 cups of water.
Pressure cook for 4 whistles in medium flame.

7) Handpounded rice / semi-brown rice

I buy this variety of Sona Masoori rice from 24Mantra organic brand. This can be easily cooked and can be had with sambhar or rasam. It digests easily and can be given to children too.

Wash and Soak 1 cup of rice for atleast 15 minutes.
For 1 cup of rice, use 3 cups of water.
Pressure cook for 2 whistles in high flame and 5 minutes in sim flame.

Nov 22, 2017

Superfoods are NOT easy shortcuts to a disciplined lifestyle

The Superfood mania is everywhere. The majority of the Indian urban elite seem to be searching for easy shortcuts to lose weight, to lose belly fat, to prevent lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol etc. 

The ads that portray messages like “drinking green tea 3-4 cups a day will help one to lose weight” are the perfect example of this trend.

The craze over olive oil started 3-4 years back and it is only getting stronger as days pass by. The recent promotion post by a popular food blogger where she recommends eating idli chutney podi mixed with extra virgin olive oil is the ultimate proof of how superfoods are being promoted to blend with Indian cuisine. The hashtag that’s been promoted is #IndianFoodLovesOliveOil

Eating olive oil everyday WILL NEITHER melt your body fat magically NOR will it prevent lifestyle diseases. These food bloggers are paid an exorbitant amount to promote such silly ideas. Let’s use our common sense, please!

The other superfood that has gained a lot of traction in the past couple of years is Quinoa, which I had written about earlier too. The popular Basmati rice brand “India Gate” has recently launched Quinoa (500 gms is priced at Rs.450). The promotional messages indicate that you can indulge in your favourite foods “guilt-free”.

I seriously want to ask if Quinoa has a sweet taste to it. Then how the hell can you indulge in bowls of halwa, JUST BECAUSE it is made with quinoa? Won’t the halwa need a sweetener like sugar or jaggery? Won't the halwa need ghee? Or do you recommend making it with olive oil? Maybe, the same food blogger will suggest this brilliant idea when the brand ties up with her to write promotional posts.

Another question for the maker of the ad that showcases burgers made with quinoa. The patties might be made with quinoa. What about the burger bun, the mayonnaise and the tomato ketchup that’s typically used in a burger? Are those made with quinoa too?

The ads send a message that you don’t have to do any workouts IF you eat quinoa. 
Forget about gruelling workouts to burn those extra calories! After indulging in a Burger #MadeWithQuinoa, kuch nahi karna padega! #IndulgeGuiltFree
Are people actually believing in such ridiculous messages?

Being fit and healthy is a daily task that requires discipline and willpower. Just because you are eating these expensive superfoods doesn’t imply that you can be a couch potato and expect magic to happen. Well, let me break the bad news for you - "Sab kuch karna padega - exercise, avoid junk foods, sleep on time, avoid stress, sab kuch"

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