Apr 30, 2019

Britannia Nutrichoice Digestive Biscuits Review



I wasn't planning to write about this brand of digestive biscuits, given that I have already reviewed a few other brands (McVities, Parle Nutricrunch etc). But then I noticed a popular food blogger with a million followers, promoting Britannia Nutrichoice digestive biscuits as "healthy, high fibre, packed with whole wheat, nutritious etc". How irresponsible! The best part is that she adds honey in making a chocolate sauce and says that natural sweeteners are the best whereas the store bought chocolate sauce has added sugar. And then she proceeds to add 2 packs of Nutrichoice digestive biscuits to make a chocolate cake. What about the sugar and liquid glucose present in those biscuits, madam? 

I ran a poll on Instagram a couple of days back and asked my followers to pick the product review they would be interested to read next on my blog. Guess what the majority picked - Britannia Nutrichoice Digestive biscuits, of course!

The brand focuses on "high fibre" as its core promise. But let's look at the ingredients:
Refined wheat flour,
Whole wheat flour (20%),
Edible vegetable oil (palm),
Sugar,
Wheat bran (4.7%),
Liquid Glucose,
Milk Solids,
Maltodextrin,
Raising agents [503(ii), 500(ii)],
Iodised salt,
Emulsifiers (322, 471, 472e),
Malt extract,
Dough conditioner (223)

Contains Added flavours (Nature Identical and artificial flavoring substances (vanilla))
  1. Maida, palm oil and sugar feature in the top 4 ingredients. Though whole wheat flour is present, it is only 20%.
  2. 100 gms of these biscuits contain 14.5 gm of sugar (around 3.5 tsp of sugar) and 21 gm of unhealthy fats (around 5 tsp of fats)
  3. The source of fibre is added wheat bran but the fibre is not substantial enough to be called as "high fibre" biscuits. 100 gms of these biscuits (around 9 biscuits) contain ONLY 6 gm of dietary fibre.There are plenty of natural sources of fibre - 1 medium sized guava contain 5gm of dietary fibre, 50 gm of roasted channa contain 8gm of dietary fibre. Why eat such junk to get our daily dose of fibre?
  4. Though sugar is less as compared to other biscuits like Oreo/Parle-G, we need to check how much salt is added to balance the taste. Iodised salt is listed but the sodium levels are not mentioned in the nutrition facts table.
  5. Raising agents - 503(ii) => Ammonium hydrogen carbonate, 500(ii) => sodium hydrogen carbonate or which we commonly call, baking soda. I'm sure some of you might have heard this advice from your mom/grandmom in your household many years back - "Don't eat bajji/bonda in restaurants. They add soda and it will upset your tummy." We were earlier concerned about the pinch of soda used in bajji/bonda that we used to order occasionally from a restaurant. But now, most of the bakery products and packaged foods (bread, bun, cookies, biscuits) contain baking soda and we eat them on a DAILY BASIS.
  6. Emulsifiers used are 322 (lecithin), 471 (mono and diglycerides of fatty acids - glycerol monostearate, glycerol distearate), 472e (Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol). All three of them are derived mainly from soya beans (as the pack shows vegetarian symbol). So there is a high chance that the raw material used could be genetically modified.
From my personal experience, what I have observed is that the digestive biscuits (irrespective of the brand) are quite addictive. They are being marketed as "healthy", "diabetic friendly", "wholewheat", "high fibre" etc but if we read the ingredients and nutrition facts, they are equally junk as compared to other biscuits in the market. 

P.S. As I'm typing this post sitting at my in-law's place in Chennai, my daughter who was next to me noticed that I'm writing about this brand. She slowly whispered in my ears, "Paatti/Thaatha have these biscuits. I saw this pack in their biscuit box. Why don't you give your presentation to them?".  I thought to myself, "Yeah, right! They are angry with me because I don't give you Horlicks, Complan, Britannia cake, cheese slices and what not. If people don't want to change their beliefs, there's no point in trying to change them."




Apr 28, 2019

The moral dilemma

Whenever something bothers me, I would like to explore that feeling further to see why I'm affected by it. I usually do this exploration through the process of journaling. If it is something personal, involving family or friends, I quickly jot down everything that is troubling me on top of my mind in a "note" in Evernote and delete that note right away. Whether it gives me an answer or not, this process definitely clears my mind.

If it is something that can be shared, it turns out as a post in my blog (where else) tagged under "Ramblings". So here's one issue that is bothering me a bit this evening. Read it at your own peril, share your thoughts/perspectives but without any snide remarks or harsh criticism, please.

I was at a bookstore this evening, perusing through books I want to read. As I was contemplating what books to buy, I couldn't help but check Amazon app for their respective prices. Most of the books in my wishlist are above Rs.500 MRP and the prices shown in Amazon were nearly Rs.150-200 less than what I would end up paying if I buy the same books from the bookstore. 

After spending around 30 minutes, I picked up a couple of books for my daughter, trying to comfort myself that I have still given some business to the physical book store. But I felt quite bad that I didn't buy any book from my wishlist.
  1. The price difference was something that I couldn't let go of. Rs.150-200 is still a worthy amount to me. It wasn't about Amazon but more about my price sensitivity.
  2. If price is such an important factor to me, then I would end up buying all my books ONLY from Amazon/Flipkart but not from a physical bookstore. And if everyone does the same, the small bookstores would eventually shut down. I so don't want that to happen. There are very few places in a city that I would like to spend my evenings in and one of them is certainly a bookstore.
     
Has anyone faced such a moral dilemma? How do you address such issues? Any word of advice/change of perspective you could offer?
Yes, there are regulations that are aimed at protecting small players but what can I as a price-sensitive individual do to maximize value but at the same time not end up trapped to a monopolistic player? 

As I was discussing this uncomfortable feeling with my husband, he brought out another interesting point - the time-value of reading a book. If I'm interested in a particular book, I should just pick it up then and there and start reading the same day. I'll be able to apply a few ideas from the book earlier than wait for the right time (read: SALE) to buy it from Amazon. I might lose interest in that book or the ideas in that book would no longer be relevant to me. It made a lot of sense but given my wish list is long, it is not easy for me to narrow down on one particular book ;-)

The solution that my mind is giving me after jotting down this post is that I should consider the additional Rs.150-200 as an "experience" cost that I'm paying the bookstore AND not for the value of the book per se. Hmm, maybe?

Apr 26, 2019

Book Review: The Wellness Sense by Om Swami

 
I usually go by recommendations when picking books to read but this time, it was different. I randomly picked up this book from the Kindle store and am so glad I did. 

Om Swami's The Wellness Sense gives a good overview on the basics of Ayurveda, living in tune with mother nature, the role of food in one's health and most importantly, role of our mental thoughts and emotions in modern-day ailments.

The book starts off with the basic premise:

"The health of an individual is not just the state of his physical body but an aggregate of the body, senses, mind and soul. Your immune system is directly impacted by your state of mind. The more positive and happy you are, the stronger your immunity."

The author stresses the importance of mental and emotional health throughout the book.

"How you respond to what life throws at you affects your health in the most significant manner. The way you look at anything and the manner in which you accept or reject are the two most important - if not the only - factors that determine your overall well-being."

On absorption of food and its close relationship with our mental health, I loved this particular passage

"Your physical health is almost entirely dependent on how your body accepts and processes food, which in turn is affected by your mental and emotional state. The body is not just a mechanical machine, for if it were, all stomachs would process food exactly the same way."

The first 3 chapters are similar to that of any Ayurveda focused book - where the author explains about five elements, seven dhatus, our constitution/three doshas and the importance of balance. These might be a good revision if you have already read a few Ayurveda books. 

What definitely needs to be stressed upon in today's age where a universal diet with fixed and calculated macro-nutrients is prescribed to everyone is this absolutely crucial point:

"In Ayurveda, nothing is absolute. The utility, value and effect of anything is relative. Hence the efficacy of its healing is dependent on the receiver, the time and the environment. Foods that may be good for you could be catastrophic for another person."
"Mental and physical exertion directly impact your energy flow. Further, other people's energy and the external environment can also impact your energy flow."

There were many takeaways for me, starting from Chapter 6.

"The energy of the food affects our energy. It has a significant influence on our physical, emotional and mental well-being."

The classification of foods into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic categories and their respective characteristics, impact on our body and mind were quite insightful. The chapter on eating sense - the art of choosing what, when, how and how much you put in your stomach is something that we all need to be more mindful about. It's not ONLY about WHAT foods to eat.

"A good sense of eating has five aspects, namely mindfulness, water, quantity, gratitude and time."

Apart from food, the book stresses a lot about negative emotions which according to the author "are unwholesome food for the mind." Mental detoxification techniques such as meditation, visualization, erasing psychic imprints (similar concept was covered in "The heartfulness way") and mindfulness are explained in detail. 

Physical cleansing techniques as prescribed in Ayurveda, the importance of fasting etc are also explained in easy-to-understand procedures.

This book will be a ready reckoner to understand wellness in a holistic way from the point of view of Ayurveda and Yoga. It is definitely worth owning a copy and referring to it often. Do check it out. The Kindle version is available for a price of Rs.79.



Apr 25, 2019

My favorite books

 
 I'm a minimalist when it comes to clothes, jewelry, shoes, bags etc.  But I can't say the same when it comes to books. I invest a good amount of money on books every year. I believe that a single idea or an "aha-moment" can change our lives forever. Such ideas or inspirations can come from interacting with people from different walks of life, which is definitely THE best option. But as I said in my previous post, I need to make time for meeting new people and having conversations that elevate my current thinking models. Given the various constraints (both within and external), books seem to be the second best option.

Every few months, a book lands up on my lap and creates such an impact that I wonder why I didn't read it earlier.

On the occasion of World Book Day (Apr 23rd), here is my list of favorite books in no particular order (well, except the first!).
  1. Harry Potter series (Yes, right at the top always!)
  2. All books of RK Narayan
  3. All books of Ruskin Bond, the latest favorite being "A book of simple living"
  4. Six thinking hats by Edward Debono
  5. New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  6. Ikigai by Hector Garcia
  7. The Gita for children by Roopa Pai
  8. Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  9. Deep Work by Cal Newport
  10. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  11. Start with Why by Simon Senek
  12. Drive by Daniel Pink
  13. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  14. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  15. Aaraam Thinai by Dr. Sivaraman (Tamil)
  16. The leader who had no title by Robin Sharma
  17. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  18. The last lecture by Randy Pausch
I'd love to know your list of favorite books. Do share in the comments below.

Apr 24, 2019

Conversations vs Connections


Ever since I read Cal Newport's Digital minimalism, I have reduced my phone usage drastically. For the past 10 days, my usage is less than an hour per day, which is a significant reduction compared to my earlier usage of 3-4 hours. One of the most important takeaways from this book for me is that we have replaced real conversations with short bursts of interaction happening in social media. And the worst part is that we think this substitution is equal and we seem to be okay with it. I have been making this mistake and it felt like quite a revelation while reading the chapter on conversations vs connections.

As I sit quietly and contemplate, the reason why I'm active on Instagram is not that I like the "hearts" or I want more followers. Either of them doesn't motivate me to post or check my phone frequently. What I have realized is that I CRAVE for conversations. I get excited to see comments on my posts or DMs. In a typical day, I have most of my real conversations with my 7-year old daughter. There is hardly any opportunity to have deep conversations with my husband on a daily basis as work takes away most of his time.

When I used to go to a full-time job a few years back, there have been many opportunities of having deep conversations with colleagues, though mostly related to work. This is also one of the key factors that is pushing me to opt for a work-from-office role next instead of a work-from-home role. I'm HOPING to meet a few like-minded people and share meaningful conversations on topics I care about. Those topics definitely aren't about fancy cars, abroad trips, latest gadgets, investments, buying retirement homes, Keto diet, new fancy pubs/eateries in Bangalore etc. In one of my last work assignments, these were the common topics of discussion around the lunch table. I would sit there, feeling utterly bored.

What are the topics I care about, you might ask? Here's my list in no particular order:
Climate change
Zero-waste lifestyle
Mindfulness
Minimalism
Organic gardening
Non-fiction Books
Continuous learning
Productivity
Power of deep work and focus
Spirituality
Ethics and values in work
Nutrition, healthy eating but with unpopular opinions (No calorie counting, macros counting or any diet focused)
Traditional cuisines, embracing local produce
Mental wellness
Positive psychology
Yoga and meditation
Energy/prana and its role in healing
Do more with less
Behavioral psychology
Motivation theories - why we do what we do
Parenting - child nutrition, inculcating values
Music
Passive Income Generation
Results-oriented workplace
Technology that elevates people's lives

Sending out this note to the universe so I could get to meet people who have similar topics in their list. 


Apr 23, 2019

Britannia Nutrichoice Cracker Simply Lite Biscuits Review

 
 
These days, I spot this pack of crackers often in the shopping trolley of the person standing before me in the billing counter, especially if they are senior citizens. My sample size is too small to reach a conclusion but based on my observations, biscuits feature significantly in the diets of senior citizens these days, irrespective of their health ailments.

The pack quotes all the right phrases to capture today's urban consumers - sugar-free, honestly good biscuit, no added artificial colors or flavors, zero transfat etc.

Let's look at the ingredients list:
Refined wheat flour (91%)
Edible Vegetable Oil (Palm),
Yeast,
Iodised Salt,
Raising agent [503(ii)]
Milk Solids
Emulsifier (472e)
Improver (1102)
 
  1. The first ingredient is maida which constitutes a whopping 91%. Dietary fibre is not even mentioned in the Nutrition Facts table. Such highly refined/processed foods are NO good for any age group.
  2. There is no SUGAR listed in the ingredients. There is no artificial sweetener either. The "sugar-free" claim seems to be fine BUT what about salt/sodium? If there is no sugar, there should be enough salt added to compensate for the lack of taste. Iodised salt is the fourth listed ingredient BUT sodium is not mentioned in the Nutrition Facts table. 
  3. The fat content in these lite cracker biscuits is relatively low (16%) as compared to digestive biscuits (21% in Nutrichoice Digestive). Irrespective of the quantity of the fats, we should be concerned about the source of fats used - palm oil, which is unhealthy for our body as well as for our planet.
  4. The other artificial additives in the form of raising agent, emulsifier and improver are present in these "honestly good" biscuits.
I have noticed that many senior citizens avoid fruits and veg salads with the reason that they won't be able to bite them but are happy to indulge in similar such biscuits (and other crunchy, packaged snacks). And the irony is that they take artificial fibre supplements every night to avoid constipation related issues. My personal experience - It is easier to convince kids and help them understand the perils of junk food than to convince senior citizens about the harmful effects of biscuits and "health drinks".

As I keep reiterating, it is okay to indulge in ANY junk food once in a while but what we should be most concerned are the "habitual" foods - the ONEs we consume every day. Biscuits are one among the top habitual foods in many households. Let's be mindful of the ingredients in ALL "health" biscuits.

Apr 20, 2019

Book Review: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

 
 
Having loved Cal Newport's earlier books - Deep work and So good they can't ignore you, I was awaiting the release of his latest book, which is based on a topic of interest to me - Digital Minimalism. It was such an amazing read and certainly life-changing in many ways. Absolutely well written, thought-provoking and so relevant for our generation who lead a connected life 24*7. 

I had already shared my personal views on why I'm embracing digital minimalism. Will continue to share more on the practices I'm putting in place going forward.

Coming back to the book, in Part I, Cal Newport in his typical style sets the context so beautifully on why our current relationship with technology is unsustainable. He highlights many reasons on how certain platforms are exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities, leading to behavioral addictions. He has also expanded on this context with relevant examples and case studies from the past 2 decades - the entry of iPhone, the rise of FB and other social media platforms and the widespread adoption of smartphones. Some of the comparisons he brought out are so powerful - smartphone resembling a slot machine where we keep trying our luck to see what we get, checking for "likes" is equivalent to addiction etc. 

The chapter on how tech companies encourage behavioral addictions was brilliant, where he talks about intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social appeal (Pages 17-24). I'm sure all of us who are active on social media will be able to relate to these reasons.

Many of us have tried various tips and tricks under the sleeve to control our social media use or smartphone use in general. But Cal emphasizes the importance of identifying our "philosophy of technology use". He had also written about the same in Deep Work. 

As a first step, he proposes going on a 30-day digital declutter, where he suggests that we take a break from optional technologies in our lives and engage in activities that are meaningful and satisfying. After the 30-day period, we reintroduce the optional technologies slowly, based on how it adds value to our goals. 

In Part II of the book, he explains certain practices that are so important in leading a meaningful life outside our smartphones. The first practice he recommends was to embrace solitude and spend time alone with our thoughts. This is one of my favorite chapters, mainly because of the fact that our generation hasn't valued the importance of solitude. We check our smartphone or engage ourselves in some activity or the other "as a knee jerk response to boredom".

The second practice on "conversations vs connections" is also extremely crucial for us. We tend to believe that we can replace real conversations (in-person or call) with casual texts/likes/comments etc through social media or texting apps. But Cal reiterates that humans are wired to be social BUT not through social media.

This book doesn't advocate abstinence from social media or anti-technology; rather the author emphasizes on adopting technology with intention and using social media as a support/enabler for actual conversations.

My most favorite passage in this book 

"The human brain has evolved to process the flood of information generated by face-to-face interactions. To replace this rich flow with a single bit (in reference to LIKE) is the ultimate insult to our social processing machinery. To say it's like driving a Ferrari under the speed limit is an understatement; the better simile is towing a Ferrari behind a mule."

Finally, Cal recommends the importance of high-quality leisure in our day-to-day routines. This chapter talks about identifying our offline leisure activities - craft where we use our own hands to create something valuable. 

If you hang onto your smartphone for every fleeting moment of boredom, I assure you - this book will change your life. Go for it without a second thought and thank me later - in person or via a phone call ;-)


Apr 13, 2019

Why I'm embracing digital minimalism

I'm currently reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. Halfway through the book, I'm just blown away - too many "aha" moments, evoking so many emotions as I'm nodding my head and underlining powerful lines in every single page. Will do a detailed review once I finish reading the book. As I was reading, many thoughts came gushing from the top of my mind on why digital minimalism is important to me. 

Cal Newport's earlier book "Deep work" had made such a huge impact on me when I read it in 2017. Since then, I have taken multiple breaks from social media and I have also realized that I'm not as addicted as I thought to be. One of the powerful takeaways for me was to set an intention for every technology we use - why am I using it? How is it aligned to my goals?

Since then, I realized my goals for using social media were related to spreading awareness about healthy eating, food and nutrition and also share my perspectives on topics that are important to me - productivity, parenting, writing, learning etc. I stopped posting personal updates on social media - vacation pictures, important events like birthday/anniversary, funny memes, forwards etc. I uninstalled FB and Twitter apps from my phone and access these accounts only when I'm in front of my laptop. My time spent in these two social media platforms had come down a lot in the past two years. But I had also started to spend a lot more time on Instagram around the same time. I was convincing myself that I have found like-minded people and have made friends through this platform. Though the posts I was posting and the people whom I'm connecting with through this platform tie closely to my goals, it certainly doesn't justify the ridiculous amount of time I had been spending on it. I do take Insta breaks often by uninstalling the app from my phone for a few days. Surprisingly during such breaks, I don't feel fidgety or seem to miss it much.

Let me admit, my 7-year old daughter D had told me a couple of times, "Why are you seeing your phone always?", "Are you in love with your phone?". It felt like a tight slap and I knew I needed to do something to reduce my phone usage. I installed an app to measure my phone use timings and I learned that I use my phone 2-3 hours per day on an average. The main concern is that the phone use has been staggered throughout the day, which explains the 50-60 times screen unlocks per day.

I do believe that deep, focused work is extremely important to get anything worthwhile accomplished. Whenever I'm working on my blog posts, I'm completely in FLOW - I can sit for 2-3 hours at a stretch without getting distracted and finish my posts. So I had to come up with ways to be in FLOW on activities that matter to me, apart from writing. 

When you seek something, a solution appears. I stumbled upon this app called Forest a few weeks back. You can set a timer whenever you are involved in something. During this time, you cannot use your phone. For each focused sitting, the app rewards you with a grown plant/tree (virtual of course!). If we check our phone while the tree is growing, it withers. What a great use of gamification! 

I decided to get D involved in this activity as well. We would sit together and read our books while the Forest app grows our plant during the time we are focused. She is super excited about this app and would pull me often during the day, "Come, let's use Forest app". Thanks to this app, I have been spending more time on reading these days.

I also realized that whenever I'm traveling, I hardly use my phone, except for clicking pictures. I'm engrossed in observing new places and surroundings. But when I'm at home, I mindlessly check my phone whenever a tiny flash of boredom strikes.

During our last vacation to Kerala a few days back, my husband and I were sitting in the balcony of our hotel room, admiring the beauty of nature all around and sipping chai one afternoon. I said to him, "It is so nice to sit here without our phones". He then asked me, "What did we used to do back in 2007-08 without our phones when we are on quiet vacation like this?". I replied, "We used to read a lot, go for walks or just sit idle". Such idle moments of nothing have become such a rarity these days.

Another experience that made me feel bad about how times have changed was during the same Kerala trip. We were waiting in KR Puram railway station one evening. I was so excited to be at the train station that day as I was traveling by train after a long time - the sight of trains arriving and departing at different platforms, vendors shouting "chai, chai", book shops selling magazines etc. Watching the hustle and bustle in an Indian train station is just so exciting and makes me quite nostalgic. Growing up in the 80s, train travels have always been very special. But when I looked around that evening, it made me feel sad to see a sight like this - everyone on their phones, some watching youtube, reading WhatsApp forwards, one of them watching a movie on Amazon Prime, all eyes hooked to their smartphones.

Addiction to phones/gadgets is quite similar to addiction to junk foods. Just like how junk foods are carefully designed with the right balance of sugar, salt, fats and other flavor enhancers which make them addictive, many apps that we use on our phones are carefully designed with the right reward mechanisms and continuous streams of validation that we seek because of our inherent psychological triggers.

Going forward, I'll share my progress on how I'm embracing digital minimalism. It is certainly the need of the hour to claim back our TIME - the ONE resource that is given equally to all of us on the planet.


Apr 12, 2019

RiteBite Max Protein Meal Replacement Bar Review

 
"Meal replacement" is the new buzzword these days. Meal replacement smoothies, meal replacement shakes, meal replacement soups etc. Breakfast bars and snack bars fall under this category too.

Recently, I spotted this "max protein replacement bar" from a brand called RiteBite in Namdharis supermarket. I can spend hours at Namdharis mainly because I find so many hip, junk-pretending-to-be-healthy products. 😉

The front side of the pack has all the right words to grab the attention of today's health conscious, time starved consumers.
Protein - 20 gm
Fiber - 5 gm
Vitamins - 21

But turn to the ingredients list and you'll know the real facts.

Ingredients
Protein Blend (soy nuggets, whey protein concentrate, soy concentrate, calcium caseinate),
Corn Syrup,
Edible Vegetable Oil,
Dietary fiber (wheat fiber, fructooligosaccharides)
Whole grain (rolled oats),
Almonds, Cashewnuts, Raisins, Cranberries
Yoghurt powder,
Honey,
Invert syrup,
Fructose,
Glycerin,
Flaxseeds,
Emulsifying agents (INS 322, INS 471)
Edible Gum (INS 412)
Salt
Citric Acid
Added vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids
Contains natural and nature identical flavors


  1. As you can see, various avatars of sugar are present - corn syrup, invert syrup, fructose etc. Each bar contains 11.4 gm of sugar (close to 3 tsp of sugar).
  2. The percentages of healthy ingredients like rolled oats, almonds, cashews, raisins, cranberries, flaxseeds etc are not mentioned. So I presume they are quite low.
  3. A pack containing ONE breakfast bar costs a whopping Rs.120. For the same price, we could easily buy more than a handful of nuts and dry fruits. Why eat a breakfast bar with unhealthy ingredients having a 9-month shelf life when you can eat a handful of nuts and dry fruits that are natural, containing proteins and healthy fats for the same price?
  4. Emulsifying agents - INS 322 (Soy Lecithins) and INS 471 (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (glycerol monostearate, glycerol distearate)) are being used. Soy lecithin being extracted from soy has a higher chance of being genetically modified. 
  5. Last but not the least, the source of protein is both from soy and dairy. These are my personal thoughts on these two ingredients.
    1. First let's focus on soy. More than 93% of soy planted in the United States is genetically modified. In India, only cotton is genetically modified as of now. Unless brands explicitly confirm that soy used is non-GMO or they mention that the source country of soy is India, I'm extremely skeptical of consuming soy products.
    2. As I had written in my earlier post, these are my thoughts on using dairy as a protein source. When milk is processed to form cheese, the remaining liquid is called whey. This liquid undergoes several processing steps and then dried to form a whey protein concentrate powder. Given that most commercial milk is adulterated and the cows raised in large-scale dairy farms are given antibiotics, growth hormones and what not, I don't consider "dairy products" procured from a commercial large-scale industry as a reliable nutrition source for protein (or calcium). I would urge all these protein supplement brands (that use whey protein isolate/concentrate as their protein source) to first prove that their supplements are free from antibiotics/growth hormones residues.
Even if you don't agree with me on the last point, I hope you would make a note of the sugar levels in such meal replacement bars that promise high protein. 

I believe we can get enough protein from plant-based sources, following a typical Indian balanced diet. I had compiled a list of plant-based protein sources, along with their protein values. Please do take a look.

If you still believe dairy to be the uber source of protein (and calcium), try to get organic milk that is free of antibiotics/growth hormones from a local dairy farm - the kind of milk that our grandparents used to procure.


Apr 4, 2019

Book Review: The Heartfulness Way

 
Things happen for a reason - I'm starting to believe this idea more and more these days. The people you meet on a random day can bring in new ideas or change of perspectives. This incident narrated below happened last October. I was traveling in a BMTC bus with my daughter D. An elderly lady was sitting next to us. She was reading a magazine titled "Heartfulness" and I was peeping to see what it was all about. Let me admit, I have this uncontrollable urge to find out what book/magazine someone is reading while at a public place (Anyone else does this?). Then she started talking and was telling me about a form of meditation and a book that has been translated into multiple languages. She also told me that there is a discount going on in Amazon for this book if I'm interested. As she was getting down at her stop, she turned to me and said, "We were meant to meet and I'm happy to have introduced this concept of meditation to you".

She didn't try to persuade me to buy this book. The conversation didn't sound sales-y. It felt genuine and I could sense a calmness around her. After we reached home that evening, I checked in Amazon and bought this book at a discounted price. The book arrived a few days later but I didn't start reading it immediately. It was happily lying on my bookshelf for a few months. 

Last Thursday, as we were about to leave for our Kerala mini-vacation, I quickly grabbed this book without a second thought and dumped it in my handbag, hoping I could read a few pages during the travel times. Little did I know that I would get so hooked to it that I ended up finishing the book in 2 days. 

The book "The Heartfulness Way" talks about a 3-step process that lets us connect within and feel the divine source through meditation. The 3-step process prescribed maps to the 8 stages of Ashtanga Yoga and I really liked the explanation given for each of these stages. I'm not going to elaborate on this process but what worked for me in this book is that there were many lines and passages that felt like they were written for me personally. Some of the lines were so relatable, that I was literally nodding my head, taking a pause, looking at the beautiful scenery all around me and absorbing the message.

A few lines that I really loved:

"Everything starts with the heart. When the heart is at peace, the mind is at rest. When the heart is content, the mind gains insight, clarity and wisdom. We often think that the heart and mind are two distinct entitities that are often in conflict with one another. In heartfulness meditation, we use the heart to regulate the mind, thus bringing them both into alignment."

"Meditation is not concentration. Concentration is forceful, while meditation is effortless, involving no force at all"

"Our thoughts, emotions and activities leave traces in the atmosphere. When entering any place, we resonate with what we feel there"

"If you spend your money wisely, then why would you need so much of it? When you truly value a resource, you want to make the very most of it. You conserve it"

"Sight is the most prominent sense. We tend to focus upon whatever we see, so closing the gate of sight helps us reorient our awareness inward"

"The greater a thought's emotional intensity, the stronger its subconscious influence"

"As we become more receptive to the voice of the conscience, we find that it holds us accountable for smaller and smaller matters. Even at the subtlest hint of a wrong thought, we find that the conscience pricks."
In today's world, we are reacting to each and every external stimulus. This has taken us so far away from realizing the divine source within. This book prescribes a spiritual process to look inward, that not only helps us to dive deep into our inner consciousness but also helps us to tackle the challenges of the external world. I loved reading it and am planning to incorporate the meditation process in my routine.

Apr 3, 2019

7 ways to reduce expenses through healthy eating habits

Frugal living is a concept that I grew up with. It offers various benefits - to our pockets, our mental well-being and peace and of course, to our environment. Before I talk about ways to reduce expenses, let me share my views on why we should reduce consumption.

The less we buy/own, the less time we spend in managing them, organizing them, the less money we spend in buying organizers to manage them, the less energy we spend in maintaining them. This applies to all categories of purchases we make.

The bottom line is - The fewer expenses we have, the less complicated our lifestyle becomes. 

A few weeks back, I had attended a personal finance workshop, where the financial advisors spoke about increasing your income potential and increasing your investments. But none of them spoke about reducing expenses. In fact, some of them go on record and say, "Don't think about expenses. Don't calculate how much you are spending".

I completely disagree with such viewpoints. When these financial advisors talk about retirement corpus, the key input factor is your "monthly expenses", which is then extrapolated based on inflation to compute the corpus required. If the monthly expenses are less, then the retirement corpus required would obviously be less.

Yes, income and investments are important to think about, but it is also equally important to think about expenses. A penny saved is worth a penny earned. 

In this article, my focus is on food-related expenses. Here are 10 ways by which we can reduce expenses by embracing healthy eating habits for life.
1.Avoid processed/packaged/ready-to-eat foods

Duh, what else will be my first point? ;-) A decade ago, my family's weekly shopping cart used to be loaded with muesli, instant oats, act II popcorn, lays chips, cookies, biscuits, packaged tetra pack juices etc. Over the past 5 years, we have stopped buying packaged foods completely. They give an illusion of convenience but they add up to our expenses quite a lot. Breakfast cereals alone will cause a significant dent to your monthly grocery bills. There are additional costs linked to their consumption - healthcare costs that you'd eventually be spending on because of health issues. There is a cost to the environment as well, thanks to the huge amounts of plastic that we dispose off, after eating packets of junk.

2.Avoid food wastage
This is a topic that is extremely important to me. Many of us bring home loads of vegetables and fruits during our weekly grocery shopping and dump them into our fridge. During the busy weekdays, we hardly keep track of what's in there, which eventually ends up rotting and we had to throw them out. Similarly, we buy provisions/dry groceries in bulk and don't keep track of the half-opened/not-yet-opened packs, which also results in duplicate purchases and wastage. Over the past few years, I have put in place several processes at home that helps me to prevent food wastage. 
  • Whenever I go shopping, I prepare a list beforehand and avoid impulse purchases.
  • I ensure I keep myself aware of the dry groceries and fresh produce so that I don't end up stocking the same thing twice. Shared a few ideas in this blog post.
  • Making a list of veggies and striking them down after use has now become an ingrained habit. Wrote about it in detail in this blog post.
3.Plan your weekly meals
I wrote a post on meal prep and planning a couple of years back, where I had mentioned that weekly meal planning is a tedious process. How wrong was I! It has made my weekdays so much easier. For the past three months, I have been doing weekly meal planning that has really helped me to plan and use up groceries and veggies based on the purchase date. Because of the plan, I know exactly what to cook, there is no wastage and my grocery expenses have also reduced considerably. Will do a separate post on how meal planning has helped me in detail.

4.Do-It-Yourself (DIY) basic essentials
Convenience products cost quite a bit. For eg, roasted flaxseeds cost almost double than raw flaxseeds. Spice powders are expensive when brought from the store but they cost very little when made at home. I make most of the spice powders, batters, pickles etc. I prepare and stock up coriander powder, pepper powder, jeera powder, chai masala, sambhar powder, rasam powder, idli chutney podi etc for a month. The costs of buying such packs are quite high, compared to the tiny amounts of time spent in making them. Moreover, we are aware of the ingredients used. A few more ideas shared in this post.

5.Allocate a budget for eating out
As a family, we have set a monthly budget for eating out in restaurants and we try to stick to this limit. Keeping track of our expenses helps us to know our cash flows better. So if we are already nearing the limit towards the end of the month, we stick to eating homecooked food. 

6.Choose eating-out wisely
This is in continuation to point #5.  Identify what eating out means to you. Is it convenience, change of routine, social gathering, exploring different cuisines? Since I cook all meals at home, I would prefer to take a break 1-2 meals a week, which is usually lunch on a Saturday/Sunday. We go out to run errands or plan a casual family outing. We decide on the restaurant to visit in the locality where we are headed. This way, we eat all our meals at home on weekdays and go out during weekend afternoons.

We rarely order from Swiggy/Zomato etc. We would rather eat dosa with molagapodi at home on busy days than order food that comes packed in cheap, plastic containers. 

Both my husband and I love our tea and filter coffee. We don't like to have them at expensive cafes. I'd rather have a small tumbler of filter coffee at a Darshini/Sagar/A2B than a cream-loaded latte at CCD or Starbucks (seriously overhyped, not my kinda coffee). Why do we need such large "mugs" of coffee, I wonder?

Source: TownEss

7.Embrace local produce
It is really sad to see the line up of imported fruits and veggies on supermarket shelves. They are so damn expensive and on top of that, there are hardly any nutrients left, because of high food miles and chemicals being sprayed to extend their shelf lives. I'm a big believer of eating local fruits and vegetables. Since they are grown locally, the prices of such items are lower as compared to imported veggies like zucchini, kale, baby spinach, Washington apples, California grapes etc. For eg, 1 kg of violet brinjals cost around Rs.50 (Bigbasket) and 1 kg of cowpea beans cost around Rs.70. Compare that to broccoli (Rs.170 per kg), asparagus (Rs.372 per kg) and zucchini (Rs.110 per kg). Yes, they might be healthy but the question is do we need them when we have options that are equivalent or even superior in nutrition profile? Similar to fresh produce, I prefer to buy local grains and pulses - millets (that cost Rs.80-Rs.90 per kg) compared to quinoa (Rs.500 per kg). Elaborated more on this point in my article from 2015.

Hope these points were helpful. Do share your thoughts on how you cut down on food-related expenses. Would love to hear your perspectives.






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