Sep 27, 2017

What to eat?

A few days back, my husband and I had this conversation:
Me: My next post is on brown bread.
Husband: WHAT? Isn’t brown bread healthy?
Me: Wait for my post. You’ll know. *laughs*
Husband: Because of your posts, I’m not able to buy anything from the supermarket. Please don’t write about Pringles, I beg you!

A friend remarked, “Why do you keep writing “don’t eat this, don’t eat that” always? What should we eat then?"

Someone who had read my post posted a comment - "At this rate we'll have to stop eating food altogether”.

In the last 20 years, our understanding of food is completely taken over by packaged stuff - the so-called edible material manufactured in a factory using numerous synthetic chemicals and eaten out of plastic packets. 

I’m sorry I cannot place such products under the category of “foods”.  Food is supposed to nourish us, give us energy, make us stronger and enable us to execute our life purpose. All that packaged foods have ever done is take us on a path of health destruction, driven by profit motives of food corporations and pharma companies. 

I’m an 80s girl and I have lived a small but significant part of my formative years in the pre-globalisation era in a small town. I'm so grateful to have experienced the other side, where fresh homemade food was the norm.

There are plenty of foods that you can eat, if you shift your focus outside the processed/packaged foods section.
Fruit Basket at my home
1) Take a look at your kitchen pantry. Make a list of all those packs/bottles/jars of packaged foods you have stocked up. What does the total number add up to? Do this exercise once in 15 days or once a month. Try to reduce this number every month.

2) Increase your fruits intake. Ever since I stopped buying packaged snacks 4-5 years back, my kitchen is always stocked up with fruits. I buy fruits atleast 2 times a week. Not the exotic kiwis or avocados. But the bananas, chikkus, guavas, pineapples, papayas, seasonal fruits such as Shimla apples, pomegranates, mangoes, Coorg/Nagpur oranges etc. My 6-year old daughter eats all fruits since she has started this habit of eating fruit every single day from the time she was a toddler.

3) Stock up on dry fruits and nuts. My husband loves cashews and whenever he feels like munching something, he grabs a handful of plain cashews. We don’t stock up on chocolates, cookies or namkeen anymore.

4) In each of my post on packaged foods, I try to list down healthy alternatives for the same. Here’s a handy compilation of such real foods that will help you get rid of packaged junk:

Aren’t there enough options available?

The next time you go shopping to a store or order groceries online, try cutting down on all ready-to-eat packaged junk. There are many people who lead happy, healthy and busy lives without relying on packaged foods. 

“Where there is a will, there is a way”. 

Options are aplenty if you consciously take a step towards a packaged food-free life. Please do share your ideas for healthy substitutes in place of packaged junk. Will add it to the table above.

Sep 25, 2017

Stay away from Bread and its complementary products

While researching about store-bought bread and the preservatives/additives/improvers added to it, I came across this 2016 report by “Centre for Science and Environment” that talks about potassium bromate and iodate being added to bakery products. Please do take a look. There are many brands that do not mention the use of these 2 toxic chemicals as flour treatment agent in their packaging. That brings us to an important lesson. 

NOT ALL ingredients that are used are listed in the Ingredients list in packaging. 

So far, I’ve only been sharing about the ingredients mentioned in packaging, which in itself is quite scary. Imagine what else goes behind the scenes in the factories!

By bread, I don’t mean only the loaf we buy from supermarkets. It also includes the pav buns, burger buns, pizza base etc. It also includes the burgers and pizzas we order from Subway, KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominos etc. The report on potassium bromate and iodate includes samples from these junk food brands too. Highly recommend that you take a look at the report mentioned above. Remember my earlier post on iodised salt and how iodine in excess is bad for our health. That’s exactly what’s being talked about in this report. 

We hardly eat bread as it is. It is always slathered with one or more of these processed foods - jam, cheese spread, mayonnaise, butter spread, cheese slice, ketchup, peanut butter, chocolate spread like Nutella etc.

So apart from the preservatives in bread, we are also consuming more toxic chemicals from these complementary products on a daily basis. Not to forget the copious amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.

Let's take a look at a couple of such complementary products:

Brittania Cheese Slices:

My daughter loves these cheese slices but I buy them rarely. I’m not falling for the “High calcium, goodness of cow’s milk” trap.  

Listed ingredients are
Cheese, water, milk solids, emulsifiers (331, 339), iodised salt, acidifying agents (330, 260), preservative (200)
Permitted natural colour (160a(ii))

This pack has 5 slices (100 gm). My biggest concern is the number mentioned next to Sodium - 1426 mg per 100 gm. 

One cheese slice contains a whopping 285 mg of sodium. 

In the last few years, cheese has become such a favourite snack for children, often perceived as healthy. Many parents pack cheese cubes in young kids’ snack boxes in order to increase their calcium and protein intake. But not many are noticing the numerous additives and the high amounts of sodium that are present in packaged cheese.

One of the favourite spreads enjoyed by both children and adults. Occasional indulgence is fine but a definite NO if consumed on a daily basis. Why? Because of the high levels of sugar. The brand wouldn’t highlight this piece of info. The tagline says “Start your day with Nutella” - edhukku? straightaa paralogam porathukka? illa sugar rush oda sutharathukka? (Why? to send us straight to another world? or to roam around in sugar rush?) 
As like every other junk food brand, the packaging encourages consumers to make it a daily habit by eating Nutella with rotis and dosas. Once we start the habit, kids would never touch their dal, chutney or sambhar. Rather, they would insist on having Nutella with every meal because of the addictive nature of sugar.

Sugar is the first listed ingredient. A single serving of Nutella contains more than 2 tsp of sugar (8.5 gm).

Edible vegetable oil is listed second. A single serving of Nutella contains 1 tsp of unhealthy fats (4.7 gm). 

Lecithins are extracted from soy (if the pack indicates vegetarian) and is likely to be genetically modified (if sourced from countries like US and Argentina). It is one of the most commonly used additives. The role of an emulsifier is to ensure better combining of oil and water. Emulsifiers can also be of animal origin, so if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you need to check the source of lecithin. 

If you (or your kids) are eating bread on a daily basis, then please do take time to learn about the ingredients of the complementary foods that you serve along with bread. Home-made tamarind chutney, green chutney or home-made peanut butter are better options. 

The best decision you can make for yourself and for your family is to avoid bread and its complementary products totally. Great for our health and for our planet too. Individual plastic wrap for each cheese slice! How ridiculous is that!

Sep 22, 2017

Why brown bread is unhealthy?

 One of the items I stopped buying this year was the loaf of bread. Over the past 3-4 years, it was featuring regularly in my weekly grocery shopping. Though I’m not a fan of bread toast and sandwiches, my husband and daughter loved to eat a slice or two with jam or peanut butter. We would invariably waste nearly half the pack every week since it would have gone past the expiry date. We stopped buying it primarily because of the wastage.

There are so many variants of bread available in the market. Milk bread and sandwich bread are made of 100% maida. Many of us buy whole wheat bread or brown bread on a regular basis, thinking that we are making a healthier choice for ourselves. But is brown bread actually healthy? 

The best way to check is to look at its ingredients. Here’s a brown bread pack from “Daily Bread”, one of the popular brands in Bangalore.

Whole wheat flour (32%)
Refined Wheat flour
Edible common salt
Edible vegetable oil (Palm)
Class II preservative (282)
Improvers (1100, 1104,300)
Emulsifier (472e)
Acidity Regulator (260)
Flour treatment agent (510)
Permitted natural food colour (150a)

Brown bread has ONLY 32% of whole wheat flour and the rest is refined wheat flour or maida.
All packaged foods are made of palm oil, which is one of the cheapest edible oils that is bad for our health, environment and economy.

Let’s look at the list of 8 additives used in this product:

Class II preservative (282)
Called as Calcium propionate, a natural acid that acts as an antimicrobial preservative in food products, especially in bakery. It helps in the prevention of mold formation and extends shelf life. 
Linked to headaches, migraine, asthma and also aggravates food intolerances.

Amylase - Helps to break down complex starch found in flour. Causes the bread to rise. Derived from mould mushroom or pig pancreas.  
Amylase occurs naturally in yeast and so I’m not sure why there is a need to add it separately as well. 

Lipases - it is used as an emulsifier and processing aid in the breakdown of fats and oils, and as a flour treatment agent in baked goods and bakery products.

L-ascorbic acid. It is an artificial additive that helps to retain gas in the dough, which makes the loaf rise more.

Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol.
Obtained from either soybeans (possibly GMO) or pork.

Acidity regulator
Acetic acid
Helps to control the acidity or alkalinity, so the required pH level can be maintained which prevents the growth of bacteria in the product.
Main component of vinegar, synthetically produced from wood fibres 
The main side effect of this additive is that it can trigger asthma.  

Flour treatment agent
Ammonium Chloride
Large amounts can cause acidosis - nausea, headaches, insomnia. 
Should be avoided by people with impaired liver or kidney function. 

Permitted natural food colour
Caramel colour - so now we know what gives the brown bread the “brown” colour. 
Caramel colouring can be produced from sugar or glucose from plant starches, typically from corn (possibly GMO) 

Looking at these long list of ingredients, Brown bread sounds as unhealthy as a pack of cookies or any other junk food. If you like to eat bread on a regular basis, it is much safer to bake it at home. I have baked bread at home a couple of times…All I had to use was flour (a combination of maida and wholewheat flour), yeast, little sugar, salt and little oil. No chemicals/additives are needed.

Given the number of issues that arise out of excess gluten consumption, the best option would be to avoid bread completely and switch to other healthy breakfast/snack alternatives.


Sep 12, 2017

A few thoughts on "women-empowerment"

Couple of weeks back, I watched this much-acclaimed movie “Lipstick under my burkha”. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all. I don’t want to ponder over the reasons of why it didn’t strike a chord with me as compared to the many who liked it.

But this movie is ONE among the many recent movies that made me think about “women-empowerment” / “feminism” and how it is wrongly portrayed by movies and media these days.

This post is not meant to offend anyone but purely my opinions and reflections on this topic.

Off late, there has been a surge of movies with women-focused themes covering various issues women face in a patriarchal society like India. Among the various women who are shown to portray strong characters, there is one common element that disturbs me.

Strong women are portrayed as drinking alcohol and smoking.

I’m totally against these 2 habits that are detrimental to health, irrespective of the gender you belong to. I have written about this topic earlier too.

Are movies a reflection of the changing society? Or is society getting influenced by movies? Both are true. In any case, I just can’t accept this ridiculous portrayal of strong women with a glass of alcohol or a cigarette in their hands. There are many strong women without the need for these 2 crutches.

So movie makers, stop such cliched portrayal of strong, independent women. Your minuscule disclaimer is just a statutory complaint and doesn’t make any difference, whatsoever.

Secondly, who are empowered women?
Through their dreams, thoughts, beliefs and actions, women make a difference to themselves, their families and the society. Even when obstacles come in the form of societal norms and family members, strong women are able to create an impact and leave behind their identity on a worthy cause to fight for.

Do these recent “feminism” focused movies portray such women? Not as much.

The below list of movies are some of my favourites where the women protagonists are portrayed beautifully for their strong characters and personalities, not for the way they dress, smoke or drink.

“How old are you?” in Malayalam ("36 vayathinile" in Tamil),
“Manathil uruthi vendum”, “Kalki”, “Magalir Mattum (1994)” in Tamil,
“English Vinglish”, “Piku" in Hindi,
“The Intern” in English

I believe strong women can carry forward themselves easily, wearing a saree with a smile on their faces and confidence in their eyes. I’m sure many of us would have seen this remarkable photo of ISRO women scientists behind Mars orbiter spacecraft launch in 2014.

We don’t need Western clothes, makeup accessories, cigarettes and alcohol to feel empowered.

Lastly, if you disagree with any of the above, please let's move on and not get into arguments. We can agree to disagree.

Sep 8, 2017

My next project - “Minimalistic waste-free lifestyle”

Over the past few years, I have shared with you my journey towards building healthy eating habits. My pantry is now free of processed, ready-to-eat foods. We eat fresh and simple home-cooked meals almost all the time. Now that this effort has reached to a level where only marginal improvements are required, I want to get started with the next big project of mine - “Minimalistic waste-free lifestyle”.

There’s a long way for me to go in this journey. I had written a few ideas/initiatives related to reducing dry and wet waste, buying clothes with intent, using groceries and fresh produce without wastage etc. I have been following them diligently but my lifestyle is nowhere close to “minimalistic” and “waste-free”.

Is my home clutter-free? 
Do I purge unwanted things on a frequent basis? 
Do I buy things that have a clear purpose? 
Have I sorted out the “absolute essential” things? 
Do I have an assigned place for everything at home?

The answer to all these questions are a big NO. 

Clutter bothers me at an emotional level. As much as I would have loved to ignore the unsorted toys, clothes, loads and loads of books etc and move on with my day, that nagging thought at the back of my mind indicates that I want a clean home for a happy and peaceful day. 

Physical health is dependent on eating the right food, regular exercise, being physically active and good quality sleep, whereas Mental health is dependent on happy thoughts and happy feelings. A clean, neat home with a place for everything makes everyone happy.

Enough of gyaan (and watching numerous youtube videos on home organization!) :-) Time for some action!

This morning, I spent some time in decluttering and have gathered up 4 bags of unwanted things:
- Clothes that no longer fit me and those that I don’t wear them anymore
- Clothes of my little daughter that don’t fit her
- Loads of plastic containers from my kitchen (some are as old as 14 years!!)
- Accessories and jewel boxes that I don’t use

I plan to hand over these bags to my house-help and ask her to take things that she needs and throw away the rest.

I also spent some time going through one of my bathrooms and threw away the old herbal powders that didn’t suit me (hair wash, body wash). "Throwing away" things is a BIG challenge for me. My husband has so much fun mocking this quality of mine ;-)

I don’t intend to draw up a big plan for the decluttering project and then execute on it. Rather, I would spend some time every single day looking at each room/corner/shelf and get rid of things I don’t need. Will share my journey as I go forward. 

“Clutter-free home is a step forward in building a happy home”.

Sep 5, 2017

Why digestive biscuits are unhealthy?

Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase in interest around habit forming products from a technology perspective. Loads of literature are available on this topic - be it books, blogposts, podcasts, courses etc. Given that it is one of my favourite subjects, I keep track of literature around the same. Two of my favourite books on this topic are Nir Eyal’s Hooked and Charles Duhigg’s The power of Habit.

Now, why I’m talking of “habits” in the context of biscuits? Having a cup of chai (or coffee) every morning and evening is a habit for most of us. We also like to have a couple of biscuits to go with the chai. Parle-G biscuits used to be our default choice for many years, before the health-conscious behaviour took over and made us shift to Marie biscuits.

Over the past decade, the digestive biscuits have successfully created a “perception” of healthier option over regular Marie biscuits. Let’s take the case of McVities Digestive biscuits.

With a tagline “Wholewheat at its heart”, the brand’s messaging conveys that these biscuits are made of wholewheat and high in fibre as compared to regular Marie biscuits that are made of maida. Their website also talks of creating habits to stay fit, interviews with Kajol (who’s the celebrity endorser) on her fitness regime etc. Through their ads, the brand wants to incorporate these biscuits as part of a daily fit habit ("yeh habit hai fit") by tagging it with a pre-existing habit (chai routine). 
Let's see how far the positioning matches with the real facts:

Wheat flour (43.3%)
Edible vegetable oil (palm oil)
Wholewheat flour (15.3%)
Wheat bran (2.5%)
Invert Sugar Syrup
Leavening agents (Baking powder, INS 503(ii))
Edible common salt
Malt extract
Acidity Regulator (INS 296)
Dough Conditioner (INS 223)

1. As you can see, the very first ingredient is not wholewheat but maida. These biscuits have 43.3% maida and ONLY 15.3% wholewheat flour. The brand's “wholewheat” claim is absolutely false.

2. Most of these digestive biscuits are high on fats (second listed ingredient). Made with the cheapest oil that is bad for our health, environment and economy. For an intake of 3 biscuits, the fats that we would consume is 5.3 gms (around 1.2 tsp). This number might seem small or one might think fats are important for our body. What matters is the quality of fats. Our bodies need good fats from nuts and seeds. Not processed palm oil for God’s sake.

3. The brand’s claim of “high in fibre” also needs to be questioned. I guess what they meant is “high in fibre as compared to other biscuits available in the market”. If you eat 3 digestive biscuits, you would have consumed a measly 1.5 gms of dietary fibre, whereas one guava would give you 5 gms of dietary fibre (along with Vitamin-C, Vitamin-A and potassium).

4. Compared to Oreo and other cream biscuits, the sugar levels are relatively low, but that doesn’t mean these biscuits have negligible sugar. 3 biscuits contain around 4 gms or a tsp of sugar. If you are in the habit of adding 2 tsp sugar in your cup of tea, then you have already exhausted 3 out of 5 tsp of allowed added sugar in a day. 

5. Other additives - 
INS 503(ii) - Ammonium Hydrogen carbonate
INS 296 - Malic acid (synthesised by heating maleic acid with dilute sulphuric acid, under pressure. Infants and young children should avoid it, as they cannot digest it.)
INS 223 - Sodium metabisulphite (causes asthmatic and allergic reactions)

Let’s not be fooled that such biscuits are a healthier choice. They are as unhealthy as any other packaged biscuits. Let’s be aware of their ingredients and NEVER succumb to such clever marketing gimmicks. 
It is okay to eat the cheaper Parle-G biscuits once in a while, than have such "health-tag" attached digestive biscuits on a daily basis - "Yeh habit bilkul nahi fit"


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