Nov 14, 2019

Book Review: Gut by Giulia Enders

Nutrition-related books have become quite popular these days, as people are more curious to find out healthy options to eat and diets to follow for weight loss and preventive wellness. The saying - "It is not what you eat, it is what you absorb that makes a difference" has certainly a lot of merit to it. 

Earlier this year, I had made a list of topics I wanted to learn more about. Specifically, on nutrition, I wanted to learn more about the role of our gut. As I was looking for books related to this topic, a friend recommended me this particular book written by Giulia Enders.

What a fascinating and insightful read it is! The author has taken the complex process of our digestive system and explained it with so much wit and humor. If you had taken up Biology in your high school, the chapters related to different parts of the gut and their role in digestion would be a good revision. They took me back to my 12th grade and I surprisingly remembered every single detail. 

The role of saliva, tonsils, how food is absorbed in the small intestine from the perspective of carbohydrates and fats all form such a good foundation to unraveling how our complex digestive system works. The author also explains various digestion-related issues such as food allergies, food intolerances (lactose/fructose intolerance, gluten sensitivity etc). Though I really enjoyed reading these chapters, the one on the linkage between gut and brain was really the turning point for me. I was so engrossed and fascinated to read about how our gut influences our behavior.

"A gut that does not feel good might subtly affect our mood, and a healthy, well-nourished gut can discreetly improve our sense of wellbeing."

"Stress is thought to be among the most important stimuli discussed by the brain and the gut."

"Stress of any kind activates nerves that inhibit the digestive process, which means we not only extract less energy from our food, but we also take longer to digest it, putting the gut under unnecessary extra strain."

The following chapters on the importance of our gut's microbiome and their role in our immunity, synthesizing vitamins and minerals and much to my surprise, the way they can trigger weight gain were truly eye-opening. It has given me new areas to read up on.

For example, this particular passage gave me an "aha" moment

"Our satiety signal transmitters increase considerably when we eat the food that our bacteria prefer. And what our bacteria prefer is food that reaches the large intestine undigested, where they can then gobble it up."

What I could infer from this chapter is the importance of a balanced meal with a good amount of fiber, prebiotics and complex carbohydrates, from varied sources.

The author also talks about how various bad bacteria affect our health - salmonellae, helicobacter, toxoplasmata etc. 

Last but not the least, the author talks about how our obsession with hyper cleanliness is impacting our health in the form of allergies and autoimmune disorders. And increased use of antibiotics leading to resistant bacteria, a threat looming large.

The role of prebiotics and probiotics is briefly touched upon. I would have loved to see more in-depth coverage as there's quite a bit of hoopla around these two as external supplements.

If you are interested in food, nutrition and human physiology, I highly recommend this book. Unputdownable, if there's such a word!

Nov 11, 2019

Self-reliance in Food

One of the goals that I'm working towards is to become self-reliant as much as possible in different walks of my life. Given the uncertain situations related to climate change, environmental degradation and the various health-related issues, I believe that becoming self-reliant is the ONLY way to cope with the challenges of the future, for the sake of our's, our children's and our planet's well-being. The concept of self-reliance is not a novel idea - that's how most of our grandparents and our ancestors led their lives. Our generation (and to some extent, our parents' generation) completely moved away from this principle of self-reliance. We are dependent on market forces for every little thing to lead our day-to-day life - right from the toothpaste we use the first thing in the morning to the mobile app we use to track our food intake by the end of the day.

As these market forces are becoming more and more centralized, a few big corporations dictate what the general public should buy. From being a country with many small scale entrepreneurs, we have shifted away to a model where we allow ourselves to be dependent on these 4-5 big corporations for our every single need. 

Self-reliance concerning food is what I want to talk about in this post. Let's look at our relationship with food across different stages - food cultivation, food preservation, cooking and consumption. This is a random post of thoughts across different areas of food. As I gain more clarity, I should be able to articulate this whole concept of self-reliance in a refined manner. But I hope you get a general idea here.

As I make my grocery shopping list every time, I want to reduce the number of items I buy from the store as much as possible. As I don't own a farm, I'm dependent on an external vendor from whom I procure the regular staples like rice, millets, pulses, spices etc. As I don't own a press for extracting oils, I'm dependent on a vendor from whom I buy cold-pressed oils. 

For the value-added products, I prefer to DIY myself - spice powders, batters, pastes etc to name a few.  As I don't buy any ready-to-eat packaged foods, I make most snacks at home. I strongly believe that home cooking is the ONLY way to preserve our health.  The enormous VC funding that is being poured onto food delivery apps indicates that these brands want to grab our wallet share of the daily food budget, which is neither good for our health nor for our environment. 

Our reliance on external factors doesn't stop there. We continue to depend on apps to tell us what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat etc. The fact that users log their daily meals seems to be THE main criteria that boost the valuation of health and fitness tracker apps these days. Yes, food logging is a helpful activity as a post-facto to make us feel conscious and aware of the food we eat daily, which is very much possible using a simple notebook and a pen. If we listen to our stomach, we will automatically know whether we need to eat 2 idlis, 3 idlis or no idlis for breakfast today. Yet, we seem to outsource this simple task to a tracker app and make ourselves dependent on one more external factor. How our personal data is being misused and missold is something to be concerned about.

Let's take a moment and travel back in time - homemade snacks, homemade pickles, homemade spice powders, flours ground at a local mill, homemade pappad/vathal/vadagam etc, green leafy veggies grown in the backyard, some of our grandparents even had a few fruit trees in their home garden. 

If we cannot be self-reliant on some of these areas, let's at least take the help of our local community - 
buy greens from a local organic farm (instead of buying from a multi-chain supermarket), 
invest in a community farm and get a share of the produce grown locally (instead of buying imported produce), 
buy snacks/pickles/healthy homecooked food from a home chef (instead of ordering from Swiggy or loading the fridge/pantry with junk foods), 
patronize the flour mill in your neighborhood (instead of buying highly processed branded flours) 

These are just some of the ideas that I could think of right now. I'm sure there are more we could come up with. Such a model generates employment opportunities and enables REAL value creation. It is appalling to see so many business models generating pseudo-value and getting a ton of investment from VCs. Influencer marketing, being one such business model.

Anyway, from a personal standpoint, these are my goals in the near future towards attaining self-reliance in food:
  1. Learn about organic gardening and grow more greens and veggies in my balcony garden
  2. Find a good flour mill nearby and get the flours ground by myself (no more packaged flours)
  3. Learn the recipes of value-added products that I currently buy - sathumaavu kanji, kadala urundais (chikkis), papad, pickles.
What are your thoughts on self-reliance? If this is something that you are pursuing, let's connect and share ideas.

Nov 4, 2019

Mother's Horlicks Review

I vividly remember this incident. The first time my pregnancy was confirmed, I went to meet a gynecologist for a checkup. The prescription had a list of supplements (Folic acid, Calcium and iron) and a protein supplement drink. She insisted that I take this drink twice a day without fail. I didn't like the taste of it and after a month, I stopped taking it. It wasn't Mother's Horlicks but another brand.

Many of these brands have become a mandatory item in most gynecologist's prescription list, right from the first pregnancy checkup visit. Even if gynecologists don't prescribe them, most new to-be moms purchase these mother specific health drinks(?) as part of their grocery shopping.

Nutrition needs are different during pregnancy and motherhood. The common advice we get from elders is to eat twice the portion size, thereby focusing merely on the quantity of food to be consumed. Or we get loads of recommendations to buy such health drinks(?) targeted at new mothers.

Let's focus on the most popular mother specific health drink - Mother's Horlicks

The phrase "No added sugar" is highlighted prominently on the front side of the pack. It also talks about the vital nutrients for a healthy pregnancy and lactation.

Let's take a look at the Ingredients list:
Milk Solids (59%)
Corn Solids (hydrolyzed)
Cereal extract (3%)
Nature Identical Flavouring Substances
DHA powder
Edible vegetable oil (palm kernel oil)
Natural flavour
Natural colour (INS 100(i))

Contains Permitted natural colour and added flavours (natural and nature-identical flavouring substances)

  1. First and foremost, when the pack states no added sugar, it implies "no sucrose". Do take note of the second ingredient - Corn Solids. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), Crystalline fructose, Corn syrup, corn solids are all extracted from corn using various processes. They are highly concentrated sweeteners, containing other forms of sugar. Sucrose might be absent in Mother's Horlicks, but the brand doesn't share details on the quantity of glucose, fructose or dextrose present in it.
  2. The ingredient "Nature Identical Flavouring Substances" sounds vague. Why aren't the specific names shared?
  3. All health drinks(?) brands available in the market emphasize the added vitamins and minerals. The long list of such micronutrients is printed, along with their benefits. What about the quantity actually present? Let's compare the quantity of these synthetic vitamins and minerals alongside natural sources

Plant-based natural sources are rich in many of these vitamins and minerals. I have just shared a couple of them against each nutrient in this table. To get the detailed list, go to this link, click on each of the nutrients and read up on the respective article to get the list of sources and their corresponding values. 

It is imperative that we educate ourselves on what foods to eat, how to plan a balanced meal, taking into account the additional nutritional needs during pregnancy. A varied Indian diet with a good mix of cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, greens, seeds and nuts, condiments and spices etc will help us meet our daily needs of various micro-nutrients. I believe firmly in the strategy - "less variety in a meal, more variety in a month". Do check out my article on this topic if you haven't taken a look.

Let's invest the time to plan out our meals using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. If you are a to-be mom, I'd highly recommend you take the time to understand the additional nutritional needs and plan out your meals accordingly. Please don't outsource this work to profit-focused food corporations. And also please don't ask for readymade diet plans from dietitians and random strangers on social media. You and the little one growing inside you deserve the time and effort!

Oct 18, 2019

Happiness Journal

The video version of this article if you prefer to listen :-)


A few days back, I had mentioned that I maintain a happiness journal in one of my posts on Instagram. I got a DM asking me to share more about it. I'm sure you would have heard of the "gratitude journal" and how the habit of maintaining a gratitude journal keeps us more at peace. This happiness journal is similar but slightly different from a gratitude journal.

I was reading an article written by Mark Manson titled "The disease of more" on his blog. In this article, he mentions about a survey conducted by psychologists. One of the survey question was "On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you at this moment?" Most of them gave a response of 7, which implies that no one is fully happy or fully unhappy all the time. Things are pretty much fine but they could always be better. So our minds always tell us to chase towards a perfect 10. This constant chasing is what he describes as a "hedonic treadmill". I highly recommend that you take the time to read the complete article.

So coming back to this happiness journal, what I have found is that this journal helps us to recognize and value the moments of happiness that we experience on a daily basis.

The basic idea is pretty simple - 
Every day, I note down a list of events/people/things that brought a little happiness. For eg, my journal entries for today are -
"the methi seeds that I sowed have now sprouted and I see tiny plants coming up. It felt so good, seeing them this morning"
"So many colorful lamps and candles lined up in the grocery store, my favorite festival is here. Yay!"

What to write - Any tiny feeling that made you feel a little happier and cheerful. Write it down in sentences.

How much to write - There isn't a definite number - somedays it could be 1, some days, it could be 3-4. Let's not attach any number and constrain ourselves. There will be days when we don't feel like writing down anything. That's fine too.

When to write - Best to write down as and when you feel it. If that's not feasible, you could do this exercise at the end of your day.

How is this helping me?
  1. First and foremost, it helps me to identify aspects of my life that make me happy. It is more of an inward-looking exercise.
  2. I feel more mindful and being aware of my thoughts and feelings
  3. It feels good to go through my journal entries on days when I'm feeling dull.
Do give it a try. My suggestion would be to use a pen and paper. No digital devices/apps. Hope you found this idea helpful.

Oct 13, 2019

Time for Holistic Wellbeing

A few days back, I had posted a picture of my lunch plate on Instagram, where there was some A2B ribbon pakoda (deep-fried snack) along with veggies, sambhar and rice. There were a few DMs asking why I'm eating A2B snacks since they are made with palmolein oil.

Earlier this week, I had shared that I use pressure cookers extensively and that I don't see any issues in using them. There were a few responses to that Insta story saying that pressure cooking is unhealthy and one should cook the rice in an open pot and drain the starch.

There has been quite an increase in the awareness/interest levels (confusion too) on healthy eating and a continuous search towards finding healthy foods and healthier ways of cooking. Sometimes, I wonder if we have reached a point where we have become obsessed about eating healthy.

My belief is this - "If I eat healthy 80-90% of the time, I'm okay with it. I love to travel, go out to restaurants once a week, relish on bhel puri, kesari bhaath and rasmalai 1-2 times a month. I don't want to give up on all these, just so that I hit the 100% mark".

Several factors contribute to good health and overall well being. In the past few years, food seemed to have hijacked our complete attention. Yes, food plays an important role but isn't the ONLY contributing factor.

In my opinion, these are the OTHER factors that I want to give enough importance, along with food.
  • Exercise
  • Physical activity throughout the day
  • Exposure to sun
  • Spending time amidst nature and greenery
  • Deep breathing
  • Adequate water intake
  • Good quality sleep
  • No smoking or drinking alcohol
  • Stress-free life
  • Finding meaning and purpose in our work
  • Making time for hobbies/interests/passions
  • Leading a disciplined life and not giving into external distractions (social media, Netflix, TV, video games etc)
  • Positive thoughts
  • How we respond to negative emotions like anger, fear, resentment, jealousy etc
  • Supporting relationships
  • Reduced exposure to air pollution
I'm sure there are more factors that can be added to this list.

My ONLY suggestion through this post is - Let's aim for holistic well being and focus on the other factors too, and not spend all our energies in getting a perfect plate of healthy food every single meal. One cannot lead a healthy and happy life if we are just eating 100% healthy but ignoring the other factors completely.

Oct 11, 2019

Plant based sources of Folic Acid (Folates) for healthy pregnancy

Recently, I was talking to a friend's wife who is a gynecologist. One of the points she told me - "We are seeing quite a number of miscarriages in the past 2-3 years. This percentage has definitely spiked up as compared to what it used to be 10 years back. Earlier, we used to advise women not to smoke or consume alcohol. Given the current eating habits, I should add a big list of items under "not to eat" category for pregnant women......"

This conversation is the trigger point of this new series of blog posts that I plan to write pertaining to pregnancy.
I'll be sharing my understanding of various nutritional needs during pregnancy and how best to meet them through real, natural foods. Will also be writing about the plethora of mother-specific health(?) drinks available in the market these days. If there are any other topics/questions you want me to address, please do comment below.

The first topic I'm focusing today is on folic acid. When you are planning to conceive, the first thing your gynec would put you on is folic acid supplements. Folic acid supplementation is prescribed to avoid neural tube defects in newborns. According to this paper,

Given that the closure of the neural tube is completed by 28 days post conception, there is a narrow window of opportunity from the time the woman finds out she has conceived and the end of the prevention window.

Folate is the natural form (Vitamin B9) whereas Folic acid is the synthetic form. If you aren't focusing much on your diet, then folic acid supplementation is absolutely essential. Also important to note that women on oral contraceptives may need higher doses of folic acid.

Along with the supplements, it is important to include folate-rich foods in your diet, even before conception. According to this source, the recommended daily dietary allowance for Folate is 600 mcg (microgm) per day.

I looked through the nutrition information provided in "Indian Food Composition Tables" (IFCT 2017) and here's the list of foods rich in Folates.

Total Folates (microgm per 100 gm)
Tender maize63
Kodo millet (varagu)39
Little millet (saamai)36

Moth bean349
Field bean (mochai)290
Cowpea white249
Bengal gram whole233
Cowpea brown231
Bengal gram dal182
Green gram whole145
Black gram whole134
Green gram dal92
Black gram dal89

Green leafy vegetables
Arbi leaves159
Agathi leaves120
Curry leaves117
Mustard leaves110
Mint leaves106
Amaranth leaves, red82
Fenugreek leaves75
Amaranth leaves, green70
Coriander leaves51

Capsicum yellow66
Capsicum red63
Chayote squash (chowchow)63
French beans62
Jackfruit seed55
Peas fresh55
Capsicum green52
Plantain flower49

Bael fruit (wood apple)55

Nuts, seeds and spices
Niger seeds (uchellu/gurellu)140
Gingelly seeds (till seeds)110
Mustard seeds95
Linseed (flaxseed)86
Sunflower seeds82
Poppy seeds79
Long pepper (Thippili)66
Ajwain (omum)52
Fenugreek seeds51

  1. As you can see, there are plenty of plant-based sources that are rich in folates. Eating a balanced, wholesome meal can help us meet the requirement of folates.
  2. Compared to rice and wheat, millets are a better source of folates. Not high enough though.
  3. Pulses and lentils that we use in our day-to-day cooking contain abundant folates. Including a wide variety of pulses in our daily diet will not only help us meet our folates requirement but also provide adequate protein.
  4. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of folates. Spinach, curry leaves, coriander leaves and mint leaves should become part of our daily diet. Prepping the greens might sound time consuming, but worth the time and effort.
  5. Most of the veggies that we commonly consume (capsicum, beetroot, drumstick, ladiesfinger etc) are good sources of folate. 
  6. Condiments and spices commonly used in Indian cooking are rich in folates. Gingelly seeds (till seeds) seem to top the chart in almost every single nutrient - calcium, iron and folates. No wonder, our ancestors called till oil as "nalla ennai" (good oil). There is a common belief that sesame seeds are not to be consumed during pregnancy as it generates heat in the body and might lead to miscarriage. I'm not sure about the truth behind this belief. Given that we use very little quantity of sesame seeds in most of our dishes (podis, chutneys etc), I guess it shouldn't be a problem. If you are concerned, do check with your family elder / gynec.
I'd highly recommend that you plan out your meals based on the above list to ensure you are able to hit the 400-600 microgm per day mark. You can then discuss with your gynec and decide on the dosage of folic acid supplements if still needed. 

As always, my belief is that it is best to get the required nutrients from natural sources than synthetic supplements.

Oct 10, 2019

Patriarchy's influence in food choices

A few days back, I heard this statement from a family member - "cucumber vaangaradhu illa, avarakku pidikaadhu. pagarkkai, kovakkai sugar ku nalladhunu solraa, aana avarakku indha kai ellam pidikkaadhu. adhanala vaangaradhilla" ("I don't buy cucumber because he(husband) doesn't like it. I have heard that bittergourd, ivygourd are good for controlling sugar but since he doesn't like it, I don't buy it").

Both of them have diabetes and high blood pressure, but she does not/cannot make any lifestyle changes JUST BECAUSE her husband is not onboard. 

Women play such a significant role in a family. When we lead by example, family members follow. In some families, it might take time but sooner or later, they will be ready to embrace change. There is no need to nag or shout from the top of our lungs. Our actions would speak for themselves, our habits would influence/inspire others in our family, especially the husband and children. Elders in the family may or may not be willing to change as they have been stuck with old habits for long.

My husband K used to eat quite a bit of junk (chocolates, tetrapack juices, icecreams, aerated drinks etc). But ever since I stopped eating junk foods, he has come onboard with me and has made remarkable progress with his food habits in the past 3 years. He used to hate salads but now he doesn't mind eating a small bowl. His overall portion sizes have reduced. He has started eating all vegetables without a fuss. Yes, there are a few veggies he is not too fond of - bottlegourd and cabbage being on top of the list. Yet, I make them once in 2 weeks and he eats without throwing a tantrum :-) He loves paneer whereas my daughter and I are not too fond of it. So I cook a dish with paneer once a week and whenever we go out to a restaurant, we always order a paneer dish.

I understand it is time consuming to cook different dishes for a small family. But why should the man's preferences dictate the family menu ALL THE TIME? Why can't the man compromise on a few meals when wife's favorite dishes or healthy-dishes-for-the-whole-family are prepared? 

What are the repercussions when the family menu is decided based ONLY on the man's preferences?
  1. If the man hates certain veggies, they will never be cooked. The family members will never get the nutrients from those veggies.
  2. This habit affects the kinds of foods that children in the family are exposed to. If the man(father) hates bittergourd, the children in the family would have never tasted it, while growing up. Their taste preferences would become molded, just like that of their father.
  3. The woman totally loses touch with the taste of the foods she used to like, just because her husband doesn't like the same.
I'm not implying that this trend is happening across all Indian families. I'm sure there are men who have a deep interest in food, cooking and nutrition. But they are far and few exceptions as of today. I sincerely hope that we see a positive shift in our next generation, where everyone in the family understands food - where it comes from, how it is being prepared, how to plan wholesome meals, which nutrients are present in which foods etc.

Do share in the comments below if this article resonates with your family. How do you manage the influence of patriarchy in food choices?

Oct 5, 2019

10 more habits to keep PCOD under control

I had shared a personal "10 year health transformation" journey post on Instagram yesterday, primarily focusing on how I'm managing PCOD. I had asked women facing PCOD issues to reach out to me if they have any questions or would like to share their concerns. What I didn't expect was the number of messages I would end up receiving. Within a span of 12 hours, I received around 35 DMs from women in their 20s and 30s. PCOS/PCOD is affecting many women in India and the number keeps growing at an alarming rate.

I had written this article "10 habits to keep PCOD under control" in Jan 2016. Since it is close to 4 years now, I wanted to write a follow up post, addressing a few more habits that have helped me in keeping PCOD in check.

DisclaimerI'm neither a gynecologist nor a dietitian. This is purely based on my experience. Do consult your doctor if you are making any major changes.

1.Adopt the right mindset
We generally tend to ignore irregular periods and other related symptoms UNTIL the time we are getting married or ready to start a family. I made the same mistake too. PCOD affects our health in many ways - weight gain, hair fall, hair growth on face (hirsutism), acne, extreme mood swings and much more. If left unattended, it leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders. So it is imperative we address PCOD at a young age (in your late teens or early 20s). Most gynecs wouldn't recommend any lifestyle changes unless you are trying to conceive (TTC). They might prescribe hormone tablets/contraceptive pills to regulate periods but these tend to have a lot of side effects. Let's adopt the right mindset - we are going to address PCOD for the sake of our own good health, not just for getting a baby. And yes, all these habits are equally important after delivering a baby as well.

2.Address stress inducing situations/people
Women of today carry so much of mental load and pressure on ourselves. Studies, work pressure, commute, household responsibilities, career goals and what not. Responsibilities are only piling up as we grow older. On top of that, if we are married and have difficulty in conceiving, the society (including close family members and relatives) makes a mockery out of our situation instead of offering genuine help. Be conscious of situations and people who stress you out. Stay away from them as much as possible. Identify ways that help you reduce stress - cooking, cleaning, reading, listening to music, meditation, going for long walks, spending time amidst nature, gardening - whatever works for you. And please let's not use junk foods/icecreams/chocolates/tea/coffee as ways to combat stress. Speaking from experience, these might give only a temporary relief to take our mind out of stressful situation but comes loaded with side effects.

3.Eat only when hungry
In my earlier post on PCOD, I had mentioned "Never skip breakfast" but I have learned from experience in the past couple of years that it is okay to skip or delay breakfast until we feel hungry. Wrote a detailed post on the same topic. Do check it out if you haven't seen it yet. Also, avoid mindless grazing - processing something in your mind and munching on something, watching TV and eating snacks. Plan for 2-3 wholesome meals. If feeling hungry mid-morning / evening, have a small handful of nuts or fruits.

4.Be mindful of portion size
If your capacity is to eat 4 idlis/3 chapathis, don't load your plate with this fixed quantity by default every time. Take it slow - serve yourself 2 idlis with a bowl of sambhar/chutney. Finish your plate fully and if you are still hungry, take one piece at a time. For rice, serve a small ladle of rice, adequate portion of veggies, dal/sambhar, salad etc. Finish the plate fully and then decide if you need more rice. That way, your appetite is filled by a wholesome meal and you don't load up on rice/rotis.

5.Include bitter and astringent tasting foods more regularly
This is something I have been doing consciously in the past few years. In Tamil, these two tastes are called kasappu and thuvarppu respectively. Our previous generation completely ignored these two tastes and focused more on sweet, sour, spicy and salty foods. The bitter and astringent tasting foods are so beneficial not only for PCOD but also for managing diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol etc.
Bitter tasting foods - bittergourd, methi seeds, curry leaves, turkey berries (sundakkai), dry wonder berries (manathakkali), dry neem flowers
Astringent tasting foods - banana flower, banana stem, pomegranate, Indian gooseberry (amla/nellikkai), brinjal, dry figs
Plan your meals in such a way that foods rich in these two tastes feature more regularly.

6.Limit dairy intake
The commercial dairy products we get these days are loaded with growth hormones, antibiotics and other unwanted stuff. Though I haven't stopped completely, my dairy intake has reduced considerably. My body isn't able to digest heavy dairy products like paneer, cheese etc. Except for my tea and a small bowl of curd, I don't consume milk or any other dairy products. You could try limiting or stopping dairy for a week and you will notice the difference.

7.Limit wheat intake if you are a South Indian
This is another change I have made in the past few years and I can vouch for its positive outcomes. Similar to dairy, you could try stopping wheat for a week and you'll notice the amazing difference - less bloating, no acidity, light stomach. And the idea that wheat is better than rice (promoted by packaged atta makers, sometimes recommended by doctors/diabetic centres) is totally incorrect. Check out my earlier post for more details.

8.Finish dinner early
For women with PCOD, the most common problem is weight gain around belly. One of the ways to manage this problem is to ensure that you finish dinner by 7:30PM and not eat anything post dinner. It gives your body ample time to digest before you go to sleep. Undigested food in the stomach leads to disturbed sleep. Lack of good quality sleep disrupts your hormones, leading to more complications.

9.Be active throughout the day
Most of us have become conscious of the fact that exercise is important. But the mistake we do (including yours truly) is that we finish one hour of exercise in the morning and we don't move much the rest of the day. Taking stairs, walking to buy veggies/groceries (instead of online orders), participating in activities that involve physical work (gardening, cleaning, cooking) etc are some of the ways by which we can stay active. I have observed that on days when I'm physically active throughout, I sleep better, whereas my sleep gets disturbed on days when I'm sedentary.

10.Say no to plastic
Plastic (irrespective of BPA free, food grade or any other fancy terms) is not suited for food consumption. It leeches harmful chemicals that disrupts our hormones. Earlier, I used to drink water from plastic bottles, use melamine plates, reheat food in microwave oven using plastic bowls etc. I have put a complete stop to all that. Water in steel bottle, ceramic/steel plates for serving food, ceramic plate/bowl for occasional reheating in MW oven. Stopped teflon coated nonstick pans. Switched to iron kadai/tawa.

Last but not the least, a question that I'm sure I would be asked - What about Keto? 
Personally, I don't believe in restrictive diets. I don't go overboard on "carbs". I eat millets/handpounded rice/red rice etc but am mindful of my portion size. Balanced, wholesome, homecooked meals work for me. Choose what works for you. If you don't miss "carbs", then eat homecooked meals with more veggies and healthy fats. Avoid packaged keto junk, it is becoming a big thing these days. Read the ingredients and understand what you are putting in your body.

Hope these pointers are helpful in managing PCOD. Do write in the comments below if you have any further questions.

Sep 24, 2019

Experience of a live AR Rahman concert

I had checked off one of the items from my bucket list in Aug. Such an important thing, yet it has taken me nearly 2 months to record my experience here on my blog. Better late than never!!

Long time readers of my blog might know how madly I'm in love with AR Rahman's music. His music came into my ears on the most tragic day of my life. Till date, I'm not able to listen to Kaadhal Rojave without a tear lingering in the corner of my eyes. Apart from that one sad emotion, his music has brought in so much happiness and memories to cherish, right from childhood. Every album of his has a memory, a feeling that takes you back to the simpler times of 90s. When I started earning (back in 2002), one of my dreams was to experience a live ARR concert. Now seriously I don't know why it took me 17 years to make my dream come true.

I accidentally stumbled upon the details of his concert to be held in Chennai on Aug 10th. Though my daughter loves music, she doesn't like loud sounds or crowded places. I knew if I decided to go as a family, it would inconvenience her and I wouldn't be able to enjoy the concert as well. So on a whim, I just booked a single ticket for myself one fine afternoon. Husband suggested that I should check with some of my friends in Chennai who might be interested to join. I reached out to a few friends but no one was free to join (or as crazy a Rahmaniac like me!). The day dawned, we left from Bangalore early morning, reached Chennai around noon and headed straight to the venue to pick up my ticket. What a happy feeling it was! After having lunch at home, I relaxed for a bit and prepared my daughter that mommy would be gone for a few hours. I took an Uber, reached the venue by 5:30PM and took a proper seat with a good view in the Silver category. I'm not sure if I was the ONLY girl who wore FullyFilmy's Rahmaniac (since 1992) t-shirt ;-) There were many guys wearing the same t-shirts.

The next 90 minutes was a patient wait, admiring the setting sun and counting the number of airplanes flying above. The concert began with ThalaivARR's rocking entry. I let go of any inhibitions, screamed and hooted along with the crowd. Those 3 hours proved to be one of my most memorable fun evenings of my life. There was hardly any breathing space for the fans to recover 😉 The songs came one after another, a perfect mix of old and new. I didn't want to be distracted with my phone by recording the performances. So I planned to record the first 10-15 seconds of each song, keep the phone in my bag and sing along with the crowd.

Singappenne in ARR's voice was so uplifting and energizing. I got so excited when he sang Dil Se Re. It's one of my favorite songs in ARR's voice. Jonita Gandhi is clearly a multitalented performer - singing Jiya Jale and Kannaalane, dancing with such grace. The energy of Madhuraikku pogadhadi, Veerapaandi Kottayile and Top Tucker is so infectious that the crowd automatically danced and swayed. Then entered one of my favorite singers, Sid Sriram. Endhira logathu sundariye, Adiye and ofcourse, Thalli pogadhey - just amazing to hear him live.

The highlight of the evening was ARR's performance towards the end, singing Musthafa. I just can't put the feeling into words, so exhilarating! Instead of candles, it was our mobile phone torches that replicated the feel. Oh wow! I could feel the goosebumps even now as I type this out.

I didn't move an inch away from my chair in those 3 hours to buy food or water (glad I didn't contribute to the pile of disposable plastic waste). Music kept my soul happy and content. This day - I'll never forget in my life!

After returning home, my daughter was hooked onto those 15 second videos of the songs I had recorded. She has now added many of the songs to her playlist, with Kalla Kalavaani being her top favorite. Another Rahmaniac in the making! :-)

Sep 23, 2019

Book Review: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

2019 - the year where we have seen the release of two books that primarily talk about minimizing distractions. The ability to focus on work or pay attention to relationships without getting distracted is becoming such a challenge these days and I agree with these lines by Nir Eyal.

In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves “indistractable.”

Early this year, Cal Newport's digital minimalism was launched and I loved it so much. Detailed review here.

A few years back, when I read Nir Eyal's Hooked, I learned about many key insights into human behavior that are being used as inputs into building habit forming products. If "Hooked" is a must-read for developers, designers and product managers building such products, "Indistractable" is for consumers using those products.

Through a 4-part framework, the author takes us on a journey to become indistractable. The following passage sums up this framework.

Imagine a line that represents the value of everything you do throughout your day. To the right, the actions are positive; to the left, they are negative. On the right side of the continuum is traction - actions that draw us toward what we want in life. On the left side is distraction, the opposite of traction. Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision. All behaviors, whether they tend toward traction or distraction, are prompted by triggers, internal or external.

The biggest takeaway for me while reading this book was about how social media, smart phones, video games etc are the proximate causes of our distractions. The author shares several examples on how each new invention (be it print, newspaper, television, telephone etc) when it was launched was blamed for its distracting abilities. The bottom line is that we need to figure out the root cause of our addictions/distracted behaviors and implement strategies to manage potential distraction-causing triggers.

I loved the chapter on scheduling time for important relationships. We often tend to neglect (or even take for granted) the relationships where we need to invest our time and energy, without being distracted.

On dealing with external triggers,

"Is this trigger serving me or am I serving it?"

is such an important question to ask ourselves.

Many of the examples and case studies shared are easy to relate to, especially the author's role as a parent, his struggles to deal with distractions and get writing done. The solutions suggested are also quite simple and easy to implement for most of us. Apart from dealing with distractions on a personal level, the author also talks about workplace distractions - meetings, emails, Slack, content overload, social media and most importantly, managing expectations to be "online" during non-working hours. 

The chapter on raising indistractable children talks about the psychological needs. Overuse of technology is ONLY a symptom; we need to address the root cause. When kids' psychological needs are unmet, they go looking for virtual alternatives. Parents need to enable offline environments where children get to experience autonomy, competence and relatedness. As parents, we should model how to be indistractable ourselves.

My favorite passages from the book:
    Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality. How we deal with uncomfortable internal triggers determines whether we pursue healthful acts of traction or self-defeating distractions.

Evolution favored dissatisfaction over contentment. Our tendencies toward boredom, negativity bias, rumination, and hedonic adaptation conspire to make sure we’re never satisfied for long.

Our technology gives us a way of being physically present but mentally absent; the uncomfortable truth is that we like to have our phones, tablets, and laptops in meetings not for the sake of productivity but for psychological escape. Meetings can be unbearably tense, socially awkward, and exceedingly boring—devices provide a way to manage our uncomfortable internal triggers.
 This tweet by BJ Fogg sets the tone for the future.

 "....we will start to realize that being chained to your mobile phone is a low status behavior, similar to smoking".

Nir Eyal's Indistractable provides us with actionable takeaways to manage our distractions and address the triggers that lead to distracting behaviors. An informative and relevant read for all.

P.S. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher. The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

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