May 23, 2018

Book Review: You can achieve more by Shiv Khera

There are two kinds of people in the world - those who love self-help books and those who make fun of self-help books. I belong to the first kind and self-help is one of my favourite aisles in a bookstore. Just like how we keep our physical bodies fit by eating right and exercising everyday, I believe we need to invest time towards our mind and emotions on a daily basis. Reading self-help books are one of the many ways by which we could reflect on our days and lives.

Sometime in 2003, I read Shiv Khera’s popular book “You can win”. I don’t remember much of it now, but I liked it for its simplicity and powerful quotes. In his new book “You can achieve more - Live by Design, not by default", the author follows a similar writing style, but focusing on more important aspects that are relevant for today. 

If “winning” is all about goal setting, preparation and time management, “achieving” involves a lot more to do with our mind. The author touches upon most important aspects such as creating a positive attitude, watching our thought patterns, cultivating a high self-esteem, importance of self-discipline, overcoming self-imposed limitations etc. He explains each of these aspects through interesting anecdotes from his personal experiences as well as popular stories. Each chapter ends with 3-4 questions to reflect on where we stand and journal about how we could improve.

What I loved the most about this book is that the author has included the importance of values, ethics, integrity and character in a book on “achieving more”. On the contrary, what we see in the real world today is people giving up on their values, losing integrity and spoiling their character, all for the sake of “achievement” as defined by the society. The example I keep repeating in my blog often is that of food bloggers shamelessly promoting junk foods in their social media posts, just so that they can earn extra bucks for their holiday abroad.

The book is filled with many powerful quotes, that it is hard to pick my top 5 favourites. But let me share a few:
“Stability of mind is more important than education, wealth or even status”
“Perfection is an illusion. However, in the pursuit of perfection, we end up attaining excellence”
“Adversity reveals more character than it builds”
“When we learn to distinguish between a problem and an inconvenience, we learn to distinguish between little and crucial, and petty and trivial”
“A person becomes good when he actually does good, rather than not doing wrong”

The only area where this book is lacking is a structure or a flow to showcase how the content is presented. Many relevant topics are covered, but they don’t seem to be linked in a logical flow. So at the end of the book, it is hard to recollect a path or a framework to associate the topics. 

Leaving that aside, it is a relevant read for all of us in the present context. It is imperative we take a deep look at ourselves to reflect on areas that are important to our growth and to build a life of excellence.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

May 21, 2018

Veeba Salad Dressings Review

In the last few years, salads have become the most popular meal among those who want to stay fit, lose weight or manage lifestyle diseases. Traditional Indian meal preparations are being put in the back-burner to make way for exotic salads. It is easier to find iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes than the local drumstick greens and cluster beans in supermarkets in Bangalore.

Most people find it bland to have salads on a regular basis, especially those who love the myriad flavours of Indian cuisine. I’m one among them and as much as I love to make healthy food choices, I just cannot have a salad as a meal on a daily basis. Yes, there have been few times when I wanted to whip up a quick salad for lunch but such days are quite rare. I prefer to eat a proper Indian meal with a portion of raw salad as an accompaniment.

When we order a plate of exotic salad in a restaurant, it tastes yummy and the main reason is the “dressing” that is added to salads. Most of these dressings are mayonnaise-based - creamy and loaded with salt and other flavour enhancers. We don’t get the same taste, while we make salads at home. Some of us tend to make the dressing at home from scratch, while others resort to quick fixes like readymade salad dressings that can be squeezed out of a bottle. 

The Veeba range of salad dressings has become popular these days, especially among people who have exposure to global cuisines. The supermarket shelves are lined up with many different varieties - Caesar dressing, Thousand Island dressing, South West dressing, Honey Mustard dressing etc.

But do we know the ingredients in each of them? 

Let’s look at the ingredients of Caesar dressing:

Refined Soyabean Oil (20%)
Synthetic Vinegar (Water, Acetic Acid (INS260))
Milk Solids
Permitted Emulsifiers and Stabilizers (INS1442, INS1450, INS415)
Iodised Salt
Liquid Glucose
Cheese (1.0%)
Spices & Condiments
Permitted Preservatives (INS211, INS202)
Permitted Acidity Regulator (INS330)
Permitted Antioxidant (INS319)
Permitted Sequestrant (INS385)

Contains Permitted Natural Colour (INS150d) and Added Flavours

Phew, such a long list !!

1) What’s the point of eating a salad with such chemical-filled dressing (10 ingredients that begin with INS)? 
2) Typically, Caesar dressing is made with raw egg yolks. But this vegetarian version has 22.5% of unhealthy refined fats.
3) Sodium values are not specified in the nutrition table, but my guess is that it is quite high to make such dressings addictive.

Let’s look at the ingredients of two more dressings:

Similar list with so many “permitted” synthetic ingredients.
Though the vinaigrette salad sauce is low in fat, the sugar levels are high. 100 gm contains 17.34g of sugar. I also checked out their “Sweet Onion sauce", where the sugar levels are extremely high. 100 gm contains 38.59g of sugar (second listed ingredient is sugar whereas the % of dehydrated onions is only 10%). They might have named it as "sugar sauce” instead.
It is always healthier to make a basic salad dressing at home - whisk together lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and dried herbs. Or even a basic Indian style dressing (lemon juice, salt, pepper, roasted cumin powder, chaat masala) will make your salads tasty and healthy.

Do we need such “Veeba ka khamaal” in our plates? Their ads claim that they have around 40 varieties of sauces, spreads, mayonnaise and dressings. Before you buy any of them, please do go through the ingredients and nutrition facts.

May 14, 2018

Women's Horlicks Review

Come Women’s Day or Mother’s Day, there will certainly be an ad campaign from Women’s Horlicks that talks about the importance of bone density and calcium through a very emotional ad story plot. Irrespective of whether the ad creates a sense of hope or fear, most urban women in the country will be convinced at the end, “Yes, I need to supplement my diet with this health drink, now that I’m in my early 30s”. Ads can strike such an emotional chord, that we might overlook the essential facts.

First, let’s look at the ingredients:
Cereal Extract(47%) (Barley (27%), Wheat (11%), Malted Barley (8%), Wheat Malt (1%))
Milk Solids (36%)
Corn Solids (Hyrolyzed)
Nature Identical Flavoring Substances
Artificial Sweetener (INS 950)

Usually, I start off my analysis from the first ingredient. But this time, let’s start from the last.

(1) Artificial Sweetener (INS 950) - Acesulfame Potassium

The packaging states “Contains Acesulfame Potassium. Not recommended for children”. 

Acesulfame K is a calorie-free sweetener up to 200 times sweeter than sugar and as sweet as aspartame. 

From this source, Acesulfame K contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans.

The FDA recommends that acesulfame K is safe up to an acceptable daily intake of 15 mg/kg/day of body weight in the U.S. In Europe, the acceptable daily intake is slightly lower, at 9 mg/kg/day of body weight. 

The bottom line is that there haven’t been any long-term studies/tests on the effects of Acesulfame K and there have been many controversies surrounding its approval of use.

(2) Corn Solids (Hyrolyzed)
Not sure if it was a spelling mistake in the packaging, because Google search came up with results for "hydrolyzed" corn solids. 
Corn syrup solids come in powdered form and it is another form of sugar (dextrose or glucose depending on the processing). Consuming very large amounts of corn syrup solids at one time can cause a significant spike in blood sugar.
If you carefully notice the nutrition table, it says “Sugar - 0g” with a footnote(1) that says “Sucrose”. This means that Sucrose in this pack is 0g but the amount of dextrose or glucose is not shared.

(3) Artificial vitamins and minerals
My personal belief is that I would rather get these vitamins and minerals from natural sources like grains, fruits and vegetables, rather than consume synthetic supplements on a regular basis. As I wrote in this earlier post, there are plenty of plant-based sources of calcium for good bone health. 

As a woman in mid-30s, I don’t believe in consuming such artificial, “cleverly-marketed” health drinks for bone health.

BTW,  I took the "bone health check" survey in Women's Horlicks website. Here are my responses and the result shown.

As you can see, the ONLY factor that this survey considers to qualify for good bone health is consumption of dairy (2-3 times a day), even if your calcium intake is good and you exercise everyday. On the contrary, dairy products are acidic and leech calcium from bones. I have noticed many children who regularly drink milk but have cavities. Same goes with senior citizens who drink milk regularly but have osteoporosis.

For good bone health, staying physically active, regular Yoga, consuming less of acidic foods and exposure to sunlight are what I rely on. 

Foods to avoid:
Before we include more calcium in our diet, it is imperative we stop the leakage. Acidic foods leech calcium and other essential minerals from our bones. 
- tea, 
- coffee, 
- aerated drinks
- dairy products, 
- white sugar, 
- deep fried foods
- refined wheat flour (maida),
- all packaged/junk foods 

Foods to include:
- Finger millet / ragi
- Pearl millet / bajra 
- Sorghum / jowar
- Other millet varieties such as foxtail millet, little millet and barnyard millet
- Black urad dal (urad dal with skin)
- Horsegram dal
- Sesame seeds
- Green leafy vegetables such as drumstick greens, curry leaves, amaranth leaves, methi leaves etc
- 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables (alkaline foods)
- Adequate water intake

Most of these brands leave no segment untapped and have a product for each of the market segments. Take a look at the various sub-brands under Horlicks:

Toddlers and Preschoolers => Junior Horlicks
Growing kids => Horlicks Growth Plus
School going children => Horlicks Classic (the morning drink most 80s and 90s kids would have had, including yours truly)
Pregnant and lactating mothers => Mother’s Horlicks
Women between 30 - 60 years => Women’s Horlicks
Active Adults => Lite Horlicks, Horlicks Protein Plus
Senior citizens / those with health risks => Horlicks Cardia Plus

It is highly likely that there will be a new product launched for the teenagers / young adults - one segment that hasn’t got much attention compared to others.

Whichever segment you belong to, before you buy a pack, do take a look at the ingredients, read about them and understand the nutrition facts. Do invest that time and effort to #StandStrong and for the sake of your good health.

May 7, 2018

Nestle Ceregrow NutriPuffs Review


Exactly a year back, I wrote a post on Nestle Ceregrow, a cereal targeted for 2-5 year old kids. If you haven’t read that post, please take a couple of minutes to go through it first. I had expressed my concerns on why we even need such products in the first place.

And now there is one more product that has arrived with “Now in India” launch. It is Ceregrow NutriPuffs, that is marketed as a “healthy” snack for 2-5 year olds. All my rants and frustrations from the previous post are applicable here as well, so let’s dive quickly into the facts.

Here are the ingredients of NutriPuffs "Banana & Orange” flavour:
Screenshot taken from product page in Amazon India on 7th May 2018


Rice Flour (38%)
Wheat Flour (23.1%)
Icing Sugar (Sugar, Starch)
Dehydrated banana (2.7%)
Glucose Syrup
Orange mix (Orange juice (0.8%), Glucose syrup, Dextrose)
Acidity Regulator (170i, 341ii)
Carrot mix (Carrot, Starch, Maltodextrin, Carrot juice concentrate, Emulsifier(322i))

1. Second ingredient - none other than Maida, around 23% being used. Though the packaging shows a beautiful picture of wheat kernels, there is hardly any goodness of wheat in here.
2. Oil used is the cheapest and one of the unhealthiest oils available on the planet - Palmolein
3. Sugar is present in so many forms - highlighted in red. 
4. The packaging shows beautiful picture of orange and banana but the quantities available are so measly - 0.8% and 2.7% respectively. 
5. Other additives in the form of acidity regulator and emulsifier are present. Starch is nothing but corn flour.
6. The product does contain trans fat. 
7. The pack size is 50 gm but the nutrition table is calculated based on 100 gm. So it is misleading and creating the wrong impression that it is high in iron and Vitamin B1.
8. The 100 gm pack contains a measly 2 gm of dietary fibre. Serving size is 14 gm, so one serving hardly contains any fibre. Maida products tend to cause constipation in kids (adults too). With hardly any fibre, regular consumption of such snacks would end up in constipation and kids would be prescribed laxatives to stimulate bowel movements.

Why not give a banana as an evening snack? 1 elaichi or yelakki banana has 2 gm of dietary fibre, along with good carbs, potassium and many other nutrients.

In Tamil, there is a phrase “paditha muttalgal” (Educated fools). Yes, that’s what we have become. Sorry if that was rude. But we are voluntarily enrolling ourselves into that category by choosing such foods for our innocent kids. 

The common complaint from moms is that my kid doesn’t eat any veggies or fruits and so we had to rely on such products for nutrition(?) (justification for giving Pediasure and other health drinks as well). My question to such complaints is “Have we tried enough?

My daughter’s best friend is 4.5 years old. A year back, she would only eat bananas (and mangoes when in season) and no other fruits. But her mom never gave up. Every evening, she feeds her either apple, grapes or orange. She carries a snack box to the play area and diligently feeds her while the two kids play together. It is so heartwarming to see a mother going that extra mile to feed fruits to her child and not take shortcuts with such “cleverly marketed” junk foods. We need more such moms who can invest that required time and effort. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to feed healthy foods to our kids every single day. There is no easy way out. And it is even more important, given the amount of trash that is flooding the supermarket shelves in India these days.

If your child doesn’t eat vegetables or fruits, here are 2 articles I wrote a few years back. Hope you get some useful tips:

Let’s not give up, Let’s not take shortcuts. As Dumbledore said,
"you always have a choice between what is right and what is easy"

May 4, 2018

Peer influence, hidden sugars and lack of attention

How peer influence has become such a crucial factor when it comes to choosing junk foods by young children these days! D got introduced to "Chupa chup lollipop” by her friend and now whenever she goes to the supermarket, she inevitably picks up one piece. As much as I tell her not to swallow the bubble gum inside the lollipop, she believes in her friend (who is 2 years younger btw) who apparently advised her, “you can swallow, nothing will happen”. 

A few days back, when she went shopping with her dad, she brought a pack of “Jim Jam biscuits”. As soon as she saw me, 
she shouted, “Amma, look what I found - Jim Jam biscuits”. 
I asked her, “eh, how did you know about it?”. 
Pat came the reply, “ I tasted it at my friend X (another friend)’s home”. 

Grrrr….Tiny little friends of hers who are more influential than me, the mom! ;-)

As much as I try to reduce the exposure, she will inevitably learn about these new junk foods in the market from her friends. All I can do is educate her, moderate the junk intake and ensure she eats healthy, home-cooked meals.

Anyway, the point of this article is to show you an example of how junk food brands add “sugar” in various forms.

Take a look at this pack of Britannia Treat JimJam cream biscuits with “naughty” jam.

Refined Wheat Flour, 
Sugar (23%),
Edible Vegetable Oil (Palm) and Interesterified vegetable fat (Palm & Sesame),
Invert Syrup, Dextrose, Milk Solids, Edible Starch, Maltodextrin,
Fruit Products (0.7%),
Edible Common Salt,
Emulsifiers (322, 471),
Raising Agents (503(ii), 500(ii)),
Gelling agent (440),
Acidity Regulator (330),
Stabilizer (331(i))

Contains permitted synthetic food color (122) and added flavors
Artificial flavouring substances (Mixed fruit, butter and vanilla)

- The “mummoorthigal” (Trimurti) present in almost all junk foods are right there on top - maida, sugar and palm oil. All three are extremely bad for our children’s health.
- The usual set of additives in the form of emulsifiers, raising agents, stabilisers, food colours etc are also present in this “naughty” JimJam biscuits as well.

- How much sugar does this pack contain? Can you take a guess?
What an easy question! It says 23% right there, so a 100 gm pack will obviously contain 23 gm of sugar.

Ah, read further if that was your response.

Food brands hide Sugar in other forms - invert syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin are all other names and avatars of sugar.

If you carefully look at the nutrition facts table, 100 gm pack contains 33.5 gm of sugar, which translates to a whopping 8.5 tsp of sugar.  
ALWAYS, ALWAYS look at the nutrition table and do not rely on the % of sugar mentioned in Ingredients, which could be misleading. 

I came across this quote in Adam Grant’s newsletter.
"We reveal our goals through action but our values through attention. To find out what people value, pay attention to their attention.”

It was an aha moment for me, when I read this quote. How true it is! It seriously irks me when people just mindlessly throw packets and packets of junk food into their shopping trolley without even looking at the pack. 
"Arre, atleast look at the expiry date”, is what I want to yell. 

If you value your child’s health, pay attention to the ingredients, go through the nutrition facts table and yes, check that expiry date for God’s sake.

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