Oct 30, 2018

Kelloggs Granola Almonds and Cranberries Review


Corn flakes, chocos, muesli and now the latest entrant, granola. Kelloggs continues to make strides into the growing breakfast cereal market in India. I had earlier written about how the breakfast cereal market growth in India can be attributed to changing consumer preferences, exposure, convenience and availability. Such breakfast cereal brands might be taking a good share from the urban consumer's wallet every week/month, but definitely not from my household.

I don't have any kind of breakfast cereal stocked up in my pantry. It is such a waste of money and it does no good to our health, though the brands continue to scream otherwise. I just wrapped up my breakfast with ragi dosas (with homemade batter) and tomato thokku. With the batter and thokku prepared ahead, all it took me was less than 5 minutes to make the 2 dosas.

Let's look at this new product - Kelloggs granola with almonds and cranberries.

The front side of the pack says "Wholesome crunch - nutritious oats, real almonds, yum cranberry, corn crispies".

Such well-crafted marketing material should be ignored and as consumers who care about our health, we should focus more on the back side of the pack - Ingredients list and nutrition facts. Get bored with this statement but I'm not going to stop repeating it ;-)

Ingredients List:
  1. Rolled Oats (25.1%), 
  2. Candied Fruit and Nut (24%) (Candied Cranberry (14%), Almonds (10%)),
  3. Sugar,
  4. Oat Flour (10.7%),
  5. Edible Vegetable Oil (Palmolein),
  6. Rice (4.2%),
  7. Whole Wheat (3.9%),
  8. Rice Flour (2.7%),
  9. Liquid Glucose,
  10. Corn Flour (1.8%),
  11. Honey,
  12. Malt Extract,
  13. Wheat Bran (0.6%),
  14. Wheat Flour (0.5%),
  15. Iodized Salt,
  16. Dextrose,
  17. Barley Flour (0.1%),
  18. Vitamins,
  19. Raising Agent (INS 500ii),
  20. Minerals,
  21. Antioxidant (INS 320)
Contains Added Flavours (Nature Identical and artificial cream flavouring substances)


1) Firstly, 20+ ingredients.
According to this basic recipe from the popular blog "thekitchn", homemade granola requires just 7 ingredients - Rolled oats, honey or maple syrup, oil, dry fruits, nuts, cinnamon and salt. But if you look at this pack of granola, there are so many unwanted stuff like malt extract, dextrose, liquid glucose, wheat flour etc. 



2) Macros - where do they stand as compared to our typical Indian fresh breakfasts?
Those of you who avoid parathas and idlis for breakfast because they are "carbs", please note that the ingredients of this granola pack include rice flour and wheat flour as well. I had earlier highlighted the same point in my review of Kelloggs Special-K. Please check it out if you haven't.
The table below is a comparison of the macros (Indian breakfast nutrition facts data from myfitnesspal).


Let's not forget the accompaniments. The chutney/sambhar increases the amount of protein, fibre along with various other vitamins and minerals. Not to forget the healing spices. It is only our wrong perceptions that have been carefully influenced by heavy marketing, which has made us believe that such packaged cereals are low-carb/wholesome/light etc, whereas our Indian breakfasts are high-carb/heavy etc. 


3) Typically, granola is made with honey. But if you see the ingredients list, the sweetener is primarily sugar and its various forms. The nutrition facts table states that one serving of Kelloggs granola contains 7.2 gm of sugar (around 2 tsp of sugar). But please note that this is ONLY sucrose. The other types of sugar such as glucose and dextrose are not accounted for. 

4) The fat used is the unhealthiest and cheapest oil available - refined palmolein. 

5) The first ingredient listed is "Rolled oats", which constitutes 25% of the granola mix. This would mean that a 40 gm serving would contain ONLY 10 gm of rolled oats. This also implies that the dietary fibre would be very low, which is proved in the nutrition table (2gm of fibre per serving). 
 
6) Synthetic additives:
Do take a note of the raising agent (INS 500ii). Sodium bicarbonate causes corrosion of the gut and digestive issues when consumed in large amounts. 

The antioxidant (INS 320) is Butylated Hydroxyanisole, which is banned in Japan because of its carcinogenic and estrogenic effects. Can cause hyperactivity, asthma and allergies. 
 
In my previous post, I spoke about unscrupulous nutrition experts mushrooming everywhere and how people without proper qualifications call themselves as experts and guide people in nutrition and weight loss.

This is my question to Person B who is being hailed as an Ayurveda expert in Instagram. A few days back, I came across her posts promoting Kelloggs Granola. Based on my limited understanding of Ayurveda, I believe that honey should not be heated. 
 
Person B, if you are a true Ayurveda follower, then how can you promote Kelloggs granola where honey is added as part of the baking process?
 
For those of you who like to bake granola at home without honey, here's a good recipe using jaggery.
 
Sources:
https://www.traditionaloven.com/articles/122/dangerous-food-additives-to-avoid

Oct 26, 2018

Who is the right nutritionist for you?

An alarming trend I'm observing these days - 
Person A completes a basic nutrition course in Coursera and calls herself a certified nutritionist from Stanford. 
Person B goes for a one-month Ayurveda course in Kerala and claims as an Ayurveda expert, giving talks and workshops on Ayurveda. 
Person C loses weight by following Keto diet and then calls herself a Keto expert and offers weight loss packages for a hefty fee (35K-50K for 3 months). 

Nutrition and fitness are the hot topics in the past 5-6 years, given the prevalence of many lifestyle diseases. Many people are desperate to lose weight and fall for such bogus experts. There's no regulation whatsoever.

I'm perfectly okay with sharing knowledge and perspectives, but I'm concerned when people turn their half-baked knowledge into a business. I have been posting pictures of my simple, healthy meals on Instagram over the past couple of years. A few of my followers have asked me if I can help them with their weight loss. I politely declined with the reason that I'm not a qualified professional.

We seek an expert's advice ONLY when something is complex. If it is simple enough for us to interpret and make decisions, then we wouldn't need the expertise of an outsider.

Nutrition science has been intentionally made complex in the past decade, and you see so many such "experts" mushrooming at every corner, recommending one complicated diet or the other.

If you need specific advice, seek the opinion of a certified medical doctor or a qualified, experienced nutritionist. Avoid these "nethu penja mazhaiyile innikku molacha kaalan" type experts (mushrooms that sprouted after yesterday's rain).

No one knows your body and health better than you. After a meal, observe how your body reacts, how you feel in general. 

You don't need a calorie counter, a measuring scale, a health and fitness app or a dietitian to tell you the exact quantity to eat. Look inward. You'll know when you have overeaten. You'll realize which foods make you drowsy, which foods make you bloated. Mindful eating is the trending topic in the West these days. It is high time that we follow it too.

By looking inward, I was able to understand my food related ailments better.
  • Paneer makes me drowsy
  • I can't eat wheat rotis on a daily basis. I can include them at the max 2-3 times a week. Else, I feel bloated.
  • Pizza takes longer time to digest
  • Excess milk based sweets triggers my sinus
  • I know the foods that trigger migraine (excess caffeine, less water intake)
  • I'm aware of the foods to take in order to avoid menstrual migraine (iron and magnesium rich foods)
  • I can't drink a huge glass of sugarcane juice, it makes me drowsy and tired. Same with too many fruits in a single meal.
Daily food logging is a good habit but it is more than just listing down the foods we eat. It is also about how we feel after eating a certain food. No smileys or emojis please! Plain words that express how you feel.

When it comes to nutrition, you are the best person to decide what to eat. It needs discipline, focus, will power and a little effort. Instead of succumbing to these bogus experts, try to plan your meals yourself. Keep it simple, homecooked and real. I believe nutrition is quite simple, if we take the responsibility in our own hands.

Oct 25, 2018

Maggi Nutri-licious baked noodles with sweet corn

 
 
I stumbled upon yet another "healthy" variation of Maggi nutri-licious noodles in the supermarket a few days back. I had earlier written about atta noodles and oats noodles and why they aren't healthy as the brand claims. Do check it out if you haven't.

This new variation is called Maggi nutri-licious baked noodles with sweet corn. The target audience is clearly children looking at the image and the nutrition values are based on the RDA of a 8-year old child. This is the first time I'm seeing the nutrition facts based on a child's requirement. Though I'm happy about this change, the sodium % makes me question if the RDA values are correct.

(1) High Sodium
In a serving size of 60gm of baked noodles, the sodium quantity is 599.6mg. Do you see the Bata pricing tactic being employed here - 599.6mg? Why not call it out as 600mg?

The guideline daily amount % shown is 30%. If 600mg of sodium is 30%, then it implies that an average 8 year old child's guideline daily amount of sodium is around 2000mg. 

I couldn't figure out the daily amount guidelines for sodium as recommended by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad. Will try to reach out to them to see if there are India specific guidelines and update here if I get any answers.

Meanwhile, using the data from American Heart Association (AHA), the recommended daily amount of sodium for 8+ year old kids and adults is 1500mg and the upper max limit is 2300mg.

So irrespective of whether it is baked, fried, atta, oats, corn or the regular noodles, one cannot deny the fact that all such noodle variants are HIGH in sodium. 

(2) Where's the corn?
The packaging imagery is filled with sweet corn kernels which is one of the favorite foods for most kids. But if you look at the ingredients, the dehydrated sweet corn is ONLY 4.5%. What should be the maximum value of a particular ingredient if the brand intends to use it as part of their branding? A brand adds 10% quinoa and calls it quinoa chips. Another brand uses 4.5% sweet corn and calls it noodles with sweet corn.There's no such regulations/guidelines in our country and brands misuse it big time.

(3) Low fat but still made with maida
Yes, the total fats are low compared to other variants, but the noodles cake is made with maida/refined wheat flour. Maida has no nutrition whatsoever, it spikes up the blood glucose levels which affects the pancreas in the long run.


(4) Where's the protein and fibre?
The brand mentions that this baked noodles is a source of protein and fibre in a child's diet. If you look at the nutrition facts, a single serving contains ONLY 4.6gm of protein and 2.5gm of fibre. Regular Maggi has slightly better protein and fibre, if you do a comparison.

(5) Flavor Enhancer
Though the noodles cake is baked, the tastemaker (masala pack) ingredients mostly remain the same, which includes flavor enhancer 635 - disodium ribonucleotides. I have written about this ingredient in my earlier post on Maggi Masala-ae-magic.

If you or your child crave Maggi, buy the regular variant once in a while. These supposedly "healthy" variants are a big sham and not worth consuming on a daily basis. 

What next? Quinoa variant? Ragi or any other millet variant? The same story will repeat itself. Add a teeny tiny percentage of these healthy grains, keep the rest of the ingredients same and position it as a healthy snack for kids/adults. This trend seems to be never ending, unless we as consumers stop falling for this trick.

Oct 23, 2018

Seek inspiration from within

Mental Health Awareness Day is observed every year on Oct 10th. I had earlier posted an article related to mental health around this time of the year, as it is such an important topic that needs to be discussed.

Many times, we wonder why life throws so many challenges to us, while the rest of the world (friends, relatives, social circle etc) seems to be having so much fun and enjoying their life. 

Firstly, we cannot and should not judge someone's life based on what they share on social media. We like to share our life's best moments, while we sulk alone or with close family members during our worst moments. So let's consciously put an effort not to be affected by social media. I'm active on social media mainly for inspiration, to get ideas and to learn about interesting stuff. Lately I have been quite active on Instagram. I get inspiration from many foodies who share similar passion towards healthy eating and cooking like me. There are also a lot of people whom I haven't met in person but we share mutual respect and common interests. So I believe not all social media is bad, we just need to identify what we are looking for and the platform that provides the same.

Secondly, the most important point. You may disagree with me if you are not a spiritual person and that's totally fine. I have started to believe in this following principle - 


"God gives the right amount of challenges to those who can handle them and come out strong". 

 So if I find someone in my social circle who seems to be having fun and enjoying life without any difficulties, while I face certain challenges, then I tell myself that I'm becoming a stronger and a better person. That these experiences are helping me evolve and prepare myself to take on new challenges.

In the earlier days when I became a mother, I was struggling with raising my daughter D without any family help. It was a totally new experience and I had no clue whatsoever on many things - feeding her, giving her a bath, putting her to sleep, soothing her when she has a colic etc. When I see moms who have it all easy and get ample support from their mothers/MILs, I used to think why I'm not getting any help and used to feel bad about it. I wrote about this in my earlier article on self-pity as well. Please check it out if you haven't.

Now when I look back, these 7 years since D was born have been the most challenging and most exciting phase of my life. If I had someone to help me with, I might have just lazed around or taken up a full time job that doesn't give time for anything else. I wouldn't have invested that time and energy to understand child nutrition, perils of packaged foods, importance of eating local and traditional etc. When I read messages from my Insta friends that they have made changes to their eating habits after reading my posts, I feel so grateful and blessed. My blog has been super active in the past few years. From cooking basic dishes and "OB adichifying" (taking it easy) with curd rice for dinner most often after a long day of work, I now invest a lot of time to cook 2-3 meals a day for myself and my family. I came out of my comfort zone and tried out a catering service, cooking traditional Indian meals for my apartment neighbours. I have fallen in love with Yoga and been a regular for the past 3.5 years. I take care of my health much better in my 30s than in my 20s.

Given my family circumstances, I knew earlier on that going for a full time job is out of the question. If I had to make that possible, I had to place my trust either on a nanny or a day care. The first option was ruled out as I'm not comfortable with leaving my daughter alone with a third person. I tried a couple of day cares for a few months and was so disappointed with the "care" they give to young kids. Most of them resort to playing TV or youtube videos the whole afternoon. So I decided that I need to take care of my daughter and at the same time, continue to build my identity. I don't want to use the word "career", as it comes with many underlying notions. I want my own identity in this world, that lets me seek meaning and leave an impact. I also understood something about myself in this journey. I'm neither a perfect home maker nor a career driven, working woman. I want to be somewhere in the middle. While many have discouraged me that the "middle" path will take me nowhere, I persisted. Ever since my daughter turned 1.5 years old, I have been working part-time, telecommute, work-from-home, project based opportunities etc. I'm happy and content doing product management work and I'm not concerned about my title or the typical growth paths that a product manager strives towards in software organizations. Yes, this path has given me financial freedom, flexibility, the option of choosing work that I like to do and most importantly, to be there with my daughter during these crucial years.

If this all sounds like my ego talking, let it be. Because I want to revisit this post often whenever I'm down on motivation and need inspiration. We often seek inspiration from others, sometimes the inspiration could just be ourselves, when we did something out of the ordinary, when we pushed ourselves, when we came out of our comfort zone or when we went after our goals. So it is okay to recognize and be happy about one's accomplishments, however big or small it may be. We (women) often have high expectations of ourselves and fail to acknowledge our little milestones. I would urge you to take some time and write a similar post that you can look back and feel inspired about yourself. Write in your journal, blog, social media page, wherever you are comfortable with. Let your own words guide you towards inspiration, because only when you feel inspired, you feel the magic happening from within.


Oct 9, 2018

A primer on how to read food labels

Image Source: https://fssai.gov.in/EatRightMovement/back.jsp

 
 Recently, I came across this FSSAI page that talks about decoding back of the pack. The explanation is at a very high level and doesn't include any useful details whatsoever, that will help the consumer understand the ingredients and make a purchase decision. My guess is that they don't want consumers to dive into any further details.
 
This post below is a summary of how to read and interpret food labels. This post is intended for those who have never read food labels before and would like some pointers to get started. Readers who have read my previous posts can skim through or treat this post as a revision :-)

Whenever you pick a packaged food from a shop/supermarket, the first thing you do is ignore all the attractive images and taglines in the front of the pack. Simply flip over and turn to the back of the pack.
 
 
  1. Firstly, check the manufacturing date and expiry date. The product shouldn't have gone past the expiry date or shouldn't be too close to expiry. Might sound very basic, but many people don't even check this, especially senior citizens.
  2. Check the expiry date/best before. If it is greater than 3-4 months, be a little cautious that there might be preservatives added to extend the shelf life.
  3. Look at the ingredients list. 
    1. Count the number of ingredients. The higher the number of ingredients, the higher the chances of the product being highly processed. 5-6 "identifiable" ingredients is okay but we should be concerned if it exceeds this limit.
    2. Among the ingredients, count the number of ingredients that starts with INS or E followed by a number. Usually, they will be listed as emulsifiers, stabilizers, acidity regulators, improvers, preservatives etc. This is especially important for foods that you consume on a daily basis - breakfast cereal, ketchup, bread, chocolate spread etc. If the pack doesn't have any such ingredient, then it might be classified as "OK to buy"
    3. The order in which the ingredients are listed matter a lot. The first ingredient is the one with the highest quantity. Check the first three ingredients. If it is either sugar, wheat flour or refined vegetable oil, then you can conclude it as having either high-sugar, high-refined-carbs or high-unhealthy-fats respectively. For eg, Nutella's first ingredient is Sugar.
    4. If you see "wheat flour" listed as one of the ingredients, it means it is refined wheat flour (maida). If whole wheat flour is used, the name would be explicitly listed as "whole wheat flour".
    5. If the brand claims as "multi-grain", check the percentage of various other grains. Chances are that they might be very less. If the brand claims as "zero sugar", check for artificial sweeteners. 
    6. Sugar comes in various names and avatars. If you see ingredients such as liquid glucose, invert syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose etc, then you can conclude that it is loaded with sugar.
    7. Regarding fats, look at the source of oils used. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are the worst. 
  4. Now that you have gone through the ingredients list, you would have a fair idea of what's inside the pack. Turn your attention to serving size, number of servings and the quantity of the pack. Usually all three metrics will be given. If not, the quantity of the pack and serving size will be provided, using which you can decipher the number of servings. 
  5. Take a look at the nutrition facts table.
    1. Based on step #4, figure out whether the nutrition facts table is applicable for "per-serving" or for the whole pack. 
    2. Unless you are into counting calories, you can skip the calories part. I usually focus on the macro-nutrients.
    3. Under carbohydrates, you will see sugar listed. 1 tsp of sugar is equivalent to 4 gm. Calculate the tsps of sugar per serving. If it is greater than 2 tsp, you can conclude that it is a high-sugar product.
    4. Look at the quantity of sodium per serving. Since there are no strict regulations on sodium, many brands conveniently skip it (McCain frozen foods for example). If the sodium quantity is greater than 200mg per serving, you can conclude that it is high on salt. These are not industry-defined standards which could be biased or "fixed" by big food conglomerates. This is how I as a mom evaluate a product. 
    5. If the pack says "high fibre", "high protein", "high calcium" etc, look for the exact values in the nutrition facts table. If the serving contains more than 7gm of fibre per serving, then it can be considered as a high fibre food. Most brands that claim high fibre hardly contain 2-3gm.
    6. It is also important to figure out the source of these "nutrients". Quaker Oats milk claims that it is high in fibre but if you look at the source of that fibre, it is polydextrose and not oats.
This might seem like a lot of steps, but trust me, once you get into the habit of reading labels, this would become second nature to you. You would be able to decipher the ingredients in less than a minute. Let's become more mindful of our grocery shopping. Let's invest that time to read through the labels for the sake of our good health.
 
Hope you find this post helpful. If you have any questions or need further clarification, do share in the comments below.

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