Dec 31, 2017

2017 in review

Yet another year is coming to an end. Around the same time last year, I was winding up my last-day formalities with Flipkart. I didn’t have a plan for 2017. I decided to just let time take its course and go with my intuition. I wasn’t sure about getting back to work. Though I knew I wanted independent part-time sort of opportunities, I didn’t put enough effort to seek them. I was clear about one criteria though - I wanted those 3-4 hours that I have for myself to do meaningful work. 

That goal translated into more activity in my blog. The number of blogposts I wrote this year is the highest in my blogging journey of the last 13 years. Except for a few random posts and book reviews, the majority of them were around food and nutrition. I especially enjoyed the process of writing about different packaged foods, their ingredients and nutritional information. Supermarket visits became more interesting - looking for new products, clicking pictures in various angles and then rushing home to write about the same. Words flowed very easily when written with passion and a genuine need to share. 

Change begins at home - my husband who used to eat a lot more packaged foods has cut down tremendously after reading my blogposts. My daughter D is much more cooperative when I tell her not to eat a specific junk food. A few of my close friends have stopped buying packaged foods. My in-laws have switched to hand-pounded rice and millets and their sugar levels are normal. I may not have earned as much money this year like the previous years, but I’m so grateful for these tiny ripples I’ve been able to create in an area I’m passionate about. Gives me so much satisfaction and happiness. And the journey has just begun.

Apart from writing, managed to read quite a number of books this year.

2. Appa ennum villain by Bharathi Baskar
3. Power of habit by Charles Duhigg
4. Mary Kom autobiography
5. Deep work by Cal Newport
6. Uyir Pizhai by Dr. Sivaraman
7. Udal nalam kaakum iyarkai maruthuvam by R.Vasudevan
8. Idapaagam by Senthamizhan (short book)
9. Looking for the rainbow by Ruskin Bond
10. When Dimple met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
11. Indian Super Foods by Rujuta Diwekar
12. CV Raman - the scientist extraordinary by Dilip M Salvi (short book)
14. What Kitty did by Trisha Bora
15. Oor: Meendu selludhal by Senthamizhan
16. A Book of Simple living by Ruskin Bond
17. Turtles all the way down by John Green
18. Murder in Paharganj by Kurdeep
19. Pregnancy Notes by Rujuta Diwekar
20. A house for Mr.Misra by Jaishree Misra  

And there are around 10-12 books that are in different stages of completion. 

One of the most memorable trips happened this year - a 2 week trip to my brother’s home in Dubai. It was great to spend time with my brother, my SIL and my handsome 2.5 year old nephew. D had so much fun during this trip that she kept saying she wanted to go to Dubai for like 6 months after we returned ;-)

We also did two short trips to Mysore and Thanjavur this year. One of my wishes to see the majestic Brihadeeswara temple came true. 

Morning Yoga sessions continued this year too. Except for a few short breaks, I have been consistent at it throughout the year. Healthy eating and cooking continued with conscious effort this year too. Bid goodbye to refined oils and switched to cold-pressed oils. Threw away nonstick dosa tava and shifted to iron tava. Offered salads, soups, thokkus (pickles) and more varieties of podis (spice powders) in my EthnicPalate menu for my apartment orders.

I took a 2 month long social media break in Jan and Feb. It helped me realize that I’m not a social media addict and I can cut them out of my day (and life) whenever I want to. There were many such short digital detox breaks throughout the year. Most importantly, I used social media as an intentional tool to spread my thoughts on nutrition and healthy eating. All thanks to Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Highly recommend this book, my most favourite of this year. 

Last but not the least, I have been able to spend a lot more time with my daughter this year. We bonded over books, music, cooking and our mutual admiration for Shahrukh Khan ;-)

Just like the previous years, I have planned a few focus areas for 2018. And ofcourse, wherever my intuition decides to take me. 

Wish you all a very happy, healthy and meaningful 2018!

Dec 26, 2017

14 Food related resolutions for 2018


2018 is just a few days away and if you are someone who sets resolutions or goals, here are a few I’d recommend related to food and healthy eating. Do pick the ones that are relevant to you. As for me, I’m picking up #4, #6 and #9.

1) Avoid packaged food for atleast 3 days a week
- Includes oats, cereal, muesli, bread, sandwich spreads, cheese

2) Keep weekly shopping cart free from processed/junk/ready-to-eat food
- If that’s too extreme, set a limit to only ONE pack per week

3) Cook/Eat atleast one fresh, home-made meal a day
- No pre-chopped veggies, frozen food, reheated food etc

4) Eat atleast one meal a day with full awareness (mindful eating)
- No gadgets, no books, no TV
- Chew food properly
- If possible, sit down on the floor and eat

5) Eat 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits a day
- atleast 80% of them will be local to the region I belong to (more guavas/chikkus/papayas and less kiwis/avocados/Washington apples etc)

6) Include more greens (keerai)
- Amaranth, drumstick greens, methi, gongura(sorrel leaves) etc are more nutritious than the expensive lettuce

7) Finish having dinner by 7:30-8PM
- atleast 2 hours before bedtime

8) Avoid starting the day with tea/coffee first thing in the morning
- Have it 30 min after breakfast

9) Include more raw foods in daily diet
- A % like say 20-30% would be easy to measure and track

10) Stop using refined white sugar
- Substitute with jaggery, palm jaggery or honey

11) Stop using iodised table salt
- Substitute with rock salt or unprocessed sea salt 

12) Stop using refined vegetable oils
- Cut down oil as much as possible or switch to cold pressed oils

13) Set a limit to eating out in restaurants and stick to it
- max 1-2 times a week

14) Learn to cook a few basic healthy dishes
Just like the way we have incorporated exercise as part of our daily routine, we also need to start taking control of the food that goes into our body. It cannot be outsourced to food corporations or restaurants on a daily basis, if we care about our health. 

Dec 18, 2017

5 Foods I stopped buying in 2017

Healthy Eating is not ONLY about adding super foods and nutrient-dense foods to our everyday diet, but also about eliminating the harmful, the unnecessary ones. I believe, if we focus more on “cutting down” rather than “adding more” foods, then 80% of our health issues would vanish.

Here are the 5 foods that I stopped buying this year.
 
 

1. Ginger garlic paste
Though the brands call themselves “mother’s recipe”, “home made” etc, the ingredients paint a different picture with various chemical additives in the form of stabilizers, preservatives and acidity regulators. In the morning rush hour cooking, it takes just a few seconds to grab the pack from the fridge, squeeze a tsp of such pastes in gravies and put it back in the fridge. But is it really worth it? Definitely not. The alternative is to make a batch of home made ginger garlic paste and stock it. I find that too cumbersome a process to peel a big batch of garlic and ginger. So as and when needed, I peel 3-4 cloves of garlic and a small piece of ginger, finely chop them up and add it to my gravies. They taste fresh and bring amazing flavour to the dish without any preservatives. Takes me an extra 2-3 minutes, that’s it.

2. Biscuits
Earlier, there used to be stock of biscuits at home, mainly to go with our evening chai. This year, I put an end to it completely. Even the so-called healthier “digestive biscuits” are high in maida and unhealthy fats. If we feel like having some munchies to go with chai, we either have it with roasted peanuts or roasted makhana. When my daughter asks for biscuits, I buy the smallest pack once a month.

3. Bread
We used to buy bread on a weekly basis, as my husband used to have sandwiches almost on a daily basis, either after his morning run or pack it for his evening office snack. He has now stopped bread altogether and takes fruit, dates and chikkis. Many of us tend to buy brown bread or whole wheat bread, thinking they are healthier. But they do contain large proportions of maida, along with various other additives in the form of improvers, raising agents and preservatives.

4. Oats
I have written enough about oats in my previous articles. Though I wasn’t eating oats on an everyday basis, I used to stock them once every 3-4 months, primarily for mornings when I feel like having a light breakfast. Being a firm believer of adopting local foods, I decided I no longer need oats in my pantry. The quick cooking ones we get from the market are highly processed to the extent that there are no nutrients left. For light breakfast, I resort to fruits or ragi porridge these days.

5. Instant Coffee 
One of the many benefits of doing Yoga on a regular basis is that you’d be able to understand the signals from your body more clearly. Through such signals, I learnt that I have started to hate the flavour of instant coffee. I made it a couple of times and after 2-3 sips, I didn’t feel like drinking it anymore. Yes, the same instant coffee brand that I have had for years. I can't believe it was so easy to quit instant coffee. 

What foods did you stop buying this year? What were your alternatives? What foods do you plan to stop buying in 2018? Please share in the comments below.

Dec 15, 2017

The wardrobe organizing afternoon



I have started reading the widely popular “The life-changing magic of tidying” by Marie Kondo. It had been in my wishlist for quite some time and finally I bought myself a copy of it. Once I finish reading it, I’ll write a detailed review. For now, let me share my experience from yesterday of rearranging and organizing my wardrobe using the Konmari method. I had finished the chapter on clothes and was excited about attacking my wardrobe yesterday afternoon.

I thought to myself, “Clothes are easy. I don’t buy a lot of them. I should be able to clear them in an hour’s time before D comes back from school”.

The “before-Konmari” Anu would have moved from one shelf to another when she cleans. But “after-Konmari”, she had to follow the book diligently and bring down every single piece of clothing on the floor. As much as it made me very uncomfortable, I went ahead with it.

Summer clothes sorted and put back in a corner of the top shelf. BTW, those were swimwear, swim cap and a robe. 
Winter clothes grouped (a sweater, a jacket and a couple of shawls) kept in an accessible location in one of the shelves. 
Night pyjamas, yoga t-shirts and pants - done. Dumped a few of the old t-shirts that I no longer need in a corner.

“Wow, that was quick”, I patted myself on the back after 15 minutes.

Then started sorting the tops and kurtas. I picked each item and asked myself the most important decision making question, “Does it spark joy?” Forget about “sparking joy”, some would take away whatever joy is left behind. That was the story of my 2-year-old FabIndia kurtas - faded and looked so dull. For the price I paid, I would have ideally kept it back and used them for 2 more years. But this time, I decided to give them away. They taught me an important lesson - “never buy such expensive clothes from FabIndia ever again”. I know many of my friends swear by its clothes but it is just NOT for me. 

Another 15 minutes, tops, kurtas and salwars done. A shopping bag full of clothes to be disposed. “I’m proud of myself today”, I shouted. Little did I knew what was coming next.

Yep, the dreadful sarees!

Before we proceed, let me admit I LOVE sarees but I don’t wear them often. I have a shelf full of them - cotton, fancy embroidery, silk.

As I started to sift through them, I realised I haven’t air-dried my silk sarees in a while. Off I went, unfolded all of them and spread them on my bed, fan switched on at full speed. For a few hours, my room smelled like a kalyana mandapam. 

Meanwhile, it was almost time to pick up my daughter from school bus. As she came into the room, she asked me,”what is all this?”. “I’m air-drying my silk sarees”, I replied casually. Even before she heard my reply, she jumped on the bed, “wow it is so nice!”. I slowly diverted her attention and took her away from the war zone.

While D ate her lunch, the sarees were breathing some fresh air.

Then I started the heavy-duty task of refolding my silk sarees. “You skipped your yoga class today na. Now do the arm workout”, my mind gave me a sarcastic laugh. 

Ladies, if you want to get strong arms, do take up this task of unfolding and refolding your heavy silk and embroidery sarees often. Even better if you have 9-yard ones. I wonder how my grandmother washed, folded and wore a 9-yard madisar every single day. If it was me, my half-a-day would be gone, just executing these 3 steps.

As I folded each silk saree, “does-it-spark-joy?” question felt redundant. Ofcourse, it does. Brought back memories of my engagement, wedding, reception, seemantham, my brother’s wedding when D wouldn’t leave my arms while I performed the required rituals and many more. Smile, nostalgia, deep sigh when folding the saree bought by my maternal grandparents for my wedding and an emotional tear holding my mom’s silk saree from 25 years. 

Some emotional eating (strike that, emotional hogging) happened, thanks to yummilicious plum cake that hubby dear bought from a famous bakery in Frazer Town.

It was almost evening by then. ALL sarees went back to the cupboard and I promised myself that 2018 will be my year of sarees.

All that were left behind were the accessories. I don’t have any makeup or personal care products, except for a natural lip balm. 

By then, D was getting bored and wanted to “help” me. As soon as she saw the bangles and clips, she got too excited.  She helped herself to a cute pony tail, a few bangles and a necklace. “Let’s go to play area”, she insisted. 

We returned home after an hour and then I spent one more hour to clear up the remaining knick-knacks. So after 7 long hours that felt like eternity, my wardrobe is FINALLY organized.
 
 

I’m dreading the next chapter of Konmari method because it is about “BOOKS”. They are everywhere in our home and it’s going to be a herculean task for sure. 

Dec 13, 2017

Plant-based Sources of Protein

Image Source: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/indian-dal-rates-get-canadian-tadka/1/660508.html

Before I proceed further, let me state upfront that I’m not a complete vegan yet. I do consume dairy products, out of habit (milk in my tea, curd). Though the quantity is less, I’m hoping I could put an end to it soon. I believe the commercially available dairy is harmful to health because of the various hormone injections, excess use of antibiotics etc. So I don’t consider dairy to be of any nutritional value, even though the media shouts on top of its voice with “high protein, high calcium” slogans.

I had earlier written about plant-based sources of calcium. Do check it out if you haven’t yet done so already.

Let’s come to the most “talked about” macro-nutrient - protein. I’m not going to get into the details of why we need protein. It is essential for various functions in the body, supports growth, maintenance and cell repair. What’s most relevant in today’s context is the requirement of protein.

It is usually estimated based on body weight (0.8-1.8 grams/kg of body weight). For a sedentary person, 0.8 gm/kg of body weight is sufficient. But if you have a physically demanding job or you do intense workouts, the requirement will increase upto 1.8 gm/kg of body weight.

Most of us would belong to the 0.8 - 1 gm/kg of body weight category.

For an adult with 54 kgs weight, 43.2 gms of protein is needed. 
For a child with 18 kgs weight, 14.4 gms of protein is needed.

Almost all children-targeted junk foods such as processed cheese, flavoured yoghurt, milk additive powders and milk supplements latch onto the “high protein” tag. If you look at the nutrition labels, the protein levels are very low. Even if they have adequate protein, they end up being high in sugar and/or salt, preservatives and artificial flavour enhancers.

So it is best to look for natural, plant-based sources of protein than rely on packaged foods for our protein needs.

Here’s a list of plant-based sources of protein I have compiled from IFCT-2017 tables.



1) Amaranth seeds (rajgira) are rich in protein, ahead of the much-publicized quinoa. Even though quinoa is rich in protein, it is not a native grain to India, has high food miles and is super expensive. I had earlier written about why Indians don't need quinoa and how a typical combination of rice/millets + various dals can help us get complete protein. Do take a look if you haven’t already seen it.

2) Each region of India has various lentil-based recipes, from numerous varieties of dals, sambhar, kootu, bisibhelebaath, usal, adai, pesarattu, chillas etc. Many avoid idlis for breakfast, saying “Oh, they are carbs”. Made with urad dal and usually served with sambhar or chutney podis, what more protein do we need? Sambhar is usually made with thuar dal or moong dal. Chutney podis are made with urad dal, channa dal and healthy seeds like sesame seeds, flaxseeds or peanuts - all high in protein. Mixed with a tsp of gingelly oil, the meal is complete, wholesome and highly nutritious. But we would rather choose a slice of store-bought brown bread and a preservative-loaded, high-sodium peanut butter. I seriously wonder why we need those expensive, artificial protein shakes and supplements, when our cuisines celebrate the protein-rich legumes in every possible way. Show-off, inflated egos, blindly aping the West, dismissing traditional cuisines because they are not “cool” ?

3) Curry leaves and drumstick leaves feature yet again in my list. Apart from protein, they are also high in calcium, iron, fibre and Vitamin A. If you don’t like to chew curry leaves, make it into a chutney podi and sprinkle on top of your protein-rich idlis or sabzis.

4) All varieties of beans such as cluster beans (guar / kothavarangai), broad beans (averakkai) and fresh peas are good sources of protein. Most of our Indian spices and condiments are also protein rich. Though we cannot consume 100 gms of say, methi seeds at a time, we can consume it in multiple ways throughout the day - a tsp of soaked methi seeds early morning, in sambhar or any gravy dish, roasted methi powder in rotis, pickles or thokkus, sprouted methi in salads etc. Instead of gulping down a protein-loaded shake in one meal, it is beneficial to make 3 wholesome, balanced meals with various sources of protein, thus providing opportunities for our body to absorb all essential amino-acids.

5) All nuts and edible seeds are rich sources of protein. Add a handful of groundnuts in poha for breakfast or add it to your salads - steamed or roasted. A handful of almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts will not only give you adequate protein but also essential fats. Sprinkle a tsp of toasted sesame seeds in your salads, add it to your parathas, make a chutney podi, make laddoos with jaggery - sesame seeds are so versatile and super healthy. They are the richest source of calcium too.

If you still believe that milk is essential for children because of high protein, well, let me share the facts - around 100 ml of whole milk (cow’s) contains only 3.26 gm of protein. The dairy industry has brain-washed us enough into believing that milk is high in protein, high in calcium and a mandatory food for children. None of this is true. It’s high time we question such beliefs that are blindly being passed on from one generation to the next.

“Anything in excess is bad” - this principle holds true for protein as well. A high protein diet can lead to kidney damage because of the excess strain on the kidneys. More details in this NYTimes article.

Dec 6, 2017

Review of Hershey's products

 I recently stumbled upon this article on Hershey’s growth plans for India. Two figures bother me - 

1. Their net sales in India grew 16% year-on-year during the Sept quarter, making it the fastest growing among Hershey’s core markets outside the US, which include Brazil and Mexico (as quoted in the article)
2. Hershey India plans to invest $50 million in India in the next 5 years.

Increasing sales, more investment coming to India, but at what cost? Our children’s health.

I remember this brand vividly because around 2 years back, my daughter used to ask me to buy Hershey’s Chocolate syrup for her, whenever she accompanied me to the supermarket. I had bought it twice but she didn’t like the taste of it when mixed with milk. The picture of the pack you see was bought in early 2016 and was lying in a corner in my pantry. Before I throw it out, I thought why not write about it first. 

As far as I could remember, this was the only product from Hershey’s lined up in the supermarket shelves in late 2015 or early 2016. Now there are so many other offerings from Hershey’s - milkshakes, milk booster, spreads and what not. 

First, let’s look at the ingredients of the Chocolate syrup. 

Hershey's Chocolate syrup


Ingredients - Sugar, Water, Invert Sugar, Liquid Glucose, Cocoa powder, Malt extract, Thickening agent (415), Class II preservative (202), Salt

Sugar features right on top (even before water). 
Invert Sugar and Liquid Glucose are all variants of sugar as well. 
As per the nutrition information, 100 gms of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup contains 63.6 gm of sugar. 

1 serving (approx 2 tbsp) equals 39 gms of chocolate syrup, which means 1 serving contains 6 tsp of sugar (25 gm).

If your child likes chocolate flavoured milk, mix a tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder with 2 tsp of sugar in a glass of milk and serve. What is the need for such sugar-heavy syrups?

Let’s not forget the Class II preservative - 202. 
Potassium Sorbate - inhibits the growth of mold (thereby helping the pack to last for 13 months from manufacture)
Has the potential to damage our DNA and is toxic to our white blood cells.
Sorbates have been associated with asthma, eczema, eye irritation, nasal irritation and behaviour problems among children. It also aggravates food intolerances.

If you see a mention of Class II preservative, it is better to stay away from such products. I had earlier written about it in Kissan Tomato Ketchup article as well.

Hershey’s milk booster 


Ingredients - Sugar, Water, Invert Syrup, Cocoa Solids 99.0%), Mineral (Tricalcium phosphate), Vitamin (Ergocalciferol), Edible Common Salt, Permitted Class II preservative (202), Thickening agent (415) and malt extract

As you would have observed, the ingredients list is very similar to that of chocolate syrup, except for the fortification of calcium and Vitamin D. 

Sugar features right on top here too.
As per the nutrition information, 100 gms of Hershey’s Milk booster contains 54 gm of sugar.  

The recommended serving size is 20 gm, which means 1 serving contains 2.5 tsp of sugar (10.8 gm)

Here’s the funny part - in the instructions to use, the pack states that “Pour approx 20 gm (4 tsp) into a cup with 160 ml of hot or cold milk. Add sugar to taste, stir well”.

In the task of “forcing milk down the child’s throat”, how much sugar are we giving?

The ad model Tara Sharma (yesteryear actress who is now in the business of promoting junk, just like her peers) is instructed to say that a glass of milk with milk booster gives twice the calcium as that of a glass of milk and is essential for growing kids. I wish there is a celebrity who would promote sesame seeds, ragi and curry leaves as high sources of calcium. Until then, let me keep reiterating. For those of you who haven’t read my earlier article on plant-based sources of calcium, please check it out here.

Hershey’s Milkshake


Yet another packaged drink that is promoted big time in cartoon TV channels like Disney. The tagline states “30% more calcium and 5 essential vitamins for growing kids”. 

Ingredients - Water, milk solids (10%), Sugar, Liquid Glucose, Emulsifier ((471), (460(i)), Cocoa Solids (0.25%), Mineral (Calcium Carbonate), Edible Common Salt, Sequestrant (339(ii)), Mineral (Zinc Sulphate), Vitamin E (Acetate), Vitamin A (Acetate), Vitamin D2(Ergocalciferol), Vitamin B1(Thiamine Chloride hydrochloride), Vitamin B2(Riboflavin)

Phew, that’s a long list of chemicals. Reminds me of Michael Pollan’s quote -  
Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar B) unpronounceable C) more than five in number or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup” 
A serving of 200 ml tetra pack contains 20 gm or 5 tsp of sugar. Do we need to feed our children so much sugar in order to ensure they get their required calcium and vitamins?

Hershey’s cocoa with almond spread


Given the increasing demand for Nutella among the urban elite Indians, here is a sugar-loaded spread from Hershey's.

Ingredients - Sugar, Edible Vegetable Fat (Palm Oil), Milk Solids, Cocoa solids (4.7%), Almond paste (3%), Antioxidant (322(i)), Edible Common Salt.

Sugar features right on top here too, along with fat from palm oil.
100 gms of Hershey’s Cocoa with almond spread contains 54.8 gm of sugar and 31.4 gm of fat.
And also note the measly 3% of almond paste.

High on sugar, high on saturated fat…The pack states “Enjoy the delicious taste of Hershey’s spreads with bread, roti, paratha, idli, dosa, cake, biscuit, fruit, waffle, doughnut, croissant etc.

Seriously? Have we all forgotten how to make chutneys? Do we need a sugar-heavy, fat-heavy artificial spread, when our cuisine has 100s of chutney varieties? 


All four products mentioned above are extremely HIGH IN SUGAR. These are unnecessary and unhealthy junk foods that don’t deserve a place in our pantry or in our children’s diet. 

If your kid asks for any such products, take time, sit with them and explain to them that these are bad for their health and that these have harmful chemicals. For kids above 10 years, show them the list of ingredients when you take them out for shopping. It is high time all of us learn to understand and decipher the ingredients. 

Sources:
https://www.fooducate.com/app#!page=post&id=57A354F3-FFE5-EC83-4FE1-80C048942A62  

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