Feb 24, 2018

Say no to processed foods

I recently spotted this quote in a WhatsApp forward - "We just get one life. Don’t waste it on dieting”. It was more in the context of “eat pastries and whipped cream, don’t deny yourselves such yummy food”.

I can’t help but wonder how ridiculous this quote is!

First and foremost, avoiding unhealthy, processed, junk foods is NOT dieting. It is a sensible decision that you take towards better health. 

The quote should rather be rephrased as “Don’t waste your life eating food-like edible substances”.

Food manufacturing companies and pharmaceutical companies have mutual collaboration - 
The former makes attractive, unhealthy processed foods loaded with chemicals;
That would eventually make you sick and you end up with one or more of lifestyle disorders;
After which you will be dependent on life-long medications manufactured by the latter.

Pharma companies cannot earn their profits from people who are healthy OR from people who have died. Their main source of revenue is from people who are sick with chronic illnesses and need to take medications for their entire life term. 

The earlier they can get people to fall into this “trap” bucket, the bigger their profits would be, the higher their customer lifetime value will be.

So it’s no surprise that most of the junk foods are targeted towards kids and teens, so they can get caught into such chronic diseases at an early age and end up buying medications for a longer duration.

Having observed a few people who have these lifestyle diseases, all they do is 
- take medications every single day, keep reminding themselves not to forget their dose of medicines 4-5 times a day (before food / after food)
- worry about their food and well being without taking any conscious steps towards cutting down processed food or exercise
- face the consequences of the side effects of their medications
- become more self-focused and not be able to contribute towards any other worthwhile cause in the society

Is this the life that one wants to aspire for? 

There’s nothing to be ashamed of when you say No to junk foods. It signals to everyone that you take care of your health. You don’t need to eat such “junk”, just so that you’ll be accepted in a friend’s circle. 

Let’s spread the message - “We just get one life. Don’t waste it by eating processed foods”.

Feb 19, 2018

The "5 greens a week" project




Green leafy vegetables are a nutrition powerhouse, packed with vitamins and minerals. Our grandmothers had always insisted that we eat our “keerai” when we were kids. I remember in the 80s, an old lady would walk past our street, shouting “keerai venuma keerai” and my grandmothers would pick up a bunch or two.

Local greens are fresh, easily affordable and very nutritious for all age groups. 

In modern nutrition terms, these local greens are rich in the following nutrients:
Drumstick greens - calcium, iron, beta-carotene, Vitamin C
Agathi greens - calcium, protein, beta-carotene, Vitamin C
Ponnanganni greens - calcium, beta-carotene, Vitamin C
Amaranth greens - calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc
Mint - iron
Coriander leaves - calcium, iron
Curry leaves - calcium, iron, magnesium, protein
Methi greens - calcium, Vitamin C
Palak - folates (Vitamin B9)
Gongura leaves (sorrel greens) - iron

They are also helpful in addressing constipation and other digestion related issues.

Instead of spending a fortune on exotic lettuce (Rs.95 a bunch for iceberg variety), let’s include the above listed “local greens” (Rs.10-15 a bunch) on a regular basis. 

Though I’m aware of the benefits of local greens, I’m lazy to include them more frequently, primarily because it takes time to clean and pluck the leaves. I end up including maybe 2-3 times a week, that’s it. 

So in order to give me the motivation and to shake out my laziness, I’m starting this “5 greens a week” project :-)

Feel free to join in, if it interests you with the hashtag #5greensaweek on Instagram.

Here are a few ideas (google for recipes)

Dry sabzi
- Keerai poriyal with coconut 
- Greens bhaaji / saag with onion and garlic

Gravy
- Keerai kootu
- Keerai sambhar
- Dal palak
- Methi dal
- Curry leaves kuzhambu
- Palak paneer
- Sarson ka saag

Chutney
- Mint Chutney / thokku
- Coriander leaves chutney / thokku
- Curry leaves chutney / thokku

Main dish
- Keerai rice / pulao
- Palak paratha / chapathi
- Methi paratha / thepla
- Palak dosa

Spice powders
- Curry leaves podi
- Drumstick greens podi

Share more ideas in the comments below. Will add them to this list.


Feb 12, 2018

Book Review: Naattu Marundhu Kadai by Dr G Sivaraman




We are living in an age where we pop pills for every minor ailment or a slight discomfort, without worrying about the side effects or taking time to understand the root cause. Home remedies using natural products (herbs, spices and greens) are considered “old-fashioned”. Even if people believe in such home remedies, they find it tedious or time consuming to make a herbal concoction and drink it. Quick-fix solutions are sought out to move on with our busy lives.

Around 4-5 years back, I decided that I wouldn’t take painkillers or paracetamol tablets for minor ailments like headache, migraine, fever, cough, cold etc. I stopped taking antacids as well. Regular readers of my blog (or Instagram feed) would know how much I rely on home remedies. Dry ginger coffee for cold and fever, jeera ajwain tea for bloating and indigestion, lemon water for migraine and many such simple, effective herbal home remedies work brilliantly. And I’m always on the look-out to learn more such natural healing techniques.

I'm a huge fan of Dr. G. Sivaraman’s works - his books, articles and speeches are informative and inspiring from a health and wellness perspective. I recently finished his book “Naattu Marundhu Kadai”. A good reference material on various spices, herbs, greens and roots that are commonly available and used to treat many ailments and diseases in Siddha and Ayurveda practice.

Here are a few key take-aways from this book:
- Dry ginger (sukku) - helps to balance pitta. Controls indigestion, very effective for sinus headache and migraine.
- Peppercorns - effective in treating allergy sneezing, cold and cough.
- Curry leaves - rich in beta-carotene and antioxidants, good for eye-sight, helps to treat irritable bowel syndrome, improves digestion and increases appetite
- Long pepper (Pipli / thippili) - helps to eliminate excess mucus, reduces kapha
- Fenugreek (methi seeds / vendhayam) - rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, helps to reduce blood glucose levels and triglycerides
- Licorice (Mulethi / Adhimadhuram) - Effective for treating dry cough, urinary infections and migraine
- Galangal (sitharathai) - helps in reducing phlegm, cough and asthma

The book also covers the benefits of greens such as kuppaimeni, nochi, aadathodai, thoodhuvalai, sittraamutti etc, which we may have either forgotten or have never heard of. 

If you can read Tamil, I highly recommend you get a copy and read this book. You can order online from this link.

Feb 8, 2018

Cipla's Immuno Boosters Review


 A couple of months back, my daughter got an eye infection. I messaged her pediatrician and was asked to give eye drops. After 3-4 days, the redness was reduced but didn’t clear completely. So we wanted to meet the pediatrician to ensure that it was just a viral infection. It turned out that the doctor was extremely busy and we couldn’t get an appointment that day. When we met her the following day, she mentioned that she was in her clinic from 9AM to 6PM the previous day with non-stop appointments.

I’m not sure about other cities in India but in Bangalore, kids are falling sick often these days. Is it because of the changing weather conditions or the increase in pollution levels? Given that most such illnesses are viral and contagious, they spread faster to many children. Cold, cough, running nose, flu, wheezing, fever - young kids get affected with one or more such issues almost on a monthly basis.

Pharmaceutical companies and packaged food manufacturers are well aware of this fact. Health drinks and supplements targeted towards improving immunity in children are on the rise. Pediasure’s ad campaign is mainly focused on this promise of boosting immunity. I had earlier written about the ingredients present in Pediasure and why it is totally unnecessary for your child. Do check it out if you haven’t already.

Recently, I stumbled upon an ad for Cipla’s Immuno boosters, a nutritional supplement in the form of chocolate-bites. 30 pieces (one piece per day) cost Rs.299 and so one single piece is around Rs.10. The price point seems attractive, but let’s first look at the ingredients and nutrition information.

Ingredients:
Milk Compound (Sugar, hydrogenated vegetable fat, Milk Solids, Cocoa Solids, Emulsifier (INS 322) and Flavour)
Butterscotch sprinkles (Sugar, Cashew, Butter, Common Salt, Colour, Stabiliser (INS 1400) and Flavour)
Vitamins and Minerals

Contains Permitted Natural Colour (160B) and added flavours (natural and artificial butterscotch flavouring substances)

1) The ingredients list resembles that of any other milk chocolate available in the market - milk solids, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable fat. Yes, each of these "nutritional supplement” choco-bites contain sugar(2.39 gm or little more than 1/2 tsp of sugar) and trans-fats (0.01 gm).
2) Artificial flavours are used, without sharing any details. As consumers, don’t we need to know the ingredients added for flavour? What if these flavour ingredients are addictive in nature?
3) It is a non-vegetarian product, as the vitamin D is extracted from sheep wool (as mentioned in their Amazon product page)
4) Emulsifier and stabiliser - in a nutritional supplement? Seriously?

Now that we have seen the list of harmful ingredients, let’s take a look at the actual “promise” of nutrition - vitamins and minerals.
(1) Vitamin A - 300 mcg
This number in absolute form might seem high, but when we compare it to a few natural sources of Vitamin A, you’ll realize how low it is.

100 gm of raw carrots contain 835 mcg of Vitamin A.
100 gm of cooked sweet potato contain 787 mcg of Vitamin A.

(2) Vitamin C - 30 mg
Similar comparison
100 gm of gooseberry contains 252 mg of Vitamin C
100 gm of guava contains 214 mg of Vitamin C
100 gm of capsicum contains 120 mg of Vitamin C

The numbers speak for themselves, how would an artificial supplement with just 30 mg of Vitamin C boost our kid’s immunity? 

Do we need to rely on such artificial supplements to boost immunity of our children? Not required at all.

 Here are a few ways by which you can increase the immunity of your children:

1) Cut down sugar-loaded junk foods as much as possible. Avoid buying packaged foods. Take a tough stance here as a parent and don’t bribe the kid with sweet treats to get things done. And let’s not fool ourselves by thinking that kids would burn the excess calories. It is not only about calories and weight gain. Added sugar reduces immunity drastically. Watch this video by nutritionist Luke Coutinho to understand the impact of white sugar on immunity.

2) There are multiple natural ways to boost immunity using Vitamin C rich foods - gooseberry, guava, orange, bell peppers etc. I have compiled a detailed list in this article on Vitamin C. Do check it out. Apart from Vitamin-C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6 and Zinc also play an important role in building immunity. Check out the list of natural sources in my earlier articles on Vitamin A and Zinc. Will write about Vitamin B6 soon.

3) Reduce milk and milk based products. I’ll keep reiterating this over and over, as I just can’t bear to see kids who have wheezing issues and been force fed milk every single day by their parents. The excess mucus is triggered by dairy products, causing frequent bouts of cold and cough in kids. I have found ragi/finger millet to be effective in reducing mucus. Make ragi idlis, ragi dosas and ragi pooris 2-3 times a week. Apart from reducing mucus, ragi is an excellent source of calcium and iron. 

4) Include spices every day in their diet. Spices such as cumin, pepper, turmeric, coriander seeds, long pepper, ginger, garlic etc can be easily incorporated into your child’s diet in the form of soups, rasam rice, pongal and kichdi. Let your child’s meals include these typical Indian traditional dishes on a daily basis. The pasta and noodles can be occasional visitors.

5) Allow your child to play in the open. Fresh air and sunlight helps to boost their immunity. Let fresh air flow easily in your home. Keep the mesh windows/doors open for good air circulation.

Sources:

Jan 30, 2018

Book Review: The Big Switch by John Thomas


 If I had to review "The Big Switch" by John Thomas in 2 words, I would say “totally relatable”. Right from the first chapter, the protagonist Keith is someone who would come across every day if you work for a software company. Or he might even be you. Coming from a humble background, wanting to prove himself, struggling to say NO to a horrible manager who dumps all work on him, leaving him with no time for anything else, colleagues who frown upon and make a big issue if he tries to leave office by 6PM - he faces all the struggles and challenges of working in a high pressure IT job. He figures out in 2 years that this is not what he wants to do for the rest of his life.

He meets a mentor who inspires him through positivity, passion and a sense of purpose. As Keith identifies his passion and tries to make the big switch, he faces numerous obstacles along the way. With help and support from friends, he moves ahead in his life and becomes a better person.

It was an easy read, as the story moved at a good speed. Relatable characters and incidents make you nod at several places. The evil boss, Mathur is someone whom many of us would have come across at some point in our careers. Though we may or may not have met Ramesh, the mentor, we come across certain people in our lives who inspire us to pursue our dreams. This character exudes so much positivity and confidence, that I wish a few more pages on his journey would have been nice to read.

I was so glad that the ending wasn’t an easy sail for Keith. Reality and uncertainty are something that we all have to live with. How we respond to such unexpected events shows our true character. 

It seems that the author is very much inspired by Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The reference to this book in multiple places and how Keith felt motivated after reading it made me want to re-read “The Alchemist”. 

A few phrases that I really loved from this book:
“Some memories live forever. Fighting the steady and strong flow of time, they remain etched in our hearts”.
“I am lucky that I have a chance to go for my dreams. There are so many who don’t even get a chance.”
“Everyone he met was fighting a battle and it was his responsibility to be kind to them”
“We only grow amidst challenges. There can’t be any growth without obstacles”
“Follow your heart. It knows where your treasure is, even when you don’t. And trust me, it will move mountains to take you there”

There were a couple of hilarious phrases too, especially the one when Keith asks for a day off and his manager’s reaction was that of someone asking for his kidneys :-) It might sound exaggerated but unfortunately, that’s the reality in many software organizations, especially startups.

I wouldn’t call this book a must-read, but an inspirational novel that one can pick up in an afternoon and finish it. It is available as part of Kindle Unlimited.

There were a couple of editing issues that I spotted in Kindle version - character name mixup and grammatical errors. Hope these get corrected in the revised edition.

P.S. "This review is a part of the biggest Book Review  Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!"

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