Sunday, May 20, 2012

Family, precious family

     This past Tuesday, May 15th was celebrated as the International Day of Families. Initiated by the United Nations, this day is celebrated the world over by it’s various agencies. Let’s take a look at the family unit from a wellness perspective.

     Family, for most of us, is the origin of our experience of love, life, customs, traditions and nourishment. It also is a source of a unique education that includes dealing with relationships, learning to express yourself and communicate, being joyful in the company of loved ones, playing as well as learning to be responsible for your health.

     Let me start by saying that no parent intentionally creates an environment negatively impacting wellness. In fact parents are the most receptive group to information regarding health. By and large, every family with access to the right information, tends to make healthier choices than those with no awareness.

     Dealing with the physical aspect of wellness, creating a health-oriented environment for your family takes a little time, patience and effort but is richly rewarding with results like reduced incidence of small illness, increased energy and vitality, gaining ideal weight and meeting all growth milestones.

     If you want to change the way your family eats, it starts with you – whether you are the child or parent. Accumulate information about healthy eating habits, educate the others and implement them.

Here are some pointers:
  • A lot of ideas evolve from family discussions. Get everyone involved in the process.
  • Do your research, the internet is a great tool – look for credible sources of information – a few websites are listed at the bottom.
  • Mother is your partner (and if you ARE the mother - you WILL make it happen -you’re the head of the kitchen aren’t you?)
  • Implementation of what you learn can be tricky – consider your family member’s individual interests – your sister might like to cook with your mother whereas your father could help you set up a balcony herb garden.
  • Do the weekly grocery shopping together. Avoid the sweets, chocolates, snacks (junk), biscuits, instant foods and soft drinks aisles – instead head first to the veggies and fruits section and choose among the colourful variety. Look for organic food if available. Better yet, go to your local vegetable market (less temptation maybe?). Learn to read nutrition labels (blog post dated 24th March, '10)
  • Look up healthy recipes online – work together in the kitchen to create a healthy Sunday lunch.
  • Get your grandparents involved so that their health benefits too.

     Of course, physical activity matters too –  Activities like hiking, trekking, cycling, sports, etc get the whole family active. Go on an activity filled family vacation or even a weekend.  Research proves that doing this makes the family a tighter unit, builds individuals’ confidence and willingness to communicate with each other. If one of you wants to start a consistent fitness regimen, it WILL require family support and encouragement. Even a high five from a sibling or parent at the end of a day's workout boosts your morale!

     If one of your family has an unhealthy habit, for example smoking or a junk food addiction – deal with it as a family, get sufficient information on how to quit and support him / her to do it.

     All for one and one for all! We want to nurture healthy, productive human beings who make a difference in society and it WILL happen with some thought and creativity.

     Your Family’s time is NOW.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', Chennai -  May 19th, 2012.

Handy nutrition tips for the summer months

     “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” said Hippocrates and there is no better way to directly apply this than in these sweltering months of summer. Let’s face it, Chennai is especially hot through most months of the year so making changes in your food habits can lead to lasting resistance to heat.

     Ever felt fatigued and drowsy on a hot day? That’s an early warning signal of dehydration. Without question, you’ve got to focus on increasing your own and your family’s water intake. Especially young infants and toddlers (see box) and elderly members.

     2 - 3.5 L is the expected range of water intake in summer months. If you are taller, your requirement increases. Also, if you’re exercising, add 400 ml to your total daily intake.

     Eat seasonal foods, watermelon, other melons, maize (cholam), etc are in abundance. These are generally cooling and easily available. Nature does everything for a reason.

     Switch from rice to whole grains like brown rice, millets like ragi, thinai and samai for better digestion. Use whole grams (channa, moong, rajma, karamani) as well instead of plain dals.

     Tender coconut water, curd and buttermilk are great coolants. Did you know that the humble fenugreek seed (methi) also has cooling properties? Soak methi seeds for 3 to 4 hours, retain the water and drink along with a little lemon juice (it may be bitter). If you leave the moist soaked seeds to sprout - their cooling properties are enhanced. Include this in salads and raithas at meals, you can have this every day – especially since methi lowers blood lipid levels and helps Diabetics control their blood glucose levels.
Drink fluids in the form of low fat milk, rasam, juices without sugar, etc.

     Cut down on the junk foods and sweets – biscuits, instant foods, bakery items like puffs, sweets and desserts, deep fried foods, greasy heavy foods like pooris, etc contribute to increased body temperature. These weigh down our gut, which is already a little sluggish in higher temperatures (notice that you have a reduced appetite in summer?).

     Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables (especially green leaves and salad veggies) – these have a high moisture content and keep your gut healthy. Their antioxidant content helps fight UV related sun damage.

     Say no to high fat ice creams – go in for low fat gelatos or sugar free slushies (home made as far as possible)

     Use less salt, avoid salty snacks and pickles – these contribute to water retention. Avoid sugary drinks and foods for the same reason.

     Alcohol (even though a cold beer sounds good) actually dehydrates and heats the body.

For young infants:
   -  If breastfeeding, increase your own water 
      intake to 3.5 L and feed more frequently.                                
   -  Don’t place babies directly under the fan.         
   -  If  going out, cover them up in light cotton 
      (they get sunburns easily) and ensure 
      circulating air at all times.
·         Warning signs of dehydration – refusal to eat or drink, reduced urination, vomiting and diarrhoea.

         If you care for elderly folk at home, their water intake needs to be monitored as well since they are also susceptible to dehydration.As you age, the thirst mechanism declines so it's important to create a habit of drinking water regularly so the requirement is fulfilled.
    This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', Chennai -  April 28th, 2012.

        I know this comes a little late for Bangaloreans and Mysoreans who are dancing in the rain, but still relevant for us overheated Chennaites .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For All Women Who Want To Be Mothers.....

     Every year thousands of women on the planet conceive, give birth and nurse new human beings, which is part of the amazing circle of life. With the power to choose when to have a baby, comes the capacity to completely prepare for this rewarding phase of life.

Preparation for Motherhood nutritionally has many benefits:
·         - You conceive more easily
·         - You have a pleasanter experience of these nine months –  less discomfort     and avoid or minimize complications
·         - You will give birth to a normal weight, healthier baby with lower risk of his/her developing future health issues
·         - Regaining your pre-pregnancy weight and health status is easier

     Ideally, your preparation for conception should start 3 months prior. The deciding factor is your weight – If you need to lose more than 7 kilos to reach your ideal body weight, start earlier, figuring a minimum of 2 kg loss per month. The good news is that whatever you need to do to build nutritional status is the same to lose weight.  If you are at your ideal weight, don’t reduce intake, include more healthy foods and avoid the junk.

     First, the stuff you need to avoid – deep fried foods (including chips, fries and vadas) , sweets and desserts (cookies, ice cream and other treats), processed foods (instant foods, ready-to-eat meals, artificially preserved meats, snack foods, high fat and sugar biscuits), bakery items (sweets, white bread , puff, etc), chaats (most have deep fried ingredients), soft drinks and other processed beverages which contain synthetic substances and sugar.

     You needn’t regret leaving these foods behind, think of it as cleansing and detoxifying your body – these foods contain a lot of chemicals which are a burden on your entire system.

     Keep oil consumption to a minimum, limit sugar (just 2 tsp per day, switch to unrefined, unbleached sugar - if you need it), half a coconut per week for the household is more than enough. Limit coffee intake. Following this advice improves your family’s health too.

     Switch to whole grain cereals instead of rice. Use brown, red rice, millets like ragi / thinai (navane) / samai (saame) / kamb (bajra) / cholam (jowar), whole wheat and oats. Use split dals with skin and whole grams like moong, channa, rajma, karamani (cowpea), horse gram, etc.  The above, along with at least 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day improve fertility.

     This phase is the best to consider going organic. Even if you can’t regularly get organic fruits and veggies, sourcing organic grains, dried fruit, nuts and spices is beneficial.

     Avoid cigarettes (even second hand smoke), alcohol and drugs. Don’t tolerate polluted environments and don’t get your house-painted at this time. Reduce exposure to toxic household chemicals.

     Exercise - find an activity that requires expenditure of energy, which you enjoy and your OB-GYN permits for at least 30-45 minutes, minimum five days a week. This can be broken down into workouts of shorter duration throughout the day.

     Reduce sources of stress in your life so that you can fully enjoy the process of creating life. Meditation, Pranayama and other disciplines are great tools to access a realm of heightened awareness.

     All the above, working synergistically, give your child the maximum advantage in life. Encourage your family to eat this way and watch their health improve also. This is your time – take good care of yourself and allow others to support you.  Our wishes for a happy Mother’s Day includes you Moms-To-Be!

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', Chennai -  May 12th, 2012.

Couldn't resist - those who knew my Father may remember him saying that babies would be born one day soon complete with laptops!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are you seedy, or just plain nuts?

   On this hot day, did you just finish eating a cool slice of watermelon…….and throw away the seeds? Next time, don’t – those seeds are high in protein, essential minerals, B vitamins and healthy fats, so crunch them in your mouth along with the cool pink pulp and enjoy the health benefits. 

     The new kids on the health block are pumpkin, flax, watermelon and sesame seeds.  These are comparable with nuts in nutritional benefits. Lightly toast them (for 2 -3 mins) to enhance their flavour. Roasting them for longer can lead to destruction of the healthy fat component.

     Most seeds are RICH in fiber (lowers cholesterol and keeps the gut healthy), Selenium (a powerful antioxidant), Vitamin  E (protects the nervous system, prevents clotting of blood to prevent heart attacks and protects cell DNA). Seeds are also GOOD sources of Iron, Plant Protein, Zinc and other essential minerals. This gives you an idea of just how they contribute to health.

     Try out the recipe for making watermelon seed chutney powder (see recipe at the bottom) or invent your own! 1 tbsp a day of these nutrient dense seeds is great for health. 

    The heart disease risk lowering property of nuts has been written about for as long as we can remember but that’s only because it is SO TRUE! Study after study finds that those who consume an ounce (30g or 2 tbsp full) of nuts per day show a reduced risk of dying from heart disease. 

    The results of my lipid profile test that I underwent last year showed my HDL (good cholesterol) was high- mainly due to the fresh groundnuts / peanuts my Mom and I were consuming almost daily. (Did you know that peanuts are not really nuts? They’re actually legumes but their nutritional content resembles most nuts so closely, they’re considered honorary nuts!)

So far so good, but that’s only a fraction of the big picture.

     Eating a daily fistful of nuts along with a balanced, healthy diet, can prevent or greatly reduce the risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome,  Alzheimers, Dementia, certain cancers, Diabetes and the list is expanding as more research occurs.

     Enough reason to make like a squirrel ? Hold on though – this doesn’t mean they’re OK ad libitum. On the contrary, nuts are high in fat (mostly good though) and therefore are best consumed only as stated above.

     The real crème de la crème of the whole bunch are of course almonds and walnuts (the latter have both ALNA and Omega 3s - essential fatty acids).
Again not roasted - toasted (you can do this at home too) and definitely unsalted.

     Nuts and seeds make for great snacks - carry a pack of them in your purse or laptop bag for that 4:30 pm rumble. Also great 'before workout' snacks in the morning or evening.

     Nut and seed butters are great tasting spreads and liven up that daily slice of whole grain toast. Go ahead, so long as you’re using them within the specified limits (they contain more calories per gram than whole nuts). With commercially prepared nut butters, watch out for added sugar, salt, artificial colours and flavours and preservatives. You can even surf the net for recipes and make your own without the above. Get your kids eating these healthy spreads.

     Nut and Seed Oils are equally beneficial, especially the cold pressed versions – same rules apply as with the butters.

     Remember that while nuts and seeds have their specific benefits, nothing works better than including them as part of a natural, healthy, balanced diet.

Pumpkin seeds
Watermelon seeds
Flax seeds

Watermelon Seed Chutney Podi:     
Watermelon seeds (seed coat removed..available in health stores)–100g                                                                        
 Pepper corns – 1 tsp                                        
Jeera – 1 tsp                                                Peanuts – 2 tbsp 
Tamarind – 1 inch piece                                 Red Chillies – 2-3 nos.
Salt – to taste                                              Garlic - 3 cloves (optional)

     Toast all the ingredients together for 2- 3 mins, cool for a while and then dry grind roughly.

     Sprinkle 1 tbsp  of this podi on steaming red rice, mix and enjoy the warm, earthy flavour !

     You can add other ingredients which give their unique flavour like curry leaves, dried tulsi or neem (seriously!). Substitute with other nuts and seeds- come out with your own recipes and do share them with me!

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', Chennai -  May 5th, 2012.