May 21, 2019

Why I write about what not to eat

I have received 3-4 DMs in the past few days asking me to prescribe diet plans for weight loss. And there's one more question which I'm often asked is "Why do you always talk about what not to eat? Why can't you write about foods to eat? Why not talk about healthy packaged foods?"

Since all these questions are related, I thought I would address them as a post.

First and foremost, let's NOT ask random strangers on social media for weight loss diet plans. I believe that diet plans SHOULD only be recommended by qualified medical professionals. These days, a person loses 5 kgs and becomes a fitness influencer. As I wrote earlier, someone who does a nutrition course in Coursera calls himself/herself a certified nutritionist. So let's be extremely cautious of such people who are sprouting on Instagram all the time and not fall for the flat-abs/skin show that they unabashedly "curate" on their feed.

Yes, we can take inspiration from people whose posts/thoughts resonate with us. But we cannot BECOME them. Let's appreciate our individuality and choose foods/diet plans based on what works for us. 

Choosing what to eat is completely up to you, based on numerous factors - your genes, your native cuisine, where you live, foods that agree with your palate and tummy etc. 

I try to post at least one meal pic of mine on Insta on a daily basis. My intention is to spread awareness on the importance of eating fresh, local and traditional foods. Millets, indigenous rice, local veggies and traditional recipes feature regularly in my diet. I'm a South Indian and so my weekly meal plan looks approximately like this - 80% South Indian cuisine, 10-15% North Indian cuisine and 5-10% Non-Indian (pasta, pizza, soups etc). 

Choosing what to eat is quite simple, in my opinion. Eating fresh, homecooked, local, traditional and seasonal - this is the mantra I believe in.

Choosing what to NOT eat is becoming a complex task these days, given the numerous junk-masquerading-as-healthy options prevailing in the market. Also, a crucial part of eating right is NOT to add more and more new foods to our diet, but removing the wrong foods from our diet. Something I spoke about in detail in this post.

"Healthy packaged" foods is an OXYMORON. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. Having analyzed numerous packaged foods available in the Indian supermarkets, I couldn't find any so far. There are small/upcoming brands that are coming up with healthier options, but compared to food corporations, these small brands don't yet have the distribution or production capacities to meet consumer demands at scale. 

There are MANY who write about what to eat, but there's hardly anyone who writes about what NOT to eat. I stopped eating all forms of packaged/junk foods for the past 5-6 years. And this ONE change has brought in a lot of positive effects on my health. And my goal is to spread this message - first eliminate all processed/packaged/junk foods from your diet, then choose foods based on what you believe is healthy.

May 19, 2019

The lost practice of do-nothing

I have been pondering about this topic for the past few weeks, mainly fueled by the books I have read and the people I have met over the past 2 months. 

In Apr, I read this amazing book "Digital minimalism" by Cal Newport, where the chapter on solitude and contemplation left me speechless. I could relate to that chapter so much as I'm someone who keeps jumping from one thing to another all the time. There were hardly any minutes during my day where I did "NOTHING".  I deprived myself of solitude through various distractions. 

Cal defines solitude as

"a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds."

"Being alone with our own thoughts" used to be possible every day around 12-15 years back, while we are waiting in a queue, walking to a nearby store, taking public transport or taking a leisurely stroll in a park. Many times, I have been able to get new ideas/solutions to problems I have been working on while taking a shower or while I cook. 
How much time are we allocating in a day to be with our own thoughts without any devices these days?

When I decided to cut down my smartphone usage after reading Digital Minimalism, I was hoping that I would savor those "do-nothing" moments. But I took to reading big time and all the free times in between my daily responsibilities went to reading new books. Nothing wrong in reading as a habit, for it has given me opportunities to read some interesting books lately. But it is also a form of "Consumption", where we are engrossed in the opinions and thoughts of the authors ("inputs from other minds").

In "The One-Straw Revolution", Masanobu Fukuoka writes,

"Originally people would look into a starry night sky and feel awe at the vastness of the universe. Now questions of time and space are left entirely to the consideration of scientists"

How true this statement is! While in college days, I used to lie down on the terrace floor and just look at the night sky, feel the gentle summer breeze, stare at the moon and think about nothing. I haven't done this for many years now.

I'm sure it is not just our generation who has lost this habit of do-nothing. I see many family members from my previous generation who are hooked onto TV big time. The TV has to be running in the background the whole day. For some reason, it keeps them calm is what I hear. If it is the TV that ruined it for our parents, it is our smartphones, Internet, TV, iPads, books, Kindle, video games etc for our generation and our children's. Yes, it is becoming worse as days pass by.

As I was attending a session on "decoding present-day economics" yesterday, the topic of discussion was about materialistic consumption. As we were watching the documentary "The century of the self", this particular passage caught my attention.

The words of Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in 1927, are cited: "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. [...] Man's desires must overshadow his needs..."

One of the reasons why large economies push for over-consumption in people's minds is that it helps to keep people docile and not question anything. This is such a relevant point in today's times. We slog during weekdays and indulge in mindless consumption during weekends. 

Last weekend, we went to see a children's movie in a multiplex. Let me state upfront - we don't go for movies in a movie theatre often, this is a rare family outing. The overall experience left me shell shocked - a movie experience for a family of 3 costs around Rs.2000. A cup of coffee was Rs.160 which tasted yuck and so unpalatable. Both my husband and I discussed about these mall expenses and decided such movie outings are totally not worth our hard-earned money. 

On the other hand, we had been to a nearby small restaurant yesterday where a small glass of coffee that costs Rs.10 tasted so good and fresh.

 I'm digressing here, but as you can see, it is easy to indulge in mindless consumption these days - the ones that cost us money (materialistic) and/or time (devices, social media etc). Such consumption is only making us docile and not allowing us any time or mind space to question anything around us.

We don't ask any questions about why things are the way they are. Why do we buy so many things? Why do we spend so much during weekends? How is our consumption impacting others, other living beings and our planet? Why are we hoarding many things at our home? Why are we okay with spending for a popup "curated" meal experience that costs Rs.3000 per person per meal? Why do we buy so much junk foods? Why are we not reading food labels? Why do we support fast fashion?

I don't have answers, but what I'm realizing is that I need to invest time doing nothing. It is easier said than done, but will consciously make efforts towards it. Hopefully, I might find answers to these questions during those moments of solitude.


May 17, 2019

Horlicks Protein Plus No added sugar review

 A famous blogger who claimed that the secret of her energy was Saffola Fittify hi-protein meal shake a few weeks back now has shifted her loyalties to Horlicks Protein Plus. Earlier I used to find such promotional posts irritating but now I find them so funny and entertaining. How quickly they switch brands with no hesitation!! 😆😆😆 Do brands even have any contracts/agreements with Insta influencers? Do these contracts have a no-compete clause at all?

Anyway, let's focus on the product. I wanted to get the ingredients list but couldn't find it on Amazon or Bigbasket. I found the label on Flipkart. 

When a brand claims "no added sugar", the first thing we need to do is to check the ingredients for artificial sweeteners. As you might notice, it contains Acesulfame potassium. I have written about this ingredient in Women's Horlicks review. All artificial sweeteners have harmful side effects. 

This term "Contains added flavour" without any details need to be looked at as well. Why can't they explicitly state what the flavours are?

This protein shake/mix is just becoming a huge business. Let's not focus only on the protein quantity and ignore the rest of the ingredients.

Book Review: The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukouka

This book was recommended to me by so many people. I purchased a copy last year but didn't make the time to read it. While reading Mansoor Khan's "The third curve", I noticed that he has mentioned this book in his list of recommendations. That was the "last straw" for me to pick up this brilliant book, which I managed to finish it in 3 days.

I'm starting to believe this statement - "When the reader is ready, the book appears."

Coming to this book, Masanobu Fukuoka talks about the perils of modern agriculture and why return to "do-nothing" / natural farming is the need of the hour. Simplistic, easy to relate, hard-hitting and brilliant writing that I was totally hooked onto this book for the past 3 days. Having been reading up about food and nutrition for the past 7 years, it is a natural transition for me to invest efforts in understanding where and how our food comes from. 

The author starts off with talking about his personal experiences in transitioning to natural farming, growing rice, clover and other grains in his farm. He diligently follows four principles of farming - no cultivation (no plowing of the soil), no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by using herbicides and no dependence on chemicals. For someone with no exposure to farming like me, the chapters that elaborate on these principles would be fascinating to read. 

The second half of the book emphasizes a lot about living in harmony with nature, growing crops according to the season and eating habits that focus on eating simple, local and wholesome foods. The questions the author keeps raising throughout the book related to food, industrial growth, ambition, education, sustainability etc are so impactful that your mind expands to see new horizons. 

Here are a few passages from the book that I liked:

"The consumer's willingness to pay high prices for food produced out of season has also contributed to the increased usage of artificial growing methods and chemicals"
"Until there is a reversal of the sense of values which cares more for size and appearance than for quality, there will be no solving the problem of food pollution."
"Produce grown in an unnatural way satisfies people's fleeting desires but weakens the human body and alters the body chemistry so that is dependent upon such foods."

Until a few years back, cauliflower used to be only available for 3-4 months in winter but it is now available throughout the year. There's hardly any taste whatsoever, but people continue to buy cauliflower as it is being considered a "low calorie" vegetable. The same applies to various fruits and vegetables these days.

The chapter on pricing natural foods was a revelation to me. I had always thought that growing natural foods is expensive and that's the reason for the premium pricing of organic foods. But the author provides a different view:

"Growing fruit without applying chemicals, using fertilizer or cultivating the soil involves less expense and the farmer's net profit is therefore higher."
"As for the consumer, the common belief has been that natural food should be expensive. If it is not expensive, people suspect that it is not natural food."

The lines I absolutely loved:

"If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature's productive power but by the extravagance of human desire."

"When a naive scientific knowledge becomes the basis of living, people come to live as if they are dependent only on starch, fats and protein, and plants on nitrogen, phosphorus and potash."

I'll stop here, as there are so many such powerful lines/phrases that I have underlined throughout the book.

If food interests you, then this is one book you shouldn't miss out.

May 10, 2019

Cipla Brain Boosters Review

Before our mommy bloggers start posting that their children are the next Einstein because of consuming these brain boosters every day, let me jump ahead and post my review.

The ingredients list look similar to Cipla's Immuno boosters (review posted here). The main promise of this brain boosters is that it contains the power of real almonds and Brahmi. Look at the minuscule percentages - 5% almonds and 0.7% Brahmi extract.

Each chocolate contains 3gm of sugar and harmful hydrogenated vegetable fats.

Children can get all the required vitamins and minerals from natural foods. As parents, it is our responsibility to introduce real foods and ensure they get access to natural, home-cooked foods every day. Let's not rely on such chocolates please!
We don't need to sugar coat everything.

Brands keep discovering new ways to sell junk. Let's be conscious of our choices.

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