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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mar 3, 2017

How to prevent cold/cough in children

The season is shifting from cold, cozy winter to bright, warm summer. Summer is special in many ways - mangoes, melons, fresh fruit juices, tender coconut water and more. Along with the rising temperature, this season shift also results in many people falling sick from viral infections, especially children.

I had earlier written about home remedies to try when a child catches cold/cough. In this post, I would like to share a few ways by which you can boost your child’s immunity and prevent cold/cough in the first place. “Prevention is always better than cure”, isn’t it?

1. Reduce milk intake
I hate to say this but children of today’s generation drink way more milk than needed. Milk increases mucus formation (kapha dosha in Ayurveda) and therefore, it is best to reduce the intake. Never substitute proper meals with milk. If your child is not hungry for breakfast, then don’t force him/her to have “atleast” a glass of milk. I will be writing a post shortly on increasing calcium intake in your child without over-dependence on milk.

2. Give whole citrus fruits
Make it a habit to include whole citrus fruits such as orange, sweet lime and strawberries in your child’s diet on a regular basis. Let him/her chew the wedges and take the fibre along with the juice. For very young kids, you can help them by removing the seeds and chopping the wedges into half. Guavas are also rich in Vitamin-C. Chop them into cubes and serve as a snack.

3. Avoid/Reduce packaged juices
Even at the risk of repeating myself over and over, I had to say this - Avoid/reduce packaged foods, especially tetra pack juices. If your child loves to have juice instead of whole fruit, try making the juice at home by yourself. It hardly takes 10 minutes. And you can control the amount of sugar that goes in, along with the fact it is squeezed fresh, without any added preservatives.

4. Reduce sweet treats
I find this to be very challenging with my daughter. Even though we don’t stock up at home, the sweet treats somehow land up through relatives/guests and my little one goes berserk. All children love chocolates/candies/toffees etc but try to consciously cut down the number of pieces your child eats in a day.

5. Include spices
Help your child build up his/her immunity by including our regional spices such as jeera, pepper, turmeric and dhania on a daily basis. As long as the child eats proper, home-cooked Indian food, these spices would automatically find their way without any effort. But if your child’s daily meal plan includes sugar-coated cereals, pancakes, waffles, pizzas and noodles, I’m afraid these spices would reside safely in their jars.

6. Include Vitamin-C rich vegetables
Apart from citrus fruits, make it a habit to include Vitamin-C rich vegetables and greens such as gooseberries, bell peppers, cabbage, tomatoes and coriander leaves on a daily basis. Talk to them about how these vegetables help in “fighting” bad viruses. Make a story about it that will grab their attention. Squeeze a lemon in salads or make lemon rice / lemon sevai for their lunch box. If your child loves tea, make lemon tea with a little ginger and honey. My 5-year old loves it and gives me company in the afternoons when we sit together and sip tea.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers will catch infections multiple times in a year and that would help them build their immunity. So resist the urge to give antibiotics or paracetamol, the moment the child gets a fever. Fever is an indication that the child’s body is fighting the infection. Unless the temperature is above 100F, I usually don’t give paracetamol. Unless my child has an ear infection, her pediatrician doesn’t prescribe antibiotics. I’m not a doctor and so please take this suggestion at your own discretion.

Hope this post is helpful to parents of young children. Let’s welcome summer with a big sunshine smile :-)

Feb 24, 2017

The most important child nutrition tip for parents

Hibiscus tea
My little one teaches me something new about parenting and child nutrition almost every single day. Having grown up in a traditional South Indian household, I have noticed that the default food that is fed to toddlers and pre-schoolers is “dal rice” (paruppu saadham). It is nothing but rice and boiled thuar dal mashed together with ghee. I tried giving the same to my daughter from the time she was around a year old. She hated it completely and would make funny faces. I had tried multiple times for around a year or so but no luck. Though she is not a fussy eater, she just didn’t like it. I didn’t worry much since she was getting proteins from curd, cheese and other lentils.

When she turned 5 years, I served her the dal rice for lunch one day. She devoured it and said, “it’s yummy”. After that, it has become a regular now and dal rice features once every 3-4 days.

The lesson that this experience taught me is "Don't give up on healthy and nutritious foods. Keep trying”.

My daughter loves all kinds of fruits and when some of my friends notice it, they say “My son(or daughter) doesn’t eat any fruits. Maybe, an orange occasionally. Good to see D is eating papaya/pineapple”. I hear the same kind of response for foods like ragi idli - “My son wouldn’t like the colour”. Most of the times, we just assume that our children wouldn’t like healthy foods. Maybe, we might have tried 3-4 times and then just gave up. My only suggestion is “Don’t give up. Keep trying”.

The foods that children love when they are 2-3 years old would be completely different than the foods they love when they are 5-6 years old. For instance, D used to love ladiesfinger sabzi when she was a toddler. I remember making it almost 2-3 times a week. But now she just refuses to eat it. She used to hate potato earlier but now she loves it. Their taste patterns and preferences keep changing as they grow up and it is up to us as parents to continue to feed healthy meals as a conscious activity.

There are two ways by which you can implement this important principle of "Don’t give up. Keep trying".

Methodical approach:
1) Keep a log and track your child’s meals for a couple of weeks. Try serving different kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains and lentils. Note down which ones they loved (and asked for a second helping), the foods that they hated.
2) For the foods they hated, schedule a calendar entry to try the same after a month or so. Note down their reactions. Are there any changes in preferences? Has the acceptance rate increased? Maybe, they don’t mind trying a bite or two.

I know it sounds like a lot of work but believe me, it is not. A little extra effort goes a long way in inculcating healthy eating habits in young children.

Benefits approach:
Talking to children about the benefits of healthy foods really helps in increasing their acceptance. I remember telling D that hibiscus tea is good for the heart. Now whenever she sees a hibiscus blossomed in our balcony, she plucks it and asks me to make tea for her.

When my husband had severe cough a few months back, she advised him, "pineapple is good for your throat, abba. Eat pineapple”
When her teacher had throat infection, it seems she asked her to take “tulsi concoction” :-)

Involve children in meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Talk to them about different foods and their benefits in a language they can understand. Young children may not understand vitamins and minerals but will be able to relate to the body parts - “papaya is good for your eyes, dal will help you get muscles, watermelon will keep your body cool” etc.  Last but not the least, set an example by avoiding/reducing packaged, ready-to-eat foods yourself.

We are living in times where attractive packaging and advertisements of processed junk foods are luring our children away from healthy eating habits. Let’s take charge.

Hope you would try these two ways. If it works/helps a teeny tiny way, I would be thrilled to hear. Do share your experiences/comments below.

Feb 6, 2017

Will you give up choice for convenience?

A couple of days back, I was at a supermarket, shopping for groceries, when a new promotional coffee stand inside the premises caught my attention. There were 2 guys standing, along with few coffee packs lined up in front of them. Curiosity caught the better of me and I asked them what it is.

The tallest among the two (Let’s call him A) quickly responded, “Ma'am, this is Nescafe Latte. You can quickly prepare coffee when you come back from work or when you have guests. Please taste it”. Being a coffee lover, I thought why not and said, “Just a sample”.

A instructed the other person(Let’s call him B) to make one for me. B promptly emptied a sachet of coffee mix and added hot water till it reached half a cup. When I said “enough”, he stopped but A instructed him in a low voice that the coffee will taste sweet and that he needs to add more hot water for one sachet. B followed the instruction and he handed me a full cup of hot coffee.

Meanwhile, my little girl who accompanied me started moving to the other side of the store. So holding my coffee, I followed her. When I had my first sip, it tasted so sweet and bad. I couldn’t drink it anymore. I emptied in a garbage can and continued to proceed with my shopping.

This experience made me ponder over a few questions on “convenience”.
How far can the food brands take “convenience” as a promise and come up with a new line of products?
Are we ready to compromise on “choice” and give up control, just because something is quick and easy to make?
Are our taste buds so attuned to sugar (and salt) that we can eat any rubbish if it is sweet (or salty)?

Each of us prefers coffee in a certain way - strong / light, less sugar / more sugar. When you want to unwind after a long day of work, you would prepare coffee the way you like it and then sit back and relax. Even when we have guests, we ask a couple of questions before serving them - “How much sugar do you like in your coffee?”, “Do you prefer a strong or light one?”.

We would like to be in control of certain parameters, especially on beverages and foods we love. Just because something is quick to prepare, are we okay with giving up control over small but important criteria to us?

This experience also led me to think how a sample promotion campaign should be executed. If a potential customer is interested in trying out, all they need is a sample. In this case, a few sips of good coffee is all it takes to make a purchase decision. The organizers could have kept a jar of coffee mix and added, say 1/4 tsp of it to prepare 1/4 cup. Instead, they wanted to show me the sachet and emptied it completely into a cup. The experience left a bad after-taste and I walked away.

Though the marketer spoke about the “benefits”, the demonstration and the product experience failed to meet expectations. It would have helped if they had given attention to little details, from the customer point of view - what's the quantity of sample coffee to serve, how to display the sachets, how to help customers to dispose of the empty / partially empty coffee cups?

More than that, the fundamental question still lingers in my mind - Are we ready to give up our personal preferences for the sake of convenience? Are we “that” rushed for time or is it a perception that marketers try to create on us and that we willingly accept?

Jan 31, 2017

Book Review: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Book #5 of #50booksin2017

My theme for 2017 is “More focus, more outdoors, less screen time”. Keeping up with this theme, I picked up Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work”. What a fascinating read it was!  It is certainly one of the best books I have read in recent times. Many of my questions and concerns on work culture, use of social media and embracing deep, meaningful work got answered through this book.

The author takes the time to explain what deep work means and why it is valuable and rare in today’s world. With many examples and personal anecdotes from his academic career, he reinforces the concept more clearly. He states that there are two core abilities needed to thrive in the new economy
1. The ability to quickly master hard things and repeat the process again and again
2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed

To produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.

Context switching leads to “attention residue” which hampers the performance. The author goes on to list three trends that decrease people’s ability to pursue deep work:
1. Open office spaces
2. Rise of corporate instant messaging
3. Need to maintain a social media presence

He then talks about how the “culture of connectivity” and “busyness as a proxy for productivity” are creating depth-destroying behaviors. The first part of this book is filled with precious insights that explain how shallow work can consume your entire day and work life, leaving you with feelings of dissatisfaction and lack of meaning and purpose.

In the second part, the author puts forth 4 rules to put deep work into practice:
1. Work deeply
      - Plan your deep work schedule - where you’ll work, time periods allocated for deep work, process to follow etc
      - Set ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours
      - Shut down work related thinking at the end of a set time - have a shutdown ritual, use downtime to replenish your attention
2. Embrace boredom
      - Wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Resist the urge to check smartphone whenever you have a few seconds of idle time (wait time in a queue, restaurant etc)
      - Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet
      - Practice Productive Meditation - focus your attention on a well-defined problem during times when you are occupied physically but not mentally - like walking, jogging, driving etc
3. Quit Social Media
      - Instead of adopting “any-benefit” thinking, use a craftsman approach to network tools selection. Does the use of a specific tool create substantial positive impact towards your professional/personal life?
      - Plan your leisure time. Don’t default to whatever catches your attention at that moment.
      - Include structured hobbies, exercise, enjoyment of good (in-person) company and good books
4. Drain the shallows
      - Schedule every minute of your work day. Plan the day in hourly blocks. Allow modifications/changes to the schedule but always have a plan of what you’ll do for the rest of the day
      - Treat your time with respect
      - Quantify the depth of every activity. Stick to a shallow-to-deep ratio
      - Prioritize tasks that leverage your expertise

This book needs time and attention to grab the finer details. So I wouldn’t advise a skim-through. I took the time to jot down key points that were relevant to me. I multi-task quite a bit, given the nature of my work. Upon reflection, I now realize how detrimental it has been to my productivity. I just can’t blame it on the work culture of today’s corporate environment and accept things the way they are. This book serves as a guide to get deep, meaningful work done amidst the cacophony of noise through endless communication and numerous things that demand your attention.

I would highly recommend this book to all knowledge workers of today’s economy, especially those who are extremely busy during the day, processing emails, juggling meetings and random discussions, high-speed context switching etc and at the end of the day, wondering where the time vanished.

Jan 30, 2017

The obsession with chubby kids

I might have raised this issue earlier too but it deserves a separate post. I'm just back from a Chennai trip (my home place) and as usual, the first question that's being asked by elders, even before we step into the house is related to my daughter's weight. I have heard the same question over and over again in the past 5 years and it irks me every time, when asked - "Why has the child become so thin?". By now, I should have got used to this question and should ignore their comments, but I simply couldn't put it aside in my mind. 

First of all, the father is never asked this question. Shouldn't the dad be equally responsible for his daughter's weight? Why do such questions get directed only at the mother? Many times, the question is framed in such a way that the fingers point at the mother - "How did you let her become so thin?". My temper raises a lot when being interrogated this way that I would be on the verge of blurting out - "If you are so concerned, why don't you take care of your grand-daughter for a month?". And I'm pretty sure she would be fed with loads of milk chocolates and pastries to "help" her gain weight, if they ever take up the offer.

My daughter was born under-weight. She has slowly picked up and is within the acceptable percentile. She has been making great progress with her height (my girl is a tall baby!). Her mother (yours truly) had been underweight till her 20s and now she is in the normal weight range. 

Grand-parents with such a weight-obsessed mindset don't give a hoot about how happy or healthy the child is. Neither they care about the child's better immunity nor they pay attention to her increasing height. All they care about is the number shown on the weighing scale and a rotund figure. 

Packaged health drinks manufacturers understand this obsession with many Indian parents (and grandparents). They cleverly market their malted drinks with an attractive tag-line targeted towards weight gain. They even go onto claim that babies with low weight have poor immunity. This results in young children being fed more milk and milk-based products/additives. No wonder, child obesity rates in urban Indian cities are on the rise. 

Children by nature hate the smell of cow's milk, especially babies who are fed their mother's milk. To make the cow's milk palatable, the techniques a few parents use is just appalling. Force-feeding, promising rewards / threatening with punishments, mixing high quantities of sugar, adding flavored syrups, mixing with packaged malt powders and what not. I had earlier written about why I'm okay with my child not drinking milk. Do check it out if you are interested.

To summarize:

(1) Let the child decide whether he/she wants to drink milk. Let's not force our beliefs on them
(2) High on Weight doesn't mean High on Health
(3) Low immunity is caused by malnutrition. It is not an indicator/outcome of low weight
(4) Focus more on whether the child is happy, healthy and strong (physically and emotionally). Weight is not a growth measure to be obsessed about

Jan 23, 2017

How we limited TV habit of our child

 Before I elaborate on the “discovery”, let me first state that I’m okay if my child watches TV or computer. I don’t think we can keep them out of it completely as the deprivation would lead to more anxiety and interest towards digital devices. But what matters most is the “time spent” in front of these devices. When my daughter was around 2 years old, we decided to disconnect from DTH services. I didn’t want her to watch any of the kids' channels that play the luring TV commercials of packaged junk food targeted towards children all day long.

Instead, we started buying her the Infobells DVDs - which are age-appropriate, educational and most importantly, without any commercials. When we gave her the TV time, she would be watching one of these DVDs. As months passed, she got so addicted to these DVDs. On top of it, due to her pestering, we ended up buying more new DVDs whenever we step into a toy store. Her collection of CDs were neatly arranged in CD pouches. Sometime, last year, we noticed that she would keep changing the CDs every 5-10 minutes. By then, she had learned how to insert a disc into the DVD player and how to operate the DVD remote. No amount of coaxing, pleading or shouting helped. She continued this behavior until one day, my husband hid the CD pouches deep inside a wardrobe. When she found out that her CD pouches were not on the coffee table, she screamed and cried for 10 minutes. Then she realized that there was one CD left inside the DVD player. She switched on the TV, watched for around 15 minutes and switched it off on her own. The crying stopped and she forgot about the pouches.

After a few days, she insisted on watching a different CD. So my husband and I told her that she needs to be a good girl and follow good manners, which Santa would note down in his notebook. Only if “good is more than bad”, he would reward her with the CD she wanted. We could see a noticeable difference in her, ever since we started this practice. Since she has access to only one CD at a time, she watches it for a short time and then switches it off on her own without being coaxed. And she has also started believing that if she needs access to another CD, she has to follow certain good practices - no whining, no crying for silly reasons, taking bath, eating less junk food, eating more vegetables etc. We made the reward sent through Santa. So when she is in school, Santa would come home and place the CD of her choice next to the DVD player :-)

I have read about the scarcity principle in Dr.Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence” and also have read about its extensive use in marketing and conversion optimization. But to see its effects on an important challenge of parenting is so satisfying.

The principle states that people are highly motivated by the thought that they might lose out on something. In simple terms, if the availability of something is less or limited, we tend to value it more.

The same principle can be applied to reducing our time spent online, binge-watching TV shows or any other behaviors we want to change, where excess availability is the problem.

Jan 21, 2017

The week of Dangal and Mary Kom

The first 20 minutes, I was angry, thinking why the hell this father is forcing his dreams upon his young daughters and torturing them. But as the movie unfolds, there’s one particular scene where the two girls crib to their friend, who is about to get married at a tender age of 14. The friend replies, “Your father has a dream for you which will help you build an identity for yourself. What about the unlucky girls like us who are expected to learn to do household chores, cooking, marry someone whom we haven’t even met and then disappear?” This emotional scene changes the course of the movie. And it vanquished my initial anger too.

Dangal is certainly one of the best Bollywood movies I have seen in recent times. The spirit of the movie is so positive - hard work, persistence, determination, un-wavered focus and a pillar of strength in a father who's unrelenting and full of hope. With each wrestling match, you support Geeta wholeheartedly for a win (though you know it is a movie and she is bound to win). Alongside the seriousness, the humor brought out by the cousin brother gives the much-needed fun element and gives some lighter moments to laugh.  I’m so glad that I took the time out to watch this movie after the initial euphoria all over. If you haven’t watched it, go for it before the next change.

My interest in following sports was at its highest in my late teens. Cricket used to be my favorite sport to watch. Besides that, I also used to follow Formula-one racing and Tennis. Slowly, the interest waned out in my 20s and I stopped following any sports whatsoever. Frankly, I didn’t know about Geeta and Babita’s real life wrestling victories until I saw this movie. I knew Mary Kom won a medal in Olympics in Women’s boxing but nothing beyond that. So when I came across her autobiography in my library, I picked it up out of curiosity. I haven’t watched the movie acted by Priyanka Chopra as yet.

The book traces Mary’s journey from a remote village in Manipur - her initial struggles, her parents’ hard work and her tryst with boxing. It is a story of determination, grit and perseverance, with support from her parents. My respect for her parents grew manifold as the story unfolds. She also talks about how she met her husband and how he has been a pillar of support for her, taking care of the home and her twins. The book is a short and interesting read of a woman, hailing from a humble background, rising to great heights by following her dream and passion.

In both Dangal the movie and Mary Kom the autobiography, what struck me the most is the need for a strong support person around you at all times - who will guide, coach, encourage, set higher targets and believe in you - more than you believe in yourself. I sincerely hope to be that person for my daughter in her growing-up years.

P.S. Book #4 of #50booksin2017 
Yes, I'm on a reading spree, thanks to the social media break :-) It's been more than 10 days since I accessed FB, Twitter or Instagram and I can confidently say that life moves on just fine without them. In fact, it is even better. Will write a detailed post on that soon :-)

Jan 19, 2017

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Book #3 of #50booksin2017

My husband had read this book a few months back and highly recommended it. I had earlier read Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” that talked about the principles behind habit forming products, especially from a digital products perspective.

The Power of Habit” dives into the underlying psychology and neuro-science of how habits are formed. It was a fascinating read where the author talks about the influence of habits from an individual, organization and society’s point of view.

Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. The author talks about the habit loop which has three components:
- Cue => the trigger that reminds us to go into automatic mode
- Routine => the action which could be either physical, mental or emotional
- Reward => the outcome of performing the routine

He elaborates this habit loop by using examples of how Pepsodent and Febreze’s marketing campaign efforts have leveraged this loop. It’s not just the habit loop that will help in creating new habits but there also needs to be a craving associated with the reward.
“The cue, in addition to triggering a routine must also trigger a craving for the reward to come”.

The author then goes to explain how prevailing habits can be changed.
“To change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine”.

A clear understanding of the triggers and cravings towards a certain reward will help us to change the routine or habit. The probability of habit change increases when you are part of a group with a common goal ; which explains the success of de-addiction groups like “Alcoholics Anonymous”.

From an organization point of view, “keystone habits” have a ripple effect or can cause a chain reaction where a small change can catapult an organization towards multiple changes. I loved the example of Alcoa where an organization transformation was made possible using keystone habits.

The chapter on willpower is my favorite, where the author talks about how willpower can become automatic.

“Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. Willpower is a muscle, that gets tired as it works harder. As the willpower muscle strengthens, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of our lives.”

I had earlier written about willpower and how I experienced the fact that "the more you use it, it gets stronger". I had jotted down from a personal experience point of view but felt so glad to read about the research backing the same.

The subsequent chapters felt more like supplementary reading where the author elaborates in detail on
- how a crisis can help organizations understand institutional habits created through thoughtlessness/neglect and how to consciously design new habits for change
- the ethical dilemmas of predicting and manipulating habits
- the principles behind how successful movements are formed in societies - example of Montgomery Bus Boycott that led to civil rights struggle in the US
- the question on who takes ownership of our habits and the choice of exercising our free will

Though the examples were relevant, I felt a little dragging towards the last couple of chapters. Nevertheless, there were tremendous insights on habit formation and change. I took nearly 3 weeks to finish this book. Highly recommend it if you are interested in the subject. Do take the time to slowly digest it.

Jan 18, 2017

How to reduce eating junk foods?

Image Source: https://www.thehunt.com/finds/U7qmmh-no-junk-food%2521

Short answer - Eat 3 wholesome, balanced and nutritious meals in a day.

Coming to the long answer :-)

This revelation occurred to me yesterday. My usual morning routine involves Yoga, cooking breakfast and lunch, packing lunch-box for my husband and then I sit down with my breakfast. Yesterday, this whole routine went for a toss when my husband had to leave very early for work. I ate a little bit of left-over lemon rice that I had packed for my daughter’s snack box. In the afternoon, I didn’t have the time to cook a proper lunch, so it was a little rice + potatoes. Around 3PM, I felt hungry and I grabbed a cup of coffee. Around 5ish, I was terribly hungry. I stepped into the kitchen, rummaging through the various shelves (which I wouldn’t normally do). I ate a couple of dates and a banana to satisfy the “health-conscious” in me ;-) But the hunger pangs didn’t reduce. So I took my daughter along to a nearby sweets shop and grabbed a cup of rasmalai ;-)  I bought a pack of cashew pakodas too, which I would end up munching at 7PM before dinner.

You see the pattern here? Though such days are rare, I have to admit that I’m too lazy to cook for myself. So I prepare what my daughter likes to eat and end up eating little of the same. Both my breakfast and lunch were nothing but simple carbs.

Yesterday’s terrible meals taught me a valuable lesson -
Take time to cook for yourself”. 
 I have seen many women make similar mistakes. We feel cooking is not worth the time and effort if it’s just for ourselves. So we end up grabbing some snacks or a light meal and numerous amounts of tea/coffee.

On days when I eat proper, wholesome meals, I don’t feel the urge to snack. If my lunch had a good mix of grains, lentils and vegetables, then I can go on with my day, without the need to open the snack counter/fridge every hour. My grandparents ate 2 proper meals (one around 11AM and another around 7PM) and I don’t remember seeing them snacking in between their meals, except for a small cup of filter coffee.

Snacking mindlessly is the reason behind many of our health-related issues. While working on an intellectual problem - for e.g., replying to an important email, preparing a report, putting together a presentation, a mentally stimulating conversation with a colleague etc, we end up munching a few biscuits, a piece of chocolate and downing cups mugs of tea/coffee. Over time, this piles up unknowingly, resulting in obesity and various other lifestyle diseases.

Apart from mindless snacking, we also end up craving for certain foods IF our main meals aren’t nutritious. If you crave for something, it is an indication that your body is lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. For example, low magnesium levels in your body lead to chocolate cravings.  Low calcium and magnesium levels lead to sugar and salt cravings.

So the solution to cut down on junk foods is to make sure that your primary meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are wholesome and they provide with all the adequate nutrition you need, including micro-nutrients.

A few ways by which you can get your primary meals right:
- Plan ahead what you need to cook / eat during the day
- Make sure your meal plan includes a combination of whole grains, lentils, vegetables and fruits.
- If you need to cook only for yourself, spend a few minutes the previous night thinking about what can be prepared with less effort but more nutrition - Salads are a better choice for preparing for just 1 portion size.
- Be more conscious of what you would eat if hunger pangs strike at 5PM (danger zone!)
- Maintain a food log - a personal diary

Do share in the comments below how you plan your meals in advance.

Jan 16, 2017

Book Review: Appa Ennum Villain by Bharathi Baskar

Book #2 of #50booksin2017
When I read about the news that Amazon Kindle has started to list books in regional languages, I was ecstatic and happy. Being a Kindle Unlimited member, I quickly browsed through the list of books and this one titled Appa Ennum Villain by Bharathi Baskar caught my attention. Having read her previous books, I know I would like her way of writing. 

On a beautiful Monday afternoon, I finished reading this book in a couple of hours. It is a collection of 8 short stories with themes ranging from working women's issues, friendship, parenting to love for literature. In her signature style, she has crafted engaging stories with a clear message. 

My favorite of them all is the last one titled "mei thirupadham mevu". I adore Ms.Baskar's books and speeches, one of the many reasons is that she quotes a lot of examples from Tamil literature. Through this story, she emphasizes how the children of today who are brought up with the ONLY notion of winning/competing turn out in their lives. And how parenting with a good dose of literature and spirituality can help the kids to be stronger and peaceful in their lives. Amazing insight !

Loved reading this short book. Do pick it up if you get a chance. 

Why Working Lunch is bad for your health

In many corporate work environments, I see this phrase being used quite often - “let’s do a working lunch”. The scenario under which this phrase is used is when someone is extremely busy with back-to-back meetings in a day and doesn’t have time to talk to someone who’s in need of his/her time. Let’s say, A wants to talk to B about something important. B’s calendar is filled with meetings that there’s no free slot available for that day. So B would suggest “let’s do a working lunch”, which implies A and B would catch up over lunch and discuss that important issue. Sometimes, team meetings would also be scheduled in the pretext of "working lunches". And the motivating(?) factor for the team to attend such meetings would be sponsored sandwiches, pizzas and aerated drinks.

I just can’t understand why we want to multi-task during mealtime. We think of mealtime as a passive activity where our hands automatically take the food, stuff it in our mouth while our minds are idle. So the super-productive planner in us comes to the forefront and thinks we can use the mealtime to engage our minds. It could be any activity such as watching a video, reading a document, listening to a podcast or even scheduling a meeting with someone and giving a fancy name like “working lunch”.

When you talk to someone about an important issue, both you, the speaker and the listener are completely engaged in the conversation. So there’s absolutely no focus on the food that’s been eaten - no appreciation or gratefulness for the farmer who harvested the grains/vegetables OR for the person who has taken the effort to prepare the food.

Healer Baskar, who runs this organization named Anatomic Therapy says
The key reason behind today’s rise in lifestyle diseases is due to improper digestion. When we talk or open our mouth while eating, the air interrupts the digestion process that happens in our mouth using saliva

Our elders had instructed us when we were kids - Don’t talk while eating. Chew your food nicely”. 

How many of us follow this simple rule? Eating has become a mindless chore for most of us where we gobble up the food quickly and get on with our busy lives.

We don’t fuel our cars while it is running. We stop for a couple of minutes at the gas station to refuel them. Why can’t we stop for at least 10 minutes to refuel our own body?

My request to you through this post
- Avoid working lunches as much as possible
- When you are eating along with your colleagues/friends, avoid talking when the food is in your mouth. Finish chewing and swallowing and then talk.
- Chew your food nicely without opening your mouth
- Concentrate on the food and the act of eating
- Be mindful of the taste, texture and smell. Engage your senses
- Offer a token of gratitude to the farmer

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