Mar 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

Recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium:

4 - 8 years => 130 mg/day

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

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

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

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

Sources Magnesium per 100 gms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaggery 115 mg

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

Mar 20, 2017

Power of Intuition, kindness and music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 16, 2017

Why Indians don't need Quinoa?

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

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

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

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

*In the table above, replace kodo millet with foxtail millet. Thanks Dwiji for pointing it out. The IFCT table has an error in mentioning the local name.

1) As you can see, the amino acid values in green colour belong to the grains/pulses that are higher than that of quinoa. The amino acid values in pink colour belong to the grains/pulses that are lower than that of quinoa.
2) Among the grains, Kodo millet (Varagu) foxtail millet (thinai) fares much better than quinoa. To compensate for the lesser Histidine and Lysine amino acids, we can easily take the cooked millet with a cowpea / field beans dal to get the complete protein required
3) Most of the grains are lower in lysine but can be easily compensated by taking pulses along with the grains.
4) You don’t need to take all essential amino acids in every single meal. Mix-and-match the different local grains and pulses in a week and you don’t need to worry whether your protein intake is complete or not
5) Most of our Indian meals have both cereal and dal. Choose millets, brown rice or hand-pounded rice over polished white rice. Include a variety of dals in a week.
6) All the local millets and pulses are far less expensive, as compared to the imported quinoa. 500 gm of foxtail millet is around Rs.50-60 whereas the same quantity of quinoa is in the range of Rs.400-600. It has a higher cost on the environment too. Though there has been news that some farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand are cultivating quinoa, the current demand is mainly catered through imports.

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

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

Mar 15, 2017

Best sources of iron from plant-based foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources Iron per 100 gms

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

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

Jaggery 4.63 mg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 9, 2017

Best sources of calcium from plant-based foods

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

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

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

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

Calcium Sources Calcium per 100 gms

Cow’s milk, whole 118 mg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 3, 2017

How to prevent cold/cough in children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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