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.

Apr 27, 2017

Best Sources of Vitamin-A


 Having looked at the sources of some of the essential minerals, let’s now focus on Vitamins.

Although nature has blessed us with abundant vitamins and minerals in plants, it has become a fashion to pop a multi-vitamin pill, thereby creating a billion dollar industry in itself. It is my firm belief that our bodies absorb or process vitamins better when consumed from natural sources. Unless there is a critical deficiency, there is no need to rely on these pills. Understanding the plant sources and meal planning the right way will ensure you get your daily dose of vitamins.

To begin with, let’s look at Vitamin A. As kids, the popular health advice that we often heard was “Eat carrots, they are good for your eyes”. So much so that carrots have become synonymous with Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is not only essential for your eyes but also for better immunity and cardio-vascular disease prevention. Our body gets Vitamin-A from a source of phyto-nutrients found in plants called carotenoids. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin belong to this group of carotenoids. Among these, beta-carotene is the most effective as it gets converted to twice as much Vitamin-A as compared to the other two.

Apart from carrots, here are the other sources of beta-carotene and overall carotenoids (Data Source - Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017).



microgm per 100 gm
Sources Beta-Carotene Total Carotenoids



Grains/Cereals

Maize, dry 186 893
Maize, tender, local 36 1428
Maize, tender, sweet 47 1035



Legumes/Pulses

Bengal gram dal 165 1018
Bengal gram, whole 172 999
Green gram, whole 137 889
Peas, dry 66 933



Green leafy vegetables

Drumstick leaves 17542 38765
Agathi leaves 12582 36087
Colocasia leaves 5758 26820
Ponnanganni leaves 5288 24206
Curry leaves 7663 21862
Amaranth leaves, red 8457 21449
Amaranth leaves, green 8553 20473
Mint leaves 4602 18693
Coriander leaves 3808 13808
Fenugreek leaves 9245 12755



Vegetables

Carrot, orange 5423 9477
Sweet potato, brown skin 5376 8653
Carrot, red 2706 7570
Tomato, ripe, hybrid 1513 5826
Tomato, ripe, local 905 4656
Onion stalk 700 3488
Capsicum, red 246 3047
Capsicum, yellow 166 2717
Capsicum, green 328 2511
Celery stalk 465 2439
Pumpkin, orange 149 1449



Fruits

Apricot, dried 1806 4313
Watermelon, dark green 605 4176
Guava, pink flesh 267 4078
Dates, dry, pale brown 2700 3483
Papaya, ripe 694 2472
Mango, ripe, banganapalli 1168 1424
Muskmelon, orange flesh 771 925



1. As you can see, green leafy vegetables have 2-4X times carotenoids as compared to the popular carrots. When our grandmothers used to say “Keerai kannukku nalladhu”  (greens are good for your eyes), they are 100% correct.
2. Grains and legumes have very little carotenoids when compared to veggies and greens. Increasing the proportion of greens and vegetables, especially the ones in orange colour is the only way to get your daily requirement of Vitamin A.
3. The miracle green “Drumstick leaves” features on top of this list too. Including this green regularly will ensure you get adequate iron, calcium and Vitamin A.
4. Include mint, coriander and curry leaves too on a daily basis. Most of our Indian recipes incorporate these 3 greens so well that we don’t need to look for supplements or imported super-foods.
5. If you ignore sweet potato thinking it is “carbs”, then you are missing out on all the goodness it provides - Vitamin A, Vitamin C, dietary fibre, potassium etc
6. Given that summer is upon us in full swing, do gorge on fresh, juicy watermelons, muskmelons, mangoes, guavas and papayas. The summer heat affects our eyes by causing redness and irritation. Nature fixes this issue through such seasonal fruits. So amazing, isn’t it?

Apr 24, 2017

Conversation in the park

It was a sunny Saturday evening. We (husband, daughter D and I) decided to go to a park as D loves to play in the play area. Being a Saturday, it was crowded and the play equipments (swing, see-saw, slide etc) were lined up with children. D was so excited that she was shouting “yay” on top of her voice. I followed her around as she started to climb up the slide. Husband walked up to me slowly and was looking a little worried. I asked him, “what happened? You look tense”. He showed me his phone with an email open. Without getting into further details, let’s just say, it was a stinker email from someone whose ego was hurt and was venting out his frustrations. More on the lines of “How dare could someone do this to me?”.

I was telling my husband to let it go and not give too much of a thought. With such an arrogant, rude and authoritative tone of that email, it was hard to put it aside your mind and enjoy the evening. Meanwhile, D got upset with two boys who were sliding down fast, without giving her a chance. The mother of the two boys noticed that D was sad. She walked up to her and said, “What happened, dear? Do you want to climb the slide too? I’ll tell the boys to wait”. D then got her chance but she wasn’t happy yet. She then started crying that she wanted the swing and see-saw too. Both my husband and I tried to convince her that she needs to wait for her turn but she was adamant. The kind lady spoke to D and calmed her down. She then asked her son to play with D on the see-saw. The boy also obliged happily. The lady then introduced herself as a teacher and was having a nice conversation with D. Her words were kind and pleasant. Her actions were proactive and calm. She could have just spent her time with her two boys but instead she voluntarily decided to calm a young girl and talk to her.

The difference between these two conversations made us wonder why such positive communications are rare and few.

We are ready to lash out rude, cynical and negative thoughts on email, social media and text messages, without a wink. If only we could take a few minutes to re-read what we have written and think whether we would say the same thing to the intended person in front of their face, many ruthless emails could have been avoided.

Maybe, I’m generalizing and stereo-typing, but my experiences so far have led me to this bitter truth - “the more you go high up in the bank balance ladder, the bigger your ego builds up

In this ever-connected world of smart phones, emails and social media, all it takes is one email to spoil a beautiful evening with family. Let’s try to curb the urge to check our emails on the go, atleast during weekends. Our families deserve our undivided attention, especially our children.

Last but not the least, a kind word or a gesture can be such a powerful, positive boost to someone in need. The teacher’s kind gesture took our minds completely away from the effects of the nasty email. We felt happy and relaxed later that evening. Let’s spread more such kind words and actions. The society needs them badly.

Apr 21, 2017

30+ quick snack ideas for summer vacation demands



As a mother of a growing child, it is a challenging task to keep up with the snack demands, especially on holidays. With summer vacation having started, my daughter likes to repeat “I want to eat something” multiple times throughout the day. Sometimes, it could be that tiny hunger pangs between meals, while at rest of the times, it is sheer boredom and attention-seeking (and also to keep mummy on her toes all the time!!).

Summer prevents us from spending long hours in the hot kitchen. That doesn’t mean we need to buy loads of unhealthy packaged snacks and juices from the supermarket.

 I have compiled 30+ quick snack ideas that can be prepared in less than 15 minutes. With a little planning and stocking up the essential ingredients, you can feed your children healthy and tasty snacks.

  1. Fresh fruit juices - sweet lime (mosambi), watermelon, muskmelon or a chilled lemonade
  2. Seasonal drinks - aam panna (raw mango drink), panagam (cooling drink made with jaggery), tender coconut water
  3. Fruit popsicles or ice lollies - healthy treats that get set in freezer overnight
  4. Fresh cut fruits - mango, watermelon, grapes, guava, muskmelon, papaya or pineapple
  5. Fruit salad with honey and chaat masala
  6. Dry fruits and nuts - a small bowl of their favourites (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, dates, raisins, figs)
  7. Milkshakes - chikoo milkshake, mango milkshake, chocolate milkshake (I usually try to avoid banana milkshake as it increases kapha/mucus. Once in a while is fine)
  8. Fruit yoghurt - home-made with thick curd, fruit pulp and a dash of honey or cane sugar
  9. Smoothies - I’d recommend mixing fruits, seeds and nuts with coconut milk or almond milk
  10. Buttermilk - perfect for the summer. Can blend with ginger, mint, green chillies, curry leaves or coriander leaves, depending on what your kid likes
  11. Raitha - Can make a variety of raithas using cucumber, carrot, tomatoes, pomegranate. With a little dash of chaat masala, roasted jeera powder and black salt, it tastes heavenly.
  12. Lassi - chilled glass of mango lassi is a bliss, isn’t it? :-)
  13. Curd rice - my little girl can eat curd rice anytime of the day ;-)
  14. Boiled peanuts
  15. Roasted peanuts
  16. Sundal - a South Indian snack made with lentils. High in protein and fibre.
  17. Popcorn - keep dry popcorn seeds handy. With 2 tsp of oil and salt, mix a handful of popcorn seeds. Cover and let it pop on high flame. Delicious, home-made popcorn is ready - fresh, no preservatives, less oil, less sodium.
  18. Boiled sweet corn - Universal favourite snack. Steam some frozen corn for 5 minutes, add a dash of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper.
  19. Veg Salad - Mix and match a variety of veggies - carrot, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, boiled potato. Add some lentils like cowpeas or chickpeas to increase nutritive value.
  20. Boiled sweet potato - It used to be my favourite during my childhood. Boil the whole sweet potato. Once cooked, peel and eat it as it is
  21. Red Poha with milk and nuts - Soak red poha in water for 10 minutes. Drain completely. Mix with milk, cane sugar and chopped nuts.
  22. Chikkis - If you can make it at home, nothing like it. I usually buy it from the store. Compared to the numerous junk out there in the shelves, chikkis make it to my shopping cart always
  23. Puffed rice (pori)
  24. Dry bhel - Mix puffed rice, boiled peanuts, cucumber, carrot, onions. Add salt, pepper and a dash of lemon juice. Beach style snack is ready!
  25. Upma with Sooji (rava) or Vermicelli - Only if your kid loves upma. It’s a general rule that kids hate the sight of upma ;-)
  26. Sevai (rice noodles) - In 10 minutes, it’s easy to whip up a lemon sevai or a coconut sevai. My daughter’s favourite.
  27. Mini idlis/dosas/oothappams - if your child loves to eat chutney podi as an accompaniment, then these can be made in a jiffy, provided the batter is ready.
  28. Jaggery dosa - healthy and sweet treat. Can be made with either wholewheat flour or a combination of ragi and rice flours. Give a fancy name like jaggery pancakes if it doesn’t attract attention! :-)
  29. Adai/Chillas - quick to make provided the batter is prepared. Can be served with jaggery and/or butter.
  30. Porridge / Kanji - Can be made with multigrain (sathumaavu), ragi flour, bajra flour or broken wheat.
  31. Idiyappam - might take a little more than 10 minutes. Most kids love it. Keep the processed rice flour handy.

Hope this list helps you as a quick reference. If there are any other healthy and quick snack ideas, please share in the comments below.

Mar 22, 2017

Why Magnesium is important and how you can obtain it from plant-based sources?


As I had written sometime back, migraine and I go a long way. While reading up about migraine, I learned that increasing magnesium intake can reduce migraine attacks. So I started researching about the importance of magnesium and its sources. Though we all understand that calcium and iron are important for our physical wellbeing, there are other minerals that are equally important for various body functions.

Essential minerals that our body requires are divided into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). Magnesium falls under the category of major minerals.

Magnesium helps
- to maintain the normal functioning of nerves and muscles
- to keep the bones strong
- to maintain a steady heart rate
- to improve immunity
- to regulate blood glucose levels
- to prevent and manage lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease
- in the production of energy and protein synthesis
- in regulating body temperature
- in the treatment of migraine, insomnia, depression, anxiety and panic attacks

Recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium:

4 - 8 years => 130 mg/day

Boys 9 - 13 years => 240 mg/day
Boys 14 - 18 years => 410 mg/day

Girls 9 - 13 years => 240 mg/day
Girls 14 - 18 years  => 360 mg/day

Men, 19 - 30 years => 400 mg/day
Men, > 30 years => 420 mg/day

Women, 19 - 30 years => 310 mg/day
Women, > 30 years => 320 mg/day


Sources Magnesium per 100 gms


Grains/Cereals
Amaranth seeds, pale brown 270 mg
Ragi 146 mg
Maize, dry 145 mg
Jowar 133 mg
Wheat flour, atta 125 mg
Bajra 124 mg
Varagu 122 mg
Rice, raw, brown 94 mg
Samai 91 mg


Legumes/Pulses
Cowpea (brown and white) 213 mg
Moth bean 205 mg
Green gram, whole 198 mg
Black gram, whole 190 mg
Black gram, dal 173 mg
Field bean, brown 173 mg
Rajma, red 173 mg
Bengal gram, whole 160 mg
Horsegram 152 mg


Green leafy vegetables
Amaranth leaves, green 194 mg
Curry leaves 182 mg
Amaranth leaves, red 177 mg
Basella leaves 153 mg
Beet greens  120 mg
Mint leaves 110 mg
Drumstick leaves 97 mg
Spinach 87 mg
Coriander leaves 73 mg


Vegetables
Cluster beans 82 mg
Ladiesfinger 66 mg
Water chestnut 57 mg
Ginger 55 mg


Fruits
Tamarind, pulp 83 mg
Dates, pale brown 74 mg
Banana, ripe, poovam 44 mg


Spices and Condiments
Cumin seeds 442 mg
Poppy seeds 393 mg
Coriander seeds 343 mg
Cloves 334 mg
Cardamom, green 330 mg
Cardamom, black 286 mg
Ajwain (Omum) 273 mg
Turmeric powder 260 mg
Chillies, red 231 mg
Pepper 196 mg
Pipali (long pepper) 189 mg
Fenugreek seeds 167 mg
Asafoetida 96 mg


Nuts&Seeds
Sunflower seeds 413 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, black 390 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, white 372 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, brown 328 mg
Almonds 318 mg
Cashewnuts 307 mg
Mustard seeds 266 mg
Walnuts 180 mg


Jaggery 115 mg


1) Most of the legumes/pulses we use in Indian cooking on a daily basis contain adequate amounts of magnesium
2) Magnesium is present in very less quantity in vegetables and fruits. Including greens in your daily diet will provide the required intake
3) When compared with the list of calcium-rich and iron-rich plant sources that I had compiled earlier, there are many common sources that are good in magnesium as well - curry leaves, mint leaves, ragi, cowpeas, till seeds etc
4) It is no wonder that our age-old home remedy for migraine attacks include chewing cloves or drinking a glass of warm jeera water. Both cloves and cumin seeds are rich in magnesium
5) Maize can be incorporated in the form of home-made popcorn using minimal oil and salt

Mar 20, 2017

Power of Intuition, kindness and music

A few days back, I woke up with a not-so-happy state of mind. There were many questions that I was asking myself - “What the hell I’m doing?”, “Does anyone care?”, “What’s the point?”, “Why is it so hard to change or influence behavior?” and so on. It is strange that such mornings coincide on days when I don’t have Yoga classes. As usual, my trusted confidante, my husband bears the brunt of my rants :-) He patiently replied, “If you love what you are doing, don’t worry about results. Give yourself more time to see any impact.”. Though it made a lot of sense, my mind wasn’t clear.

I continued my daily routine and was preparing lunch. My maid dropped in and asked me for a headache tablet. I used to stock up these medicines earlier but I have completely stopped taking painkiller medicines and manage common ailments through home remedies. I responded to her, “I don’t buy those medicines these days”. She continued with her work but I felt sorry for her state. So I made my usual dry ginger coffee and offered it, while I wrapped up the lunch preparations. While she was leaving my home, she said with a smile, “thank you, madam for the drink. It helped my headache”. My brooding, dull mood shifted to a positive one.

This incident reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite Tamil movies “Pasanga”. The guy would be cribbing to his girlfriend that he is not feeling good and something is troubling him. The girlfriend would immediately take out his wallet, take some money and give to an old lady who would be begging in the vicinity. She would say, “Whenever you don’t feel alright emotionally, help someone in need. You will feel a lot better”.

Coming back to my day, my daughter returned from school that afternoon. We had lunch, after which I was relaxing with a book while she switched on the TV to watch her favorite movie “Swades”. It is our family favorite and I had watched it for like 20+ times :-)  D called out to me, “Mummy, let’s hug and watch this movie together”. Usually, I would have replied, “You watch the movie, D. I have watched it many times.” But this time, I decided to pay heed to her request. So we both hugged each other on the couch and started watching the movie. When the opening credits started rolling, a quote by Mahatma Gandhi was displayed, which gave me the answer I was looking for since morning.

“Hesitating to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it is an attitude that only hinders progress."

The lesson I learned that day - On days when we are down and dull, we just had to listen to our intuition to get the answers.

As the movie was going on, the foot-tapping song “Yun hi chala” started. D and I sang loudly on top of our voices. At the end of it, I was upbeat and full of energy. Music uplifted my spirit and singing without any inhibition put me in a positive mood. D loves to sing and she always sings with so much of energy and without worrying about anything. I realized that if I love to sing, I should just do it, atleast inside my home. Why worry whether the neighbours will get to hear? :-)

Just wanted to share a slice of my day. Though I’m a positive person, there are days when I need such triggers to pull me up.

Mar 16, 2017

Why Indians don't need Quinoa?



There have been hardly a few times in my life so far, when I spent my late evenings doing data analysis on issues that are important to me. This PDF "Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017" is giving me sleepless nights :-) I decided to research on this latest “super-food” that is imported, has a lot of “food-miles” and a lot expensive.

I switched on FoodFood channel after a long time at my in-laws place and the chef is making a “quinoa” pulao. I went to a supermarket and what do I see adorning the shelves there - yes, you guessed it right - “Quinoa”. This pseudo-grain has become such a rage in the last couple of years among the health and fit community of urban India. Most popular food bloggers have atleast one recipe using quinoa in their respective blogs/Instagram pictures. “Why this Kolaveri” towards quinoa - I don’t know about the nation but I certainly wanted to know ;-)

When I googled to find out what’s so special about quinoa, most of the websites talk about how quinoa is a “complete protein” - which means it has all the 9 essential amino acids our body needs.

I browsed through the amino acid profile of various grains and lentils. Here’s a summary:




1) As you can see, the amino acid values in green colour belong to the grains/pulses that are higher than that of quinoa. The amino acid values in pink colour belong to the grains/pulses that are lower than that of quinoa.
2) Among the grains, Kodo millet (Varagu) fares much better than quinoa. To compensate for the lesser Histidine and Lysine amino acids, we can easily take the cooked millet with a cowpea / field beans dal to get the complete protein required
3) Most of the grains are lower in lysine but can be easily compensated by taking pulses along with the grains.
4) You don’t need to take all essential amino acids in every single meal. Mix-and-match the different local grains and pulses in a week and you don’t need to worry whether your protein intake is complete or not
5) Most of our Indian meals have both cereal and dal. Choose millets, brown rice or hand-pounded rice over polished white rice. Include a variety of dals in a week.
6) All the local millets and pulses are far less expensive, as compared to the imported quinoa. 500 gms of Kodo millet is in the range of Rs.60-75 whereas the same quantity of quinoa is in the range of Rs.400-600. It has a higher cost on the environment too. Though there has been news that some farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand are cultivating quinoa, the current demand is mainly catered through imports.

It is okay to try out quinoa to see what the hype is all about but let’s not include it in our weekly / monthly grocery list. It is neither good for our local farmers nor for our environment. Frankly, it is an unnecessary expense and you can spend the same money elsewhere on more productive causes.

P.S. I'm not sure if the "Total" column would make sense in this analysis. Will figure out more before I comment on it.

Mar 15, 2017

Best sources of iron from plant-based foods



Thanks for the encouraging response to my earlier post on calcium from plant-based sources. I’m truly honored and grateful for your lovely comments and feedback. This week, I did a similar analysis on iron-rich foods using the data available in "Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017".

Iron is an essential mineral that is required for the making of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen in the body. Deficiency of iron leads to fatigue, tiredness and anemia. Usually, iron supplements are prescribed for toddlers, girls in their teenage years and pregnant women. The iron requirement for women is more than that of men because of the blood loss during their monthly period.

I remember taking "iron tonic" as I was anemic while growing up. It used to taste so bad with a metallic after-taste. I hated taking iron tablets during pregnancy. I only wish I had known this list of iron-rich foods earlier. Better late than never. And I hope it helps others who are reading this post.

Iron requirement per day (Based on this WebMD source):
Children, aged 4 - 8 => 10 mg
Children, aged 9 - 13 => 8 mg

Girls, aged 14 - 18 => 15 mg
Women, aged 19 - 50 => 18 mg
Women, aged 51 and above => 8 mg
Pregnant women => 27 mg

Boys, aged 14 - 18 => 11 mg
Men, aged 19 and above => 8 mg


Sources Iron per 100 gms


Grains/Cereals
Amaranth seeds (pale brown) 8.02 mg
Bajra 6.42 mg
Ragi 4.62 mg
Rice puffed 4.55 mg
Rice flakes 4.46 mg


Nuts/Seeds
Garden cress seeds(Halim) 17.2 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, white 15.04 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, brown 14.95 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, black 13.9 mg
Mustard seeds 13.49 mg
Cashewnut 5.95 mg
Almonds 4.59 mg


Jaggery 4.63 mg


Legumes/Pulses
Horsegram 8.76 mg
Moth bean 7.9 mg
Masoor dal, whole 7.57 mg
Bengal gram, whole 6.78 mg


Green leafy vegetables
Gongura leaves, red 9.56 mg
Curry leaves 8.67 mg
Mint leaves 8.56 mg
Gongura leaves, green 7.65 mg
Amaranth leaves, red 7.25 mg
Beet greens 5.8 mg
Coriander leaves 5.3 mg
Drumstick leaves 4.56 mg
Spinach 2.95 mg


Vegetables
Cluster beans 3.9 mg
Lotus root 3.34 mg
Mango ginger 2.31 mg
Elephant Yam 1.22 mg
Beetroot 0.76 mg


Fruits
Tamarind, pulp 9.16 mg
Raisins, black 6.81 mg
Dates, dry, dark brown 4.79 mg
Raisins, golden 4.26 mg
Dates, dry, pale brown 3.2 mg
Dried Apricot 2.5 mg


Spices and Condiments
Turmeric powder 46.08 mg
Cumin seeds 20.58 mg
Coriander seeds 17.64 mg
Asafoetida 15.68 mg
Ajwain (Omum) 13.65 mg
Pepper 11.91 mg
Poppy seeds 10.13 mg
Cloves 9.41 mg
Cardamom, green 8.33 mg
Pipali (long pepper) 7.99 mg
Cardamom, black 7.94 mg

A few observations:
1) It came as a surprise to me that spinach and beetroot aren’t as high on iron as I had thought.
2) Bajra and Ragi are good sources of iron. Ensure that your children eat foods from these grains on a regular basis. If they don’t like porridge, make idli/dosa or make rotis with bajra/ragi flours.
3) Almost all the lentils and pulses are good in iron, so try to include channa, rajma, field beans etc regularly. As you can see, horsegram features on top of this list too. If you include horsegram regularly, both iron and calcium are taken care of. One stone, two mangoes ;-)
4)The same logic applies to sesame seeds and curry leaves too….Rich in both calcium and iron, it is a crime to keep the curry leaves aside on your plate. Let’s make it a habit to chew them, along with the food. Almost all the greens have a good amount of iron. The “5 greens a week” rule will help you to meet your daily dose of iron and calcium requirement.
5) Cluster beans (“Gavar” in Hindi / “Kothavarangai" in Tamil) has the highest iron content among vegetables. It is used in Tamil, Kerala and Gujarati cuisines but not extensively. Let’s give it more preference than the usual French beans which we stock up often.
6) Most of our Indian spices are also rich in iron, apart from calcium. Do cook/eat Indian cuisine as much as you can. Yes, the ingredients list is long for Indian recipes. Yes, Indian style cooking would end up with more dirty dishes to clean. BUT, the health benefits outweigh these little efforts by a huge margin. No "shortcut" to good health, please.
7) Have a sweet tooth? Give preference to jaggery-based sweets (kheers, laddoos). Avoid sweets made of white sugar, chocolates, pastries, bakery stuff and other store-bought junk to satiate your sugar cravings. Jaggery is rich in iron, potassium, calcium and other minerals.

Last but not the least, for effective absorption of iron, Vitamin-C is essential and so ensure that you include lemon, tomatoes, capsicum, cabbage, orange etc on a daily basis.

Do share your comments/questions. Also if there are any specific topics on health and nutrition you'd like me to write about, do let me know.

Mar 9, 2017

Best sources of calcium from plant-based foods


As I mentioned in my earlier post, cow’s milk is “THE” most over-rated source of calcium and mostly force-fed to children, either directly or by mixing with artificial, sugar-loaded health supplement powders. Even in the case of women and elderly, milk is given the supreme status with respect to calcium intake. It is not surprising that you see the availability of many women/elderly-specific health supplement drinks in the market, with a “fear” inducing claim related to osteoporosis and reduced bone density.

Calcium is important, not just for your bones but also for the effective functioning of heart, muscles and various other organs in your body. Calcium from plant-based sources is absorbed more effectively by our digestive system, whereas only 30% of calcium is absorbed from cow’s milk. Calcium is available in plenty in various lentils, grains, vegetables, greens and fruits.

I went through the data in NIN’s recently released "Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017" and made a table of such plant-based sources and their calcium contribution.

Please note, our requirement of calcium is in the range of 1000 to 1200 mg per day.


Calcium Sources Calcium per 100 gms


Cow’s milk, whole 118 mg


Grains / Cereals
Ragi / Fingermillet 364 mg
Amaranth seeds (pale brown) 162 mg


Nuts and seeds
Till / Sesame seeds, black 1664 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, brown 1174 mg
Till / Sesame seeds, white 1283 mg
Almonds 228 mg
Mustard seeds 402 mg


Legumes / Pulses
Horsegram 269 mg
Moth beans 154 mg
Bengal gram whole 150 mg
Rajma 134 mg
Green gram whole 92 mg
Black gram whole 86 mg
Cowpeas 84 mg
Dry peas 75 mg
Bengal gram dal 46 mg


Fruits
Tamarind, pulp 149 mg
Fig 78 mg
Raisins, black 73 mg
Dates 71 mg
Raisins, golden 52 mg


Green leafy vegetables
Agathi Keerai 901 mg
Curry leaves  659 mg
Ponnanganni 388 mg
Amaranth leaves, green 330 mg
Drumstick leaves 314 mg
Parsley 288 mg
Methi leaves 274 mg
Amaranth leaves, red 245 mg
Radish leaves 234 mg
Bathua leaves 211 mg
Betel leaves 207 mg
Mint leaves 205 mg
Mustard leaves 191 mg
Beet greens 151 mg
Coriander leaves 146 mg
Cauliflower leaves 97 mg
Basella leaves 94 mg
Palak 82 mg


Vegetables
Ladiesfinger 86 mg
Baby corn 77 mg
Elephant yam 47 mg
Carrot, red 41 mg
Carrot, orange 35 mg


Spices and Condiments
Poppy seeds 1372 mg
Ajwain (Omum) 1034 mg
Cumin seeds 878 mg
Coriander seeds 718 mg
Cloves 567 mg
Pipali (long pepper) 414 mg
Pepper 405 mg
Cardamom, green 378 mg
Cardamom, black 312 mg
Asafoetida 266 mg


As you can see from this table above, there are “plenty” of plant-based sources from where we can get enough calcium to meet our daily needs. This widely-accepted claim of “milk” being the uber-source of calcium is a false propaganda by the dairy industry.

To increase your calcium intake,
(1) Include greens atleast 5 days a week. Make the extra effort to procure them from organic stores or local farmers if they are not available in supermarkets.
(2) Start incorporating ragi (finger millet) in your weekly diet in the form of idlis, dosas, rotis or porridge.
(3) Add Till/Sesame seeds while making parathas/theplas. Make till laddoos. Use till seeds in chutney podis. Store-bought chutney podis use very little till seeds since it can turn rancid quickly because of the oils in till seeds. Either make it yourself in small quantity as and when needed. Or you can procure it from EthnicPalate, my healthy food startup :-)
(4) Horsegram (Kollu / Kulith) is a super pulse and offers tremendous health benefits. Make dal, chutney podi, sambhar or rasam. Sprout it and include in salads. Or just steam them and have as a sundal for evening snack. Since horsegram is heat generating, include them in small quantitities during summer.
(5) Curry leaves are a rich source of calcium and iron. If you don't like to chew them while eating dal or sambhar, make a powder / podi. Sprinkle them in your dry sabjis. Finely chopped curry leaves can be added to adais, rava idlis or vadas.
(6) Eat a handful of dry fruits and nuts such as raisins, dates and almonds as a snack or add them to your porridge.
(7) Most of the spices we use in Indian cooking have plenty of calcium. Though Western foods are all the rage here in urban India, do stick to your roots and cook/eat Indian cuisine as often as you can. It is amazing to see how our cuisine celebrates such spices that not only adds flavour to dishes but also offer a plethora of healing and health benefits.

It doesn’t make sense to me to pop a daily calcium supplement tablet or drink a glass of processed calcium-fortified health drink when we have so many plant-based sources.

Also, there are 2 factors that are essential for calcium absorption and maintenance:
1) Vitamin-D as most of us know. Do spend time soaking in the sunshine everyday.
2) Reduce acidic foods such as caffeine, aerated drinks, alcohol and processed foods. In order to maintain the pH balance, our body tends to leech calcium from bones. Include more alkaline foods such as cucumbers, capsicums and lemons in your daily diet.

Hope this list is helpful. Do share your feedback/comments/questions if any.

P.S. If you are pregnant or lactating, then the calcium requirement is higher and so please consult with your doctor.
P.P.S I'm not a vegan yet. I'm a vegetarian and I do eat milk-based products. But I just can't accept this ridiculous claim of milk being a super food for women and children.

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