May 22, 2017

Best sources of Vitamin-C


When we talk about Vitamin-C, the first thing that comes to our mind is “Immunity”. Immunity against viruses are essential for everyone but more so for children. Living in a city like Bangalore where the temperature fluctuates a lot, children fall sick more often. Since the immunity of toddlers and pre-schoolers is building up, the frequency of catching a cold/cough is high.

You don’t need a health drink like Pediasure or a multi-vitamin “gummy bear” to boost their immunity. And no “fortified” packaged orange juices too. All they need is good sources of Vitamin-C in their diet.

Vitamin-C is a water soluble vitamin and aids in the absorption of iron. It is not produced or stored in the body and so it has to be acquired through food. Vitamin C boosts immunity and is necessary for the production of collagen, a protein for maintaining the health of the skin. Vitamin-C also has anti-oxidant properties. It also helps in the formation of neuro-transmitters, thereby helping certain cases of mild depression.

Though Vitamin-C has numerous benefits, consumption in high doses through pills/supplements can be dangerous. It is always better to rely on natural sources like fruits, vegetables and greens.

Recommended intake of Vitamin-C is 40 mg/day (for children and adults).

Here’s a list of best sources of Vitamin-C (ascorbic acid) (Data Source: Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017)



mg per 100 gm
Sources Total Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)


Fruits
Gooseberry 252
Guava, pink 222
Guava, white 214
Black currants 182
Karonda 135
Rambutan 65
Strawberry 50
Mango, himsagar 49
Pumelo 49
Lemon juice 48
Sweet lime 47
Orange 43
Papaya 43
Pineapple 36
Custard Apple 22


Green Leafy Vegetables
Parsley 133
Agathi leaves 121
Drumstick leaves 108
Ponnanganni 103
Amaranth leaves, red 86
Amaranth leaves, green 84
Mustard leaves 60
Methi leaves 58
Cauliflower leaves 53
Cabbage, violet 43
Cabbage, green 33
Spinach 30


Vegetables
Yellow Capsicum 127
Green Capsicum 123
Red Capsicum 112
Green Chillies 94
Raw green mango 90
Drumstick 72
Knol-kol 65
Bittergourd 51
Cauliflower 47

1) Cereals and pulses have negligible amounts of Vitamin-C and so the only sources to rely on are fresh fruits, vegetables and greens
2) Though “orange” has been glorified as the best source of Vitamin-C, local fruits such as gooseberries (amla/nellikkai) and guavas have 4-5X Vitamin-C as compared to oranges. Let’s give more preference to the humble guavas from the cart-vendor than the imported oranges that come with a sticker.
3) Make it a habit to include "amla candy" in your children's diet. Easily available in many stores, kids usually like them since it is made with honey. Amla can also be easily turned into a juice, pickle or a curd pachadi.
4) As I keep reiterating, green leafy vegetables are nature’s gift to us that are rich in various vitamins and minerals. To increase Vitamin-C intake, let’s include greens such as drumstick greens, ponnanganni, amaranth and agathi on a regular basis. Parsley is also an excellent source of Vitamin-C and it grows easily in a small garden space.
5) Bell-peppers / Capsicum are 3X times rich in Vitamin-C than oranges. The colored ones make any dish look so attractive that kids usually love them. Make them into a stir-fry, pulao/fried rice, salad or just plain sticks to munch on.
6) Summer is the season of mangoes. Apart from beta-carotene, mangoes are a good source of Vitamin-C too, especially the raw green ones. Raw mangoes can be easily incorporated in salads or gravies - from maanga pachadi in the South to kache aam ki kadhi in the North, there are plenty of recipes.

Update: After publishing this post, a thought occurred :-) How did I miss the famous imported New Zealand "Kiwi" fruit that's adorning EVERY supermarket shelf in Bangalore these days?
I couldn't get its nutrition information from Indian Food Composition Tables (duh! it's not an Indian food produce for God's sake)......and so I googled. Turns out Kiwi fruit has 92 mg of Vitamin C /100 gms. Compare that to our local amla and guavas, friends! Do we really need to spend 40 bucks on a single Kiwi fruit to get our dose of Vitamin C? Aren't there better pocket-friendly and eco-friendly choices with less carbon footprint? Anything advertised has to be questioned - I have seen a huge billboard in Bangalore promoting kiwi fruit that depicts how you can just cut and scoop it with a spoon. Will it match the same taste as that of a fresh, juicy bite of a guava? Something to think about.

Do you find these posts on Vitamins and Minerals helpful? Are there any other topics that you'd like me to write about? Let me know in the comments below.

Related Posts:
Vitamins - Vitamin A | Vitamin C
Minerals - Calcium | Iron | Magnesium 

May 19, 2017

9 tips for meal-prep and meal planning

Meal-prep and meal planning seems to be all the rage these days. Popular ideas/suggestions range from
- chop veggies for a week and freeze them
- partially cook gravies and curries and freeze them
- make chapathi dough for a week and refrigerate them
- cook rice, make phulkas for a week and freeze them
- cook all dishes fully and freeze them
and more.

The world (especially the food industry) wants you to believe that you are too busy and you don’t have time to cook a meal. Only then, they can sell solutions that promise to save you time. I have written enough about processed foods and junk foods. But there’s also another industry that’s growing in urban India - food storage products. The demand for ziplock bags, aluminium foils, cling wrap, freezer trays, freezer safe plastic containers and MW reheatable boxes have gone up so high in the past decade or so. Many families buy a microwave oven SOLELY for the purpose of reheating food.

Left-overs?
You might ask “What about left-overs? We shouldn’t waste food”. I completely agree with you. I get so angry and upset when my husband or daughter waste food at home. Hubby dear has faced the brunt of my anger many times now, that he wouldn’t dream about wasting food :-)

I don’t cook with the intention of making extra portions for subsequent meals/days. On most of the days, there are hardly any left-overs in my home, given that I know the exact quantity to cook for my small 3-person family. In rare cases, if there are left-overs, we use it for the next meal (usually for dinner).

Nutrition?
We usually get vegetables from the super-market/grocery stores, who procure them from a wholesale supplier. The vegetables we buy are already a few days older from the time they have been harvested from the farm. Many of us in the cities buy vegetables for a week and store them in fridge (I do that too). Some of the nutrients are already lost in this time period. There will be hardly any nutrients left if we chop them all and freeze for a week. I recently came across a blog post by a nutrition specialist who was recommending making salads in bulk and freezing for a week. Seriously? What’s the point of eating salads then? If we freeze and eat them, I wonder what vitamins and minerals are left in those vegetables.

Problems with freezing cooked food
The more time your food remains frozen, the higher the amount of nutrients get degraded. Also, the right temperature to thaw the food evenly is required.

If there are frequent power cuts, the temperature fluctuates, thereby resulting in food spoilage.  Temperature varies in the freezer, depending on how many times you open/close the door and whether you keep your food in the door shelf or in the deep freezer.

Storing/reheating cooked food in plastic containers is a strict NO-NO in my home. Even if the plastic is food-grade, doesn’t contain BPA or belongs to Tupperware, I never use plastic in MW. On rare occasions, when I want to reheat rice, I take it in a ceramic plate / bowl.

I came across this relevant quote in a Siddha medicine book
"மூத்த நாள் சமைத்த கறி அமுதெனினும் உண்ணோம்"
which roughly translates to "don't eat food that was cooked yesterday, even if it is amirtha (nectar)"


My freezer - green peas, sweet corn, grated coconut, icepack and popcorn seeds

Now that I have set the context, let me share with you 9 tips to make fresh, healthy, home-cooked meals and at the same time, you don’t end up slogging the whole day in the kitchen.

(1) Be efficient
Let me admit that I’m a slow cook. I have seen people who move faster than me and can chop vegetables quickly like a pro. Having said that, I’m slow but an efficient cook in my kitchen. I have a 3-burner gas stove and I ensure I use 2-3 burners at the same time. Multi-tasking helps me to finish work faster. I spend around an hour in the morning, preparing breakfast and lunch. And around 30-40 minutes in the evening, preparing dinner. A typical morning would be like - boil water in the kettle, soak dal for sambhar with the hot water. While the dal soaks, chop vegetables. Pressure cook dal in one burner, boil milk in the second, prepare dry veg sabzi in the third burner. Once dal is cooked, keep another pressure cooker for rice. Make tea in the second and so on. You get the drift? Practice puts you into auto-pilot and you can get things done faster.

(2) Optimise your time in the kitchen
I remember the early days when I started to cook. I used to wait for the milk to boil before I start heating the water for tea. Only after tea is done, I would start my breakfast work slowly. Reminds me of the sloth character from Zootopia ;-) Now I’m glad that I have learnt to optimise my time. I spend around an hour in the morning, preparing breakfast and lunch, making tea and packing lunch boxes. My kitchen work gets over before 10AM, after which I don’t need to step into the kitchen until evening. When I make my cup of evening chai, I plan my dinner and start prep work like rolling chapathi dough, boiling lentils etc. While I make dinner in the night, I boil milk to set curd for the next day, soak lentils like chickpeas, rajma etc.

(3) Plan for atleast next day’s breakfast and lunch
I tried weekly meal planning but I find that to be a tedious process. I prefer to cook spontaneously based on what captures my interest in a given day. At the same time, too much spontaneity can be confusing. Every night, before I go to bed, I make a mental note of what to cook for next day’s breakfast and lunch. That way, when I wake up, I can get into auto-pilot mode and start cooking right away.

(4) Utilize your weekend for prep

Weekend prep - bajra dosa batter, grated coconut, sprouted moong
Though I mentioned that I cook fresh, there are a few things that I do over the weekend to make my weekdays easier. Such tasks include
- Stock up on groceries and vegetables
- Fill the pantry boxes
- Prepare idli/dosa batter
- Soak tamarind
- Grate coconut
- Make sprouts
- Prepare chutney podi

(5) Manage your vegetables stock through a list
I had written a separate post on this technique couple of years back. It has become a habit and it helps me to ensure I use up all the vegetables stocked up, without any wastage. One quick look at this list helps me to plan my next day’s menu easily. Do check out the detailed post.

(6) Keep your meal plan simple
Cooking fresh takes time and effort. To accomplish that everyday, I ensure my meals are simple. Some of my meals look like
- phulkas + veg gravy (Only 1 gravy, not 2-3)
- phulkas + dal (no cooked sabzi but a simple salad to go with)
- sambhar + veg dry sabzi (no rasam or kootu)
- parathas + curd
- dosa + chutney (sometimes, we manage with just chutney podi)
For a small family (2 adults + 1 little girl), this works just fine for us. We would rather eat freshly made dosas with chutney podi than eat a 4-day old sambhar and a 3-day old curry.

(7) Keep counter top clean
Getting up in the morning and seeing a clean kitchen counter top gives a positive feeling. After dinner, I ensure that I wipe the counter and put things back in their place. It takes me just 10 minutes and the mornings start off on a good note.

(8) Ensure everything has a place and clearly label them
I’m a stickler for this and I don’t like things being misplaced in my kitchen. All my grocery supplies are in labeled, transparent containers. When I cook, I don’t spend any time searching for an item. The weekend habit of filling the containers and taking stock of groceries help a great deal in managing my time in the kitchen.

(9) Employ a cook
There will be times when spending 1.5 hours in the kitchen on a daily basis may not be feasible. During such times, it is better to employ a cook and get fresh food everyday on the table. There were times when I had a cook at home - when my daughter was an infant, when I was working for a startup full time, when I had guests at home for long duration etc.

There has been an increased awareness on the importance of fitness in the last 5 years. Many of us are diligent in our morning workouts and invest an hour everyday towards fitness. Let’s try to give the same importance to our nutrition as well. Time in the kitchen is not an expense. It is an investment towards better health for you and your family. Let’s not fall into the trap of frozen foods and quick solutions. Treat our bodies like a temple and feed with love, care and fresh food.

May 12, 2017

Common sense kept in coat hanger?

Long, sarcastic rant ahead. Proceed at your own peril.

Yesterday, my Instagram feed was filled with pictures and videos from the launch of Saffola Aura oil. I follow too many food bloggers and I guess most of them were invited for the event in Mumbai. I’m sure atleast the flight tickets would have been covered.

Now for the facts - Saffola Aura oil is a blend of refined Spanish olive oil and flaxseed oil. MRP is a whopping Rs.1150 for 1 litre (as checked in BigBasket).

Having studied marketing and consumer behaviour with so much interest, I can imagine how this product would have been conceptualised.

“Ok, what’s the latest buzzword in nutrition these days?”
“Omega-3. Good for heart”
“Hmm, flaxseeds. It has been used in India for centuries but we’ll have to position it as premium"
“Let’s launch a premium oil brand with imported olives and flaxseeds. We can command a premium then”

For the launch planning,
“Let’s invite all popular food bloggers for the launch."
"Let’s also invite a nutritionist whose book is a national best seller”
“We also need a chef to demonstrate few recipes”

Chef discusses with the launch team
"Given that we Indians love our pickles and it is summer with loads of mangoes available, how about making a mango pickle with this exotic oil?”
“Wow, great idea! Pickles need more oil and we can increase consumption rate of this oil”

I brushed through my beloved Consumer Behaviour textbook this morning. The five product characteristics that influence consumer acceptance of new products are:
1. Relative advantage - the degree to which potential customers perceive a new product as superior to existing substitutes.
    By now, everyone is aware of olive oil and its benefits. To stand out, this new brand has included the latest popular Omega-3 rich flaxseed. If you look at the ingredient list carefully, you’ll note that the percentage of olive oil:linseed oil is 80:20 in this blend. (Linseed is another name for flaxseed).

2. Compatibility - the degree to which potential consumers feel a new product is consistent with their present needs, values and practices
    Clearly, that mango pickle demonstration falls under this category.

3. Complexity - the degree to which a new product is easy to understand or use
    Nothing complex here, the existing olive oil brands have already done a stupendous job of showing how you can deep fry pooris in olive oil. 

4. Trialability - the degree to which a new product is capable of being tried on a limited basis
     The brand has launched a pack size of 250 ml at a cost of Rs.350. For the target audience, 350 bucks is easily affordable.

5. Observability - the ease with which a product’s benefits or attributes can be observed, imagined or described to potential consumers.
     The demonstration by the chef and the cook-off event did exactly that. I’m sure the food bloggers will come up with a series of posts using this brand of oil. The TV ads will follow with attractive imagery and visual depiction of how the oil keeps everyone in the family heart-healthy.

Seriously, I wish someone launches cold pressed coconut oil, sesame oil and groundnut oil in a grand manner. Typically, these cold pressed oils are available in organic stores or in a few stalls in community events. When we visit such places, our mind asks questions like “Why are these cold-pressed oils so expensive?”, “How can I trust the process and believe it is actually cold-pressed?”.

If you can afford such expensive olive oils, you can afford cold-pressed oils easily. It will create a new stream of employment and enable small-scale manufacturers to survive.

You can say that this post is creating publicity for this brand of olive oil. It can be but even otherwise you would get to know about it through a huge advertising campaign and sponsored posts from the so-called influencers.

Please, let’s use some common sense and not embrace anything imported that comes with a health tag, high MRP and promoted by influencers in the food business.

May 10, 2017

How to reduce belly fat



Recently, I came across an ad where a film celebrity was promoting green tea to reduce belly fat. I wondered “Is it that simple?” - Drink 2-3 cups of green tea everyday and the belly fat just melts away! Wish it could be true. But the reality is exactly the opposite. It is a huge challenge to reduce belly fat. It can take a minimum of a year to 3 years to see a substantial reduction. Let me say that upfront before proceeding further.

When we were born, we had flat tummies. Even during our childhood days, we had washboard abs. Sadly I can’t say the same about today’s kids though. Bad food habits, lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle and stress have caused the fat to get accumulated in our abdomen. This didn’t happen overnight. It took us at least 2-3 years before we realized that our jeans need an upgrade. If you are genetically prone to accumulating fat around your waist or you have hormonal issues like PCOD, then the fat builds up faster and it is even more harder to get rid of it. For women post pregnancy, it is always a dream to fit into pre-pregnancy pants but only a few are able to get back to them.

Having said that, let me share 7 steps by which you can reduce belly fat. I can vouch for them as they have helped me to reduce belly fat, even with a life condition like PCOD.

1) Eat dinner 2 hours before bedtime
Whether you eat rice, roti or salad for dinner, please make sure you eat atleast 2 hours before bed. Ever since I shifted my dinner time to around 7:30 - 8 PM, I can notice a positive change in my physical fitness. I know many of us would want to eat as a family and wait for our spouse to return from work. But the more you eat closer to your bedtime, the more undigested food remains in your stomach and the faster your belly fat increases. 

2) No snack / munching late night
After dinner, if you plan to work or watch a movie, avoid munching snacks. The same principle of leaving undigested food in the stomach applies in this case. If you get the urge to munch something, sip water. I know it’s hard but worth a try.

3) Reduce simple carbs and refined foods
When I was a kid, my parents used to buy bread at home ONLY when someone is sick. But these days, store-bought bread has become a regular staple in our pantry and a mandatory purchase during our weekly grocery shopping. Sandwiches and toast are easy to make for breakfast/dinner but the store-bought bread is full of refined flour and raising agents. Even if the pack says whole-wheat or brown bread, it does have maida in it.

Switch to millets, hand-polished rice or brown rice. Avoid/reduce fully polished white rice. Store-bought wheat flour (atta) is stripped off all the fibre and has added gluten. So if you love your chapathis, mix wheat flour with other gluten-free flours like ragi, bajra, jowar, amaranth or other millet flours. If you have a flour mill nearby, buy whole wheat grains and grind the flour.

4) Regular exercise, no escape
Walking even if it is brisk walking doesn’t have any impact on your belly fat. Jogging paired with proper stretching helps a little bit. Squats, as much as we hate them, does wonders to reducing belly fat. Consistent Yoga is beneficial too. I started seeing the impact on my belly fat after a year of practicing Yoga regularly. Consistent practice of “Core" strengthening asanas yield good results. There are no shortcuts, no quick solutions. Consistency in exercise and giving time to your body is the ONLY way to reduce belly fat.

5) Keep moving
Exercising for 1 hour in the morning and then sitting down for the rest of the day negates the impact of exercise. Our bodies are designed for movement. Physical activity is essential throughout the day. Take stairs, do some household chores, keep yourself active.

6) Include Indian spices
As our diets turn more Western, we are losing out on the goodness of our spices. Regular use of peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and fenugreek seeds help in boosting our metabolism, thereby burning the excess fat. Don't lose your roots, atleast when it comes to food.

7) Increase fibre intake
Fibre from natural sources like fruits and vegetables increase satiety, thereby reducing our hunger pangs in between meals. Ensure you eat raw and cooked vegetables as part of every meal. Also drink adequate quantity of water. The water requirement varies from person to person. So you are the better judge to decide whether you are hydrating yourself enough.

Hope you found these steps helpful. Please do share your comments if there are any questions.

May 4, 2017

Book Review: Uyir Pizhai by Dr. Sivaraman



Book #6 of #50booksin2017
 
Cancer is impacting more lives today as compared to what it was 20 years ago. Through this book “Uyir Pizhai”, Dr. Sivaraman talks about various types of cancer, reasons for increasing cancer rates across the world and preventive steps to protect ourselves from this deadly disease.

The reasons for the widespread increase of cancer are the following - genes, stress, pollution, obesity, modern lifestyle, processed foods, pesticides in food produce etc. Alcohol and cigarettes are the primary reasons for liver and lung cancer respectively, but even those who don’t smoke or drink alcohol are affected by cancer in other ways.

Sodium lauryl sulphate in toothpaste, pesticides in fruits and vegetables, phthalates in shampoos, dioxin leeching from plastic when hot liquids are stored in them, taste enhancers, preservatives, artificial colours and various salts in processed, junk foods - the list goes on and on.

Hormonal imbalances, increased consumption of processed nutrients through health drinks, high intake of junk foods are some of the key reasons for breast cancer. Dr.Sivaraman makes a valid point about soya. Consuming soya in the form of boiled soya beans or tofu occasionally is fine but most of the processed foods use “soy isoflavones” which increases estrogen in the body. Around 93% of soya produced in the world are GMO. So it is better to avoid soya as much as possible, as there are better natural protein substitutes available. As a preventive measure to keep away from breast cancer, recommended food products are green tea, organically grown tomatoes, broccoli, green peas and turmeric powder in everyday use.

Other key take-aways for me from this book are:

1) Regular use of spices such as turmeric, coriander seeds, fenugreek (methi) seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, aniseed, asafoetida, garlic, shallots, dry ginger and curry leaves prevent cells from turning cancerous.

2) Pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables are listed under probable/possible carcinogens. Shift to organic fresh produce, grown locally. If buying them sounds expensive, start a small balcony vegetable garden in each of our homes.

3) Avoid plastic bottles for drinking water. Use copper or stainless steel ones. Use-and-throw paper cups have a layer of wax / polystyrene to withstand the heat. Always opt for ceramic or steel cups for hot beverages.

4) Avoid foods that have artificial colours and preservatives. Fresh food is the best. Foods rich in Vitamin B6, B12 and C help in preventing cancer. Instead of taking them as artificial supplements, select natural sources like fruits, vegetables and greens.

5) Though cocoa has good properties, commercial chocolates have less than 5% of cocoa in them. The rest 95% are artificial colours, milk protein, chemicals, fats and loads of sugar.

6) Basic necessities for well-being such as good sleep, relaxation, avoiding stress, being happy, regular exercise etc are equally relevant for preventing cancer too.

This book is a treasure of information for everyone to understand about various forms of cancer and preventive remedies/solutions. Highly recommend it to all who can read Tamil.

Get the latest posts by email

Blog Archive

Powered by Blogger.