Jun 28, 2018

Adopting non-Indian cuisines

Since I emphasize a lot on eating local produce and stressing on the importance to stick to Indian cuisine (IF you are an Indian by birth AND live in India), a couple of readers have asked me why I’m against Western cuisines. First of all, let me clarify - I have no issues with any World cuisines. Food is an important part of a culture. Food narrates so many interesting stories about a region’s traditions, practices and values. Thanks to various media, programmes like MasterChef Australia and our abroad travel itinerary, most urban dwellers with a good disposable income are exposed to multiple cuisines and are more curious to try out non-Indian cuisines. People with exposure to global cuisines would love to have the “world on their plate”.

I love Italian, Chinese and Thai cuisines but I just cannot eat them on a daily basis. I do make pasta, pizza and noodles at home but occasionally.

Let’s take a look at a dish like “pasta”. Around 15 years back, not many of us would have even heard of it. Then it became a “luxury” and an “occasional indulgence”. We had access to pasta dishes in gourmet restaurants. But now many of us make it at home on a regular basis. In many urban households, pasta is the standard dinner menu.

Let’s take a moment to understand the market / ecosystem that got created because of this “want” to have pasta on a daily basis. Our kitchen pantry is now stocked up with:
Pasta shells in various shapes and sizes, imported and local brands, made from semolina OR wholewheat OR other grains
Pasta Sauces
Olive oil
Toppings in the form of imported olives
Big blocks of Mozzarella cheese

My blogging effort is not focused on telling my readers, “don’t eat pasta”. Rather, my focus is all about creating awareness on the ingredients of "numerous” packaged foods that go into creating a “pasta” dish at home. The same logic applies to many other non-Indian foods.

To prepare any non-Indian dishes, a range of packaged products are lined up on the supermarket shelves.
Noodles => noodle packs (plain / instant ones), various sauces
Sandwiches => Packaged Bread, mayonnaise, ketchup, jam, cheese spread, cheese slice, chocolate spread
Pizza => Packaged Pizza base, pizza sauce, processed cheese

Eat noodles, but be aware of the maida, salt and other taste enhancers added to the masala
Eat oats, but be conscious of the fact that quick cooking oats has very little fibre
Eat cheese, but be aware of the high sodium and preservatives added to processed cheese

Yes, there might be healthier alternatives such as millet noodles, rolled oats, steel cut oats, farm fresh cheese etc. They aren’t easily available and are quite expensive.

Last but not the least, if you expect me to recommend brands that sell healthier noodles and farm fresh cheese options, sorry.. that ain’t gonna happen. I believe strongly in my principle of “eating local” and I would happily recommend places where you can get good millet based puliogare

Jun 27, 2018

Why I don't consider cheese as a healthy snack for my kid?

One of the questions I'm often asked by mothers of young kids is "Why do you consider cheese as unhealthy? It is rich in protein and calcium. Growing kids need cheese every day."

Cheese cubes have become a must-feature item in a young kid’s mid-morning snack box these days.

If you were born in the 70s or 80s, you wouldn’t even have heard of the term “cheese" while growing up. Kids were given milk, ghee and buttermilk and these were the ONLY dairy products that were available back then. When I was a kid, I vividly remember eating “buttermilk rice” (more saadham) and definitely not “thick curd rice” (thayir saadham) that we eat these days.

Didn’t we all grow up fine? Didn’t we get enough protein and calcium? Why is this insane obsession with cheese, I wonder.

My daughter loves cheese and I use Mozzarella cheese occasionally whenever I make pizza or pasta at home. Sometimes, she would insist on buying a pack of cheese slices when we go to the supermarket. On days I oblige to her wish, I would pick the pack of 5 slices (minimum quantity) and ensure she doesn’t eat more than 1 slice a day. 

There are two main reasons that prevent me from placing cheese on a high pedestal.

1. High Sodium
As I wrote in my earlier blog post on Brittania cheese slices, each slice contains a whopping 285 mg of sodium.

Similarly, each Britannia cheese cube of 20 gm serving size contains 320 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 cheese cube is enough to reach 71% of their AI. So that’s exactly the reason why kids get addicted to cheese - TOO MUCH SALT.  

If the same child eats a tbsp of ketchup or mayonnaise that day, then he/she would have easily exceeded their daily limit.

How would a child’s kidneys be able to handle such high amounts of salt? 

We are a little more aware of the ill-effects of high sugar because of immediate/short-term reactions - increased cases of dental cavities, hyper-excitement and sugar rush. 

But in the case of salt, the effects are not immediate but impacts their health in the long run. 

According to this source,
High salt intake in children influences blood pressure and may predispose an individual to the development of a number of diseases including: high blood pressure, osteoporosis, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, stomach cancer and obesity.
2. Presence of Preservatives and Emulsifiers
“The longer the shelf life. The shorter your life” - These cheese cubes stay good for 9 months from packaging when refrigerated. This is made possible ONLY through preservatives. As consumers, all we see is CHEESE but what about these ingredients with numbers?

Ingredients: Cheese, Water, Milk Solids, Emulsifiers (331(iii), 339(iii), 452(i)), Iodized Salt, Preservative(200), Acidity Regulator(270)

331(iii) - Trisodium citrate
339(iii) - Trisodium phosphate. Not permitted in EU, Australia and New Zealand.
452(i) - Sodium Polyphosphate. Not permitted in EU.
Sodium comes not just from iodized salt but from these emulsifiers as well.

Preservative(200) => Sorbic Acid. Linked to hyperactivity and asthma. The Food Intolerance Network in AU lists Sorbates (200-203) in their list of additives to avoid.

Do we want our kids to consume such chemicals because the brand says “high calcium, goodness of cow’s milk”?

Have we even checked if the packaged cheese has high calcium?
- a cheese cube of 20 gm serving size contains ONLY 50mg of calcium.

Include 50 gm of ragi flour in your child’s diet in the form of idlis, dosas, rotis or pooris, which will give them 180mg of calcium.
Include just 10 gm of sesame seeds in the form of chutneys, podis or mix it with paratha dough, which will give them 128mg of calcium.

Check out more plant-based sources of calcium in my earlier blog post.

Let’s also look at protein -  a cheese cube of 20 gm serving size contains 3.9g of protein. 
A meal combination of rice/wheat/millets + one of the many lentils can easily give our kids around 6-7g of protein. 
Just sticking to basics and feeding them fresh, home-cooked meals is sufficient to meet their protein requirements. We don’t need such "high-salt, preservative-loaded cheese" in their diet on a DAILY basis.


Jun 25, 2018

Cerelac Review

This has been in my to-blog list for quite some time. Many of you had asked me to write about this product. So here it goes!

I owe a lot to this brand. If not for this “special” brand, my interest in child nutrition wouldn’t have reached this far. When D was around 6 months old, I started her off with plain rice porridge (kanji with no salt or sugar). She spitted and cried for 3 days. I felt helpless and clueless on what to do. A family elder had been after me since D turned 4 months to buy a pack of Cerelac. Though I was strong initially and said No to her, after those 3 days, I succumbed to her wish. I made a small portion of Cerelac and fed D. Guess what, she ate happily and was asking for more. My eyes welled up and the elder member gave me a proud look, “see what I told you!”. I tasted a spoon of it and it tasted EXACTLY like paal payasam (the delicious rice kheer). Thankfully, it didn’t suit my daughter and she had an upset stomach. I stopped it immediately and threw away the pack. That was the turning point in my life (yes, as dramatic as it might sound, that’s the fact). I decided not to pay heed to this elder’s advice anymore and I began to search for homemade weaning food recipes. I had shared some of the recipes in an earlier blog post.

Let’s come back to Cerelac. What is it exactly? It is an instant cereal food for infants, starting from 6 months. There are different flavours for various growth stages. All one needs to do is buy a pack, take scoops of it and mix it with warm water. The baby will gobble it up without any fuss. A doctor shared this in FB, “Cerelac is a lazy mother’s dream food”. It is, indeed.

Why do babies love Cerelac? Duh, so obvious! SUGAR, SUGAR and MORE SUGAR.

WHO guidelines state that babies need to be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. Post that, weaning foods can be slowly introduced, but without any SALT OR SUGAR.  Cow’s milk can be introduced ONLY after the child completes one year. 
Let’s look at the ingredients of Cerelac Rice (from 6 months):
Rice Flour (46.4%), 
Milk based mix (Milk solids (34.2%), Sugar),
Milk Solids (5.2%),
Soybean oil,

1. A quick glance at the customer reviews of Cerelac variants in Amazon will show you how babies love it and eat without any fuss. The only reason being HIGH SUGAR. Each serving (25 gm) of Cerelac contains 2.25 gm OR a little more than 1/2 tsp of sugar. If you think 1/2 tsp of sugar is fine, just pause for a moment. 1/2 tsp of sugar might be fine for a 2 year old but what about a 6 month old? The infant is not exposed to sugar until the first spoon of Cerelac is fed. The recommended serving is 2 feeds per day. So the baby is given a tsp of sugar every day. They are forced to get addicted to sugar from such a tender age. As they grow up, they tend to eat a lot more sugary candies and toffees, which affects their immunity. And then we seek out “immunity-boosting” solutions like Pediasure and Immuno-Boosters, which are again loaded with sugar and the vicious cycle continues.

2. An infant cereal has trans-fats, can you believe it? As per the nutrition table, Cerelac contains 0.35gm of trans-fats in 100 gms.

3. When cow’s milk is to be introduced ONLY after the first year, then how could a baby cereal contain “milk solids”? How would the infants be able to digest it? Constipation is such a common issue among infants. Most paediatricians don’t care about these packaged cereal food and they quickly write out a prescription for Dulcolax laxative suppository to address the symptom. 

4. The other variant “Nestle Cerelac Wheat” has 53.8% wheat flour. Is this whole wheat flour or maida? Given that most junk food brands use wheat flour as the name for maida, I’m going with the assumption that this is maida. So the infant is being fed a mix of maida+sugar+milk powder, along with a nutrition promise of “minerals+vitamins”. 
300 gms of Cerelac Wheat cost Rs.169. 
Out of this 300 gms,
27 gm is sugar, for which you are paying Rs.15
161 gm is maida, for which you are paying Rs.91
104 gm is milk powder for which you are paying Rs.59

One serving is 25 gm and with 2 servings a day, a 300 gm pack will get over in 6 days. In a month, you will have to buy 4 packs.

Do you see how these brands make profits? Do you see where they get such huge marketing budgets for TV ads? 

Once an infant is started on Cerelac, it is extremely difficult to feed them any fruits and veggies. They become repeat customers till they complete 2 years. After that, the brand hands you yet another cereal box called Ceregrow

These days, I don’t see any TV ads for Cerelac. It has become an “accepted” baby food and every parent buys it by default (OR being forced to buy it because of pressure from previous generation). Cerelac has become a “cash-cow” for the brand and now it has moved on to “capture" other emerging segments like the "growing kids (2-6 years)". 

I didn’t fall for the trap and now D eats all fruits and most veggies. The weaning stage required time and effort but it wasn’t hard. Early start to healthy eating habits is crucial. I had written a separate post on this topic.
So parents with new-born / infants, please avoid taking the easy route. Make fresh, home cooked food for your baby. He / She deserves it.

Jun 20, 2018

Too Yumm or Too Junk?

A few days back, I came across this ad for Too Yumm multigrain chips on TV where cricketer Virat Kohli was promoting it as a “healthy snack” with “7 multigrains” and it is “Baked, not fried”. Then I stumbled upon this Economic Times article, that talks about how "Too Yumm" ads were continuously played throughout IPL. I stopped watching TV a few years back (and IPL too), so I had no clue about this new brand of chips. The article also talks about how Virat Kohli came on board after he ended his association with PepsiCo with a statement - “If I myself won't consume such things, I won't urge others to consume it just because I'm getting money out of it.”

Wow, I never knew about this incident and I had to find out more details about this healthy snack that a rare, socially-responsible celebrity like Virat Kohli is promoting.

A quick search in Amazon got me what I wanted - yes, the ingredients list !! There are so many varieties of Too Yumm snacks and I have looked at “Multigrain chips - Grilled corn” flavor.

The pack says “power of 7 grains” - Wheat, Rice, Corn, Gram, Oats, Soya and Ragi. I was curious to know about the percentages of these 7 grains. 

Wheat flour (28%) (Nothing but maida)
Rice flour (23%)
Corn flour (19%)
Gram flour (12%)
Oats (3%)
Soya flour (3%)
Ragi flour (3%)

- Nearly 50% of it is maida + corn flour, both have no nutrition whatsoever. To position themselves as a “healthy" snack, the word “multi-grain” is stressed upon in their packaging and ads, but ONLY a tiny percentage of soya, oats and ragi are included. The nutrition table states that it contains a meagre 1.28g of dietary fibre in a serving size of 30gm.

- A serving size of 30gm contains 270mg of sodium, whereas a 30gm pack of Lays American Style Cream & Onion contains 223mg of sodium. Is Too Yumm really a “less guilt” snack? I don’t think so.  When a pack says "less fat", it always ends up either high in sugar or salt, in order to balance the taste.

- What’s the need for an artificial sweetener in a savoury snack like multigrain chips?  Mannitol (INS 421) is a low calorie sweetener, that is semi-artificially produced by adding hydrogen to fructose, which is derived from starch. It is generally recognised as safe by FDA, but the side effects include hyperactivity and aggravated food intolerances.

- The two flavour enhancers that we came across earlier in Saffola Masala Oats and Knorr Soups are present in Too Yumm chips as well - INS 627, INS 631. To know more about these two ingredients, please check out my earlier posts.

- Synthetic food colour (Caramel) is present, but the class number is not mentioned.

- I’m not sure if we could consider sunflower oil a healthier choice as compared to palmolein that is typically used in all junk foods. Yes, the saturated fats seem to be lesser in Too Yumm, as compared to Lays chips. But since all refined oils are unhealthy, I wouldn’t consider this pack a “less guilt” choice.

This analysis pertains to just ONE variety. Before we go ga-ga over "baked, not fried" (and just because Virat says so), let's take a moment and read through the ingredients.

Jun 7, 2018

Analysis of Complan Ingredients

If Quinoa and chia seeds are the super-foods of our current urban households, then Complan and Horlicks/Boost/Bournvita are considered as super-foods by the previous generation. In the days of few advertisements in TV, I'm so curious to understand how these brands had become household names in the 80s and 90s, more so on how they managed to create such strong beliefs in the minds of the previous generation that these are "must-have health drinks" for children. 
This post is specifically on Complan. I used to hate the taste of it, it never got properly mixed with milk, always had lumps or gets settled in the bottom of the tumbler ;-) After a couple of attempts, my parents gave up on Complan, as it used to be more expensive than Boost/Bournvita back then.

The most asked question from my readers is “Which health drink would you recommend to be mixed with milk?” My answer is “definitely not those packaged health drinks that are loaded with sugar, artificial flavors and additives”.

Let’s look at the ingredients of Complan - Classic Chocolate Flavour:

Milk Solids (50.1%)
Peanut Oil
Caramel (INS 150c)
Beetroot juice powder

Contains Permitted Natural Colour and Added Flavours

1. Let’s look at the second listed ingredient - Sugar
100 gm of Complan contains 29gm of sugar. Nearly 30% of the product is only sugar, so if you take 3 tsp of Complan powder to prepare a glass, 1 tsp is nothing but sugar. While preparing the drink, many of us also add 1-2 tsp of white sugar on top of it. 750gm of Complan Classic Chocolate flavor costs Rs.370 MRP. 30% of 750gm is 225gm, which would cost Rs.111. So for 225gm of sugar, we are paying Rs.111. What an exorbitant price we are paying for consuming sugar, both from an economical and our health point of view!

2. Maltodextrin - A simple google search of “maltodextrin side effects” will show how this starch-derived food additive raises blood sugar levels rapidly. 
From this site,
Maltodextrin is a white powder made from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat. Even though it comes from plants, it’s highly processed. It has high glycemic index (GI). Maltodextrin’s GI is higher than table sugar, ranging from 106 to 136. The high GI of maltodextrin means it can cause spikes in your blood sugar level, especially if it’s consumed in large amounts. Because of this, you may want to avoid or limit it if you have diabetes or insulin resistance.
Continuous intake of such high GI products will eventually lead to insulin resistance. 

Now if you are wondering what’s wrong in giving high GI foods to a child, then let’s first take a step back and honestly answer these questions - “how physically active kids are these days? Are they participating actively in sports? Are they working towards becoming athletes?” Is there a need for such high-GI foods for kids, who are mostly sedentary?

3. In my earlier post on Pediasure, I had written about inositol, taurine and L-Carnitine. Reposting the same details on these ingredients.
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) is that it increases complications of bipolar disorder. 

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 Complan put on weight. But again, it is an artificial supplement and I question the need for it. 

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 aging. It is also prescribed as a weight-loss supplement. 

4. Caramel (INS 150c)
In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reviewed the safety of a group of caramel colors (150a, 150b, 150c and 150d). 

The Panel points out that adults and children who are high consumers of foods containing these colors could exceed the ADIs established for three of these colors (E150a, E150c, E150d) if they are used at the maximum levels reported by industry. 

“The maximum permissible intake is up to 200 mg/kg body weight for E150c and E150d. Side effects are manifested from the use of IN150c and IN150d, where intestinal problems may occur after ingestion of large amounts.”

The manufacturing process of caramel results in the production of 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), which is carcinogenic. Food manufacturers rely on the argument that the quantity consumed have to be extremely high to face the side-effects of this chemical.  

Now, what about the "good stuff"- milk solids and the vitamins & minerals?

Milk Solids are nothing but the dry powder that is left after all the water is removed from liquid milk. Unless and until the milk comes from an organic dairy farm where the cows are treated with respect, chances are that the milk will contain antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from synthetic feed etc, which will also be present in milk solids.

I still couldn't figure out any conclusive study that states that synthetic vitamins & minerals are absorbed by the body. When nature gives us enough produce which has the required vitamins & minerals, why do we need such synthetic chemicals? Even if you believe that these synthetic vitamins & minerals are effective, take a look at the minuscule numbers:

100 gm of Complan contains 30mg of Vitamin C, whereas 100 gm of green capsicum contains 123 mg of Vitamin C.
100 gm of Complan contains 318mcg of Vitamin A, whereas 100 gm of sweet potato contains 1043 mcg of Vitamin A.
100 gm of Complan contains 70mg of magnesium, whereas 100 gm of dry cowpea beans (lobia/karamani) contains 213 mg of magnesium.

I'd recommend that you read my earlier article on why kids don't need such high-growth promising drinks. I have shared a few ideas on what healthy, homemade drinks can be given in the morning rush hours.


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