Aug 1, 2019

10 factors that impact our energy levels


Yesterday, I noticed a few popular food bloggers, promoting Protinex Chocolate flavor (that contains 32% sugar). The premise that they were setting (through attractive props and beautiful pics) is that when we are in our 30s/40s, we start to experience stamina loss, tiredness/fatigue and so they are drinking Protinex that helps them to stay energetic. No one cared to talk about the high sugar levels. 

And do note that they are ONLY showing a glass of Protinex drink in the picture. There is no way for us to know whether they are actually drinking it. Might sound funny, but this is a fact to remember. For all you know, they might have poured the drink in their kitchen sink after getting the perfect click and dumped the pack in their garbage bag.

I'm in my mid-30s now. So I fit perfectly into the segment that this brand (and various other protein drinks) is targeting.

The fear-mongering tactics that these brands employ seem to be working well among urban women. "Maybe, my tiredness is because of low protein intake", I'm sure this thought would have crossed many of our minds at some point while watching the ad or going through these brilliantly curated pics of Insta food influencers.

Energy is a concept that I'm personally fascinated to learn about. There have been days when my energy levels were over the rooftop and I'm striking off my to-dos one after another. There have also been days when I don't even feel like moving an inch, let alone do anything productive. 

The first step is to become aware of our energy levels. If you can, try to maintain an "energy tracker" (some call it a mood tracker) and observe if you can notice any patterns. 

Multiple factors influence our energy levels throughout the day. Here are 10 factors that I could think of, in no particular order:


  1. Menstrual cycles in women - During my period, my energy level dips down quite a bit. I don't exert myself during those days. I skip Yoga practice, cook very simple meals and rest in the afternoons if possible. In my opinion, all the "play tennis, jump around, run for marathons" messaging that sanitary napkin brands convey in their ads is just plain ridiculous. 

  2. Exercise and Physical Activity - Many of us believe that we need to have sufficient energy in order to do exercise or any physical activity. In reality, it works the other way around. When we do any form of exercise, our energy levels shoot up magically, our mood is upbeat and we generally feel happier because of the endorphins. A brisk walk, a good yoga workout, dancing or jogging/running can do wonders on our energy levels.

  3. How we deal with emotions - There are many incidents in our day-to-day lives that can have an impact on our emotions. A few days back, there were quite a few thoughts that kept bothering me and as a result, I couldn't get anything productive done that day. I opened my journal and wrote down (using a pen on a paper) all that was running through in my mind. After the 10 minutes of releasing everything onto the paper, my mind became free. I even got a few ideas to resolve the issues at the end of journaling. I have been journaling in Evernote app for a long time, but for the past few weeks, I have switched over to paper/pen. And I feel it is much more impactful. Do give it a try.

  4. Moon cycle - from my personal experience, I have learned that on full moon/new moon days, my energy levels shift quite a bit. Either I'm super active or super dull. Self-awareness is the key to understanding how we feel during such days. 

  5. Food and nutrition - This factor deserves a separate blog post in itself. The wrong combination of foods, increased caffeine intake, foods having high sugar, overeating etc all impact our energy levels. Recently, I came across this article titled "There's no such thing as a sugar rush". This passage totally resonated with me:
     The sugar rush is a myth. Rather than making people feel energized and hyped, the new research suggests eating sweet foods actually causes people to experience the opposite: fatigue and a lack of alertness.


  6. Lack of sleep/erratic sleep cycles - Sleep is absolutely essential for recovery and impacts our energy the next day. Sleep well, we wake up feeling fresh and energetic. Sleep for a few hours or have disturbed sleep, we wake up feeling groggy and irritated. There are so many things that expect us to sacrifice our sleep timings. Be it workload, studies or binge-watching, it is not worth sacrificing our precious sleep time. For the past 2 months, I have set a rule for myself that I will not use any gadgets/screens after 8:30PM. This habit has helped me to sleep early and wake up early.

  7. Exposure to Sunlight and nature - What once used to be so natural to us has now become something that we have to consciously plan for. Bright, sunny days are clear mood uplifters, makes us feel happier and joyful. The presence (or absence) of sunlight has a clear impact on my energy levels. I'm indoors most of the time, but I step out and go for a walk or at least sit under sunlight for 20-30 minutes in my balcony.

  8. Breathing - Stop reading this article, sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths. Do you feel different? Most of the times, our breathing is shallow. Conscious deep breathing a few times dispersed throughout the day will recenter our thoughts and energies. This doesn't require much effort on our side. 

  9. Being around with positive, inspiring people - All of us exude certain energies/vibrations. Be with a positive, spirited person for 5 minutes and you'll notice you feel upbeat and energized. Be with a negative, cynical person for 5 minutes and you'll feel drained of energy. This doesn't apply only to people whom we meet in person but also equally applicable for people whom we interact through phone calls, chats and social media. 

  10. Do what you love, love what you do - I believe that both of these are extremely important for a happy, fulfilling life. Identifying our interests and investing time in them every single day is as much important as loving and giving our best in tasks that we ought to get done. For some, cooking is a joyful activity, whereas, for others, it could be drudgery. Nevertheless, it is an important task for our good health. The moment we start to think, "Aaah, do I have to get up early every single day to pack tiffin for my kids? Do I have to spend so much time in the kitchen?", our energy and mood go for a toss. This is ONLY an example. There are many such day-to-day activities that we may not like to do but we end up doing anyway. Instead of cribbing about them and spoiling our mood, if we approach them with a positive mindset, we end up being happier and content.

In order to incorporate the points discussed, we require self-awareness and self-discipline, both of which need time and effort from our side. But in this age of money-rich, time-poor, convenience-seeking lifestyle, we are searching for quick-fix solutions to boost our energy levels, which these health drink(?) manufacturers are clearly aware of. Energy cannot be packed in a glass of Protinex, Women's Horlicks, Bournvita for women or any other drink. They only give you the perception of energy, which is short-lived.

Last but not the least, if you are doing well on these 10 factors and you still feel low on energy levels, do visit a doctor and get tests done for thyroid, Vitamin-B12, Vitamin-D3 and diabetes.


Jul 30, 2019

Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate 30% less sugar review


One of my Insta followers had DMed me to share my thoughts on the new Cadbury Dairy Milk with 30% less sugar. 

My criteria for picking products is quite simple - any brand that uses health-related claims in their promotions. That's the reason why you wouldn't have seen many reviews of typical chocolates or candies in my blog.

In my 20s, Dairy Milk used to be one of my favorite chocolates. I was never a big chocolate fan but whenever I wanted to eat a piece of chocolate, I used to choose Dairy Milk - the regular one (not the kozha kozha silk version). 

Dairy Milk wasn't on my radar of packaged food reviews, but this DM from a reader along with this media article with the attractive headline "Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate gets a healthier version with 30% less sugar" coaxed me to check out its ingredients.

From a brand perspective, quoting from this LiveMint article,

The company is betting that indulgence-seeking consumers who are also health-conscious will opt for the low-sugar variant.

Let's look at the comparison of the regular Dairy Milk along with the new less sugar version.

  1. Yes, it is true that the new one has 30% less sugar. What's shocking is the amount of sugar present in the regular chocolate - a whopping 57%. I'm sure many of us wouldn't have realized the high amounts of sugar in the first place.
  2. The Saturated Fat values still remain the same and the ingredient "Edible Vegetable Fat" is being used but no information shared on the source of this fat. The low sugar version contains the same emulsifiers and artificial flavouring substances, as compared to the regular chocolate.
  3. Given that the sugar values have reduced by 30%, I was hoping that the carbs value would also have reduced proportionately but it hasn't. Carbs are more or less the same.
  4. The ingredient "Soluble corn fibre" (SCF) contributes to the increase in carbs and fibre. On googling, I came across this medical research paper that talks about how SCF contributes to bone health. But I'm skeptical of it as the sample size is too small (14 women participated). There has been quite a discussion in the Keto community about this ingredient but mostly mixed responses. My conclusion - SCF is derived by processing corn syrup. There is nothing natural about it, even though some people claim that it can act as a prebiotic. SCF is typically used by food manufacturers as it is extremely cheap and can add bulk to processed foods. Some articles also state that SCF is nothing but resistant maltodextrin. 

All I'd like to suggest is this - Just because it is being promoted as 30% less sugar, let's not go overboard and stock up our fridge with loads of it and eat a pack whenever sugar/chocolate cravings hit us. It is still the same junk as compared to any other piece of chocolate. Let's get to the root cause of our cravings and address the real issue.

Jul 29, 2019

How to plan for Nutritional Variety?


This post has been lying in the draft mode for a year now. Finally, I made the time to complete it, along with a personal reflection.
Two incidents triggered me to work on this topic.

(1) Last July, I was delivering a talk on child nutrition to a group of young mothers. While discussing the topic of including more vegetables, I mentioned about the sheer variety of the native, local veggies available in India and how we could easily rotate the intake of vegetables once every 15-20 days. A couple of moms wondered if that is even possible. One of them told me that she usually ends up cooking the usual carrots, beans and potatoes.

(2) D seems to have taken a fascination towards buffet restaurants. Two of our family's favorite buffet places in Bangalore are Chutney Chang and Mango Greens (JP Nagar). Whenever we go to such buffet places, D knows exactly what she wants - pasta. She would have 2 servings of pasta, a bowl of cucumber/carrot slices and then head onto dessert section (mostly icecream, sometimes she would also eat chocolate mousse served in dessert spoons). She is happy at the end of her meal.

What do we adults do whenever we hit buffet restaurants for lunch? Not generalizing, but this is what happens mostly (including yours truly!)
First and foremost, we skip breakfast ;-)
We load up our plates with all possible foods (chaats, starters, soups, Indian main course, Western main course, Indian desserts, Western desserts and fruits in the end)
We tend to overeat, as we want to "receive maximum value" for the money we paid (Usually buffet meal is anywhere between Rs.500-Rs.800 in these places).
We might even order that tall glass of fruit juice (at an additional cost) that the waiters carry around the tables.
We come home and feel exhausted, maybe have a short (or a long) nap.
We wake up feeling groggy and intoxicated in the late evening.
We skip dinner, as our stomachs clearly scream, "no more food please, let me finish processing this load first"


Anyone can relate to this series of events? ;-)

After we experienced this cycle a few times, my husband and I decided that we will restrict our buffet restaurant outings to once in 6 months. On days we go for buffet lunch, we consciously make sure that we don't overeat.

How are these two incidents inter-connected?

Variety is the spice of life. We crave for variety in our foods. Given the easy availability of different kinds of cuisine, we would like to explore all of them. Depending on the food we eat, our digestive system secretes the required digestive enzymes to break down the food. Wrong food combinations and overloading the system with too many varieties in a single go can mess up the digestive process, resulting in bloating, acidity, constipation etc.

The current reality is - "We are overeating calories, but deficit on nutrients". Nutrient deficiency often leads to unwanted food cravings and various other health issues. 

The typical banana leaf meal served in South Indian cuisine is often made at home ONLY during special occasions. In Kerala, sadya meal is often prepared ONLY for Vishu and Onam. In Tamilnadu, the elaborate meal is made usually for Diwali and Pongal. In such meals, there will always be a special dish that helps in digestion (Inji puli, Diwali legiyam, rasam, spiced buttermilk). 

I have realized that the more variety I eat in a single meal, I find it difficult to digest and I end up feeling lethargic and drowsy after such a meal. We don't need to overdo variety in a single meal.

At the same time, our nutritional requirements (especially the micro-nutrients) can be met ONLY if we include a variety of vegetables, fruits, cereals and pulses in our diet. I don't prefer to take any vitamin/mineral supplements whatsoever.

So to ensure I get all the adequate nutrients, I've been planning my meals in such a way that 


"we eat less variety in a meal and more variety in a month"


The diligent tracker in me prepared this spreadsheet to track the variety of vegetables, fruits, greens, cereals and pulses in my meals this month (July 2019). The ones highlighted in blue indicate that I have included them in my meals in some way or the other.


As you can see, it is quite easy to rotate vegetable intake once every 15-20 days. Keep this list handy. You don't have to stock up all of them in one go. Whenever you go for weekly shopping, make sure you are buying a different set of veggies.

I'm consciously avoiding green leafy vegetables in monsoon season and will resume eating them once the rains subside.
Conscious meal planning helps us bring variety to our meals and makes cooking an interesting activity. Do you agree? :-)



Jul 26, 2019

Is breakfast the important meal of the day?

If I had answered this question a couple of years back, I would have said, "Yes, absolutely....breakfast is the important meal of the day". But now my answer is different - "All meals eaten AFTER you have felt hungry are important meals of the day". I'm not relying on scientific research to back up my answer but more to do with my personal experience. 

I have observed that on some mornings, I feel hungry enough to eat a solid breakfast. For eg, after an intense yoga practice today, I was quite hungry and so I grabbed a plate of dosais with dry coconut podi. A couple of days back, although my yoga practice was intense, I didn't feel hungry to eat and so grabbed a glass of vegan banana smoothie. By noon, I was hungry and ate a wholesome, homemade lunch. 

I'm slowly shifting my dinner timings to 7PM and so I fast for around 12 hours. I feel light and refreshed in the mornings. I'm no longer eating 3-4 meals based on set timings. 

I'm not advocating to skip breakfast. All I'm saying is to listen to your own body and eat only when you are hungry. There will be days when you feel a lot hungry in the mornings. Have some fresh fruits and nuts handy, make a quick homemade breakfast (not the breakfast cereal junk). On days when you are not hungry, give your body some time to finish the work it is engaged in. People who write about intermittent fasting talk about two phases that our body goes through - building phase and elimination phase. This makes a lot of sense to me. Again, don't immediately put me in the bucket of IF/Keto/LCHF and conclude that I'm gonna recommend a tall mug of bulletproof coffee 🙂

I read quite a bit about nutrition and follow the practices that I find relevant and sustainable for me. Please do your own due diligence before jumping onto anything.

Some might say "listen to your body" is nonsense. Let it be, that's your opinion. You could also try to prove me wrong by sharing some research articles. 

All I want to convey is that this idea - "listen to your body" is working for me and is guiding me well on what/when to eat.



Jul 24, 2019

Alarming levels of Sodium in packaged foods

Based on FSSAI's draft notification, I had earlier analyzed the sugar levels in various, popular packaged foods. If you haven't seen it, do check it out.

This post is all about sodium. As much as we give attention to sugar levels in packaged foods, we need to look for sodium quantities too.

According to WHO's report on "sodium intake for adults and children",
Elevated sodium intake has been associated with a number of NCDs (including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke), and decreasing sodium intake may reduce blood pressure and the risk of associated NCDs

Higher sodium intake was associated with higher risk of incident stroke, fatal stroke and fatal coronary heart disease.

WHO recommends a reduction to <2 g/day sodium (5 g/day salt) in adults (strong recommendation).

The recommended maximum level of intake of 2 g/day sodium in adults should be adjusted downward based on the energy requirements of children relative to those of adults.

From my "Master List", I looked for the products with high sodium levels and compared the values with the thresholds prescribed by FSSAI in the draft notification



 As you can see, the values are alarmingly higher. In all these examples, it is more than double/triple the upper threshold values.

    Many brands don't even list sodium in their nutrition facts table. If and when the draft notification comes into effect, sodium will be made mandatory. Until then, it is better to avoid salty foods that don't list sodium in nutrition facts. 


    The brands listed in the above table are only a handful of examples. Do check the sodium levels in other similar brands (Amul cheese, Sunfeast Yippee noodles, etc).




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