Jan 27, 2021

Pediasure 7+ health drink Review

I recently came across this pack that is targeted for the 7+ age bracket. I had earlier shared the ingredient details of Pediasure for the age bracket of 2+ years.

"GROWTH" - this word has become extremely popular these days in the marketing collateral of various health drink brands available in India. Marketing showcases what the target market wants to hear. Parents want to improve the growth parameters of their children and there is a clear demand for such drinks in urban markets.

Let's look in detail about this growth promising drink.

The front of the pack states "with oats and almond". And it also shows oats and almonds in bright, attractive images.

Read the ingredients list and you will notice the meager values of the same - Oats powder is 1% and almond powder is 1%.

The tag line says "Specialized nutrition for growing children". I started getting curious to figure out what this "specialized formulation" is. 

And I also wanted to compare it with the 2+ age group product variant to understand what has changed.

As you can see from this table, the carbohydrate value has increased quite a bit. The Sugar value has also slightly increased. If the child is not physically active, all these excess carbs end up stored as fat. No wonder, kids who drink Pediasure put on weight so fast.

The front of the pack talks about High-quality protein. From the ingredients list, the source of the protein is skim milk powder. The protein value is quite low - 11 gm per 100 gm. 

Fats have reduced drastically in this 7+ variant. So the majority of the calorie contribution comes from carbohydrates through cheap ingredients like maltodextrin and sugar.

Except for calcium, the rest of the key vitamins and minerals look more or less similar between the two variants.

Milk powder and maltodextrin mixed with sugar, synthetic vitamins and minerals, cocoa powder, and a cryptic artificial flavor - that's all the special formulation is. MRP of 400 gm pack is Rs.395. 

Cheap ingredients are being marketed as superior. Do we need such "unnatural" formulations for our growing children? 

Jan 24, 2021

The important lesson

 Surprised to hear this? Yes, I'm grateful for the pack of dosa batter and the store-bought idli chutney podi that helped me fix the breakfast needs of my family members this morning. 

Since Mar 2020, I have been cooking every single meal in my home. All meals cooked from scratch, all staples DIYed. It was possible for me to manage this workload for a small 3-member family. In the past couple of months, with more people at home, it was becoming more challenging to achieve the same goal and practice my values with perfection. It was taking a toll on my emotions as well.

The frequency of prep work that I used to do earlier suddenly increased. Batter had to be ground twice a week (instead of once a week). The condiments need to be prepared once a week (instead of once a month). Others eat their meal by looking at the time on the clock. Skipping meals or substitution of regular meal with low effort alternatives like fruits/salads/soups/kanji weren't an option given their health ailments. There came a point where I felt that cooking 3 proper meals and DIYing everything became too much of a hassle.

Yesterday morning, the sink was loaded with dishes to be washed (my househelper was on leave). There was very little homemade dosa batter and homemade chutney podi left. And I had a busy weekend ahead with a few commitments to be met.

I poured out my frustrations to K. He then patiently explained to me, "The universe is showing you how the things you practice/preach is difficult to implement at all times, especially for people who live in a large family setting."

I wanted to stick to my values all the time, even though the situation at home and the outside world have changed quite a bit. Pre Covid days, eating out 1-2 times a week would give the much needed break. Now cooking 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, more members, and without any compromise on the quality is becoming too much to manage. K also told me, "It's okay if we buy a few items that provide convenience and give you the much needed break. No need to feel guilty. Your mental peace is a priority. Don't be too strict with your food principles" 

I needed to hear this. And I'm glad this experience happened in order to teach me that it is okay to take help from packaged foods on certain occasions. We don't have to feel guilty or beat ourselves about such decisions.

And yes, I'm gonna watch the movie "the great Indian kitchen" soon.

This experience is also making me question the need for 3 meals a day. And a lot more on our present eating practices. Growing up, we used to eat only 2 meals a day. Idlis were made once in a month or during festivals/special occasions.

No answers or deeper understanding on what changed in the past few decades. But I'm gonna hold onto these questions.

Jan 22, 2021

Get up and Move

Feeling quite tired and exhausted? The solution is not to lie on the bed throughout the day (unless you are suffering from crippling health ailments). 

Some of us have this preconceived notion - "We need energy to move our body". No, it's quite the reverse. "We gain energy by moving our body". 

When I say "moving our body", I'm not referring to heavy forms of exercise or even brisk walking. Even a stroll amidst nature, sunlight, and fresh air will give us an instant boost of energy. Not just that, it improves our blood circulation, helps in regular bowel movements, improves our mood and overall mental well-being. Lying down all day not only takes away these above-listed benefits but it worsens any pre-existing health ailments.

As I reflect on my early childhood days, our home didn't have any sofa/couch/cot/dining table, etc. We used to sit down on the floor for every activity - studying, playing, and eating. Sitting down and getting up multiple times in a day is in itself a good movement for abs that was incorporated as part of daily life. No cot and mattress were left open all day long. As soon as we got up, the first thing we used to do was roll the mats and mattresses and keep them along with pillows in a corner of the room. These were left untouched until the end of the day. Everyone in the family was occupied with some chore or the other. Yes, there were quiet times in the afternoons when casual chit-chats, reading books, or chanting shlokas would be undertaken. On rare occasions, grandparents would take a short nap in the afternoons. Lying down in the evenings was frowned upon. 

The more comforts entered our homes, the more tiredness entered our lives. 

Our bodies are not designed for sitting or lying down all day. Our bodies need movement. 

Jan 20, 2021

How do we choose a food ingredient?

Do we select our spouse ONLY because he/she has a good smile?

Do we choose a job offer ONLY because it pays better?

Whenever we make an important decision, do we use a single parameter to compare the options? Not really, isn't it? We compare across multiple parameters and take a decision that makes sense to us.

But when it comes to our food, most of us rely on a single parameter that influences our choices.

A few observations:

(1) We choose artificial sweetener over sugar because sugar has higher calories and artificial sweetener has zero calories. We make our decision ONLY based on calorie comparison. Artificial sweeteners come with many side effects. Multiple research studies point out the negative effects of artificial sweeteners on our taste preferences, gut bacteria, and calorie consumption.

In my opinion, it is better to drink 1-2 cups of coffee/tea with a tsp of white sugar than drink 7-8 cups of coffee/tea with artificial sweetener pills.

If we ONLY use calories as a comparison parameter, a glass of milk has higher calories than a glass of Coco-cola. What would be our choice then?

(2) Many doctors/diabetologists ask diabetic patients to avoid "kanji" because kanji is high on the glycemic index. And they even prescribe a packaged "health drink" (containing maltodextrin and artificial sweetener) with a "low GI" printed on the label. The brand doesn't share any other details on what makes this drink low on the glycemic index. What does "low GI" imply here? Low as compared to what?

Yes, sathumaavu kanji might be high on GI but made with natural ingredients, high in protein and fiber. There are other traditional "kanji" preparations that are made with whole millets, lentils, greens, and vegetables. They provide satiety and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Banning anything with the name "kanji" for diabetics sounds too superficial.

(3) There is a popular saying in Tamilnadu - "Elachavanukku ellu, kozhuthavanukku kollu" (Sesame seeds for weight gain, horse gram for weight loss). Because of this belief, people presume that those who are slim shouldn't consume horse gram whatsoever. Horsegram is an excellent source of protein (21.73mg per 100gm), calcium (269mg per 100gm), and iron (8.76mg per 100gm). It offers various health benefits and is used in the treatment of multiple ailments. This article talks about the benefits of horse gram in detail. 

Moreover, having a simple kollu rasam (2 tbsp of horse gram used to make rasam for 4 people) once in 15 days will have absolutely NO effect on weight, yet people are scared that this might trigger weight loss.

The quantity used per serving, the frequency of consumption, the preparation methods, food combinations, our body's digestion,  absorption capabilities and blood circulation all play a vital role in deciding the efficacy of an ingredient in our body.

Before we wholeheartedly embrace or dismiss an ingredient, let's take some time to understand our reasons. Ask your doctor/nutritionist/diabetologist why they say NO or YES to a particular ingredient/food/product.

Jan 19, 2021

Time Management Tips for Efficient Cooking

A few questions I received in DMs in the past week

"How do you manage to cook 3-4 varieties each day?"

"If all packaged foods from the store is not good, then wouldn't it be strenuous to make everything at home?"

"It feels like I'm spending so much time in the kitchen. How to cook more efficiently?"

I'll try to answer these three questions through this post. 

First and foremost, the lunch plates you are seeing in my feed for the past month aren't how I normally cook. Since my in-laws are staying with me, I'm cooking more than usual. To get the real picture, check out my posts in Oct/Nov. I don't like to cook a lot of variety for each meal. If the menu is kept simple, the time taken to cook will be less. 

Set the right expectations with family members. Making chapatis/parathas is a time-consuming process for me. My ILs love to eat chapatis for dinner but I have mentioned to them (even before they arrived) that I'll not be able to make them daily.

I have earmarked the timings for cooking and set the expectations that I'll not be entering the kitchen at other times.

8:45-9:15am - cook breakfast

11:45-12:45pm - lunch

4-4:30pm - tea/snacks

6-6:30pm - dinner (timing varies depending on the menu)

People like to eat breakfast at different timings, so I prefer to make something that can be prepared and kept in a hot pack - idli, Pongal, upma, etc. No dosas/pooris/idiyappam/adai etc. 

Menu planning is super helpful in deciding what to cook. I plan the entire day's menu the previous night.

Certain things need to be prepped ahead to stick to these timings. I distribute the prep work throughout the week (not clubbed together for a single day/weekend). 

  • Idli batter (twice a week)
  • Sambhar powder/rasam powder (once a month)
  • Other spice powders - coriander powder/pepper powder/cumin powder, etc (once a month)
  • Idli chutney podi - two varieties stocked up (twice a month)
  • Sort out the veggies (once a week)
  • Grate coconut (once a week)
  • Make sprouts (once a week)
  • Arrange groceries, refill the bottles (once a week)

Things do get a little haywire if such prep work isn't taken care of at the right time. I usually spend around 20-30 min in the evenings or take up such prep work along with cooking lunch/dinner.

Lunch is the main meal where I plan more variety. I use a three-burner stove which speeds up my cooking. My ILs prefer to eat the typical kuzhambu+rasam+poriyal kinda menu (more tamarind), whereas I prefer to eat more veggies and less tamarind (kootu+poriyal/thogaiyal/raitha/salad etc). So I plan the menu in such a way that I don't compromise on either of our requirements. 

Snacks time is mostly fruits, dry fruits/nuts, popcorn, lemonade/smoothies, etc. I occasionally bake a treat for D, which she eats during her evening snack time.

I prefer to have an early dinner - mostly rice with leftovers from lunch. On days when I'm tired, dinner for others will be dosa+podi. On normal days, a simple one-pot kichdi/soup/upma gets done in 30 minutes.

In summary, keeping the menu simple, setting the right expectations, doing the required prep work, and sticking to cooking timings WITHOUT any distractions are some of the ways by which you could manage your time efficiently in the kitchen.

I invest around 3-3.5 hours per day in the kitchen for the health and well-being of myself and my family members. If this time (and effort) is not invested, then the only alternative is to rely on the market factors to provide for our food needs. As we all know, relying on packaged foods/takeaways/restaurants aren't good options for our health. 

So this time and effort investment is required until we find a reliable alternative (community kitchen, home chefs who use quality ingredients, plastic-free packaging, etc)

Other articles on the same topic

How I do meal planning?

9 tips for meal prep and meal planning

Jan 18, 2021

What's my role?

 I gained a lot of clarity this weekend on the role I'm playing in creating awareness of packaged foods, thanks to this incident.

A few weeks back, I had written a post about Thandai powder and how family elders were drinking it despite us warning them that it contains loads of sugar. When MIL was refilling the bottle, I showed her the label and the statement "Not to be consumed by diabetic patients". FIL asked me, "How much sugar is there in this pack?" I showed him the pack and told him that it contains 75% sugar. He was shocked. They immediately decided to stop drinking it after seeing the label for themselves. 

I felt happy that they have finally decided to stop drinking it. MIL mentioned that these printed labels are hard to read for senior citizens like her.

The role I played in this situation is that of a MAGNIFYING GLASS. I realized that this is the role I have been playing in the last 4 years through my blog posts - magnifying the image of the nutrition labels.

As I narrated the whole incident to K later that day, he told me, "You shouldn't feel upset that people aren't reading labels. You should get the brand to print the "Not to be consumed by diabetic patients" warning in big, bold fonts on the front label."

I know this is NEVER going to happen, and I'm not interested in taking up this cause with brands or regulators. I don't see myself as an activist taking up such causes. 

I intend to create awareness among consumers on nutrition labels. If people are aware of the ingredients and still want to consume processed foods, it is their choice. I'm not affected by their decisions. 

In 2017-18, I used to get quite irritated and disappointed when some of my favorite food bloggers were promoting packaged foods on Instagram. I then decided to unfollow them and am no longer bothered with their posts, sponsored or otherwise.

As we were discussing the topic of social media and activism in yesterday's OMW session, I reflected on my journey in the past 4 years - there were initial frustrations, disappointment, and anger, but I'm glad I didn't go deep down that path any further.  

It is hard to change the behavior of our family members, let alone others in society. 

Taking this single step of quitting packaged foods has brought in many positive changes to my health. My role is to decode the nutrition labels and share my perspectives with consumers. The need to change is completely at an individual's discretion. 

Jan 14, 2021

The role of perception

 When two people with contrasting perceptions are put under the same roof, there is bound to be disturbance and alterations in the vibrations. I have been feeling the same in the past month. I have started to believe that everything happens for a reason. I'm now questioning how I can prevent myself from getting triggered in such situations. Do I have to raise my tolerance and patience levels? Do I have to be indifferent and turn my back without sharing my thoughts? Do I need to accept the situation wholeheartedly without trying to change it?

As I pondered more on these questions, I started receiving this answer - "It's all about how we perceive".

My perception of health might be different from someone else's. My perception of cleanliness might be different from someone else's.

I might find someone's ideologies on food to be extreme. Someone else might find my ideologies on food to be on the extreme.

My understanding of taking care of my health - eating more vegetables, regular Yoga, good sleep, etc. Someone else's understanding of taking care of their health - eating medicines on time, going for frequent health checkups, being on top of the health parameters, etc.

Perception isn't just a binary variable - where a certain belief is true or not for an individual. There are various levels of perception from which we choose to pick the ones that appeal most to our reasoning. Once we choose a certain level and adopt it as our perceived truth, it is hard to change ourselves, unless we voluntarily seek new information to prove ourselves wrong.

Our perceptions get formed through various channels - 

  • Conscious information seeking
  • Subconscious programming done by media/news/books/videos
  • Our own logical, evidence-based reasoning
  • Learnings or observations from people whom we respect/admire and society at large
  • Influence of childhood, environment and of course our parents

Blind acceptance of the situation doesn't come to me easily. I realized that I need to question myself and understand the reasoning before I accept a given situation. Once the reason is clear to me, I find it much easier to adapt to the given situation. 

As I gathered this understanding of perception (through self-introspection, random events, and conversations), I'd say I'm much more at peace now. This process of questioning, exploration, connecting the dots, and stumbling upon random insights seem to be so energizing and eye-opening.

Jan 12, 2021

Intention Verb - Progress and Plan

 As you might know, my intention verb for 2020 was MINIMIZE.

Here's a quick summary of how I executed this verb in 2020.

Brought down the number of pressure cookers I have from 5 to 3 (this is a BIG deal, I love pressure cookers!)
Minimized the number of books I bought (Bought only 2 Kindle books and 1 physical book in 2020)
Deactivated FB and Twitter
Minimized my online content consumption intentionally
Minimized my time spent on OTT platforms 
Minimized my dependency on Yoga class and brought the discipline to practice on my own.
Minimized my FOMO. I have now strongly come to believe that the information that is required for me will come to me.
Minimized my tendency to multitask (no Youtube while chopping veggies, no music/podcasts while walking)
Minimized the number of times I ate at a restaurant or ordered food delivery (I shouldn't take credit for this!)
Minimized the number of times I took Ola/Uber (again, not taking credit!)

The home decluttering and organizing didn't happen as I had intended. 
Instead of the plan to stock up less groceries, I have gone worse by stocking up even more in the past 10 months. 
Both of these are a big MISS that I plan to overcome this year.

Though I may not have executed all that was planned, having an intention verb like MINIMIZE helped me consciously become aware of my actions.

Continuing with the same practice, my intention verb for 2021 is BUILD. It might sound contrary or even opposing to last year's verb MINIMIZE. But allow me to explain.

Over the past few years, I believe I have laid a strong foundation in some aspects of my life. Consider these to be the Lego building blocks of different shapes and colours. Now it's time to build something concrete out of it.

A few ways that I plan to BUILD this year

BUILD self-awareness
BUILD my acceptance levels with people who have opposing beliefs
BUILD my patience
BUILD my stamina (physical and mental)
BUILD deeper knowledge on subjects that I have developed curiosity towards in the past few years
BUILD the disparate thoughts into a concrete framework
BUILD my creative occupation

Intention verb is a powerful tool, a route map if I may say so, that gives us a path to pursue and allows us to take key decisions. If you love this idea, think about your intention verb for 2021. 

Jan 11, 2021

Are non-communicable diseases really non-communicable?

 During these Covid times, we are taking all forms of precautions throughout the day - frequent hand washing, using hand sanitizers, wearing masks, drinking gallons of kabasura kudineer, using vegetable washes, etc. Why? Because we know Covid-19 is transferable (or communicable) from one person to another. 

But are we giving the same attention to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc? Not really. Why? Because we know these are non-communicable. 

What if I told you that such lifestyle diseases are communicable in a family? No, I'm not referring to genetic influence.

Let's say, there are a couple A & B - both in their late 20s, working in sedentary jobs, stressful work environments, little attention towards food and nutrition, disturbed sleep cycles, etc. One of them, say A gets a wake-up call. It could be frequent acidity, heartburn, constipation, or weight gain. When A does a health checkup, the numbers are slightly off the recommended levels.

Now, if A chooses not to wake up and continue with the same old poor lifestyle, there are high chances that A is affected by one of the lifestyle disorders. Not just that, B follows A's path, and B's health also gets impacted, with a time gap of maybe 3-4 years.

Let's say, a child C growing up in the family of A&B also has high chances of getting caught by the trap of lifestyle diseases.

Now, let's come back to the initial question - Are non-communicable diseases really non-communicable?

In my opinion, lifestyle is communicable. When A starts making lifestyle changes, B will be influenced sooner or later. The beliefs of Child C get positively influenced while growing up in an environment where lifestyle is given priority. When C grows up, she would make the right choices for her health.

Working on our lifestyle NOT ONLY improves our health and well-being but it also improves the overall well-being of our family.

Take some time to reflect on your current lifestyle and how you can take the right steps to improve the same. All you need is awareness to take that FIRST step forward.

Veeba Tomato Ketchup Review

A few days back, I came across a full front page ad by Veeba on TOI. The product advertised was their tomato ketchup along with the tagline "No added preservatives" in big, bold letters. I had to find out more about this product. As I looked through the ingredients, yes, there are no added Class II preservatives. 

But isn't this a sufficient criterion to claim that this product is "made with quality ingredients"? 

The 3rd and 4th ingredients are Sugar and Liquid Glucose. As I compared the sugar values with that of other tomato ketchup brands, Veeba has the highest sugar content. Around 40% of this ketchup is nothing but SUGAR.

Iodised salt is the 5th ingredient but Sodium values are not mentioned in the nutrition facts table. 

If preservatives aren't used, how does the product sit on the retail shelves for 9 months? Something that brands need to explain to consumers.

Ketchup has become a staple commodity in our pantry these days. High amounts of sugar and salt, which are addictive and that we are ingesting without much awareness. Kids are being trained to eat their chapathis/parathas/dosas with ketchup. 

Let's question every product that enters our kitchen/fridge. Let's read through their labels carefully and not fall for the tall claims. If one harmful ingredient is removed, it doesn't mean the product is healthy.

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