Aug 30, 2017

Book Review: What Kitty Did by Trisha Bora

 The synopsis of “What Kitty did” reminded me of the movie “Noor”. Portrayed beautifully by Sonakshi Sinha, Noor is a clumsy girl, struggling with weight issues and writing useless pieces at her day job as a journalist until she faces a certain issue that turns her life upside down. I was hoping Kitty would be of a similar character.

120 pages into the book, I was struggling with the story of Kitty. Neither I could empathize with her nor I could relate to her life. There were many references from English literature, which frankly I didn’t have a clue about. So that made it difficult to appreciate their relevance in a specific context. The story has too many drinking sessions followed by vomit and hangovers. Just too many.

I wanted to give up reading it any further but I had to persist, given that there was a book review deadline. The key plot - the murder mystery of Roxy Merchant’s death is well etched, with Kitty unraveling the jigsaw puzzle beautifully. This all happens in the second half of the book. 

This story would have been an interesting read, if it was crisp with one main plot (murder mystery) and 1-2 subplots. But sadly, the first half was so dragging that the interest withered away. 

The author seems to be in love with Delhi, but for someone who hasn’t lived there, it would be hard to relate to the different places and locations that are explained in detail. 

Having said that, there were a few lines that grabbed my attention:
“Feeding people, cooking or baking, is a noble profession. Very few of us are actually grateful for the food we get."

“It’s odd that I took to baking in the first place. I guess it’s because the order baking demands balances out the complete disorder of my life, in a sweet way"

“I don’t see the logic behind a pepper spray can. If one is attacked, the can should be handy enough to use without a moment lost. Given that most women’s bags are stuffed like a chicken at a Christmas party, it’ll take ages to find the can amid the rubbish. One can’t possibly ask the attacker to “hang on a sec”, can she?”

50-60 pages less, this would have either been an intriguing murder mystery or a girl-figuring-out-her-life kind of a plot. For a 300 pager, there are too many subplots and too many characters - Kitty’s friends, friends’ fiancees, colleagues, family, 7-8 characters related to the murder mystery. At one point, I got totally confused between Ayesha and Anitha, that I had to go back and understand their characters :-)

Not my kind of a fiction novel. 
P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

Aug 23, 2017

Review of Pediasure and Horlicks Growth+

This is part II of Why your child doesn't need the high growth promising packaged drinks.(Part I here)
In my previous post, I tried to answer a few questions that push us into buying high-growth promising packaged drinks for our children. One such drink that has gained immense popularity in India is Pediasure. The brand promise is that it has 37 nutrients to help support height and weight gain, immunity and brain development. 

Given the increasing demand for Pediasure, how can an established brand like Horlicks stay far behind? Along with their Junior Horlicks variants targeted towards kids <4 years old, a new brand named Horlicks Growth+ has been recently launched for 3-9 year old kids. I’m sure in a few years, they will come up with a new variant for teenagers too, thus covering all age brackets. 

Let’s first dive into the ingredients list of Pediasure:

  1. Skim milk powder
  2. Sucrose
  3. Edible vegetable oil (soy oil, high oleic sunflower oil)
  4. Maltodextrin
  5. Cocoa powder (3.21%)
  6. Medium chain triglyceride oil
  7. Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) (1.96%)
  8. Flavoring
  9. Minerals
  10. Vitamins
  11. M-inositol
  12. Taurine
  13. Lactobacillus acidophilus (0.01%)
  14. L-carnitine
  15. Bifidobacterium spp (0.0035%)

1. First and foremost, the longer the ingredients list is, the more cautious we need to be.

2. “Flavoring” is listed in the ingredients list without any detail. For this chocolate flavour pack, cocoa powder is already listed. What more flavour is needed?

3. Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are a type of fats that are easier to digest and provide instant energy for the body. MCTs are found abundantly in coconut oil and palm kernel oil. They are also found in dairy products. MCT oils are synthetically produced through a process called fractionation. These man-made oils have become so popular these days, thanks to Ketogenic diet. 

Should we let the body decide how to extract MCTs from natural sources OR do we feed the body with artificial MCTs?

4. Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) => they are used as alternative sweeteners and are extracted from plant-based sources. FOS is also used as a pre-biotic. 
If FOS intake exceeds 10 gms per day, it can result in intestinal flatulence, bloating, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.  
It is allowed in restricted amounts in infant and baby formula products in EU. Canadian regulations have not approved the use of FOS in baby formula foods.

5. Minerals & Vitamins
I’m extremely skeptical about synthetic vitamins and minerals being directly consumed in the form of supplements and pills. How much of such artificial nutrients actually get absorbed is a question that we need to ask these brands promising “X nutrients” in their pack. 

Our human digestive system is efficient, complex and designed to break down food and absorb nutrients in a series of steps. Aren’t we by-passing the entire sequence by direct consumption of minerals and vitamins? Won’t this make our digestive system sluggish and weak? 

Luxury once sampled becomes a necessity”. This quote is so relevant for our health too. Once we start popping a pain killer for every minor ailment, we lose the ability to withstand pain. Similarly, once we take such artificial supplements, our bodies lose their ability to use digestive enzymes and break down nutrients from the foods we consume.

6. M-inositol
Inositol is used for treating various medical conditions such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive disorder), PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease), panic disorder, psoriasis etc. What’s the need for such an ingredient in a child’s growth drink, I wonder.
One of the side-effects of high inositol consumption (and taurine listed below) is that it increases complications of bipolar disorder. 

7. Taurine
Taurine is a “conditionally essential" amino-acid. Our body can produce taurine and it is also found in some foods such as meat, fish and dairy. 

Quoting from this source,
Since it's a "conditionally essential" amino acid, a healthy individual can produce the minimal amount required for these essential daily functions.
However, higher amounts may be required in rare cases, making it an "essential" nutrient for some people. This includes people with heart or kidney failure, or premature infants that have been fed intravenously for a long time.
Taurine supplements might be effective for people with diabetes and heart conditions. And it is also usually consumed by athletes to improve their performance.

This could be one of the possible reasons why kids who drink Pediasure put on weight. But again, it is an artificial supplement and I question the need for it.

8. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp
Probiotic bacteria that maintains our gut health. Lactobacillus found abundantly in curd and fermented foods. The reasons I spoke about in my earlier post on Yakult are applicable here as well.

9. L-carnitine
A naturally occurring amino-acid derivative. Our body produces it using the amino acids lysine and methionine. It helps in the production of energy by transporting fatty acids into our cells’ mitochondria. It helps to reverse the decline in brain function associated with Alzheimer's and other brain diseases associated with ageing. It is also prescribed as a weight-loss supplement.

Let’s quickly talk about the newly launched Horlicks Growth+. The brand’s promise sounds similar to that of Pediasure - enhances growth, healthy weight gain and high quality protein. 

  1. Milk Solids (39.1%)
  2. Sugar
  3. Edible fat powder [Edible vegetable oil, glucose syrup solids, caseinates, emulsifier (INS 471), Stabilizer (INS 340(ii)), Antioxidants (INS 304, INS 307)]
  4. Cocoa Powder (4%)
  5. Edible Fibre (inulin)
  6. Corn Solids Hydrolyzed
  7. Minerals
  8. Natural Colour (INS 150(d))
  9. Nature Identical Flavoring Substances
  10. Acidity Regulator (INS 501(ii))
  11. Stabilizer (INS 415)
  12. Salt
  13. Fruit Powder (beetroot)
  14. Amino acid
  15. Vitamins

1. When I see a list of ingredients that have stabilizer, antioxidants, emulsifiers and acidity regulator, I immediately put the product into the “junk” category bucket.

2. Where did we last see about caramel colour INS 150(d)? Yes, Kelloggs Chocos. Check out my earlier post to know more about this colour and its side effects.

3. “Arginine” - a “semi-essential amino acid" is added to this drink formulation. Arginine is naturally available in rice, various pulses and lentils that we use commonly in our country. Drumstick, fresh green peas, raisins, watermelon, garlic and onions are rich in arginine. If you eat a well-balanced diet, then supplements are not needed. 

4. In both these drinks, the top 3 ingredients are milk solids, sugar and edible fat. The high growth promised by these brands comes from these three unhealthy ingredients, resulting in obesity, premature puberty and other lifestyle diseases at a young age. The long list of other artificial amino-acids, vitamins and minerals are just a sham to fool us into believing that we are giving our kids a healthy drink. 

The analysis of these ingredients, their functions and their usage makes me think whether we have totally dismissed the capabilities of our kids’ digestive system that we need so many artificial amino-acids, vitamins and minerals. Either that or we are too busy with our own lives, that we resort to quick-fix solutions like these drinks for our kids.  
Children are not born “fussy eaters”. They are turned into “fussy eaters” by 
  • parents who are too busy with their social lives and careers
  • grandparents who shower their love through loads of chocolates, juices, cream biscuits etc
  • junk food manufacturers whose products' sole purpose is to make it addictive by excess use of sugar, salt, fat and maida 
  • Media/celebrities/food influencers/food bloggers who promote junk foods to support their lavish, luxurious lifestyle


Aug 22, 2017

Why your child doesn't need the high growth promising packaged drinks (Part I)

Image Source: BigBasket

During conversations with friends, a topic that we inevitably discuss is child nutrition and role of health drinks. I also got messages from a couple of friends in social media to suggest healthy packaged drinks available in the market.

Healthy packaged” drink is an oxymoron. When we were kids (growing up in 80s and early 90s), our mornings began with a glass of milk mixed with either Horlicks, Boost or Bournvita. And Complan for those who can afford it, since it was positioned as a premium drink. Now that we have all grown up, we try to follow the same routine for our children.

I remember drinking such drinks on a daily basis 1-2 times a day for many years. It didn’t have any positive effect on my growth parameters. When I entered my teens and adulthood, I was underweight, anemic and ended up with PCOD. So I have absolutely NO TRUST in these so-called “health” drinks.

A few questions to ponder:

1) What’s the motivation to run behind such drinks?
Are our kids fussy eaters? Or these packaged drink brands want us to believe that our kids are fussy eaters?
What’s our expectation on our kids’ growth parameters? Height and weight right on the 95th percentile line?
Are our kids falling sick frequently? Is their immunity very low?

2) What’s the purpose of such drinks? Let’s ask ourselves why we want to give our kids a milk-based drink first thing in the morning.
Making milk palatable?
A quick drink to feed our little kids before they go to school?
Easy to drink in the morning rush hours (no chewing required)?

3) Why do we believe that these packaged drinks are healthy?
Is it because of the tall claims they throw as part of their ad campaign?
Have we taken the time to understand their ingredients?

Let’s discuss each question in a little more detail:

1) Fussy eaters
How easy it is to give a label “fussy eater” to a child these days! What makes them get associated with such a label? They don’t eat regular home-cooked meals. Why is that happening? Have we tried enough before resorting to quick fixes? How much of junk food our children consume on a daily basis? Are these interfering with their appetite/taste-buds/digestion/food preferences?

As an adult, do we eat well EVERY single meal? Don’t we have loss of appetite at times?

2) Missing growth targets
We all are numbers-driven, extremely analytical and logical, thanks to our education and work responsibilities. So we expect our children to “hit” the standard growth targets or milestones. If each child is unique and different, how can we expect their growth to align within a SINGLE growth chart? Instead of height and weight, can we use other sensible measures like “happiness”, “immunity”, “activity levels”, “curiosity” etc? Yes, these measures are not easy to quantify but as a parent, can’t we qualitatively measure them?

3) Low immunity
Children by their very nature have very low immunity when they are toddlers/pre-schoolers. They fall sick often at the age of 2-4 years. What do we do during this period? We just have to let the immunity take its course and not interfere by giving antibiotics left, right and center. Antibiotics are only needed IF the child has a bacterial infection but most of our children end up having antibiotics even for viral infections. When the child has a cold/cough, the first thing to stop is cow’s milk, at least for those 3-4 days. We have to let the body expel out the excess mucus that’s already accumulated. Milk increases mucus and the cold/cough continue to persist for weeks.

4) An easy way to drink milk
As I had written earlier, cow’s milk is the MOST OVERRATED food for children. There are numerous other plant-based sources from which a child can get enough protein and calcium. Here’s my article on sources of calcium from plant-based sources. Do check it out if you haven’t done so already. The commercial, packaged milk is adulterated with antibiotics, growth hormones, oxytocin etc. If you can source milk directly from an organic dairy farm, it should be fine on normal days (not on days when the child is sick) and can be given as plain milk as it is or with little cane sugar.

5) Morning routine
My daughter usually starts the day with a fruit or on days when she wakes up hungry, she eats breakfast immediately. On some days, she doesn’t eat anything and so I pack her breakfast which she eats during her mid-morning snack break. Each day’s appetite is different. So this routine of drinking milk mixed with health drink on a DAILY basis interferes with the child's appetite. He/she wouldn’t feel hungry to eat a wholesome breakfast after a glass of milk mixed with health drink.

6) Drinking rather than chewing to save time in the rush hours
With early school timings, it is hard to get the children ready and feed them breakfast before the school bus arrives. A quick, healthy drink can definitely save time. But there are far more superior healthy choices available rather than packaged health drinks.
- Porridges made with ragi flour, millet flour or multi-grain flour mixes.
- Fresh homemade fruit juices
- Smoothies (throw in a banana, few cashews, flaxseeds, melon seeds, yoghurt and a couple of dates. Blend and serve. Depending on the season, use strawberries, mango or apple)
- Home made badam milk

The motivation to write this post started when a mom recommended that I write a post on Pediasure. There’s also this newly launched Horlicks Growth+ that triggered my curiosity. Let’s talk about the ingredients and nutrition facts of these two brands in my next post.

Aug 18, 2017

Why I switched from iodised table salt

Disclaimer - I’m neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. Please read this article below with an open mind and do your research before making any change. 

If you are born in the 80s, you would have come across this ad in Doordarshan - a woman with shabby hair would crib about how messy it is to fill lumpy salt in the bottle and then a woman wearing a crisp, white saree and neatly combed hair would cut open a pack of iodised salt and pour it effortlessly into a bottle. The salt would come out in a smooth flow without spilling.

That’s how I remember iodised table salt entering our lives in the 80s. 

Fast forward to 2012. I was facing a few health issues - my blood pressure was going low, I was feeling giddy and nauseous especially in the evenings and I was drop dead tired all the time. Little did I know that all these issues was due to the wrong salt usage in my kitchen. My in-laws were staying with me around that time. Since both of them have diabetes and high BP, we had switched to “low-sodium” salt. Once I identified that this “salt” is the cause of my health issues, I stopped it immediately and my health situation improved a lot. My journey into researching more about salt began around that time. 

“Uppillaa pandam kuppaiyile” - a Tamil proverb which translates to “Food without salt ends up in dustbin”

Salt is such an important ingredient in our food. It not only enhances the taste but also promotes salivation and digestion. 

Most of us use packaged "iodised table salt" in our daily cooking. In 1960s, salt iodisation programme was introduced in India when iodine deficiency disorder (IDD) was identified as the reason behind endemic goiter and mental retardation among children. In order to meet the growing demand for iodised salt, the Govt started to allow participation of private sector in 1983.

Iodised table salt is prepared by injecting a solution of potassium iodate onto sodium chloride along with anti-caking chemicals like Tri-calcium phosphate or Calcium Carbonate.

In the last 20 years, people suffering from thyroid related disorders such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, goiter etc have increased. It is estimated that about 42 million people in India suffer from thyroid diseases.

I’m sure there are many factors that can be attributed to this issue. But there seems to be a correlation (not concluding on causation yet) between the widespread use of iodised table salt and increase in thyroid related issues.

Iodine both in excess or less quantity can adversely affect the functioning of thyroid glands and production of thyroid hormones. 

A Consumer Guidance note on iodised salt issued by FSSAI states that we require 150 micrograms of iodine per day, which we do not get in sufficient quantity from our diets and so iodised salt can help meet our 100% requirement.

A gram of iodized salt contains 40 micrograms of iodine. 1 tsp of table salt equals 5.69 gms. So it means 1 tsp of iodised table salt contains 228 micrograms of iodine, which is 1.5X more than our daily requirement. If we also include our salt consumption through packaged junk foods (ketchup, chips, frozen snacks etc), then our iodine intake would be alarmingly high.

Apart from iodised table salt, I wanted to understand the other food sources that are rich in iodine. I turned to my favourite source - Indian Foods Composition Table 2017

But I was disappointed to see that iodine quantity of foods wasn’t listed in this document. There was just this single line on iodine.

Even though, the iodine content of 100 varieties of Indian foods was reported by Patnaik (1934) from NRL, Coonoor, they were not included in this edition of composition tables as the topic was so convoluted that it was considered outside the scope of the bulletin.

I’ve been searching for this paper by Patnaik for the past one week but couldn’t get hold of it yet.

From various other sources, I learned that Iodine is also found in seafoods, sea vegetables, dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese), bananas, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, onions, sweet potatoes, peanuts etc.

My conclusion is that if you are eating a balanced diet, there is no need for iodized salt. 

For the past 3 years, I’ve been using these two types of salt in my cooking:
- Himalayan rock salt powder (pink) - Rs.60-70 per kg
- Unprocessed Sea salt - Rs.30-40 per kg

I procure them from organic stores or native medicine stores (naattu marundhu kadai). I use the rock salt powder for dry sabzis, salads and soups. I use the sea salt for gravies like sambhar, rasam, dal etc. Sea salt (kal uppu in Tamil) increases the taste of any dish and the quantity required is very less too. Himalayan rock salt contains various minerals such as iodine, chromium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. 

Salt by its very nature will form lumps when exposed to air. Adding artificial anti-caking agents do more harm than good. I’d rather prefer my salt to be healthy than “free flowing”.

Whatever be the brand/type of salt you use, ensure the quantity you use is minimal (<1 tsp per day). AVOID all packaged, junk foods that are high on salt. 

P.S. If you have thyroid related issues, do check with your doctor before switching your salt.


Aug 9, 2017

Why we should stay away from olive oil?

A few days back, I felt quite irritated to see a popular food blogger promoting an olive oil brand for daily Indian style of cooking with the hashtag #rozkakhana. She has more than a million followers on FB.

As I visited a supermarket nearby, I noticed the most accessible shelf in the “Oils” section was lined up with different olive oil brands. The oils that we Indians typically use in our day-to-day cooking were lying in the bottom most shelf. 

I checked out BigBasket’s edible oils section and I wasn’t surprised to see the number of brands in each category.

As you can see, there are 54 different olive oil brands available, whereas there are only 5 brands of groundnut oil, 7 brands of gingelly oil and 8 brands of mustard oil. 

Why is this craze towards olive oil? Are doctors and dieticians recommending it? Are we blinded by the media and food influencers? 

This widespread availability of olive oils is only possible when atleast one of the two criteria are met:
1. Urban Indians have completely switched to Mediterranean diet.
2. They are using olive oil for typical Indian cooking.

If you belong to the latter category, then please enlighten me the need/reasons that motivated you to make the switch.

First, the food industry took all the steps required to spread the false news that coconut oil is bad for your heart, groundnut oil has cholesterol etc. And then, they come back with expensive, imported olive oils that has absolutely NO connection with Indian soil, weather or our genes.

I came across a BBC News Article from 2013, which stated that olive trees had been planted in Rajasthan, with farmers getting subsidy to grow olives instead of wheat and cotton. I’m not sure what happened after that and whether the olives had started to grow in India.

Though olive oil as a % of total edible oils consumption in India is quite low, it is growing at a rate of around 15-20% every year, triggered by the urban elite. 

1 kg of sesame oil costs around Rs.250
1 kg of mustard oil costs around Rs.150

What’s the price of olive oil? 1 kg is around Rs.900. 

Now why would people pay such an exorbitant price for an imported oil? Is there the popular bias “Higher price equals better quality” at play here? 

Olive oil is marketed as a convenient quick-fix to prevent heart diseases. Healthy living isn’t that simple. 

To keep our heart healthy, there are a bunch of things we need to do:
- regular exercise
- staying physically active throughout the day
- stopping junk food consumption totally
- good quality sleep for atleast 7 hours
- taking no stress whatsoever
- keeping our minds healthy by adopting a positive mindset

I’m not falling for the olive oil trap. Here’s the list of oils I use for my cooking needs:
Groundnut oil and Sesame oil for regular cooking
Coconut oil for tadka and Kerala style dishes
Ricebran oil for occasional home baking and deep frying
Olive oil ONLY for making pasta or exotic salads (A small bottle of 250 ml will last for 6 months at home)

I have tried mustard oil but it felt too pungent for me and didn’t suit our South Indian style cooking. And recently, I have started to use cold-pressed sesame, groundnut and coconut oils. Whatever be the oil, I try to use the minimum quantity. 

The only take-away from this article - use the oil native to your region and style of cooking, which means
Mustard oil - for UP, West Bengal
Groundnut oil - for Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra
Coconut oil - for Kerala, coastal Karnataka
Sesame oil - for Tamilnadu
This push towards a food monoculture has to stop and we should celebrate the diversity of our food and cuisines.


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