Mar 27, 2018

How to stay healthy even if you are a rice/roti lover?

Please note - I’m talking about “staying healthy”. If you are looking for weight loss or managing lifestyle ailments like diabetes, these pointers are still relevant but might have to be customized depending on your health condition.

A few days back, I wasn’t feeling very hungry around lunchtime and was also feeling too lazy to cook for myself. I made a salad (bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots) with a lemon-extra virgin olive oil dressing and also boiled one medium-sized sweet potato. After eating a small bowl of salad and the boiled sweet potato, I felt hungry in an hour’s time. I have seen many pics of such salads being shared on Instagram. Frankly, this salad-as-a-meal thing doesn’t work for me. I’m sure many of you who love Indian cuisine would feel the same.

 I have also tried a few times eating 2-3 tbsp of rice along with a big bowl each of dal and veggies for lunch. I didn’t feel satisfied and also ended up feeling a little acidic due to more dal intake than usual. I prefer eating a small bowl of hand-pounded rice along with adequate portion of dal/sambhar and vegetables. Blame it on my South Indian genes, but this trend of measuring rice by tbsp sounds so weird to me. If it is roti, I prefer eating 3 small phulkas. I just cannot eat 1 phulka with a big bowl of dal/sabji. That single phulka would just vanish in seconds, after which I would wonder what to do with the remaining dal/sabji :-)

Many health advocates and nutrition experts would suggest “control your carb intake. Stop eating rice and roti. If you have to, eat 3 tbsp of rice OR 1 chapathi”. And some of them would even go onto advocating pasta, oats and quinoa as alternatives. I have earlier written about how pasta is so high in carbs and why we(Indians) don’t need quinoa. Do check them out if you haven’t.

And there is also the Keto / LCHF trend, where people eat carbs carefully measured in gms. Sorry, this whole idea doesn’t appeal to me. 

I love my rice and roti and I’m not going to give them up in order to stay healthy. Having said that, let me share 10 tips that have helped me to stay healthy and maintain my weight "in spite of eating rice and roti”.
(1) From white polished rice, I have switched to hand-pounded rice (semi-brown rice) or millets
(2) I prefer to eat 3 proper, wholesome meals. This prevents me from mindless snacking. I had written about this habit in detail in this post.
(3) Even though I eat rice and roti, I don’t overeat. If it is rice, I eat around 60 gms (uncooked rice measurement). As for rotis, it would be 3 small phulkas. Yes, there were a few times when I have eaten more rice than usual and ended up feeling sleepy after lunch. It’s all about figuring out the quantity that gives you the satisfied feeling, but at the same time, doesn’t trigger a post-prandial nap.
(4) I eat guilt-free. I enjoy my traditional food preparations and eat them happily. Com'on, you can’t eat vathakozhambu or avial with 2 tbsp rice ;-)
(5) A complete full stop to all packaged foods. I don’t like to eat chocolates or ice-creams either.
(6) Completely eliminated maida from my diet. Not even the “innocent" Marie biscuits or the brown bread. I rarely eat outside food and even if I do, I avoid maida-based items like sandwiches, pav bhaji, pizza etc
(7) Eliminated white sugar from my home. Though I indulge once in a while in a rasmalai or a gulab jamun or a jalebi or moong-dal halwa ;-)
(8) I finish my dinner atleast 2 hours before bedtime. Dinner menu is usually the easily digestible rasam rice or idli or dosa. Definitely not a bowl of high-fibre salad that needs more time to digest.
(9) Eliminated refined cooking oils from my kitchen. I use cold-pressed groundnut, sesame and coconut oils and in less quantity.
(10) Last but not the least, regular practice of Yoga - I go for Yoga classes atleast 3-4 days a week. I also try to stay active throughout the day. Even on days when I’m not stepping out, I tend to move around in my home.

Bonus tip - I eat ONLY when I feel hungry. Hunger is a signal to indicate that our digestive juices are ready for the next meal. So when we eat after we get the "signal", food gets digested easily, irrespective of whether we eat rice, roti or salad.

These tips have also helped me manage my PCOD condition to a large extent.

Even if I sound like a "thenja pazhaya cassette" (old overused cassette), let me repeat it once again - Packaged foods are the culprit. If you completely eliminate them, most of your health issues would automatically get sorted. You don't have to suffer by eating 1 roti or 2 tbsp rice!

Follow me on Instagram where I share my meal plates that are homely, wholesome and mostly Indian (with rice or roti).

Mar 22, 2018

Why you should sit down to eat?

Image Source:
Yesterday morning around 10AM, I noticed someone carrying a heavy laptop bag on her shoulder, biting a sandwich, taking quick strides and talking to someone who’s walking right beside her. On-the-go / grab-and-go kind of breakfast while also talking or taking a call. In my honest opinion, it is a form of signalling to herself, her family and the world - "I’m a busy person, I play an important role”. Why have we become so busy in our lives that we can’t even sit down for 10 minutes to eat a sandwich?

When I was a child, both my parents were working. They would leave home around 8:30AM. My mother would return around 5:30PM while my father would return around 9PM. Their workdays were long, but not once I had seen them run to work without eating breakfast or walking and munching breakfast on the go. 

We ate our breakfast together as a family, sitting down on the floor with folded legs and taking atleast 10-15 minutes of our time to finish our breakfast. 

When we stand/walk and eat, the blood circulation to the digestive system is reduced since the blood now has to flow to our legs. This interrupts the digestive process, food remains undigested which leads to acidity, bloating and gastric issues.

Our grandparents had always insisted that we do not talk while we eat. When we open our mouth to talk, we inhale air which inhibits the digestion happening in our mouth. Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth. The salivary glands secrete the enzyme "salivary amylase" that begins the process of breaking down the polysaccharides in the carbohydrates.

With all the multitasking we do along with food, we end up not chewing our food properly, which leads to poor digestion. I have earlier written about this in detail on why working lunches are bad for our health. Do check it out if you haven’t seen it.

Lady, I understand you are super busy and have multiple responsibilities. But please take some time to sit down and eat that sandwich.” - I wish I could tell her this without sounding hurtful or judgmental.

Mindful eating is becoming the rage in the West, whereas in urban India, we are adopting the “fixing breakfast” mindset and “grab-and-go” smoothies. Sigh! How I wish I could turn back the time and go to the 80s!

Mar 20, 2018

Is your pasta healthy?

Pasta is one of the favourite dishes of my family. Both my husband and daughter D love it so much that I end up making it atleast once in 15 days. Pasta is a favourite among many urban kids (and adults too). We(mothers) try to increase the nutritive quotient by adding more vegetables. D loves bell peppers and pasta is one of the easiest ways to include bell peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin, olives etc on her plate. Of course, who doesn’t love the cheese? I’m an exception though, not a big fan of cheese! :-)

Just because most of us love pasta and we add veggies to it, it doesn’t mean that pasta is a healthy dish. My personal take is that it is okay to include it 1-2 times a month to satiate our taste buds. But if it becomes part of our daily dinner menu, then it is imperative that we understand the nutritive facts and make an informed decision.

Let’s first talk about the pasta - the different types (penne, macaroni, spaghetti, fusillini etc). 

First, there are these fully processed, maida based ones from pasta brands like SunFeast, Maggi, Bambino or MTR. The farther we stay away from such pasta, the better it is for our health!
Next, we have a range of imported pasta from brands like San Remo, Barilla, DiSano etc. Most such brands offer pasta made with “durum wheat semolina”. Durum wheat is a kind of wheat that is specially used for making pasta. 

Grains that keep all three of parts of the original grain kernel -- germ, bran and endosperm -- in their original proportions after being milled into flour, are called whole grains, according to the Wheat Foods Council.

In the case of durum wheat semolina, they are not made from whole kernel, unless the package explicitly states “100% whole grain durum”. The semolina is so refined and processed that there is very little fibre present in such pasta. 

I looked through the pasta aisle in a supermarket in Bangalore and all I could find was just ONE pack of pasta that stated “100% whole grain”. Rest all were made with durum wheat semolina.

To give you a comparison, 1 bowl of cooked white rice contains 44 gm of carbohydrates. So all those of you who believe that white rice is bad and have switched to pasta for dinner, please note this fact. Also note that if you like to have a garlic bread toast along with your pasta, then the carbohydrates will increase even further.

One might argue that we also need to consider the protein levels. Durum wheat semolina is higher in protein (10.6 gm per serving) as compared to rice (4 gm per bowl). But our Indian cuisine always combines rice with different varieties of lentils and pulses such that we get adequate levels of protein.

Summary - pasta made with “durum wheat semolina” is high in carbohydrates and low in dietary fibre. It is definitely not a “healthy” choice.

Let’s look at the second ingredient that goes behind making a delicious pasta - Pasta sauce.

I used to buy the readymade pasta sauce many years ago but now I always make fresh pasta sauce at home - tomato based, white sauce or pesto. I never use any of the expensive pasta sauce brands available in the market these days. 

Looking at the nutrition facts of “Mushroom and green bell pepper” pasta sauce from the popular brand “Ragu”, 
A single serving (128 gm) of the pasta sauce contains 470 mg of sodium.

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, the adequate intake (AI) of sodium for kids in the age bracket of 4-8 years is 300 - 600 mg/day. If we take the average (450 mg/day), then 1 serving of pasta with pasta sauce will exceed their AI. And we usually add grated processed cheese that’s loaded with salt on top of the pasta. That’s exactly the reason why kids get addicted to pasta - TOO MUCH SALT in the readymade pasta sauce and processed cheese.

Moreover, a single serving of this pasta sauce contains 10 gm of sugar (2.5 tsp of sugar). What is the need for so much sugar in a savoury sauce?
The other brand that’s become quite popular with their packaged sauces and spreads is Dr.Oetker’s FunFoods. Their pasta & pizza sauce contains loads of preservatives, acidity regulators, stabilisers etc. They haven’t mentioned “sodium” levels in their nutritional facts. 100 gm of this pasta sauce contains a whopping 22 gm of sugar (5.5 tsp of sugar).  

Summary - Avoid readymade pasta sauces at all costs. Make them fresh at home. It is extremely easy and quick to make. Here's my recipe for a homemade tomato-based pasta sauce.

Pasta has become a regular dish in many Indian urban homes with high disposable incomes. If one is looking for weight loss, staying fit and healthy, managing lifestyle ailments like diabetes or high blood pressure, then pasta is definitely not a good choice to include on a regular basis. There is no harm in enjoying the dish 1-2 times a month, provided we make the pasta sauce fresh at home and add more vegetables. 


Mar 16, 2018

Bournvita Biscuits Review

 Now that I have stopped following food bloggers who promote junk foods, my Instagram feed is clean with some yummy and healthy homemade food-related posts. I heaved a sigh of relief for a few weeks, but junk food promotion in the form of “sponsored posts” have started showing up more often. Is it that more sponsored posts are appearing on Instagram these days? Anyway, instead of whining, let me see this as an opportunity for new blog post ideas. 

Most of us who grew up in the 80s/90s are aware of Bournvita, “the malted health drink” targeted towards growing kids. The biscuits variant of Bournvita is the one that caught my attention through an Instagram sponsored post.

A child is shown holding a whole jackfruit and the voice-over says, “this is healthy but cannot be carried to school”. Then the child is shown holding a Bournvita biscuit and the voice-over goes, “this is healthy and can be taken to school” (Watch the ad here if you haven’t yet seen it)

Another ad shows a child who tries to dip a big brinjal into a glass of milk and the voiceover says, “this is healthy but with milk? Bad idea”. Then the child is shown holding a Bournvita biscuit and the voice-over goes, “this is healthy and can be had with milk. Good idea” (Watch the ad here if you haven’t yet seen it)

While watching the first ad, I was hitting my head, “enna kodumai saravanan idhu?” (Sorry folks who cannot understand Tamil. This is a cult dialogue from a Rajnikanth movie :-) And I wouldn’t be able to do justice if I translate it into English - roughly means what rubbish is this!)

Questions to the makers of this ridiculous ad:
1) Have you heard of fruits like banana, guava, orange, apple etc? They are small, very healthy and can be easily carried to school.
2) Have you heard of dishes like idli, poha, paratha etc? They are home cooked, very healthy and easy to carry to school.

Enough of the sarcasm and rant. Let’s get to the facts:

Refined Wheat Flour (57%), Sugar, Palmolein Oil, 
Malt Based Food 5% (Malt Extract (51%), Sugar, Cocoa Solids, Caramel (150c), Liquid Glucose, Protein isolate, Maltodextrin, Milk Solids, Vitamins, Emulsifiers (322, 471), Leavening Agents (500(ii)), Minerals, Edible Salt, Artificial (Ethyl Vanillin) Flavour), 
Invert Sugar, Coco Solids (1.4%), Milk Solids (1%), Edible Salt, Leavening Agents (500(ii), 503(ii)), Emulsifier (322), Caramel (150c), Vitamins and Minerals

1) As you can see, the first listed ingredient is Maida which constitutes 57% of this pack. Maida is just plain refined flour with absolutely no nutrition whatsoever. All the fibre has been stripped off the wheat. The bleaching process that converts pale brown wheat to pure white refined flour involves the use of alloxan, a chemical that destroys pancreatic cells, leading to diabetes
2) The second listed ingredient is sugar. 100 gm of these biscuits contain 30 gm of sugar. Serving size is 23 gm (roughly 5 biscuits), which contains around 7 gm or nearly 2 tsp of sugar. These biscuits are very light that a child might end up eating more than 5 biscuits.
3) The third listed ingredient is Palmolein Oil. All packaged foods use this cheapest oil that is highly refined and processed. 100 gm of these biscuits contain 15.3 gm of fat. Serving size is 23 gm (roughly 5 biscuits), which contains around 3.5 gm or nearly a tsp of unhealthy fat.And yes, this pack contains transfat as well.
4) The ingredients list goes on with various additives - emulsifiers, leavening agents, maltodextrin, artificial flavours etc. 
Let’s look at the “health” claims that this brand puts forth:
1) Calcium - 90 mg per 100 gm of biscuits. For a serving size of 23 gm (roughly 5 biscuits), it contains a meagre 20 mg of calcium.
2) Iron - 2.4 mg per 100 gm of biscuits. For a serving size of 23 gm (roughly 5 biscuits), it contains a minuscule amount - 0.5 mg of iron.
3) Dietary Fiber is insignificant (1 gm per 100 gm of biscuits). 
4) ProHealth vitamins listed in this pack - Vitamin B2, B9, B12 and D are so tiny and insignificant that it is only a clever marketing tactic to capture the attention of health conscious parents.

Moreover, why do we need such synthetic vitamins and minerals in the first place, when we can get significant nutrients from grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables? 

Parents who are reading this, your child needs a better, healthier snack box with real nutrition every single day. Let’s not fall for these “health-claims” of packaged foods. And they don’t need such “subah ka biscuits" to kickstart their mornings. 

Mar 8, 2018

Kelloggs Special K Review

Come Women’s day, packaged food brands promote their products using different variants of this message to women - “you deserve it”, “take control of your health”, “put your health first” etc. It is a pity that we (women) need such reminders from these food brands to take care of our health. One such brand that caught my attention yesterday was Kelloggs Special K, the breakfast cereal that promises weight loss and a slim waist like that of Deepika Padukone. 

The ad conveys the following messages with a hashtag #IAmOnPriority

Is this the breakfast that smart women who work hard and have multiple responsibilities would like to eat? I hope not.

I wanted to look at the ingredients of this cereal in detail. Both Amazon and Big Basket don’t list the ingredients. With online grocery shopping on the rise, there is no way consumers can get to see the nutrition profile available in packaging before placing an order. It is high time that regulations are in place and e-commerce players are being asked to display the exact packaging details in the respective product pages.

Kelloggs Special K Original:
Rice (36.15%), Whole Wheat (33.24%), Sugar, Wheat Bran (4.74%), Liquid Glucose, Iodised Salt, Malt Extract, Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidant (INS 320)

1) The first thing the weight loss industry tells people is “Avoid rice. Eat only 1 roti”. And what are the first two ingredients in a weight loss focused breakfast cereal? Rice and Wheat, which constitutes 70% of this cereal. Are you surprised?
2) The third ingredient is of course Sugar.  There is also “Liquid Glucose”, which is another variant of sugar. A 30 gm serving of this cereal contains 7.5 gm of sugar (nearly 2 tsp). Kelloggs Chocos, the breakfast cereal for kids contains 10.4 gm of sugar for the same serving size of 30 gm. Not much difference, isn’t it?
3) Antioxidant (INS 320)
No, these are not the “good” anti-oxidants found in fruits and vegetables that are good for our body.
Rather, these are chemicals that protect a food from deterioration caused by oxidation.

INS 320 - Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a petroleum derivative. It is banned in Japan.
According to this source
"Serious concerns about carcinogenic and estrogenic effects, asthmatics and aspirin sensitive people should avoid, causes metabolic changes and accumulates in body fat.”

The US National Institutes of Health states that BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.”  

4) Measly amounts of protein and fibre
A 30 gm serving of this cereal contains 2.5 gm of Protein and 1.5 gm of Dietary Fibre. How will this aid in weight loss? Is it through starvation?

Let’s look at the other variant - “Kelloggs Special K Protein & Fibre Cranberry Flavour
Whole Wheat (74.7%), Sugar, Wheat Bran (5.7%), Protein Isolate, Malt Extract, Iodised Salt, Vitamins, Mineral, Contains Added Flavours (Natural and Nature Identical Flavoring substances)

Does it really have "high protein, high fibre” like the brand claims?
A 30 gm serving of this cereal contains 3.3 gm of Protein and 3.0 gm of Dietary Fibre. Slightly better than the Original version but not good enough. Many fruits and vegetables have higher amounts of fibre than this cereal. Whole wheat atta in itself contains 3.2 gm of protein per 30 gm. You might as well eat 1 phulka roti to get the same protein.

This product is a big sham, with all the right tag-lines to attract health-conscious consumers. We women are better off with proper home-cooked Indian breakfast. We don’t need such packaged cereals to take care of our health. 

My breakfast today is little millet dosas with dry coconut-garlic podi smeared with gingelly oil. Wholesome, balanced and healthy. And it took me just 10 minutes to make them. 

Let’s not be fooled by these “convenience-promising” breakfast cereals. They are harmful to our health and our environment. #SayNoToPackagedCerealBoxes

Mar 4, 2018

Why an early start to healthy eating is crucial

 “Old habits die hard”. When I used to work as a product manager in the software industry, the first thing I used to check at work is the product metrics dashboard. Now, when I sit in front of my computer, the first thing I check is my blog statistics. I love to see the metrics on overall page visits and the list of blogposts that are being viewed the most. 

Among the many articles I wrote on processed foods last year, can you guess the top 2 products (based on number of views)?

The two product reviews that have brought in the maximum views so far are Nestle Ceregrow and Pediasure / Horlicks Growth Plus.

The irony is that both of these products are targeting growing children. And parents are desperate to seek solutions that will make their children grow taller, faster, heavier and what not.

Obsession towards growth is not just observed in the startup world but even in parenting. I will not be surprised if a new term called "growth hacking your child’s development" becomes a common phrase. And a new breed of growth hackers from the nutritionists world would build a career out of it, promising “high growth” for your kids.

First and foremost, let’s stop comparing our child’s vital parameters (height, weight) with other children. No two children are the same. There are multiple factors that influence the height and weight of our kids. Let’s not worry about the numbers shown on the scale. 

Based on what I’ve read and researched, there are three factors that influence the growth of young children - nutrition, physical activity and sleep.

Before I talk about nutrition, an important point on physical activity:
Physical activity and outdoor play are so important for our kid’s growth. 1-2 hour of outdoor play is a must on a daily basis. It helps in blood circulation, stretching of muscles, getting some sunlight (vitamin D) and fresh air. There are so many other benefits of outdoor play linked to the child's mental growth as well. 

I have heard from a couple of nannies that they are not allowed to take the child out for play, due to fear of mosquito bites.  Are we “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” because of our fear of mosquitoes, germs, mud, sand, tan, sunburn etc?

Let’s “allow" our kids to play outdoors everyday. Let’s keep a watch but at the same time encourage them to stretch their limits. My 6-year old daughter loves to hang from the monkey bar in the play area. This activity has really helped her with consistent increase in her height. She doesn’t drink any of those packaged malted drinks that promise 2X height.

A common pattern I have observed is that infants and toddlers brought up on packaged cereal (Cerelac) and formula milk (Lactogen) have poor eating habits when it comes to regular table foods, vegetables and fruits. There might be exceptions to this pattern of course!

The packaged cereal is loaded with so much sugar and additives that infants hate the taste of bland boiled veggies and fruits. As they grow up, they tend to become more addictive to these gooey sweetened cereals and they would avoid any home-cooked regular foods that involve a bit of chewing. They are then labeled as “fussy eaters” and end up becoming the target segment of “high-growth” promising products such as Ceregrow and Pediasure.

What has worked for me in raising a “non-fussy” eater:
- Breastfed my daughter exclusively for 5-6 months and continued to nurse her along with other foods till 2 years
- Slowly introduced fruits, veggies and grains, starting from 6 months onwards, without added sugar and salt
- Introduced different textures - vegetable puree, mashed, finely chopped etc before she turned one
- No formula milk, no packaged cereal, more fruits/vegetable puree and mash in the first year, regular table foods starting from second year onwards 
- No packaged malted drinks or flavors mixed with milk

Please refer to these 2 articles I had written earlier on nutrition for infants - Part I and II. I have also shared a few recipes to introduce fruits and veggies.

The first two years of your child are extremely crucial - one that can influence their future eating habits. If you could invest your time and effort towards introducing various fruits, veggies and home-cooked foods, that can go a long way in building a positive mindset in your child towards healthy foods. 

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