Friday, December 21, 2012

Plant vs Animal Protein

What are some of the ‘truths’ we know about proteins?

???  Meat is a great source of high biological value and ‘complete’ protein???
???  Plant protein is ‘incomplete’ and can be complemented either with meat or dairy to make it complete???
???  We require lots of protein --the more protein the better???

These statements are only partially correct!

Here’s the whole story:

     It  started with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) coming out with dietary guidelines for individual nutrients. Back in the 1970s, they declared that upto 30% of all calories can be sourced from protein. Along with this they gave their opinion that meat and dairy products by far are the best sources of protein.

     In his eye - opening book, The China Study, Dr T Colin Campbell describes how the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the major food regulatory bodies in the US – are peopled by scientists with known links to the Dairy and Meat industry. How, then, can we trust something that came from sources definitely motivated by commercial interests? The recommended dietary guidelines that they announced in the past were copied blindly by many other countries and our Indian guidelines have also been influenced by these. Our actual protein requirement is much less than these figures portray.

     The meat and dairy associations in the US are said to have links with politicians responsible for food related policy making and are a powerful lobby in Washington. These industries, perceiving vegetarianism to be a threat in the seventies, spread rumours and quoted fake studies purportedly showing that a vegetarian diet ‘lacked sufficient protein’, leading to protein deficiency.

     This misinformation campaign was so successful that even in India, meat eaters often ask their vegetarian friends how they manage to get their protein. In fact, especially in North India, there is still a common belief that only meat and dairy consumption ‘makes you strong and healthy’. Forget about public perception, this same lie was taught to us in our post graduate course in nutrition (some ten + years ago)!

     There is a scoring for protein called Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). Based on this, protein derived from animal sources scores higher than those from plants. This information has been so widely spread that it has added to the belief that the best protein comes from animals. THIS IS NOT TRUE.

     Protein from animal sources has been linked to increased risk of everything from obesity to osteoporosis to cancer so that theory is debunked. This doesn’t mean you need to stop eating meat, dairy or eggs. In India, most people don’t eat meat every day anyway (like they do in the west). But realize that you should cook meat healthily with less fat, choose white meat over red meat and leave out the yolk at least half the time when consuming eggs.

     There are 20 amino acids which are the building blocks of all human proteins. Of these, nine are essential which means that they cannot be derived as such by the body and need to be supplied through food. Most plant foods contain all essential amino acids in some quantity. However, proportions vary - some plant foods are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids.

     Anyone eating whole and largely unprocessed vegetarian food, so long as he consumes a couple or more protein rich plant foods in a day, will get more than sufficient protein for his daily requirement. This holds good even for an athlete or bodybuilder.

     PLANT PROTEIN at last is now widely regarded in the scientific community as high quality protein. This awareness has come through reviewing recent as well as older studies and publicizing this information. We also have the ever increasing number of vegetarians and vegans worldwide, especially in the scientific community, to thank for this awareness.

     These are high protein vegetable foods –  dals, legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy veggies like agathi, rajakeerai, kuppakeerai, sembu ilaigal (colocasia leaves), curry leaves, drumstick leaves and manthakkali keerai. Cereal grains like oats, whole wheat and whole rice are good sources too. 

     High protein sources which are now popular in India are Soy and it’s products (best bought organic) like tofu and last but not least Quinoa (originally from South America). Most vegetarians in India also consume dairy products like milk, curd, paneer and cheese. These add to the already abundant protein present in a plant - based diet.

     Lastly,  any nutritionist worth their salt will tell you that eating a good variety and quantity of whole, plant - based foods in a day not only takes care of your protein requirement but all your other nutrient requirements as well including fat, carbs, vitamins, minerals and that magical class of compounds called ‘phyto-nutrients’ which enhance current health and prevent disease. 

Note: ‘Whole’ refers to un-processed or minimally processed, natural foods and whole grains. Yup, a packet of chips or a veggie pizza is not going to cut it.

Suggested reading :
The China Study – by T Colin Campbell and son
Mad Cowboy – by Howard Lyman
Forks over Knives (book and movie of the same name) – Gene Stone, T Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn.

All books are in the American context but the science is valid for us as well.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', December 15th, 2012.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Healthy Apps?

     Have you thoroughly explored your smart phones' capabilities? On the one hand, the app store or market can be a confusing place with so many seemingly useful products. On the other hand, with the right applications downloaded, they can be your smart health buddy too.

Firstly a few pointers to find a good a health app:

1)  Don't get sucked into the calorie counting trap. All counting calories really does is confuse you into thinking you are making healthier choices. Calories don't tell the whole story. For example a diet soda might be low in calories but it doesn't contain any nutrients either. In fact carbonated beverages contain phosphoric acid which is extremely harmful to teeth and bone health!

2)  Look for a diary / journal feature which allows you to track your food intake daily and also review the week that was. This allows you to see how much healthy and unhealthy foods you consume and at what frequency. Do this for a month and it will be eye opening. One unhealthy item every other day can undo your fitness efforts for the entire week!

3)  Most apps are tailor made for the international market. Very few actually have data for Indian foods, our methods of cooking and cuisine combinations. Also, non–Indian food pyramids don't take into account that carbs are a big part of our diet. Ensure the app you choose has information that you can use.

4)  Similarly, food bar-code scanners which tell you whether a food is healthy or not while you are shopping are not of much use in India. They do not include information for most processed Indian foods and actually waste your time in the store. You may spend most of your time stuck in the processed food aisles while you should actually be spending more time in the fresh produce (unbar-coded) sections.

5)  If the app has a BMI calculator, ensure the data is for Indians. BMI is gotten by dividing your weight by your height(in metres)squared. You should know that the normal BMI range for an Indian is 18.5 – 23. 23 – 25 is the overweight range and anything beyond 25 is obese! This data is according to the Indian Health Ministry. For non – Asians, the obesity cut off is 30 which is due to their larger frame size and structure.

6)  Fitness and exercise apps offer a variety of activities for you as well as tracking options. It's very easy to harm yourself while performing exercises without proper supervision or training. Be cautious and if possible take the advice of a professional. Apps which let you track your workout / run / hike / cycling session are preferable and can be great motivators!

Some applications that have useful features:

For iPad,iPhone

iFood Diary – an app which lets your track your food consumption.

Smash your Food – a game for kids to learn about nutrition promoted by Michelle Obama herself. A limitation is that it is for the American context.

Food Trivia – Healthy Eating Facts – again for the American context but with some useful general information.

For Android phones-

Endomondo Sports Tracker – useful for those who run, walk, trek, cycle, swim regularly.

MyFitnessPal – this app has a useful journal feature with a significant Indian foods database and allows you to track your weight.

Watch out for: My Food Wizard, an app developed by St John's Research Institute, Bangalore. It won the 'Aap ka App' contest by Datawind recently.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 20, 2012.

Mind ~ Body Connection

The thoughts we choose to think are the tools we use to paint the canvas of our lives. –Louise L. Hay

     Let’s look at this thing called the ‘placebo effect’. Deepak Chopra loves using this starting point to explain psychosomatic (mind-body) links. Every objective scientific study of a drug / nutrient’s effect on disease includes one set of people being given the healing substance while another similar set of people receive something they think is the cure. Why do scientists do this? It is based on the fact that if someone just believes they are being cured, there is a statistically significant chance that they will become well.

     Scientists have known for decades that stress raises blood pressure and increases risk of having a heart attack. Emotional or Mental Stress, in fact is a major contributor to ill health and chronic disease by virtue of the hormonal changes it causes in the body. Cortisol, adrenaline and nor-adrenaline (steroid hormones) are the main causes of this slow rise in inflammation which in turn causes many other complaints and conditions including the common cold. These hormones trigger a domino effect involving most of the important systems in our body, ultimately leading to acute and chronic disease.
     Imagine a child living in an environment with parents fighting constantly, separated or even divorced. How about the school environment? They are vulnerable to bullying, corporal punishment, being snubbed by peers, etc. If the effects of stress can be severe for adults, they are devastating for children. There are many instances when a child presents with symptoms of illness, the doctor is puzzled because there is nothing physically wrong. In such instances doctors and parents should investigate into the stress levels of the child and invite him / her to communicate what they are feeling and dealing with.

     Sometimes stress levels increase after being diagnosed with a disease. You start worrying about the future and whether you’ll overcome it. There may be many treatments with side effects which can cause additional alarm. I’ve noticed many times with couples that if one partner has Diabetes, the other partner develops hypertension – my theory is that it is stressful to live with, take care of and be concerned about your life partner.

     This may not just be limited to blood pressure and Diabetes, many other conditions can also manifest. In fact doctors report the highest rates of cancer among caregivers (nurses, carers of invalids, etc). Keeping a positive outlook, laughing often, communicating freely to your loved ones while taking treatment often works miracles.

     There is a branch of science which deals with the effect of mental and emotional state on the immune system. It is called Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). It’s been around since the 1800’s but is only now being explored with studies confirming the points made in the previous paragraphs.

     How do you now implement this knowledge in your lives? What steps can you take to maintain health right up to the end? It starts with being open, being aware that life works in mysterious ways to give you what you want. 

     Look at the list of recommended reading, try at least one of these eye-opening books and actually practice what these teachers suggest. What else can you do? Take the time to create balance and develop resilience to the hard knocks that life frequently deals out. Work at being calm in trying situations by meditating for some time every day. Work to overcome any addictions (food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc.) and above all – take care of yourself. Do things that please your inner self, invest in your hobbies and passions and laugh heartily at least ten times a day.

     If you are still sceptical at this point, maybe it’s not time for you to begin this journey. However, if you or someone close to you has an illness / condition or even have a family history of some disorder, consider giving this path a chance. Dig deeper and find a profound new way to care for your health.

Some good starting points:

Louise Hay: ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ also a movie with the same title.

Deepak Chopra: ‘Ageless Body, Timeless Mind’, ‘Creating Health’, ‘Perfect Health’.

Rhonda Byrne: ‘The Secret’.........also made into a movie.

Paula Horan: ‘Abundance through Reiki’....while you can learn more about Reiki through reading, you have to undergo ‘Attunement’ from a Reiki Master to actually begin practising.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 20, 2012.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Building Immunity............... Kitchen Secrets

     Building immunity is an ongoing process. If you get lax about it, it tells on your health. This series attempts to give you a holistic, comprehensive picture of what you can do on a daily basis. Notice that most of the points given here are similar to the advice given to build general health as well!

Eating for Immune Fitness:

  • Use Indian spices and herbs in your cooking daily – especially garlic, turmeric, cumin (jeera), fennel (saunf) and ginger. Coriander and curry leaves work well too. Use all these in kashayas too if you feel an infection coming on.
  • Eat nuts and seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, watermelon seeds, almonds and walnuts which contain Selenium, Zinc and a host of other micronutrients.
  • Plenty of fruits with pectin, a soluble fibre that enhances resistance – apples, pears, guavas, grapes, berries, strawberries, papayas and citrus fruit. All fruits naturally contain antioxidants as well.
  • Include fermented foods like curd, dosas and idlis, organic tofu, etc since they help enable the gut bacteria to protect you better.
  • Avoid foods high in sugars as these suppress the immune system. Use only 2- 3 tsp of sugar/honey/jaggery per day.
  • Use less oil and only organic, cold-pressed ones at that – mustard / sesame / safflower / groundnut oils 
  • Skip the processed and junk foods which provide only empty calories – choose nutrient dense foods instead.
  • Use whole grains instead of refined ones – this goes for legumes and pulses too (consume with skin). These provide fibre and a host of micronutrients required for immunity.

     Popping antibiotics at the hint of a cold or cough is dangerous because all drugs have side effects and these especially can suppress your immune system’s natural abilities over time. From the earliest recorded history (including the Vedas and Puranas), food has been prescribed as both medicine and preventive.  Explore your kitchen’s potential in protecting and healing your family.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 6, 2012.

Building Immunity............Healthy Lifestyle Choices

     Herbert Spencer coined the phrase ‘Survival of the Fittest’ describing Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. If we are not ‘Fit’, then we are susceptible to infections, autoimmune disorders or even chronic disorders, all of which impact our longevity and health – plain and simple. Transforming our ‘Fitness’ is critical to build immunity. The first half of being ‘fit’ comes from making the right lifestyle choices.

Lifestyle modifications that really work for year-round immune health:
  • Get enough sleep – lack of sleep causes stress which in turn leads to lowered resistance.
  • Reduce unnecessary exposure to pollution (wear a surgical mask or simply use a cloth while driving), chemicals (including household cleaning agents) - use gloves while cleaning. Explore natural, non-toxic D-I-Y options.
  • Exercise regularly – 30 minutes to one hour, 4 to 5 times a week. Intensive training for more than 2 hours a day, however, makes you more vulnerable to infection.
  • Get enough sun – at least 20 minutes sun exposure per day till your skin acquires a pinkish hue is required for our body to produce Vitamin D.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption and kick the smoking habit.
  • Lose weight if you need to – maintain your ideal body weight and lead an active lifestyle.
  • Meditate, practice Pranayama, pursue a hobby or passion - in other words, lower stress to boost your immunity.
               Having said all this, you will suffer from infections whether you have a strong immune system or not, although much less frequently. The advantage is the recovery time. Watch your body bounce back to normal in a remarkably short time with lesser discomfort and intensity of symptoms. 

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 6, 2012.

Building Immunity.............The Small Things Matter

     Building immunity should start early. Breastfeeding for the first 6 months to a year of life is the surest way to ensure your child is protected even from common allergies. Allow children to be exposed in a safe way to bacteria so that they develop immunity from a young age. Don’t sacrifice basic hygiene but let your kids play outside or in sand / soil- encourage them to explore nature and the outdoors. 

     This way, they are exposed to a bacterial environment which challenges their immune system, necessitating a response. The body thus learns to defend itself and is alert and ready to protect itself in the future. Don’t use antibiotics for small illnesses even if your paediatrician prescribes them – unnecessary use of these medicines leads to bacteria mutating into new resistant strains making it tougher for the body to fight them. Avoid antibacterial soaps for the same reason.

     Interestingly, there is a link between emotional wellness and immunity. This is especially true for children. Kids’ immunity is susceptible to stress. Those being raised in a loving environment have higher levels of self-esteem and well being so they fall sick less often. Research shows that, people who hold on to anger and resentment tend to fall sick frequently. The same goes for single people, individuals without a strong social network and people who are going through depression.

     Why this connection? The simple reason is all the warm fuzzy stuff is good for your immunity too. Being married or in a loving relationship, being a parent, being part of a close-knit community, experiencing the love and support of your family helps your health. Hope this gives you incentive to address and resolve sources of stress and create the all important work – life balance! 

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', September 29, 2012.

Building Immunity..........Introduction

I wrote a 4 part series on this subject for Life in Adyar.......

     Imagine having your own personal army, responsible for your safety and survival, ready at a moment’s notice....did you think of a team of bodyguards? Well, this system is literally guarding your body. It is called your Immune System and your health and ability to fight infections, toxins, poisons and even cancerous cells depends on it.

     There is a lot of new research taking place on the subject of immunity especially on what enhances and suppresses it. This is a hot topic in the light of new, virulent types of infections like swine flu and the hanta virus. Ordinary, existing bacteria and viruses are mutating into new strains which are resistant to our traditional drugs. This phenomenon is mainly due to the widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics to treat even virus infections like cold and influenza (against which they are completely ineffective). In this scenario, the best option that you have is to keep your immune system working optimally.

     While your skin, saliva, mucosal lining of nasal passages and digestive system, stomach acid, tears, etc. are the first barriers to any foreign body, this Natural Immunity also consists of antibodies and protective cells that are already present in your body from the time of birth. Inflammation is also an example of this – a slight swelling when a mosquito bites or at a cut in skin actually protects you from bacteria at the site.

     A secondary line of defence called Acquired Immunity consists of more complex cells and systems to fight foreign bodies or ‘antigens’ as they are called. This type of immunity ‘learns’ from previous attacks and infections and enables the body to protect itself from future assaults and is associated with our Lymphatic System. A well known example is having chicken pox as a child and then being protected from developing it again throughout life. Vaccines work on the same principle but not at 100% effectiveness.

    During the rains, the risk of developing infections is at the highest because the water we drink might be contaminated. During this season, avoid eating out frequently and especially from roadside vendors to prevent infections like typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera. Urinary tract and fungal infections of the feet are common. Keep your feet dry and change socks frequently. For urinary tract infections barley water is the way to go (beer doesn’t help). Stagnant water leads to mosquitoes breeding – dengue and malaria incidence is higher during this season. Ask civic authorities to clear any standing water in your area.

     It is critical to maintain a dry, hygienic environment at home to prevent being affected. Focus on kitchen hygiene and cleaning of fresh food stuffs before preparation. Wash hands with ordinary soap regularly. Don’t play too much in the rain – jumping in puddles is definitely not recommended. Stay out of the pool as far as possible since it is water-borne infections that are predominant.

    The monsoon doesn't have to be a time of caution, keep the above practices in place and if you get wet occasionally, don’t worry too much about coming down with an infection. Watch out for the next in the series – The Small Things Matter.   

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', September 22, 2012.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Common names of whole grains

Thought it fit to post the common names of the whole grains we use at home (since I've been going on and on about them). This info is widely available and sourced from the 'Nutritive Value of Indian Foods' as well as the internet. You can view relevant images on Google search - just type in any of these names. These grains are best if grown organically. They literally require less water for cultivation and you'd be doing the Earth a big favour if you demand chemical free foods. Visit your local organic store for more info.

I clicked the first 4 pics of millets...... the rest, courtesy Google Images.




Foxtail Millet
Pearl Millet
Little Millet
Kodo Millet

Red Pulao with Sprouts Raita

     This pulao looks weird. No doubt about it. We're used to Basmati rice grains emitting a wonderful aroma (this one does too though). The white colour of the rice mingling with colourful veggies. Well, try this recipe out and the flavour sells itself. Sure it tastes different from white rice but it's just different not worse or better. Stop comparing red or brown rice with white - they will never taste the same but these whole grains will always be more nutritious. Again, a snapshot of the magazine article shows you what the pulao can look like.


Red Rice – 2 cups
Carrots – 200 g
Cauliflower – 100 g
Green Peas (shelled) – 100 g
Sweet Corn (off the cob) – 100 g
Onions (chopped for garnishing) – 1 medium
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste

SEASONING – Oil- 1 tbsp, mustard, jeera, cinnamon, bay leaves, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, garlic and curry leaves.


1] Because red rice takes longer to cook, do this first either in a rice or pressure cooker with just enough water for a fluffy texture (usually 1:2.5 of water is enough).

2] Lightly boil the cleaned cauliflower, carrots, green peas and corn in some water with a pinch of salt and turmeric for ten minutes. Afterwards, drain the excess water (read tip).

3] Remove the rice from the cooker, drain excess water (if any) and leave it to cool.

4] In a kadai, heat the oil and add the chopped onions and all the other seasoning ingredients with the red chilli powder. You can vary the amount of each of these spices depending on which flavour you want should dominate.

5] Once the onions turn golden brown, add the boiled vegetables, salt and mix. Cook for 5 mins, add the red rice and fold everything in together lightly so as not to end up with a gooey mash.

6] Serve hot. Roasted Punjabi pappads also go well with this dish.

Serves: 4                              Cooking Time: 1 hour


Sprouts – mixture of whole methi, moong and channa sprouts – 2 cups
Curd – 2 cups
Tomatoes (finely chopped) – 3 small
Onion (optional, finely chopped) – 1 medium
Jeera – 1 tsp
Coriander – for garnish


1] Mix the sprouts, tomatoes and onion together with curd.

2] Garnish with jeera and coriander leaves.

Preparation Time: 5 mins

Nutrition Tips –
  • Retain the drained vegetable stock to use in other items like soup or rasam (you can even store it or drink it plain) since it is full of nutrients.
  • To increase this recipe’s protein content (pulao) you can add sprouts or boiled grams in addition to veggies.
  • Try adding tofu, marinate in lemon juice and add it to the seasoning before mixing in the veggies.

  This recipe combo was published in Parent Circle, August, 2012.

Nutritious Pidikozhakattai with Jeera Rasam

     The Karnataka version of this is called Nucchinunde. Telugu - Kanduntlu. A traditional South Indian recipe, it is being made less often because it is a little labour intensive. However, with some planning and pre-preparation, this can even make it's way into week-day lunch boxes. It adds valuable protein and fibre to a meal. I've included a snapshot of the magazine article to give a sense of what the finished product looks like.


Whole channa - ½ cup
Green gram – ½ cup
Karamani – ¼ cup
Tuar dal – ½ cup
Whole Urad – 2 tbsp
Cabbage (finely shredded) – ¼ cup
Carrot (grated) – ¼ cup
Onions (finely chopped) – ¼ cup
Curry leaves – finely chopped
Ginger- 1 inch piece
Red chillies – as required (6 for spice)
Salt – to taste


1] Soak all pulses together for 4 hours and then drain excess water completely.

2] Mix in the ginger, red chillies, salt and coarsely grind to a rough, chunky texture. Add in the vegetables and curry leaves and mix by hand. Form oblong rolls with tapered edges roughly 2.5 inches in length and 1.5 inches in thickness. Size them according to your convenience.

3] Place these rolls in idli plates and steam for 15 – 20 mins. Dip a knife into the centre of the roll, if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.

4] Serve hot with Jeera rasam.

Makes:                 18 – 20 nos.                        Cooking Time: 20 mins


Rasam powder – 1 tbsp
Tamarind – 1 small lemon sized ball
Small tomatoes (finely chopped) – 2 nos
Salt - to taste
Coriander leaves – for garnishing
Seasoning – Oil / Ghee – 1 tsp, mustard seeds and jeera


Coriander seeds (dhaniya) - 1 tbsp
Pepper corns – 1 tbsp
Jeera -1 tbsp
Tuar dal – 1 tbsp
Red chillies – 3
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Curry Leaves – 2 twigs


1] Roast all the rasam powder ingredients together (including curry leaves and roast till dry and slightly aromatic). Grind to a fine powder.

2] Soak the cleaned tamarind in 1 cup (200ml) of water and heat till warm. Set aside. When cool, extract every last bit of juice from the tamarind pulp. Throw the dregs.

3] Heat 2 cups of water in a pan and add the finely chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil. Then add the tamarind water and rasam powder, add 1 more cup of water and boil for 5 more mins. Add salt and wait for a light that foam accumulates on the surface. The flame should be turned off at this point.

4] Heat the oil / ghee in a small pan, add in the mustard and once it splutters, add the rest of the ingredients.

5] Add this seasoning and coriander leaves garnish and serve piping hot with the nutritious pidikozhakattais.

Cooking Time:  15 – 20mins

Nutrition Tips:

  • If this is your meal’s main dish, each person will probably need 5 rolls with rasam, prepare another vegetable dish and you can serve everything with red or brown rice. Powder in the pidikozhakattai with the rice, add rasam and enjoy!
  • Sprout all the pulses required to add to the nutrient value (however this will go 'off' more quickly so consume it all fresh).
  • Experiment with different pulses (tuar and channa are a must) and add different herbs and spices to suit your family’s taste buds.


    This recipe combo was published in Parent Circle, August, 2012.