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.

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