Jul 30, 2019

Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate 30% less sugar review

One of my Insta followers had DMed me to share my thoughts on the new Cadbury Dairy Milk with 30% less sugar. 

My criteria for picking products is quite simple - any brand that uses health-related claims in their promotions. That's the reason why you wouldn't have seen many reviews of typical chocolates or candies in my blog.

In my 20s, Dairy Milk used to be one of my favorite chocolates. I was never a big chocolate fan but whenever I wanted to eat a piece of chocolate, I used to choose Dairy Milk - the regular one (not the kozha kozha silk version). 

Dairy Milk wasn't on my radar of packaged food reviews, but this DM from a reader along with this media article with the attractive headline "Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate gets a healthier version with 30% less sugar" coaxed me to check out its ingredients.

From a brand perspective, quoting from this LiveMint article,

The company is betting that indulgence-seeking consumers who are also health-conscious will opt for the low-sugar variant.

Let's look at the comparison of the regular Dairy Milk along with the new less sugar version.

  1. Yes, it is true that the new one has 30% less sugar. What's shocking is the amount of sugar present in the regular chocolate - a whopping 57%. I'm sure many of us wouldn't have realized the high amounts of sugar in the first place.
  2. The Saturated Fat values still remain the same and the ingredient "Edible Vegetable Fat" is being used but no information shared on the source of this fat. The low sugar version contains the same emulsifiers and artificial flavouring substances, as compared to the regular chocolate.
  3. Given that the sugar values have reduced by 30%, I was hoping that the carbs value would also have reduced proportionately but it hasn't. Carbs are more or less the same.
  4. The ingredient "Soluble corn fibre" (SCF) contributes to the increase in carbs and fibre. On googling, I came across this medical research paper that talks about how SCF contributes to bone health. But I'm skeptical of it as the sample size is too small (14 women participated). There has been quite a discussion in the Keto community about this ingredient but mostly mixed responses. My conclusion - SCF is derived by processing corn syrup. There is nothing natural about it, even though some people claim that it can act as a prebiotic. SCF is typically used by food manufacturers as it is extremely cheap and can add bulk to processed foods. Some articles also state that SCF is nothing but resistant maltodextrin. 

All I'd like to suggest is this - Just because it is being promoted as 30% less sugar, let's not go overboard and stock up our fridge with loads of it and eat a pack whenever sugar/chocolate cravings hit us. It is still the same junk as compared to any other piece of chocolate. Let's get to the root cause of our cravings and address the real issue.

Jul 29, 2019

How to plan for Nutritional Variety?

This post has been lying in the draft mode for a year now. Finally, I made the time to complete it, along with a personal reflection.
Two incidents triggered me to work on this topic.

(1) Last July, I was delivering a talk on child nutrition to a group of young mothers. While discussing the topic of including more vegetables, I mentioned about the sheer variety of the native, local veggies available in India and how we could easily rotate the intake of vegetables once every 15-20 days. A couple of moms wondered if that is even possible. One of them told me that she usually ends up cooking the usual carrots, beans and potatoes.

(2) D seems to have taken a fascination towards buffet restaurants. Two of our family's favorite buffet places in Bangalore are Chutney Chang and Mango Greens (JP Nagar). Whenever we go to such buffet places, D knows exactly what she wants - pasta. She would have 2 servings of pasta, a bowl of cucumber/carrot slices and then head onto dessert section (mostly icecream, sometimes she would also eat chocolate mousse served in dessert spoons). She is happy at the end of her meal.

What do we adults do whenever we hit buffet restaurants for lunch? Not generalizing, but this is what happens mostly (including yours truly!)
First and foremost, we skip breakfast ;-)
We load up our plates with all possible foods (chaats, starters, soups, Indian main course, Western main course, Indian desserts, Western desserts and fruits in the end)
We tend to overeat, as we want to "receive maximum value" for the money we paid (Usually buffet meal is anywhere between Rs.500-Rs.800 in these places).
We might even order that tall glass of fruit juice (at an additional cost) that the waiters carry around the tables.
We come home and feel exhausted, maybe have a short (or a long) nap.
We wake up feeling groggy and intoxicated in the late evening.
We skip dinner, as our stomachs clearly scream, "no more food please, let me finish processing this load first"

Anyone can relate to this series of events? ;-)

After we experienced this cycle a few times, my husband and I decided that we will restrict our buffet restaurant outings to once in 6 months. On days we go for buffet lunch, we consciously make sure that we don't overeat.

How are these two incidents inter-connected?

Variety is the spice of life. We crave for variety in our foods. Given the easy availability of different kinds of cuisine, we would like to explore all of them. Depending on the food we eat, our digestive system secretes the required digestive enzymes to break down the food. Wrong food combinations and overloading the system with too many varieties in a single go can mess up the digestive process, resulting in bloating, acidity, constipation etc.

The current reality is - "We are overeating calories, but deficit on nutrients". Nutrient deficiency often leads to unwanted food cravings and various other health issues. 

The typical banana leaf meal served in South Indian cuisine is often made at home ONLY during special occasions. In Kerala, sadya meal is often prepared ONLY for Vishu and Onam. In Tamilnadu, the elaborate meal is made usually for Diwali and Pongal. In such meals, there will always be a special dish that helps in digestion (Inji puli, Diwali legiyam, rasam, spiced buttermilk). 

I have realized that the more variety I eat in a single meal, I find it difficult to digest and I end up feeling lethargic and drowsy after such a meal. We don't need to overdo variety in a single meal.

At the same time, our nutritional requirements (especially the micro-nutrients) can be met ONLY if we include a variety of vegetables, fruits, cereals and pulses in our diet. I don't prefer to take any vitamin/mineral supplements whatsoever.

So to ensure I get all the adequate nutrients, I've been planning my meals in such a way that 

"we eat less variety in a meal and more variety in a month"

The diligent tracker in me prepared this spreadsheet to track the variety of vegetables, fruits, greens, cereals and pulses in my meals this month (July 2019). The ones highlighted in blue indicate that I have included them in my meals in some way or the other.

As you can see, it is quite easy to rotate vegetable intake once every 15-20 days. Keep this list handy. You don't have to stock up all of them in one go. Whenever you go for weekly shopping, make sure you are buying a different set of veggies.

I'm consciously avoiding green leafy vegetables in monsoon season and will resume eating them once the rains subside.
Conscious meal planning helps us bring variety to our meals and makes cooking an interesting activity. Do you agree? :-)

Jul 26, 2019

Is breakfast the important meal of the day?

If I had answered this question a couple of years back, I would have said, "Yes, absolutely....breakfast is the important meal of the day". But now my answer is different - "All meals eaten AFTER you have felt hungry are important meals of the day". I'm not relying on scientific research to back up my answer but more to do with my personal experience. 

I have observed that on some mornings, I feel hungry enough to eat a solid breakfast. For eg, after an intense yoga practice today, I was quite hungry and so I grabbed a plate of dosais with dry coconut podi. A couple of days back, although my yoga practice was intense, I didn't feel hungry to eat and so grabbed a glass of vegan banana smoothie. By noon, I was hungry and ate a wholesome, homemade lunch. 

I'm slowly shifting my dinner timings to 7PM and so I fast for around 12 hours. I feel light and refreshed in the mornings. I'm no longer eating 3-4 meals based on set timings. 

I'm not advocating to skip breakfast. All I'm saying is to listen to your own body and eat only when you are hungry. There will be days when you feel a lot hungry in the mornings. Have some fresh fruits and nuts handy, make a quick homemade breakfast (not the breakfast cereal junk). On days when you are not hungry, give your body some time to finish the work it is engaged in. People who write about intermittent fasting talk about two phases that our body goes through - building phase and elimination phase. This makes a lot of sense to me. Again, don't immediately put me in the bucket of IF/Keto/LCHF and conclude that I'm gonna recommend a tall mug of bulletproof coffee 🙂

I read quite a bit about nutrition and follow the practices that I find relevant and sustainable for me. Please do your own due diligence before jumping onto anything.

Some might say "listen to your body" is nonsense. Let it be, that's your opinion. You could also try to prove me wrong by sharing some research articles. 

All I want to convey is that this idea - "listen to your body" is working for me and is guiding me well on what/when to eat.

Jul 24, 2019

Alarming levels of Sodium in packaged foods

Based on FSSAI's draft notification, I had earlier analyzed the sugar levels in various, popular packaged foods. If you haven't seen it, do check it out.

This post is all about sodium. As much as we give attention to sugar levels in packaged foods, we need to look for sodium quantities too.

According to WHO's report on "sodium intake for adults and children",
Elevated sodium intake has been associated with a number of NCDs (including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke), and decreasing sodium intake may reduce blood pressure and the risk of associated NCDs

Higher sodium intake was associated with higher risk of incident stroke, fatal stroke and fatal coronary heart disease.

WHO recommends a reduction to <2 g/day sodium (5 g/day salt) in adults (strong recommendation).

The recommended maximum level of intake of 2 g/day sodium in adults should be adjusted downward based on the energy requirements of children relative to those of adults.

From my "Master List", I looked for the products with high sodium levels and compared the values with the thresholds prescribed by FSSAI in the draft notification

 As you can see, the values are alarmingly higher. In all these examples, it is more than double/triple the upper threshold values.

    Many brands don't even list sodium in their nutrition facts table. If and when the draft notification comes into effect, sodium will be made mandatory. Until then, it is better to avoid salty foods that don't list sodium in nutrition facts. 

    The brands listed in the above table are only a handful of examples. Do check the sodium levels in other similar brands (Amul cheese, Sunfeast Yippee noodles, etc).

Jul 23, 2019

Do we want to turn our observations into problems?

There will be some lines in a book that will leave you with a lasting impression even after you have finished reading it. As I was reading "Atomic Habits", this particular line made that impact on me.

Peace occurs when you don’t turn your observations into problems. You notice a cue, a bit of information, an event. If you do not desire to act on what you observe, then you are at peace.

Many times, we set goals or worry about certain issues based on what we read, what we see, what we hear, etc. For eg, "walk 10000 steps a day" has become one of the popular goals related to fitness. We read about it in news articles, see the step counter updates from our friends on social media and come across deals on pedometers. Firstly, it is important for us to think whether this is a goal worth aiming for. Is this a mere observation or do we want to embrace it as a problem to solve? Being physically active throughout the day is very important but does "walk 10000 steps a day" the right means to achieve the same? Is this a habit being perpetuated by the makers of pedometers? Something to think about. I'm not suggesting that this habit is wrong. All I'm saying is this - let's question it first instead of blindly following the herd. 

One of the habits I started tracking was "eat 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits in a day". I have observed this goal in many articles/books I have read. But when I started observing my eating patterns, this felt too cumbersome. What does a serving mean? A cup? A bowl? measurement in gms? In my style of cooking, there are veggies added to sambhar, chutney, dal, etc. How do I account for these? Do I want to measure the quantity before eating? It indeed takes away the pleasure of eating (in my opinion, feel free to disagree). After having thought about all these, I decided I didn't want to pursue this habit. 

Another observation that I'm sure many of us might have noticed is the plethora of "sale" related emails/banners etc. The month of July is famous for such discount-focused sales in almost all retail clothing shops. The 50% / 75% number will be in big, bold font whereas the word "upto" preceding the discount percentage would be in tiny font size. But if we visit the stores, the clothes which we like would be under "New releases" or "No discounts" category whereas the ones which look dull/faded would be under "30% off" category. I had been disappointed a few times in the past, looking at the collection under discounts. I have also made the mistake of buying a few clothes at a discounted price but only to realize that they wear out after a couple of washes. What a waste of money! Not to forget the waste of precious time - thanks to the long queue right outside the trial room and billing counter. This year, I haven't bought any clothes for myself during this discount sale. I was getting a ton of promotional emails on a daily basis from Myntra/Westside/Soch/Max etc but I'm unsubscribing from them. Not interested to "convert these observations into my problems".

Jul 22, 2019

Book Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

This book has been on my wishlist for quite some time. I finally got hold of a copy thanks to a nice Kindle deal (currently it is even better - Rs.149. Grab it before it goes away).

What a fascinating read it was! The author has broken down in detail the habit formation process with so many interesting case studies. He defines a habit as "a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and, in many cases, automatically."

In the first chapter, he sets the context on the importance and role of daily habits in our life.

The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits. Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

The section on why one should focus on systems/processes (that translate to habits) rather than end-goals was thought-provoking.

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. 
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

The other aspect that I found so relatable is the role of identity that helps us to be consistent with our habits. For eg, I tell myself that I'm a health-conscious person who doesn't eat packaged foods. Not "I want to avoid packaged foods". You see the difference there? 

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m
the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.

True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason
you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.
When your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are
simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.

The author then goes onto share a 4 law behavior change framework that will help us build better habits (or break bad habits) along with interesting strategies to accomplish the same.
  • Make it obvious => Implementation intention, habit stacking, setting up your environment
  • Make it attractive => Temptation bundling, the role of the tribe
  • Make it easy => Law of least effort, commitment device
  • Make it satisfying => immediate rewards, accountability partner

Towards the end, he talks about identifying the right set of habits and pursuing them for meaningful reasons. There were many aha moments for me, particularly in the last chapter. I was highlighting so many phrases and passages. A couple of my most favorite lines below:

The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do.

When you observe a cue, but do not desire to change your state, you are content with the current situation.
Happiness is not about the achievement of pleasure (which is joy or satisfaction), but about the lack of desire.

Though one can find similarities with the cue-craving-response-reward flow from Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, this book expands on the flow a little more in-depth. There is also a bit of similarity with BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits concepts. Nevertheless, the ideas explained are cohesive and easy to follow.

It is a voluminous book. Though easy to read, it does require enough focus and attention to grasp the concepts. Invest your time in this book if you find habit formation an interesting topic to explore.

Jul 19, 2019

Digital minimalism journey continues

Continuing from my earlier post, I wanted to share a couple of changes I made with respect to my digital minimalism journey.

I took a break from Instagram for the first 10 days of July. During this break, I contemplated about numerous ways of how to consciously use this app without accessing it at the slightest hint of boredom or be available throughout the day. I finally decided to have a dedicated time slot of 30 minutes in a day where I would install the app, share a few posts in feed/stories, respond to comments/DMs, check my timeline and uninstall the app. I usually would like to sit down and relax for 30 minutes post-lunch and so 1:30-2PM felt like a perfect time for Instagram use. For the past 9 days, I'm following this practice and it feels so much better. Instead of responding to DMs and comments as and when they come, I batch process them in the 30 min slot and this saves me a ton of time. Instead of posting a picture as soon as I take, I gather them throughout the day and post in one go. I'm still engaging with my followers and enjoying the process but it feels like I'm in control of the app and not the other way around. Not in favor of "app usage scheduling/blocking" apps, the install/uninstall option seems to be the simplest in my opinion.

For many months, we didn't have a Netflix connection at home. We took away the TV and DTH connection back in 2014. We had an iMac at home, which was used for various purposes - work, play and entertainment. Sometime in Sep last year, our 6-year old iMac went kaput and we couldn't fix it. During Diwali season, we decided to purchase a TV. So along with the TV, we got a Netflix connection too. We succumbed to the Diderot effect.

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.

For the first 2-3 months, I was excited to watch many documentaries and cookery shows, caught up on a few Bollywood movies that I had been wanting to watch. The husband was so happy to revisit the Star Trek series. Ofcourse, D was also watching many kids specific programmes. Last month, husband and I realized that we weren't watching much but rather just browsing by scrolling through the various lists. None of the movies/series seem to catch our attention. I can't tolerate any of the popular dark, violent series and I'm extremely cautious about not getting into any series that I might end up binge-watching. The "good wife" experience has scarred me for life 😉

We have Amazon Prime for entertainment anyway. So in a whim, we decided to cut Netflix for a month and see what happens. Turns out that we don't miss Netflix at all. This decision has helped us save a good chunk of money (Rs.800 per month is quite high by Indian standards) and most importantly, get some time off from devices.
The battle for attention is going on and only the strong willed would survive. 

So two important steps in July....and I'll continue to identify other areas where I can minimize my digital usage.

Jul 17, 2019

Sugar levels in various packaged foods

This is a question I often get - "How much of sugar is bad?"

As I had written in an earlier post, the limit for maximum added sugar is around 5-6 tsp per day. Unless someone gets into the habit of reading nutrition labels diligently, it is hard to figure out whether this limit is exceeded in a day, given that there are numerous packaged foods loaded with sugar that have pervaded our daily meals.

Given this situation, I find the guideline prescribed by FSSAI in the draft notification to be a valid benchmark that we can all refer to.

The energy (kcal) from added sugars should not exceed 10% of the total energy provided by the packaged food.

When a packaged food brand exceeds this threshold, then the brand should highlight the sugar value in RED in front of the pack. This is currently at the draft stage. IF and WHEN this gets approved, brands would still have 3 years to get this implemented.

Is it worth waiting that long, when our health is at stake? Definitely not. So I invested around 3 hours to compile this list of popular packaged foods and their sugar levels. It is shocking to note how much sugar these brands contain compared to the prescribed 10% threshold.

Under "health biscuits" category, the sugar values seem to be closer to the 10% threshold (still higher) but do take note of the high saturated fats (primarily from palm oil). The prescribed upper threshold is 2.6 gm per 100 gm whereas most of these biscuits contain way above than that.

I shall continue to update this list with more sugar-loaded junk. 

Threshold limit for sugar proposed by FSSAI (value of energy from added sugar as a percentage of total calories provided)10%For bakery products, upper limit for saturated fat is 2.6 gm per 100 gm
CategoryBrand NameCalories and Sugar values based onCalories (kcal)Sugar (in gms)% of kcal from sugarSaturated Fat (in gms)
Breakfast cerealsKelloggs Chocosper 30 gm serving size116931.03%
Breakfast cerealsKelloggs Thandai badam corn flakesper 30 gm serving size1309.529.23%
Breakfast cerealsKelloggs Special Kper 30 gm serving size1097.527.52%
Breakfast cerealsSoulfull ragi bites choco fillsper 100 gm43224.923.06%
Breakfast cerealsKelloggs Granola - Almonds and Cranberriesper 40 gm serving size1787.216.18%
Health drinksYakultper 65 ml serving size501080.00%
Health drinksBournvitaper 100 gm3933737.66%
Health drinksHorlicks Chocolate flavourper 100 gm3703032.43%
Health drinksHorlicks Growth Plus Chocolate flavourper 100 gm38026.728.11%
Health drinksHorlicks Protein Plus Chocolate flavourper 100 gm37023.525.41%
Health drinksComplan Chocolate flavourper 100 gm4192422.91%
Health drinksPediasureper 100 gm46222.219.22%
Dairy productsSunFeast Wonderz fruit n milk mango flavourper 100 ml8614.567.44%
Dairy productsEpigamia Greek Yoghurt smoothieper 100 ml78.7512.1561.71%
Dairy productsHersheys milkshake cookies n cremeper 200 ml168.32047.53%
Dairy productsCavin's milkshakeper 100 ml10511.744.57%
Dairy productsEpigamia Greek Strawberry flavored yoghurtper 100 gm110.6611.2540.67%
Dairy productsPaperboat vanilla milkshakeper 100 ml111.31139.53%
Dairy productsDanone blueberry flavored yoghurtper 100 gm1261238.10%
Kid's specific treatsBournvita biscuitsper 100 gm4573026.26%6.8
Health biscuitsParle Nutricrunch honey & oatsper 100 gm48518.715.42%8.7
Health biscuitsUnibic daily digestive oatmeal cookiesper 100 gm4991814.43%13.5
Health biscuitsMcVities Digestive biscuitsper 100 gm48916.113.17%10.7
Health biscuitsParle Nutricrunch digestive biscuitsper 100 gm48914.812.11%9.2
Health biscuitsBritannia Nutrichoice Digestive biscuitsper 100 gm49314.511.76%10
Kid's specific treatsKinder Joyper 20 gm serving size10910.237.43%
Kid's specific treatsOreo cream biscuitsper 100 gm48038.632.17%9.7
Kid's specific treatsLotte Chocopieper 100 gm434.4833.731.03%
Kid's specific treatsSunfeast Dark Fantasy Chocofillsper 100 gm50437.629.84%11.4
Kid's specific treatsBritannia Treat JimJam biscuitsper 100 gm48333.527.74%9.5
Packaged JuicesTropicana mixed fruit juiceper 100 ml5613.797.86%
Packaged JuicesB Natural Himalayan mixed fruitper 100 ml521184.62%
Packaged JuicesPaperboat Alphonso aamper 100 ml6212.4680.39%
Packaged JuicesReal mixed fruit juiceper 100 ml56857.14%
Packaged JuicesPaperboat aamrasper 100 ml658.4351.88%

P.S. The trigger for this post 
A few days back, I was browsing through the FSSAI draft notification document. 
D: What are you reading?
Me: Govt uncle is going to mark junk food packets in red color if it contains a lot of sugar and sodium. So when people shop, they can decide whether to buy packs marked with red color or not
D: hmm, can we see them in the supermarket tomorrow?
Me: No ma, it will take at least 3 years to see the red coded packs in supermarkets
D: Why wait that long? Let's take a red sketch pen, go to the supermarket and mark the bad junk foods ourselves

Instead of marking them in one supermarket, I decided to compile this list for quick reference. Hope you would refer to this list when you go shopping next time.

Jul 16, 2019

How I track my habits

Habit formation is a topic that I'm extremely fascinated about. I devour books and essays on this topic, as the concepts branch out across a wide variety of fields such as psychology, behavior, motivation, economics, decision making, sociology, anthropology, evolution etc. 

Our brains like to run on autopilot and that's one of the primary reasons that we should be conscious of our habits, both conscious and unconscious ones.

James Clear in his book "Atomic Habits" states

"Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks"

Habits impact our lives in many ways - be it our health, relationships, time management, sleep and even how we respond to our emotions.

There are some fantastic books on this subject. I'm almost winding up Atomic Habits. Charles Duhigg's The power of habit is another insightful read. From a technology perspective, Nir Eyal's Hooked is another favourite of mine.

The objective of this post is to talk about my "Habit Tracker". A few years back, I came across Seinfeld's "don't break the chain" strategy and got quite inspired by the idea. I have tried various mobile apps to track my daily habits. I have also tried using Evernote to track my daily habits in a note. For the last 2 months, I went back to good old paper and pen. In my journal, I have jotted down the habits for the month as rows and the days as columns. Every morning, I sit down and track whether I achieved the habits for the previous day. 
The habits where my hit rate is relatively high in the past 2 months are
  1. No screen usage after 8:30PM
  2. Daily evening prayer at 6PM
  3. Tea/coffee ONLY 2 times a day
  4. Read at least 15 pages a day
Although many experts recommend that we work on only one habit at a time, I prefer trying many habits and see which ones I'm motivated to work on and which ones I avoid. One key takeaway for me is that 

In order to be consistent, the habit definition needs to be clear, precise and elicit a binary response - "Have I done this habit today or not?".  

In June, one of the habits I tried was "Eat 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits a day". The concept of "servings" is a bit vague in my habit definition. For my style of cooking, it isn't easy to quantify servings size. So I decided to remove this habit in my July list.

I believe it is important for us to consciously work on our daily habits, keep iterating and learning what works and what doesn't. 

In this article on why goals are overrated, Mark Manson explains the need to focus on habits

Goals are a one-time bargain. They are the spending mindset. “I will spend X amount of energy to receive Y reward.” Habits are an investing mindset. Habits require one to invest one’s efforts for a little while and then take the rewards of that effort and re-invest them in a greater effort to form even better habits.

I'd highly recommend to anyone reading this post to think about the habits you would want to inculcate and start tracking the same on a daily basis. Dreams/Goals/bucket list can give us direction but it's our daily habits that will help us make progress towards them.

Jul 12, 2019

NatureFresh Acti Heart Cooking Oil Review

Thanks to yet another sponsored ad, I came across this brand of cooking oil. The product name has all the right words to capture our attention - nature, fresh, heart etc. I looked into their ads on youtube. Such fear-inducing messaging and story plot being used! The background music and the voices are so depressing. 

So what exactly does this heart-friendly(?) cooking oil made of?

It is a blended oil comprising of
  • refined rice bran oil (50% by weight)
  • refined rapeseed low erucic acid (canola) oil (50% by weight)
Refined oils are one of the key contributors to inflammation in the body. It is ironic that this refined blended oil brand talks about inflammation and how it affects our heart in their ads.

Canola oil is relatively new in India and is being pitched as heart-friendly oil. Where exactly this canola oil comes from?

Canola oil is first and foremost, a genetically modified product. According to this source

Rapeseed oil is made from the rapeseed plant, specifically from the seeds of the rape or rapeseed plant, which is a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family. It was in the early 1970s that canola was first bred from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba in Canada by Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson. In 1998, “the most disease- and drought-resistant canola variety to date” was developed using genetic modification, and this is how the majority of recent varieties are produced. Rapeseed oil and canola oil are often used interchangeably.

Wild rapeseed oil contains large amounts of erucic acid, which is known to cause health problems, so the canola plant was developed from rapeseed in order to use it to produce a food-grade canola oil with lower erucic acid levels. The name of canola oil was originally LEAR (low erucic acid rapeseed) but for marketing purposes was changed to canola oil. This word was derived from the combination of “Canada” and “ola,” meaning oil.

You can read through the same article to understand the dangers of canola oil.

Also, do note the ingredients list for the presence of two other synthetic additives:
1. Antioxidant (INS 319) - TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) is used to increase shelf life and prevent rancidity. This additive triggers many harmful effects - vomiting, nausea, hyperactivity, asthma, convulsions, liver enlargements, neurotoxic effects etc. The shelf life listed on the label is 9 months. Just because the brand wants to ensure the product stays on shelves longer, do we have to consume such chemicals?

2. Antifoaming agent (INS 900a) -  Polydimethylsiloxane. The allowed daily intake is 0–1.5 mg/kg body weight per day. 
This oil contains trans fats too. 100 gm contains < 1.5 gm of trans fats. 
As I was reading through reviews on Amazon, I noticed that a few dieticians are recommending this oil. The reviews all look quite similar. Not sure how much they were paid to write such positive reviews.

People in the US are realizing the ill-effects of such refined oils and switching to healthier alternatives like coconut oil and clarified butter (ghee). But here in India, we are ditching our native, traditional oils and switching to canola oil and olive oil for Indian cooking. Enna kodumai saravanan idhu? I know I use this phrase quite a bit, but no other phrase can explain better as to what's happening currently in the food industry in India.

As I had written in my earlier article on olive oil, I prefer to use cold-pressed coconut oil, sesame oil and groundnut oil for my regular cooking needs. I use very limited oil in my cooking and I make deep-fried foods once a week.


Jul 11, 2019

Aashirvaad Nature's superfoods Gluten Free Flour review

The diet terms such as "vegan", "gluten free", "low carb" etc are being used liberally by food brands - be it the product name, FoP labels, advertisements, influencer marketing collateral etc.

One such brand is this newly launched "gluten free" flour by Aashirvaad at a whopping price of Rs.190 per kg. 

Before we jump in and buy products labelled as "gluten free", it is important to check out the ingredients list.

Source: Screenshot taken from Amazon.in (https://www.amazon.in/Aashirvaad-Natures-Super-Foods-Gluten/dp/B07MDVWHRQ/ ) on 11th Jul 2019 12:30PM IST

This pack of Aashirvaad's gluten free flour is made with
Jowar flour
Flaked rice flour
Ragi flour
Dehydrated potato
Milk Solids
Thickener (INS 415)
Psyllium Husk powder
Emulsifier (INS 471)
Iodised salt

  1. Yes, all the ingredients are gluten free but I don't see the need for many of them here. For eg, what do they mean by Starch? I presume it is corn starch (corn flour). Why hasn't the brand clearly stated what the source of starch is?
  2. What's the need for milk solids? 
  3. Even if the above 2 points aren't that critical, one shouldn't ignore the two additives used
    1. INS 415 - Xanthan gum; used as a thickener and as a substitute for gluten. Aggravates food intolerances, asthma and skin irritations
    2. INS 471 - Mono- and di- glycerides of fatty acids - used as emulsifier (prevents ingredients from separating). Usually extracted from soy if it is plant based, which implies that there are high chances of it being GMO.
Traditional preparations such as Jowar bhakris, ragi rotis, bajra rotis, akki rotis etc are made with gluten free flours WITHOUT the need for such additives. Once we learn how to make them, they are so easy to prepare. For binding, boiled raw banana, boiled sweet potato or boiled potato can be used. They aren't absolutely necessary. Warm water is more than sufficient. There are plenty of videos/recipes available. 

1 kg of organic jowar flour is Rs.66 on BigBasket. Why do we need to pay Rs.190 for this pack of gluten free flour?

It is our choice to follow the diet we are comfortable with, but let's not allow ourselves to be fooled by smart marketing.


Jul 3, 2019

Summary of FSSAI New Draft Regulations for Food Safety and Standards(Labelling and Display)

The much-awaited document is finally here. I went through the English version (starting Page 40) in detail. Glad to read through many of these proposed regulations but my only concern is the timing - WHEN will these be enforced. And also hoping that packaged foods industry leaders don't intervene and "adjust" the thresholds defined as per their convenience.

The part that I'm most interested in is the FRONT label highlighting the nutrition values of added sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans-fats and the thresholds for color coding high values in RED.

Source: FSSAI Food Safety and Standards (Labeling and Display) Draft Notification

 Though the threshold values seem tight enough, brands are given three years to MARK them as RED in a phased manner if they exceed the thresholds specified

    1. For current year after these regulations come into force - only labeling in the front of the pack, NO color coding
    2. After the 1st year, threshold values + 30% of threshold values are allowed
    3. After the 2nd year, threshold values + 15% of threshold values are allowed 
    4. After the 3rd year, threshold values
High Sugar:
To explain this in simple terms, Let's take the example of Bournvita biscuits
Threshold value specified => For added sugar,  in case the value of energy (kcal) from added sugar is more than 10 percent of the total energy (kcal) provided by the 100 g/100 ml of the product

100 gm of these biscuits contain 30 gm of sugar and provide 457 kCal of energy.
30 gm of sugar contribute 120 kCal (1gm of sugar = 4 kCal)
So the value of energy from added sugar is 26.2%, which is way above the 10% threshold.

For the current year, it won't be marked as RED
After 1st year, the criteria is 10% + 30% of 10% = 13%
Since the sugar level exceeds 13%, starting from 2nd year onwards, these biscuits should show the sugar value in RED.

High Sodium:
Based on Schedule I, I looked at the nutrition thresholds defined for sodium for a few categories
1. Processed cheese - 0.6 gm of sodium per 100 gm of product
Britannia cheese slice contains  1426 mg (1.426 gm) per 100 gm. So this would be color coded RED.
2. Ready to eat breakfast cereals - 0.35 gm of sodium per 100 gm of product
Saffola Masala oats pack doesn't even list sodium in the nutrition facts table, although salt is the third ingredient.
3. Noodles and pasta - 0.25 gm of sodium per 100 gm of product
With this threshold, our nation's beloved(?) Maggi noodles will be color coded RED (100 gm of Maggi contains 1232 mg or 1.232 gm of sodium, way above the 0.25 gm threshold)
4. Ready-to-eat soups - 0.35 gm of sodium per 100 gm of product
100 gm of Knorr vegetable soup contains 4938 mg or 4.938 gm of sodium, way above the 0.35 gm threshold.
Other important points that caught my attention:

1. E-Commerce labeling

When a food product is sold through e-commerce or any other direct selling means, the mandatory requirements of the label as given in these regulations shall be provided to the consumer through appropriate means before sale.

This is such an important regulation if and when it comes into effect. Most e-commerce players neither list the complete ingredients list nor show the screenshots of ingredients and nutrition facts from the packaging. Given that most grocery purchases are shifting online in urban areas, it is imperative that this rule is enforced strictly.

2. Specific names to be printed

In cases where edible vegetable oil or edible vegetable fat is used, the exact names need to be printed on the label (groundnut oil, mustard oil etc)

3. Declare the quantitative value present IF an ingredient is highlighted in the label

Every package of food sold as a mixture or combination shall disclose the percentage of the ingredient (including compound ingredients or categories of ingredients) used at the time of the manufacture of the food, if such ingredient– (i)is emphasized as present on the label through words or pictures or graphics; or (ii)is not within the name of the food but, is essential to characterize the food and is expected to be present in the food by consumers, if the omission of the quantitative ingredient declaration will mislead or deceive the consumer.

This is so required these days, given the predominant marketing of superfoods and other perceived "health" foods. For eg, the label says "potato crisps made with olive oil" but the percentage of olive oil used is not mentioned.

4. Nutritional information table will now contain sodium (mg). McCain Frozen snacks, kindly note this point.

5. Declare omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids content on the label

every package of edible oils, interesterified vegetable fat, both hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, edible fats, margarine and fat spreads (mixed fat spread and vegetable fat spread) shall declare the quantity of monounsaturated fatty, polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid content on the label.

All packaged oils that proudly talk about omega-3 in their marketing promos, they will now need to list the exact values.

6. Allowance for variations is +/- 10% on the nutrition values on the label

7. Vegetarian food will have the following identification mark

The symbol shall consist of a green colour filled triangle inside a square with green outline

8. Names of flavoring agents need to be declared

In case of artificial flavoring substances the common name of the flavor shall be declared;

In case of natural flavoring substances or nature identical substances the class name of flavors shall be declared.

9. “Date of manufacture or packaging” and “Expiry /Use by” shall be grouped together and given at one place.

10. Front labeling guidelines

  The front of the pack should contain the nutrition values of total calories, added sugar, saturated fat, transfat and sodium. Per serve contribution of energy, saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar and sodium to RDA as per format indicated

11. Any beverage provides energy less than 80 Kcal/ per serve is exempted from colour coding.

12. HFSS food products shall not be advertised to children in any form
There was just this single statement, but no details mentioned.

13. Food Service Establishments having Central license or outlets at 10 or more locations shall mention the calorific value against the food items displayed on the menu cards or boards.
We would now get to know the calorie value of that Dominos Pizza or the McDonalds burger.

14. The package, label or the advertisement of edible refined vegetable oils and fats shall not use any exaggerated expressions like “Super-Refined”, “Extra-Refined”, “Micro-Refined”, “Double refined,”, Ultra-Refined”.

Do take a look at the complete document as there is more coverage than what I have highlighted here.

Jul 2, 2019

The highs and lows of embracing digital minimalism

As I said in an earlier post, digital minimalism is an important focus area for me this year. Today, let me share how my progress has been so far and what I'm planning for July. 

April this year was a more productive month for me. After reading "Digital minimalism", I had cut down my phone usage to an hour per day. Also thanks to Internet downtime for over a week in April, I was able to read quite a few books and did other offline activities that I enjoy. Then in May, I traveled to Chennai and I was there for 10 days. Feeling quite bored, I returned to my old ways. Phone usage went back to 2-3 hours a day. The same continued after I returned home. 

In June, after the school reopened for my daughter, I had set a few daily habits for myself and tracked them diligently in my journal. One such daily habit was "No phone use after 8:30PM". After finishing dinner and winding up my kitchen work, I check my phone one last time around 8:30PM and set "Do not disturb" option. For most weekdays, I was able to follow this habit except for a couple of Friday and Saturday nights. Since I usually like to read a few pages before going to bed, 8:30-9:30PM is reading time, when both my daughter and I would read our respective books. Last 3 months, I managed to finish reading around 10 books and a few are in progress.

Towards the end of June, as I looked through my usage stats in Android's "Digital wellbeing" app, I realized that I have been spending more than 60% of my phone time on Instagram. Though I no longer use much of FB or Twitter, I knew my Instagram use is quite high.

As I was planning my goals for July, I decided to take a break from Instagram for the whole month. The main reason being that I wanted to avoid constant checking and mindless scrolling whenever I feel a tinge of boredom. Also, I realized I was spending more time explaining myself or defending my posts, which is totally a waste of time, especially with people who don't want to hear you out. Though I tell myself I wouldn't be bothered by such comments, I have to admit that my subconscious keeps chewing on the same. 

As Mark Manson says in this article titled Outrage

"It isn’t that our beliefs have changed, it’s that the way we feel about people we disagree with has changed.
In short, people have become less tolerant of opposing opinions. And their reactions to those opinions has become more emotional and outrageous."

I have uninstalled Instagram from my phone for now. The break will give me perspective on how I want to use this channel productively in a way, it adds value to myself and to others. 

Speaking of Mark Manson, I highly recommend this brilliant article "The attention diet". As I'm consciously thinking of ways to optimize my time online, this article couldn't have come at a better time. I just loved the way he has compared nutritional diet (for our body) and attention diet (for our mind).

"The same way we discovered that the sedentary lifestyles of the 20th century required us to physically exert ourselves and work our bodies into healthy shape, I believe we’re on the cusp of discovering a similar necessity for our minds. We need to consciously limit our own comforts. We need to force our minds to strain themselves, to work hard for their information, to deprive our attention of the constant stimulation that it craves."
He also explains beautifully why we should embrace boredom.

"They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, boredom is the father. Every great burst of creativity or action is inseminated with the wiles of boredom."

Do read the whole article, lots of relevant insights to note.

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