Oct 31, 2017

Maggi Nutri-licious Oats Noodles review

I guess I spoke too soon in my post on Saffola Masala oats. Maggi is indeed associating with “health” tags as well, and their recent launch of oats nutri-licious noodles is the proof. The ad carries all the messages linked to health, conveyed using a contemporary plot.

An independent daughter is chatting with her mother through a video call. While she is making breakfast, the mother is worried about her exercise and eating habits. And she insists that she should atleast have a good breakfast. The daughter immediately shows her bowl of “oats Maggi” and the mother is stunned. 
I had the same expression too on my face, while watching this ad - “good breakfast” translates to “oats Maggi”? Can it get any worse than this?

The ad makers have so much confidence that people would believe in such messages. (“Dei, neengellam engerndhu dhaan da vareenga?” - “where do you guys come from?")

Are we that naive?

The ad and the packaging focus on these two claims:

(1) Fibre of 1 bowl of oats
The nutrition information shows that a pack of 75 gm has a meager 4 gm of fibre. As you can see from the comparison table, it is slightly higher than that of regular Maggi noodles but not significant.

Reiterating the fibre present in a few fruits for comparison - A medium sized pear has 5.5 gm, a medium sized banana has 3.1 gm, 100 gm of guava contains 5.4 gm of fibre. 

The ingredients list shows that a pack of 75 gm has multigrain flour, in which oat flour contributes only 39.1%, maize flour 1.5% and of course, there is refined wheat flour (maida) as well, for which the percentage has been conveniently left out.

Why are we falling for the oats trap repeatedly? 

(2) 15% RDA of protein from soya and vegetables

The nutrition information shows that a pack of 75 gm has 9 gm of protein. As you can see from the comparison table, it is slightly higher than that of regular Maggi noodles but not significant.

Reiterating the protein present in a couple of lentils for comparison - 
100 gm serving of whole moong dal has 24 gm of protein (Source - http://healthifyme.com/blog/many-benefits-moong-dal/)
100 gm serving of horse gram (Kollu) has 22 gm of protein  

The vegetables that are added in meagre quantity are all dehydrated, which doesn’t provide any nutrition whatsoever. They are just added as an eye-wash, to make us believe that we are eating something healthy. Is it that hard to chop and steam-cook a handful of vegetables?

And most importantly, the fact that is not highlighted in the ad but shown clearly in the packaging is the “high sodium” factor.

The ideal limit of sodium is 1500 mg per day. American Heart Association has set a maximum limit of 2300 mg per day. 

We consume sodium through various foods - home cooked foods where limited salt is added and packaged foods that are usually high in salt for increased taste and preservation. 
Approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
A serving of Maggi oats noodles has 942 mg of sodium. It is very easy to exceed the daily limit if such noodles are consumed on a regular basis.

What about the numerous additives, preservatives and flavour enhancers added to this pack?
Thickeners (508, 512)
Acidity regulators (501(i), 500(i), 330)
Humectant (451(i))
Anticaking agent (551)
Color (150d) => What’s synthetic caramel colour that’s usually added to Coco-cola doing here in a pack of oats noodles? Maybe, they wanted to give a whole-grain look to it.
Flavour enhancer (635) => Ribonucleotides => causes severe rashes. More details on the side-effects of this flavour enhancer are listed here.

Let’s not succumb to the false “health-tag” attached oats noodles and fool ourselves into thinking we are eating healthy. Let’s stop embracing such lazy short-cuts and start cooking fresh meals every single day. This message is intended for both the genders. 

Sources:

Oct 30, 2017

How to buy less groceries?

Off late, there has been a surge in the number of home organization videos in youtube from Indian youtubers. Great content, relevant and useful tips from an Indian context. The number of views of such videos is so high, which indicates that there is a clear “need" for effectively organizing our homes. It is a different story that most of the proposed solutions are all in some way linked to buying more plastic - plastic baskets, plastic containers, plastic jars etc etc.

Let’s get to the bottom of this need - why are we struggling with organising our homes? 

My hypothesis is that we buy way more than what’s necessary. 

A visit to any of the supermarkets or grocery retail chains on a Sunday evening is a proof to validate this hypothesis - Shopping carts loaded with packaged foods, groceries and personal care items.

Our previous generation had a monthly list that was well-planned based on family’s needs. Given the financial constraints, they neither stocked up “extra” for just-in-case nor did they allow any items to go waste. The availability of items were limited too, as they would procure from small-scale local grocers and of course, there wasn’t this “plethora” of options of packaged foods available back then.

I had fallen prey to the habit of excess buying or overstocking up but over the past few years, I have consciously made some changes that are working well for my family's needs and context:

1. I periodically take “no-grocery” breaks for 2-3 weeks. During this time, I don't shop for dry grocery items such as cereals, pulses and spices. 
2. Most of my dry grocery items are filled up in transparent plastic/glass jars, so the stock is clearly visible and I don’t end up buying duplicate packs. 
3. I follow a “restrict-limit” for certain kinds of cereals and pulses. I don’t have to stock up on ALL kinds of millets. At any point of time, I would have only 2 varieties of millets at home. When they get over, I buy the next 2 varieties. The same logic applies for lentils and pulses too. I don’t need ALL kinds of dals (chickpeas, rajma, black eyed peas, dry peas etc). The limit I have set for such dals is 3 - I have brown channa, red karamani (black eyed peas) and Kashmiri rajma in my pantry right now. For a small family of 3, this is more than sufficient.
4. I buy the smallest quantity for items that I use rarely. For e.g., we use basmati rice once a week. So one kg is sufficient, whereas I make idlis twice a week and I stock up 2 kg of idli rice. Same goes with pulses. We use thuar dal and moong dal almost on a daily basis. So I stock up 1 kg each, whereas 200 gms of chickpeas/rajma/whole moong is sufficient.
5. For vegetables, I have been following this hack of noting down the list and sticking it on my fridge. For more details, refer to my earlier blogpost.
6. I keep all fruits in the two fruit baskets on my kitchen counter top. That way, the fruits are visible and we finish whatever we have bought without any wastage.
7. Except for the tomato sauce bottle that we use occasionally, I don’t stock up on sauces, preserves or jams. No biscuits, cookies or chips either. The snacks section has bottles filled with dry fruits and nuts (not more than 200 gms). And a couple of packs of chikkis. That’s it.
8. Except for a pack of muesli that we buy once a month, we don’t buy any other breakfast cereals or oats. 

We don’t need bigger kitchens, extra pantry cupboards or the long list of organising units (lazy Susan, plastic baskets, wire racks, cereal dispensers). 

Let’s reduce our consumption - buy only what we need. We don’t need to stock up for extra 10 persons or for extra 3 months. This habit of "buying less" has a huge positive impact on our health, our wallets, our lifestyle and our environment. How?
- Health => Consumption of fresh foods and not unhealthy packaged junk
- Wallets => Less monthly expenditure, less credit card debt
- Lifestyle => Time spent in other productive ways and interesting experiences than the mundane weekly routine of loading our shopping carts and waiting in billing queues
- Environment => No wastage, less use of plastic and other disposable packaging

Please take the time to read this important article on our current consumption model and its impact.
"Currently, humanity lives at credit and consumes resources equal to that of 1.7 planets a year. That’s compared to 1.4 a decade ago and 0.8 in 1963. If population and consumption trends continue, this figure will rise to 2 planets by 2030. This puts us — and our children — on an unsustainable path. "

Oct 29, 2017

The "different" Saturday

I’m very happy today, Amma. I had lots of fun”, screamed my 6-year old daughter D late Saturday evening, while we had the play area all to ourselves and were happily kicking the basketball.

I felt cheerful too on a Saturday when husband had been to a whole-day offsite early morning. On any other weekend, I would have felt grumpy but it wasn’t the case today.

I woke up at my usual time and made myself a cup of strong coffee. Browsed for an hour and got my "me-time". When my daughter woke up with a big smile, we decided to go out to a mall later during the day. She then asked me to read a story book, while she happily lied down on my lap and listened to the story intently. We then sat for sometime in the balcony, eating an apple and just staring at a clear, blue sky. It was dance time later, and to my surprise, she played my favourite songs - “azhagiye” and “sinamika”, instead of her usual SRK’s songs - did I tell you she is a HUGE fan of SRK? :-) I then realised that it’s been quite some time since I listened to these two songs. 
 
We both danced for a while and were super hungry. The dosa batter and the freshly made chutney podis came to the rescue. 15 minutes later, breakfast was done. My house-help had taken leave and she had informed me that another maid would come to do the dishes. But there was no sign of the substitute maid till noon and the sink was (and still is) piled up with dishes to be cleaned. I decided not to get affected by the overflowing sink and we stepped out to the mall as planned.

D wanted an ice-cream and I let her eat (yes, me the health crazy mom!) a small cup of her favourite flavour. Her joyful smile was infectious. She then played around, jumped on the trampoline, demanded a slice of cake, a visit to Subway - both politely declined ;-) We both decided to eat lunch outside - while I ordered kadhi chawal for her, I happily treated myself to a bhelpuri, followed by a matka rabdi for her and a big gulab jamun for myself ;-)

It’s been so long since we both went out and had fun by ourselves. We came back home after a couple of hours. I let her watch TV, while I did time-pass on Instagram. A hot cup of chai followed, and then we stepped out to our apartment play area, along with a basketball for company. We played catch-catch, bouncing, kicking the ball and ofcourse, the real basketball game :-) It was such a thrill to throw the ball into the hoop. Running race followed, and D was giving me clear instructions on how to run, where to take a turn etc. After all the running and jumping, my heart was pumping fast. We then took a stroll around, admiring flowers and leaves, guessing which things would float and sink in the swimming pool. D is fascinated to learn about the concept of float/sink - she tried throwing leaves and flowers into the swimming pool and was curiously watching whether they would sink or float.

The evening routine of making dinner followed and I made a yummy vegan pumpkin soup, with D helping me chop the vegetables. It was a memorable "mother-daughter" Saturday. 

As I pondered at the end of the day, I realised that there were three things that were different today.

1. I didn’t let events or circumstances that were beyond my control affect me - I could have easily felt grumpy with my husband gone for an offsite on a Saturday or the no-show of the maid. But I consciously decided not to get affected.
2. I went with the flow of the day and didn’t try to accomplish any to-dos. That’s the whole point of the weekend, isn’t it? Living in the present, taking in the moments and giving your 100% attention to loved ones, which is so rare these days.
3. I hardly used my smart phone throughout the day - except for taking a few pictures when we stepped out, the phone was resting in my handbag. I didn’t bother to take it to play area either, which helped me to be mindful of my daughter’s play time. Children can easily spot whether you are giving them 100% attention or not. D had in fact told me a couple of times in the past, “put down your phone, Amma” when she wanted me to play with her and I was busy with my phone. 

Remember the “book of trivets” I wrote about in my review of Ruskin Bond’s Simple Living? Well, this Saturday had to be recorded in my book of trivets. 

Oct 25, 2017

Saffola Masala Oats - Review

 There is an ongoing battle between two brands that I noticed in my social media feed, specifically the brand sponsored posts. The two brands are Maggi Noodles and Saffola Masala Oats - the former being an established brand for the last 3 decades and the latter being a relatively new entrant trying to make a dent in the 3-minute instant cooking foods space.

The latest promotions of Saffola masala oats point out that instant noodles are deep fried, but masala oats are 70% less in fats and high in fibre. Their positioning is focused on being a healthy product with tagline “Tasty way to stay fit”, “The smarter way to stay fit” etc.

Before I proceed with the comparison, let me admit upfront:
I used to be a big fan of Maggi noodles in my teens and early 20s but now I have completely stopped eating it. I buy the small pack occasionally for my daughter because she loves it and it is one of the very few junk foods that enter my pantry.
I have never tasted the masala oats pack from Saffola or from any other brand.
Let's look at the claims made by Saffola Masala Oats: 

#1 - Saffola Masala oats is high in natural fibre


From the nutrition information, a single serving of Maggi has the SAME amount of fibre as that of Saffola Masala oats - a meagre 2.7 gm. 

A medium sized pear has 5.5 gm, a medium sized banana has 3.1 gm, 100 gm of guava contains 5.4 gm of fibre.

Processed oats, especially the quick cooking ones that get ready in 2-3 minutes has very little fibre. So let’s not buy into such statements from these oats brands. There are so many good sources of fibre - grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits. If you are still adamant about eating oats for increasing your fibre intake, then opt for rolled oats.

#2 - Saffola Masala oats has 70% less fat than instant noodles
From the nutrition information, this claim seems to be true. The actual difference is around 68%.

#3 - Goodness of oats and vegetables combine to provide a wholesome meal
From the ingredients of “Saffola Masala Oats - Veggie Twist”, here’s the list of so-called vegetables.
Dried Vegetables (Carrot (1.6%), Green Peas (1.1%), French Beans (0.7%))
Look at how minuscule the percentages are! And most importantly, these are dried - which means they have absolutely no nutritional value. 

#4 - Saffola Masala Oats has delicious seasoning
Again, a minuscule percentage (1.38%) of chilli, turmeric, ginger etc.
The pack also includes two flavour enhancers:
631 - Disodium 5' inosinate
Mostly made from animals or fish
Harmful to people suffering from gout or rheumatism
Aggravates food intolerances. May cause asthmatic and allergic reactions.
Not permitted in foods for infants and young children.

627 - Disodium 5’ guanylate
Linked to hyperactivity and gout
Aggravates food intolerances. May cause asthmatic and allergic reactions.
Not permitted in foods for infants and young children. 

What’s so “delicious" about these harmful flavour enhancers?

Please don’t misinterpret that I’m supporting Maggi. I’ll write a separate post on it soon. We all know Maggi is unhealthy and the brand doesn’t seem to associate itself strongly with any health-focused tags yet. Exception being the recent “goodness of iron” or the other variants involving wholewheat and oats, that don’t seem to create any major impact among their target segment who buy Maggi solely for its taste and quick cooking.

Brands that position themselves as “healthy” need to be questioned, especially the “oats” related ones. They can’t just claim “high fibre”, “high protein”, “smarter way to stay fit” etc. Let’s not blindly believe such messages and the attractive ads. 

Sources:


Oct 16, 2017

The state of Food labelling and Advertisements related regulations in India


 I recently stumbled upon this article “Obesity is not an issue” - why the Indian government is courting foreign junk-food makers. Before proceeding further, do take a few minutes to read it.

As more and more junk foods enter the supermarket shelves, it is all the more important to be cautious and aware of the ingredients and not succumb to the hype of "Brand XYZ coming to India”.

The 2016 report "Food labelling, Claims and Advertisements” published by “Centre for Science and Environment” highlights many important details and practices on packaged food regulations that are currently followed in India and how they are far behind as compared to other countries. Again, an extremely well-researched report. Do take the time to read it as well.

Here are some notes that I have jotted down for my reference.
-----------

Labelling:

The Indian food labelling laws do not require labelling of salt/sodium.
One pack of Nestle’s Maggi noodles (70 g) has over 37 per cent of the RDA of salt.
Brands like Lays, Saffola Masala Oats, Quaker Oats Masala, SunFeast Yippee Noodles do not mention the amount of sodium in their labelling.

Information depicted as per 100 g or 100 ml does not help in easy understanding
on the quantity of nutrient in a pack and in a portion one typically consumes. 

Front-of-Pack (FoP) labels are aimed to limit the intake of one or more of salt/sodium, sugar, fat, saturated fat. They are indicated as traffic light, color-coded labels, warning, health star rating or symbols that are easy and quick to understand. There is no formal FoP labelling adopted in India.

Nutrition labelling of menus in chain restaurants with 20+ outlets is mandatory in many countries.

In India, there is no list of approved or non-approved health claims. There is no mention of  the need for an approval process, the approval process, or the kind of scientific substantiation required. There is malpractice because weak regulations. For example, the claim made by Bournvita lil champs, i.e. ‘Contains DHA known for brain development’ falls under the category of unacceptable health claims in Canada.


Advertisements:

There is no approval process for claims in food advertisements.  

The issue of delay in evaluation of any complaint and the decision by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) leaves a lot of room for the intended outcome of the food marketing campaign, which is anyway designed for a limited duration. 

Many countries (Norway, Sweden, UK etc) have banned or restricted advertising of unhealthy food and beverages targeted at children under the age of 12 during and before children’s programmes.

WHO's 2016 report on “Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world” states that Government should acknowledge the duty of protecting children from digital marketing of foods high in fats, salt or sugar through statutory regulation. 

——————

The recommendations proposed in the report seem to be well-thought through, but it will take atleast a few years for it to get implemented, IF (and that’s a big IF) they get approved by the concerned authorities.

From a consumer perspective, it is imperative that we read the packaging information - ingredients, nutrition information and promoted health-related claims. Let’s not blindly believe “high in iron”, “fortified with Vitamins”, “DHA for brain development" etc. 

I recently heard from an elderly person with diabetes and acute anaemia that she is drinking a particular variant of Tropicana because the packaging states “high in iron”.  That’s sadly the state of affairs with most people, who are well educated but blindly trust such tall claims.

Oct 13, 2017

Paper Boat drinks review


 Some of you had asked me to write about Paper Boat’s beverages. There is a general “perception” that Paper Boat drinks are relatively healthy. I’m not sure how this perception got created in our minds. My guess is because of their strong connect to nostalgia - a powerful emotion. Be it their product names, promotions, ads, visuals or their product launches linked to festivals - there’s nostalgia at their core. Aam Ras, Aam Panna, Panagam, Thandai and many such drinks take us back to memories from our childhood. 

Looking at their ingredients, they don’t seem to be adding any artificial preservatives or colouring substances. That’s a good thing, when compared to Tropicana or REAL fruit juices. 

BUT, the amount of sugar in Paper Boat drinks is as high as that of Tropicana or other packaged drinks.

Take a look at their popular drink - Aam Ras. It is a favourite at our home too, but we indulge occasionally.

The nutritional information table shows that 100 ml of Aam Ras contains 8.43 gm of sugar. So the pack of 250 ml contains 21 gm of sugar, which is equivalent to 5.25 tsps of sugar.
Let’s also look at the other variants and their sugar levels:

Aam Ras - 21 gms (around 5.25 tsp of sugar)
Jamun Khala Khatta - 22.75 gms (around 5.5 tsp of sugar)
Alphonso Aam - 31.15 gms (close to 8 tsp of sugar)
Aam Panna - 25.4 gms (around 6.5 tsp of sugar)
Kokum - 24.5 gms (around 6 tsp of sugar)

That’s a LOT of sugar and not “a little bit of sugar” as their website states. 

A pack of one of these Paper Boat juices is enough to exceed our daily allowance of added sugar.

It is okay to indulge in these juices once in a while but let’s not stock up our fridge with 4-5 packs every week.

There is a reason why mangoes and jamuns are seasonal fruits. Let’s embrace local and seasonal fresh produce. These all-around-the-year sugar-loaded beverages spike up our blood sugar levels and increase the load on our pancreas to produce insulin. We don't want to get caught in the diabetes net.

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