Mar 21, 2019

Saffola Fittify Hi-Protein Meal Soup Review



I came across this product in Instagram when a popular food blogger lavishly praised it as "tasty and healthy with the power of 5 superfoods". This new product "Fittify Gourmet Hi-Protein Meal Soup" by Saffola is trying to capitalize on the latest high protein craze with the claim "up to 10x protein vs regular soup". The front side of the pack of Spanish Tomato flavor lists other claims - "11g protein, 6.3g fibre, 26 vitamins and minerals". What caught my attention was this phrase
"With 5 plant-based superfoods - quinoa, moringa, amaranth, buckwheat and turmeric".

All the right words to grab the attention of today's health-conscious, time-starved urban consumer, isn't it?

Firstly, we need to understand these 10X protein claims. In tiny font, it is mentioned that 10X protein comparison is with regular powdered instant soups available in the market, the ones like Knorr that hardly have any nutrition. All I can think of is the classic Goundamani-Senthil dialogue - "naa ezhaavadhu pass nga, neenga SSLC fail nga...pass perusaa, fail perusaa?" (Folks who don't understand Tamil, this is a dialogue from a Tamil movie Gentleman).

In other words, one who claims "I have scored 15 marks and I'm better than the student who scored 5 marks" when the pass percentage is 50% and the distinction percentage is 90%.


Next, let's turn our attention to these superfoods. The back side of the pack states the benefits of these five superfoods to reinforce the fact that this soup indeed contains these magical ingredients. Now we need to know how much of these ingredients are actually present.

Let's search for these superfoods in the ingredients list (picture source - Amazon)
Quinoa (0.1%), Buckwheat (0.08%), Amaranth (0.08%), Turmeric (0.01%), Moringa (0.004%)

Such minuscule quantities! How ridiculous is that! Since there are no regulations, brands can add a teeny tiny amount of any of these and use them in their promotions. As consumers, we need to be wary of such claims and really understand the quantity of these ingredients. The food bloggers promoting this soup are being sent a hamper with these superfoods in cute, little glass jars. Yet another visual fooling strategy used by brands to create a false image. Earlier, brands used to send only their product (and the exact phrases to be used) to food bloggers/influencers. Now they seem to be sending the appropriate props to use in the pictures.

What are the top ingredients then?
Soy protein isolate, maltodextrin, inulin, sugar, Edible Vegetable Oil, Edible Common Salt

I haven't done enough research to share my thoughts on soy protein isolate, which is being widely used in protein shakes. What I have read so far is that soy protein isolate is chemically extracted from soy. Given that more than 90% of soy is genetically modified, I avoid soy products or its extracts. There are enough protein-rich sources in a traditional Indian diet. I don't see a need for such chemically processed protein extracts.

The source of protein is mainly soy protein isolate. Quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are protein-rich sources but given their quantities are so less, we are not getting protein from these natural ingredients.

Maltodextrin is highly processed, artificially produced white powder, derived from starch. It is used as a thickener and binding agent in many processed foods. Our body absorbs it quickly, giving instant energy. It has a high glycemic index and spikes up glucose levels. It might be suited for athletes, but definitely not for someone looking to lose weight or managing lifestyle ailments like diabetes.

Each serving contains 6.8gm of sugar (approx 1.5 tsp of sugar). What's the need for sugar in a soup? A pinch should suffice to enhance the flavor, why 1.5 tsp of sugar?

Each serving contains a whopping 1189 mg of sodium. To give you a comparison, Knorr sweet corn vegetable soup contains 543 mg of sodium per serving. This is extremely high for a single meal soup.Why aren't the food bloggers talking about this fact?

As usual, this soup also uses the term "real vegetables". If you check the ingredients list, it is a measly 1.3% of dehydrated vegetables(tomato, onion, coriander and parsley). The soup is called Spanish tomato but there is hardly any tomato present.

Artificial additives in the form of flavor enhancers (INS 627, INS 631) are also present. Yes, the same flavor enhancers used in Knorr soups. Please check my post on Knorr soups to know more about these flavor enhancers and their side effects. 

Apart from the soup mix, it also comes with "multigrain crunchies". Yeah, obviously....when you add "gourmet" to the name and want a premium positioning, there has to be "multigrain" in it, isn't it? 

What are these crunchies made of? Oat flour, corn flour along with a few other ingredients. And yes, the same 2 flavor enhancers (INS 627, INS 631) are present here as well.

Each pack comes with 4 servings and MRP is Rs.375. Current selling price in Amazon is Rs.300. So each serving costs Rs.75. Quite a high price we are paying for hardly-any-good, mostly-bad ready-to-eat soup.

There are other variants like Mexican sweet corn, Italian mixed vegetables etc. The ingredients are pretty much similar. And the same story repeats itself.

Yet another junk masquerading as healthy, that is launched to fool urban consumers, curated by a celebrity chef.

A bowl of healthy and tasty tomato soup can be made in 15 minutes with a 2-litre pressure cooker and a hand blender. The minimum ingredients needed are 4-5 tomatoes, 1 onion, 3-4 garlic cloves, butter/oil, salt and pepper powder. That's it, not a long laundry list of thickeners and flavor enhancers. You can skip the butter/oil and make it vegan, oil-free. If you want to add protein-rich foods to this soup, add a handful of moong and/or masoor dal, which will also give a nice, creamy texture without the need for any thickeners.

If you want to make a nice moringa soup, here's my recipe, using real drumstick greens. You might need around 2 handfuls of the greens, not 0.004% as present in this pack of instant soup.
All my homemade soup recipes are tagged in Instagram here. Do take a look, these are quick and simple.

Let's stop relying on celebrity chefs to curate junk meals for us. Let's stop falling prey to tall health claims. 

Let's learn to cook and invest time in cooking every day for our good health. And yes, as always, READ THE INGREDIENTS LIST AND NUTRITION FACTS TABLE.


Feb 26, 2019

The reality of sugar-free products

Products that are being promoted as "Sugar-free", "no-added-sugar" are on the rise. As people are getting aware of the consequences of high sugar consumption, food industry wants to tap into the new demands by launching sugar-free products. Until a few years back, only diabetic patients were seeking such products, but nowadays many health-conscious people who don't want to be trapped by lifestyle diseases are looking out for sugar-free products.

Whenever I accompany my in-laws for grocery shopping, I get very concerned with the way they scout for sugar-free foods in every aisle. Be it ice-creams, jams, biscuits, cookies etc. All they would check for is the label "SUGAR FREE" on the front side of the pack. Both of them have diabetes and hypertension. They have been on artificial sweeteners for decades.

The intention of this article is NOT to talk about artificial sweeteners and their ill effects per se but more about the label "sugar free" and how it can mislead consumers into buying unhealthy products.

Take for example, this pack of Unibic's Daily Digestive sugar free ajwain cookies. 
 
 
 
The first two ingredients are maida and palm oil, both are unhealthy, more so for people who are diabetic. Why? Because of the high glycemic index of maida and the inflammatory properties of refined oil.

Instead of sugar, this pack contains maltitol (E965).  Maltitol is a sugar alcohol (a polyol) used as a sugar substitute. It has 2.1 calories per gram (white sugar has 4 calories per gram) and a glycemic index of 52 (table sugar has a glycemic index of 60). Since maltitol is a carbohydrate and contains calories, it affects blood glucose levels. Some of the side effects of maltitol include abdominal cramps and intestinal gas. It is also mentioned in the pack - "polyols may have laxative effect".


To increase the fibre level, the brand has included fructooligosaccharide. I didn't understand the need for it, given that the pack already contains 7.2% rolled oats and 4.5% wheat bran. Then as I flipped to the front side, I noticed this tagline "33% daily fibre". 100 gm of these cookies contain 8.2 gm of dietary fibre, which is definitely on the higher side. Instead of blindly going with the "high fibre" and "sugar-free" taglines, it is imperative that we also look at the source of fibre.

Dietary Fructooligosaccharides are a form of sugar that is naturally present in onion, garlic, artichokes, banana etc. They act as a prebiotic, as they go undigested into the intestine and feed the gut bacteria. Sounds all good but whether the lab processed fructooligosaccharides provide the same result is something to be questioned. 

Most sugar-free products will have either high levels of fat or salt to compensate for the lack of sugar. 100 gm of these sugar-free ajwain cookies contain 22gm of unhealthy fats. The other unhealthy additives in the form of leavening agents, emulsifiers and artificial flavors are also present.

This is yet another junk masquerading as healthy. Let alone diabetics, it is not a healthy choice for fit people either.

I'm listing down a few other popular brands which use "sugar-free" as their value proposition along with their respective artificial sweeteners.

Horlicks Lite => Acesulfame Potassium (950)
Women's Horlicks => Acesulfame Potassium (950)
Bournvita for women => Sucralose (955)
Brittania Nutrichoice Digestive Zero => Maltitol (965) and Sucralose (955)
Unibic Sugar free Butter cookies =>  Maltitol (965) and Sucralose (955)
McVities Digestive No added sugar => Maltitol (965)

Let's not blindly pick such "sugar-free" labeled junk. Let's read the ingredients and understand the nutrition facts.

Feb 20, 2019

Unibic Daily Digestive Oatmeal cookies review

 
Let me share with you a perfect example of how celebrities/influencers promote junk as "healthy" by spurting out attention-grabbing numbers/stats. 

As I was scrolling through my Insta feed a couple of days back, I stopped at a sponsored ad. It was from Unibic Cookies that showed a video of Shilpa Shetty making a fruit parfait with Unibic Digestive cookies as the base/crumble. This particular line in the caption caught my attention - "To give it a healthy twist, we are making this recipe using Unibic Daily Digestive cookies which has 26% fibre"

Woah, 26% fibre? seriously? I have never seen a packaged food with that high an amount of fibre. I immediately opened my Amazon app, searched for this pack and looked at the nutrition facts table. 100 gm of these cookies contain 6.1gm of dietary fibre, which means it has 6.1% fibre.  So the number quoted in Insta caption is clearly misleading.
 
Source: amazon.in
 
I then opened the video from Shilpa Shetty's Insta page and carefully listened to what she says - "to make the fruit parfait a tad bit healthier, we are going to use Unibic Daily Digestive oatmeal cookies which has 26% fibre of your daily requirement" and then she proceeds with her recipe.

If you are going to talk about daily requirement, you would ideally say "these cookies meet 26% of your daily fibre requirement". They don't contain 26% fibre. 

Let's presume that our daily fibre requirement is 25gm approx. 
26% of that would be 6.5gm, which means we would have to eat around 100gm of these cookies in a day to meet the 26% fibre requirement claim.

I'm not sure how many cookies add upto 100gm. I'm guessing it would be around 7-8. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Long story short, the fitness enthusiast/wellness influencer Ms.Shilpa Shetty (with 9.5 million followers in Instagram) claims that eating 7-8 unibic daily digestive cookies in a day is healthy because it gives us 26% of daily fibre requirement.

Let's look at the ingredients:
Source: amazon.in

Wheat flour, Edible Vegetable Oil (palm), Sugar, Rolled Oats (8%), Liquid Glucose, Wheat bran (3%), Milk Solids, Leavening agents (E500 ii, E503 ii), Salt, Emulsifier (E322 from soya).

As expected, the first three ingredients are maida, palm oil and sugar. Rolled oats is ONLY 8%. 
I'm so glad that FSSAI has brought in the regulation that mandates food companies to print "refined wheat flour" for maida and not "wheat flour". How ridiculously misleading it is currently!

100 gm of these cookies contain 23.4 gm of unhealthy fats and 18 gm of sugar. If we eat 7-8 cookies in a day so that we get 26% of daily fibre requirement, then we are also consuming around 6 tsp of unhealthy fats and 4.5 tsp of sugar. How does this make us "tad bit healthier"?

I had earlier written about McVities Digestive and Britannia Nutrichoice cookies. All these so-called "digestive" cookies are totally unhealthy and addictive because of the high amounts of fat and sugar.

In this age of short attention span, it is very easy to be misled by claims made by celebrities, brand endorsers and food influencers. If someone uses "health tags" and highlights individual nutrients like fibre, protein, calcium etc, be extremely cautious. Read the ingredients list, nutrition facts table and make a conscious decision for yourself and your family. These food/fitness influencers don't care a hoot about our health. If they do, they won't be promoting such junk in the first place. 

Feb 8, 2019

How much sugar does Nutella and other chocolate spreads contain?

Source: BigBasket

 
The chocolate and nut based spreads have become a staple in many urban households, ever since Nutella set its footsteps firmly in the Indian market. As though Nutella isn't enough, there are quite a few similar chocolate spreads that have been occupying the supermarket shelves the past few years.

A few weeks back, I heard a mom saying casually, "My daughter CANNOT eat idli, dosa or chapathi without ketchup, jam or choco spread". Her 5-year old daughter is a sweet child but OBESE at such a young age. How did our kids reach that "CANNOT EAT FOOD WITHOUT CHOCOSPREAD" state? It is us, parents who introduced them to such junk in the first place. If the child protests that she won't eat regular food, why do we succumb so easily? What worse could happen? They might throw a tantrum or skip a meal. So what? After a few days, they would forget and move on. Instead, what do we do? We indulge them, we fulfill their every single demand for such sugar loaded junk without any limits. If they won't eat regular foods, we immediately end up opening the bottle of Nutella, just so they eat atleast something.

This habitual consumption of sugary foods is extremely harmful for our children's health. Here's a quick comparison on the amount of sugar and unhealthy refined fats in these choco-spread brands.


As you can see, more than 50% of the product is SUGAR. This one reason is strong enough NOT to buy and stock up these spreads at home. I had earlier written in detail about Nutella and Hersheys Choco spreads. Do take a look if you haven't.

If your kid is 1-2 years old, then do not serve them idli/dosa with sugar or chapathi with ketchup. They get used to the sweet taste at such a young age. Serve plain idli with a little ghee and chutney/sambhar without any chilli flavour.
 
If your child has started to read, show them the pack and ask them to read the first 2 ingredients. 
For older children, sit down, have a chat and make them understand the sugar and chemicals in these spreads. They can calculate the % of sugar if they are familiar with division, fractions, percentages etc. This helps them to start reading labels and understanding the nutrition table right from the age of 8-10 years. Instead of just following orders from parents, they start to take responsibility and become more involved in the shopping decisions. Also helps to put Maths concepts to practical use :-)

P.S. If you are thinking about using them in moderation or keeping them for "emergency" days when the kid wouldn't eat anything, sorry that ain't gonna work. What I have learnt is that if there is junk sitting in the fridge, kids would remember and reach for it all the time. If there is no stock at home, they would eat whatever is available. As simple as that.

Jan 29, 2019

The slow afternoon

After lunch, I stepped out and sat on the swing in my balcony garden. My cat was resting peacefully as usual, soaking in the sunshine. There was just a slight tingling of her ears because of my footsteps. After realizing it was me, she went back to her nap. I sat there, without any book or gadgets in hand. It was blazing hot but I needed that warmth. I quietly started observing the various sights and sounds around me - gentle swaying of palm leaves, distant sound of helicopter, honking from cars on the road (yeah, even at 1PM), bees buzzing from one flower to the next, my cat nicely stretched and her breath so rhythmic and relaxed, a tiny jasmine flower that has just bloomed this morning, announcing that summer is nearing. As I was taking in all these through my senses, a pigeon dropped by from nowhere and was curiously looking around. I turned towards my cat and as expected, she was all alert but for only a few seconds. She might have thought, "nah, I already had my food. Not hungry enough to grab a pigeon. Why waste my effort?" and she continued her nap.

These 15 minutes felt like meditation to me. We don't need fancy apps or wellness retreats to feel the inner peace. Just by being ourselves in the present moment, being aware of our surroundings, being conscious of our senses and just observing nature - so simple but we have complicated our lives so much that these ideas sound so alien and strange. As I was taking a walk in the terrace last evening, this incredible view of sunset just brought so much happiness. 

Slow living, mindful living, conscious living - whatever may be the term for it, this is the way I'm going forward with my life. I don't need to be busy every single waking minute - jumping from one task to next, reading a book, watching a video, cooking, scrolling through social media feed etc. I need these "do-nothing" moments too.

And for those who ask me, "What are you upto these days?", my answer is going to be "living my life", as simple as that.

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