Sep 22, 2017

Why brown bread is unhealthy?

 One of the items I stopped buying this year was the loaf of bread. Over the past 3-4 years, it was featuring regularly in my weekly grocery shopping. Though I’m not a fan of bread toast and sandwiches, my husband and daughter loved to eat a slice or two with jam or peanut butter. We would invariably waste nearly half the pack every week since it would have gone past the expiry date. We stopped buying it primarily because of the wastage.

There are so many variants of bread available in the market. Milk bread and sandwich bread are made of 100% maida. Many of us buy whole wheat bread or brown bread on a regular basis, thinking that we are making a healthier choice for ourselves. But is brown bread actually healthy? 

The best way to check is to look at its ingredients. Here’s a brown bread pack from “Daily Bread”, one of the popular brands in Bangalore.

Whole wheat flour (32%)
Refined Wheat flour
Edible common salt
Edible vegetable oil (Palm)
Class II preservative (282)
Improvers (1100, 1104,300)
Emulsifier (472e)
Acidity Regulator (260)
Flour treatment agent (510)
Permitted natural food colour (150a)

Brown bread has ONLY 32% of whole wheat flour and the rest is refined wheat flour or maida.
All packaged foods are made of palm oil, which is one of the cheapest edible oils that is bad for our health, environment and economy.

Let’s look at the list of 8 additives used in this product:

Class II preservative (282)
Called as Calcium propionate, a natural acid that acts as an antimicrobial preservative in food products, especially in bakery. It helps in the prevention of mold formation and extends shelf life. 
Linked to headaches, migraine, asthma and also aggravates food intolerances.

Amylase - Helps to break down complex starch found in flour. Causes the bread to rise. Derived from mould mushroom or pig pancreas.  
Amylase occurs naturally in yeast and so I’m not sure why there is a need to add it separately as well. 

Lipases - it is used as an emulsifier and processing aid in the breakdown of fats and oils, and as a flour treatment agent in baked goods and bakery products.

L-ascorbic acid. It is an artificial additive that helps to retain gas in the dough, which makes the loaf rise more.

Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol.
Obtained from either soybeans (possibly GMO) or pork.

Acidity regulator
Acetic acid
Helps to control the acidity or alkalinity, so the required pH level can be maintained which prevents the growth of bacteria in the product.
Main component of vinegar, synthetically produced from wood fibres 
The main side effect of this additive is that it can trigger asthma.  

Flour treatment agent
Ammonium Chloride
Large amounts can cause acidosis - nausea, headaches, insomnia. 
Should be avoided by people with impaired liver or kidney function. 

Permitted natural food colour
Caramel colour - so now we know what gives the brown bread the “brown” colour. 
Caramel colouring can be produced from sugar or glucose from plant starches, typically from corn (possibly GMO) 

Looking at these long list of ingredients, Brown bread sounds as unhealthy as a pack of cookies or any other junk food. If you like to eat bread on a regular basis, it is much safer to bake it at home. I have baked bread at home a couple of times…All I had to use was flour (a combination of maida and wholewheat flour), yeast, little sugar, salt and little oil. No chemicals/additives are needed.

Given the number of issues that arise out of excess gluten consumption, the best option would be to avoid bread completely and switch to other healthy breakfast/snack alternatives.


Sep 12, 2017

A few thoughts on "women-empowerment"

Couple of weeks back, I watched this much-acclaimed movie “Lipstick under my burkha”. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all. I don’t want to ponder over the reasons of why it didn’t strike a chord with me as compared to the many who liked it.

But this movie is ONE among the many recent movies that made me think about “women-empowerment” / “feminism” and how it is wrongly portrayed by movies and media these days.

This post is not meant to offend anyone but purely my opinions and reflections on this topic.

Off late, there has been a surge of movies with women-focused themes covering various issues women face in a patriarchal society like India. Among the various women who are shown to portray strong characters, there is one common element that disturbs me.

Strong women are portrayed as drinking alcohol and smoking.

I’m totally against these 2 habits that are detrimental to health, irrespective of the gender you belong to. I have written about this topic earlier too.

Are movies a reflection of the changing society? Or is society getting influenced by movies? Both are true. In any case, I just can’t accept this ridiculous portrayal of strong women with a glass of alcohol or a cigarette in their hands. There are many strong women without the need for these 2 crutches.

So movie makers, stop such cliched portrayal of strong, independent women. Your minuscule disclaimer is just a statutory complaint and doesn’t make any difference, whatsoever.

Secondly, who are empowered women?
Through their dreams, thoughts, beliefs and actions, women make a difference to themselves, their families and the society. Even when obstacles come in the form of societal norms and family members, strong women are able to create an impact and leave behind their identity on a worthy cause to fight for.

Do these recent “feminism” focused movies portray such women? Not as much.

The below list of movies are some of my favourites where the women protagonists are portrayed beautifully for their strong characters and personalities, not for the way they dress, smoke or drink.

“How old are you?” in Malayalam ("36 vayathinile" in Tamil),
“Manathil uruthi vendum”, “Kalki”, “Magalir Mattum (1994)” in Tamil,
“English Vinglish”, “Piku" in Hindi,
“The Intern” in English

I believe strong women can carry forward themselves easily, wearing a saree with a smile on their faces and confidence in their eyes. I’m sure many of us would have seen this remarkable photo of ISRO women scientists behind Mars orbiter spacecraft launch in 2014.

We don’t need Western clothes, makeup accessories, cigarettes and alcohol to feel empowered.

Lastly, if you disagree with any of the above, please let's move on and not get into arguments. We can agree to disagree.

Sep 8, 2017

My next project - “Minimalistic waste-free lifestyle”

Over the past few years, I have shared with you my journey towards building healthy eating habits. My pantry is now free of processed, ready-to-eat foods. We eat fresh and simple home-cooked meals almost all the time. Now that this effort has reached to a level where only marginal improvements are required, I want to get started with the next big project of mine - “Minimalistic waste-free lifestyle”.

There’s a long way for me to go in this journey. I had written a few ideas/initiatives related to reducing dry and wet waste, buying clothes with intent, using groceries and fresh produce without wastage etc. I have been following them diligently but my lifestyle is nowhere close to “minimalistic” and “waste-free”.

Is my home clutter-free? 
Do I purge unwanted things on a frequent basis? 
Do I buy things that have a clear purpose? 
Have I sorted out the “absolute essential” things? 
Do I have an assigned place for everything at home?

The answer to all these questions are a big NO. 

Clutter bothers me at an emotional level. As much as I would have loved to ignore the unsorted toys, clothes, loads and loads of books etc and move on with my day, that nagging thought at the back of my mind indicates that I want a clean home for a happy and peaceful day. 

Physical health is dependent on eating the right food, regular exercise, being physically active and good quality sleep, whereas Mental health is dependent on happy thoughts and happy feelings. A clean, neat home with a place for everything makes everyone happy.

Enough of gyaan (and watching numerous youtube videos on home organization!) :-) Time for some action!

This morning, I spent some time in decluttering and have gathered up 4 bags of unwanted things:
- Clothes that no longer fit me and those that I don’t wear them anymore
- Clothes of my little daughter that don’t fit her
- Loads of plastic containers from my kitchen (some are as old as 14 years!!)
- Accessories and jewel boxes that I don’t use

I plan to hand over these bags to my house-help and ask her to take things that she needs and throw away the rest.

I also spent some time going through one of my bathrooms and threw away the old herbal powders that didn’t suit me (hair wash, body wash). "Throwing away" things is a BIG challenge for me. My husband has so much fun mocking this quality of mine ;-)

I don’t intend to draw up a big plan for the decluttering project and then execute on it. Rather, I would spend some time every single day looking at each room/corner/shelf and get rid of things I don’t need. Will share my journey as I go forward. 

“Clutter-free home is a step forward in building a happy home”.

Sep 5, 2017

Why digestive biscuits are unhealthy?

Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase in interest around habit forming products from a technology perspective. Loads of literature are available on this topic - be it books, blogposts, podcasts, courses etc. Given that it is one of my favourite subjects, I keep track of literature around the same. Two of my favourite books on this topic are Nir Eyal’s Hooked and Charles Duhigg’s The power of Habit.

Now, why I’m talking of “habits” in the context of biscuits? Having a cup of chai (or coffee) every morning and evening is a habit for most of us. We also like to have a couple of biscuits to go with the chai. Parle-G biscuits used to be our default choice for many years, before the health-conscious behaviour took over and made us shift to Marie biscuits.

Over the past decade, the digestive biscuits have successfully created a “perception” of healthier option over regular Marie biscuits. Let’s take the case of McVities Digestive biscuits.

With a tagline “Wholewheat at its heart”, the brand’s messaging conveys that these biscuits are made of wholewheat and high in fibre as compared to regular Marie biscuits that are made of maida. Their website also talks of creating habits to stay fit, interviews with Kajol (who’s the celebrity endorser) on her fitness regime etc. Through their ads, the brand wants to incorporate these biscuits as part of a daily fit habit ("yeh habit hai fit") by tagging it with a pre-existing habit (chai routine). 
Let's see how far the positioning matches with the real facts:

Wheat flour (43.3%)
Edible vegetable oil (palm oil)
Wholewheat flour (15.3%)
Wheat bran (2.5%)
Invert Sugar Syrup
Leavening agents (Baking powder, INS 503(ii))
Edible common salt
Malt extract
Acidity Regulator (INS 296)
Dough Conditioner (INS 223)

1. As you can see, the very first ingredient is not wholewheat but maida. These biscuits have 43.3% maida and ONLY 15.3% wholewheat flour. The brand's “wholewheat” claim is absolutely false.

2. Most of these digestive biscuits are high on fats (second listed ingredient). Made with the cheapest oil that is bad for our health, environment and economy. For an intake of 3 biscuits, the fats that we would consume is 5.3 gms (around 1.2 tsp). This number might seem small or one might think fats are important for our body. What matters is the quality of fats. Our bodies need good fats from nuts and seeds. Not processed palm oil for God’s sake.

3. The brand’s claim of “high in fibre” also needs to be questioned. I guess what they meant is “high in fibre as compared to other biscuits available in the market”. If you eat 3 digestive biscuits, you would have consumed a measly 1.5 gms of dietary fibre, whereas one guava would give you 5 gms of dietary fibre (along with Vitamin-C, Vitamin-A and potassium).

4. Compared to Oreo and other cream biscuits, the sugar levels are relatively low, but that doesn’t mean these biscuits have negligible sugar. 3 biscuits contain around 4 gms or a tsp of sugar. If you are in the habit of adding 2 tsp sugar in your cup of tea, then you have already exhausted 3 out of 5 tsp of allowed added sugar in a day. 

5. Other additives - 
INS 503(ii) - Ammonium Hydrogen carbonate
INS 296 - Malic acid (synthesised by heating maleic acid with dilute sulphuric acid, under pressure. Infants and young children should avoid it, as they cannot digest it.)
INS 223 - Sodium metabisulphite (causes asthmatic and allergic reactions)

Let’s not be fooled that such biscuits are a healthier choice. They are as unhealthy as any other packaged biscuits. Let’s be aware of their ingredients and NEVER succumb to such clever marketing gimmicks. 
It is okay to eat the cheaper Parle-G biscuits once in a while, than have such "health-tag" attached digestive biscuits on a daily basis - "Yeh habit bilkul nahi fit"


Aug 30, 2017

Book Review: What Kitty Did by Trisha Bora

 The synopsis of “What Kitty did” reminded me of the movie “Noor”. Portrayed beautifully by Sonakshi Sinha, Noor is a clumsy girl, struggling with weight issues and writing useless pieces at her day job as a journalist until she faces a certain issue that turns her life upside down. I was hoping Kitty would be of a similar character.

120 pages into the book, I was struggling with the story of Kitty. Neither I could empathize with her nor I could relate to her life. There were many references from English literature, which frankly I didn’t have a clue about. So that made it difficult to appreciate their relevance in a specific context. The story has too many drinking sessions followed by vomit and hangovers. Just too many.

I wanted to give up reading it any further but I had to persist, given that there was a book review deadline. The key plot - the murder mystery of Roxy Merchant’s death is well etched, with Kitty unraveling the jigsaw puzzle beautifully. This all happens in the second half of the book. 

This story would have been an interesting read, if it was crisp with one main plot (murder mystery) and 1-2 subplots. But sadly, the first half was so dragging that the interest withered away. 

The author seems to be in love with Delhi, but for someone who hasn’t lived there, it would be hard to relate to the different places and locations that are explained in detail. 

Having said that, there were a few lines that grabbed my attention:
“Feeding people, cooking or baking, is a noble profession. Very few of us are actually grateful for the food we get."

“It’s odd that I took to baking in the first place. I guess it’s because the order baking demands balances out the complete disorder of my life, in a sweet way"

“I don’t see the logic behind a pepper spray can. If one is attacked, the can should be handy enough to use without a moment lost. Given that most women’s bags are stuffed like a chicken at a Christmas party, it’ll take ages to find the can amid the rubbish. One can’t possibly ask the attacker to “hang on a sec”, can she?”

50-60 pages less, this would have either been an intriguing murder mystery or a girl-figuring-out-her-life kind of a plot. For a 300 pager, there are too many subplots and too many characters - Kitty’s friends, friends’ fiancees, colleagues, family, 7-8 characters related to the murder mystery. At one point, I got totally confused between Ayesha and Anitha, that I had to go back and understand their characters :-)

Not my kind of a fiction novel. 
P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

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