Jul 30, 2017

Deep fry "real" foods, NOT high sodium junk

One more packaged food review recommended by a friend. It is also the best time to look at such products, given that it is monsoon season and we crave for something deep-fried.

I remember a few months back that such packets of frozen to-be-deepfried snacks would be in one corner of the freezer shelf in the supermarket that I frequent often. But I recently noticed that they have taken up almost the entire freezer space with so many varieties - global favourites like French Fries, Potato wedges, potato smileys etc and local ones like aloo tikkis. Clearly, the “freezer se seedha kadai mein” promotions have worked big time.

I have never made them at home or eaten them anywhere else, so I’m not aware of the taste.

Let’s look at the ingredients list of the popular “McCain Super Wedges”.

Potato (83.5%)
Palmolein oil
Batter (wheat flour, corn flour, edible common salt, thickener (INS 1422, INS 412), Spices and Parsley (0.05%)]

Palmolein oil:
As we have seen in earlier posts, palmolein oil is the cheapest edible oil and many packaged food brands use it in their products. If you look at the ingredients list of Act-II popcorn, palmolein oil is listed - yes, the oil in which the dry corn kernels have been soaking in for months.

From a health perspective, palmolein is linked to low grade inflammation, causing insulin resistance and obesity.
From an environment perspective, the high demand for cheap palmolein has led to severe deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia.
From an economic point of view, India is the biggest importer of palmolein oil. 70% of our edible oils are imported, up from 44% in 2001-02. Local oilseed crushers are struggling to compete with cheaper edible oil imports from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina.

If we reduce our consumption of palmolein oil (primary use of it being packaged foods), then it can have a positive impact across health, environment and economy.

Batter Ingredients:
Wheat flour - nothing but maida
Corn flour - simple carbs and no nutrition

1422 - Hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate / Acetylated distarch adipate
Usually produced from corn or potato starch. If it is corn, then highly likely that it is GMO. 
It is used to maintain the consistency, necessary uniformity and strength of the food product

Though it is not extremely harmful in small quantities, it is is the list of potential allergens.
Excessive use disturbs the functioning of gastro-intestinal tract

412 - Guar gum
Natural polysaccharide produced from the seed of the leguminous shrub Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba.
It is eight times more thickening than cornstarch
High concentrations bring about flatulence and bloating.

Edible common salt
This is WHERE my main concern is. The brand has neither mentioned the amount of salt used NOR it has listed the sodium level in the nutrition facts table. I have written to them asking for this piece of info, but no response yet. 

The sodium level is not listed for any of their products in McCain India website too. Is it because there is no regulation in India that mandates listing the sodium levels in a packaged food? Or is it that we Indian consumers don't deserve to know about it?

I looked at McCain AU site and here’s the nutrition table.
Source: http://mccain.com.au/product/original-wedges-750g/
For a 100 gm pack, the sodium level is around 280 mg. For now, we can presume that the sodium range would be around this number +/- 20 mg. 

Since such snacks are a favourite among children, isn’t it strange that these brands compute the % daily intake using an adult’s daily calorie needs? If they show the percentages based on a child’s % daily intake, the sodium levels will hit the roof (adequate intake of sodium for a 4-8 year old child is 300 - 600 mg/day). Let’s not forget that such snacks (wedges, French fries, aloo tikkis etc) are ALWAYS, ALWAYS served with ketchup. 

Imagine the sodium overdose a kid would face in a birthday party (not to forget the sugar rush I wrote about in my last post). 
For adults, the levels are not far behind. As per FSSAI's report on high fat, sugar and salt, these are the recommended guidelines:
Source: https://www.fssai.gov.in/dam/jcr:4a9bc826.../Note_Report_HFSS_08_05_2017.pdf
A product that has 600 mg of sodium should be declared as "High on sodium".

Foods high on sodium increase blood pressure and damages the heart and kidneys. The solution is NOT "low-sodium iodized salt" but cutting down on packaged food consumption.

Where did our Bhajji/pakora making practice vanish? The batter is so easy to make - mix gram flour, hing, ajwain seeds, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, salt and water. Heat oil for deep frying, slice the potatoes finely using a potato slicer. Dip them in batter and deep fry. 10 minutes max. Do we even need such “freezer se seedha kadai mein” solutions?

Let’s question every product promising “convenience”. What’s the bargain in return? Poor health, more plastic waste, totally degraded environment and rising temperatures. All these issues are interlinked. When we stop patronizing these “convenience” products, it not only improves our health but of our environment and planet too.


Jul 28, 2017

Support small shop owners and startups

 Couple of months back, I wrote about the grand launch of Saffola Aura oil with the buzz created in Instagram through popular food bloggers and I wished someone would launch native, cold-pressed oils in a similar fashion. For those of you who haven’t read the post, please check it out.

I recently started using cold-pressed oils (Standard Cold Pressed Oils brand) and I wrote my honest, unsolicited review in Instagram yesterday.

If you read my review, you’ll find that it’s not all goody-goody and I have also highlighted the price difference.

This morning, I was surprised to receive a call from one of the founders of Standard Cold Pressed oils. He genuinely thanked me for sharing my feedback and also mentioned that they are trying hard to bring down the price of cold-pressed groundnut oil. His heart-felt thanks had a powerful, emotional factor to it and I could feel he was super-thrilled to receive feedback. Compare that to the lakhs big brands pay food bloggers (who already lead a posh lifestyle) to write sponsored posts with pre-written copy and exact phrases to use in their reviews.

If you are planning to buy cold-pressed oils, I recommend this brand - http://www.standardcoldpressedoil.com/

They have sesame oil and groundnut oil in 500 gms and coconut oil in 250 gms. Perfect for initial trial. My favourite among the three has been the sesame oil so far. Amazing flavour and natural aroma.

Small players need our support and our honest feedback to grow. The bigger players would also be ready with their cold-pressed oils soon, with their pompous marketing budgets and ample hoopla created by the “so-called” influencers cum food bloggers.

P.S. It is an irony that I was watching “You’ve got mail” for the millionth time last night and crying when “The shop around the corner” was forced to shut down by the big player “Fox books store”. In India, there are many such shops around the corner who need support from consumers.

Jul 27, 2017

Sugar allowance for kids in a day

Image Source: https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Refined-White-Cane-Icumsa-45-Sugar_50034672888.html

This quest towards unraveling packaged foods, their ingredients and their nutrition profile has led me to several interesting discussions among friends, family and well-wishers from social media. One such question posed by my husband is this - 
How much sugar is okay to consume in a day? You write about how a serving of Chocos has 2.5 tsp of sugar, that doesn’t seem a lot, isn’t it?”. 
Good question…To answer this, I started reading up on the prescribed guidelines for sugar both in India and in the US. Before I share the numbers, let’s keep in mind, there are natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables, milk and grains. 

The guidelines below are applicable for “added sugar” - amount of added sugar considered acceptable for a healthy diet.

India’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) guidelines:
Source: http://ninindia.org/dietaryguidelinesforninwebsite.pdf 

To keep it simple, the maximum added sugar that a child can have is around 5-6 tsp per day.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has released a set of guidelines on sugar allowance.   

The numbers are more or less in the same range, except for adults.

Let's look at the day-to-day routine of our children.
Most kids start their day with a glass of plain milk / Bournvita / Complan. The packaged malt drinks contain sugar and on top of that, we typically add a tsp of sugar to make it palatable. How many servings of milk do kids have in a day? Typically 2-3 glasses. So 2-3 tsp of sugar atleast.

If they have a bowl of Chocos for breakfast or a bread sandwich with Nutella spread, the 5 tsp limit has already exceeded. 

Most of us might try to convince ourselves, thinking, “kids being kids….they will run around and burn all these calories. Nothing wrong if they eat sugary treats”. Let’s look at the hard reality. How many children actively play these days, especially girls? My sample size is limited to children in my apartment. I have rarely seen girls of 8+ years run around and play. Usually, they take a stroll around the apartment or sit down and play board games. Maybe, they go for some organized sports classes (I seriously hope so!).

Let’s look at the quantity of sugar present in popular junk foods:

Our kids would easily exceed their 5 tsp limit on a daily basis, looking at these numbers. If they attend birthday parties, they would easily cross 2-3X times the sugar limit. No wonder, they all get so hyper during and after birthday parties. Please note, I haven't included the sugar levels in birthday cakes, especially the fondant-loaded ones. 

One might argue, "Birthday parties are not daily events. What's wrong if they enjoy a little more occasionally?" Most urban kids live in large-size apartments. If the number of apartments are 300+, then a kid would easily attend atleast 1 birthday party a fortnight. They would also have friends from school, friends from after-school activity classes etc. So what's the actual number of birthday parties your child participates in a month?

Does that mean kids don’t get to enjoy sugary treats? Not at all. 

Here are a few ways by which kids can have sugar but well within the upper limit.

1) If your child drinks milk, ensure you give it either without sugar or with less than a tsp of sugar. No added malt powders.
2) Limit the above listed sugary treats to once a week/month. Decide on a particular day and stick to it. My daughter loves Maggi noodles and she is allowed to have it once a month on a Friday evening. She understands this rule and doesn’t protest :-)
3) Replace white sugar with cane sugar (naattu sakkarai in Tamil), palm sugar candy (panangkalkandu in Tamil), palm jaggery (panai vellam in Tamil) or the regular jaggery. I stopped using white sugar early last year and I don’t miss it at all.
4) Make fresh fruit juices at home without adding any sugar. Natural sugars from fruits are more than sufficient. If required, add no more than a tsp of cane sugar. At home, I often make pineapple juice and watermelon juice without any sugar. For mosambi juice and lemonade, I add a tsp of cane sugar.
5) Please, please stop giving breakfast cereals, jams and chocolate spreads on breads. Let these options be given ONLY on days when you are tired or unwell.
6) Smoothies are all the rage now. I sweeten the smoothies for my daughter with ripe yelakki bananas and dates. It tastes so yummy and sweet. There’s no need for any other sweetener, including honey.
7) I use honey but on a limited basis. Many of us bake healthy treats (granola bars) with honey. As per Ayurveda, honey should never be heated or used in cooking. I believe this principle strongly. I use honey to drizzle on top of a fruit salad or mix with warm herbal teas for my daughter.
8) If your child loves payasam/kheer/sweet pongal, make it once a week (preferably with jaggery). Their sweet tooth cravings will be under control and they wouldn’t be grabbing junk from the supermarket. My little one doesn't like payasams but would happily indulge in a piece of creamy pastry. Sigh! :-(
9) Last but not the least, let’s restart the habit of stocking up laddoos at home. When I was a kid, my grandma used to prepare many varieties of laddoos at home. They are perfect for midmorning snack break, before or after-play quick munchies or for that sweet tooth cravings after a meal. Couple of days back, I made protein laddoos using urad dal, jaggery and a few other ingredients. By using 100 gms of organic powdered jaggery along with other healthy ingredients, I was able to roll 17 small laddoos. Each laddoo has around 1.5 tsp of jaggery, that’s it.
If you wish to pamper your child, give them your time and attention, not sugar-loaded junk foods.

P.S. Update: I went to the supermarket and noticed that the small tetra-packs of Tropicana juices are of 200 ml size. If a kid likes to gulp down the entire pack, then the sugar consumed would be 7 tsp. That's what is served in most birthday parties.



Jul 26, 2017

Eat Curd, say No to Yakult

Honestly, I hadn’t researched much about this probiotic/prebiotic craze until a couple of friends pointed out that Kefir and Kombucha are rising in popularity. Let’s begin with a teeny tiny summary before we talk about Yakult.

Probiotics are good bacteria that keeps your digestive system healthy by controlling growth of harmful bacteria. They help the intestines break down food. They boost our immunity, lowers the risk of colon cancer and increases the effectiveness of vitamins.

Prebiotics are food for probiotics. They are made up of carbohydrates that your body can’t digest. They reach the large intestine without getting affected by the digestion process. Prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto‐oligosaccharides (GOS) are naturally found in many foods such as whole wheat, onion, garlic, cabbage, legumes etc.

Now, let’s talk about probiotics in more detail:

Probiotics bacteria belong to the two families of bacteria:
Strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are both associated with probiotic formulas 

One of the best sources of probiotics is yoghurt. Pickles are also a great source. Fermentation process helps in producing probiotics. 

Probiotics foods that are gaining popularity are
- Kefir (fermented milk drink made with kefir grains), 
- Kimchi (made with fermented vegetables), 
- Sauerkraut (made with fermented cabbage),
- Kombucha (fermented yeast tea), 
- sourdough bread etc

Probiotics are also available in the form of supplements that contain “live” bacteria. The important thing to keep in mind is that probiotics supplements aren’t regulated according to "drug standards" by the US FDA. There are chances of developing allergic reactions to the new bacteria being added to your body. Also, one needs to be careful when giving probiotics supplements to children under the age of 12.

Coming to Yakult, it is a fermented milk drink that contains 6.5 billion probiotics called LcS (L-casei Shirota). LcS is Yakult’s exclusive probiotic strain. 

It comes in a pack of 5 plastic bottles with a price tag of Rs.60. Each bottle of 65 ml is therefore priced at Rs.12. Recommended serving is 1-2 bottles per day for all ages above 1 year.

I have only 2 issues with this product right now. Let’s keep aside the thought whether the “exclusive” LcS probiotic strain is effective or not. It will need more time to research about its effectiveness.

(1) High sugar
Let’s look at the ingredients list:
Water, Sugar, Skimmed Milk Powder, Glucose, Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS)

The nutritional facts table show that a single bottle (65 ml) contains 10 gm of added sugar, which means a whopping 2.5 tsp of sugar in each bottle.

(2) Single-use plastic
Why? Seriously why? To keep our guts clean, why do we need to pollute our planet? If a family of 3 drinks Yakult on a daily basis, how many plastic bottles will be disposed in a week, in a month and in a year? New-product innovators need to think hard, not just about their profitability and growth but also on the trash they leave behind on the planet.

As I was googling about Yakult and LcS, I stumbled upon this brilliant article - 11 reasons to avoid Yakult and other probiotic drinks. Is there anything more to be said?

Gut health is a “hot topic” these days. We have spoilt our gut flora (good bacteria) so much that we are looking for external, artificial quick fixes. 

How did we spoil our gut flora in the first place?
- Excessive use of over-the-counter painkillers and antibiotics
- Excess stress
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Lack of Physical activity
- Smoking cigarettes
- Not getting enough sleep
- Not eating adequate foods that contain prebiotics
- and many more reasons

Our ancestors never had to worry about probiotics. 

In South India, we use fermented batters all the time - idli, dosa, aapam etc. But what kind of breakfasts do we have these days - corn flakes, chocos, oats and what not?

In Tamilnadu especially in villages, people used to eat “pazhayadhu” (cooked rice fermented overnight) and kambankali (cooked pearl millet balls fermented overnight). These practices don’t sound attractive but we’ll go and pay a huge price for fancy names like kefir, kombucha etc. 15 gms of Kefir grains cost Rs.650 (source)

There are a huge variety of pickles that are made all over India. But we fear the oil and salt and instead, embrace sugar-laden probiotic supplements sold in plastic bottles. 

It used to be a daily practice to set curd at home. Now we have started to rely on packaged yoghurt, more so the “slim" version sold in plastic bags and containers.

Unless we start to appreciate our country’s food traditions and practices, there will always be new “hot topics” introduced, along with fancy new solutions that come with a premium price tag.
Do we need products like Yakult in the first place? Aren't we only treating the symptoms and not addressing the main issues?

As for me, I’m content with my everyday “thachi mammu” (curd rice), idli/dosas made with homemade fermented batters and of course, pickles. And adequate lentils and vegetables to feed my gut flora.


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