Sunday, April 21, 2013

You Can Be A Disciplined Eater......

     Let me start by saying that this post isn't just for you but for your entire family. Research shows that when everyone is on board, it is easier to create wellness habits that last a lifetime.

    So why 'discipline' at all in relation to health? Think about it... our entire day is a series of activities that have become second nature to us – we do them without even noticing. 

    Starting from brushing our teeth in the morning (notice how you always brush in the same order every day?) to accomplishing what there is to do either at home or office, our whole life is a series of daily habits, broken by maybe some weekly or monthly activities!

     How did these habits come to be formed? You probably started out with something that had to be done on a regular basis, did that enough number of times for the process to be 'worn into your brain'. Every thought we think travels across nerve cells – doing something repeatedly creates pathways along the same neural channel until we reach a point where we are able to perform that task without even thinking. It's called ' Neuronal Plasticity' and this is how a habit or set of habits are formed.

     Habits are easier made than broken. In fact, once a synaptic pathway has been created for an activity, it can be weakened by disuse but never really eliminated altogether – that's why habits like junk food bingeing, alcoholism and smoking can be resumed in the blink of an eye, almost unconsciously.

     To create lasting wellness, you have to discipline yourself to create new habits. It involves planning and scheduling for new ways of thinking, buying, cooking, eating and exercising.

     Firstly recognise the triggers for your unhealthy habits – mostly these would be negative thought patterns about yourself or your health. They could be stress-related. In fact, eating when emotionally charged results in an insidious circle... bingeing or indulging, feeling guilty about it and then telling yourself that “I'm a failure”, “I'm incapable”, “I’m worthless” or “I won't be accepted”.

     This is usually followed by a resolve to do better next time but is forgotten in the face of the next temptation. Sometimes it’s tough to distinguish our normal, largely negative, thoughts from our innate sense of self (the latter is rarely expressed). We think that it's tough to control the way we think but the truth is that it, too, just takes practice. Create synaptic pathways for positive thinking first! This is crucial to the success of your initiative. You can't be half-hearted about takes real commitment.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', March 23rd, 2013.

     Develop healthy eating habits one at a time, give yourself a week or two of practice, then incorporate the next important change. So start exercising daily, after maintaining that for 2 weeks, cut out the junk food next – do that for 2 weeks and so on. If you build your wellness like this, not only will you raise your chances of success, you'll also have enough new activities to keep you occupied for the 3 – 6 months that it takes to imprint the new habits.

A ten-step route to build food discipline :

1] Your tongue ‘remembers’ pleasurable eating experiences (high fat, high sugar, high salt) and this, in part, triggers food cravings. Giving into cravings regularly makes you dependent on these ‘quick fixes’, in other words –you’re addicted (yep, just like a drug or alcohol addict)

2] Do you want to honour your tongue your whole life? Or will you start honouring your body? It has to last you a lifetime and what you choose to put into it determines your long-term health......really.

3] Respect your body – before you put anything in your mouth, ask yourself 4 questions – Am I actually hungry or just thirsty? Do I have a craving, an emotional need or am I just bored? Will my body thank me for eating this? Do I really want this? And after answering these questions another good one to ask is – What are some healthy choices I can make instead?

4] Be aware that even the aroma of tasty food can trigger a craving, not just the sight of it so that you’re alert to an impending craving (and repeat step 3).

5] Talk about your cravings, food addictions and unhealthy habits with people you trust, tell your family about your new health routine so that they’re on board. Be brave and say “No thank you, I’m on a wellness program right now”, when being tempted.

6] When you’re being ribbed about ‘being on a diet’; go ahead, laugh with them – and make healthy choices anyway. Be proud of yourself and your commitment.

7] Stand in front of yourself in the mirror – look carefully over each physical feature, notice what negative things your mind is saying about it. Notice any positive things your mind is saying about your body. Consciously create positive statements about each part of your body, start accepting and loving yourself, just as you are now. Do this for at least 10 minutes a day; it will take less time with practice.

8] Exercise----- reduces stress and anxiety, improves your sense of control over your body and life and serves as a distraction when a craving takes hold.

9] 'Meditation is food for your soul, it satiates the hunger that is not satisfied by food alone. And when your soul is fed, you have less need to give into unhealthy temptations When you directly experience the fullness of life, then you have less need to attempt to fill the void with food.'  

10] Relax, learn to laugh at yourself. When you’re taking your weight loss efforts too seriously, you experience pressure which only sets you up for quitting (failure in a fitness regime is impossible – there’s never an END to living healthily).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"World Health Day"

.....was a day on which a lot of medical professionals talked mainly about disease......and risk factors and their consequences. The theme though was to focus on Blood Pressure and Salt Consumption..... A valuable statement that was released by not only the WHO but several national medical associations around the world was that each adult should be consuming a maximum of 5 g (1 teaspoon) of salt per day ~ 2000 mg of Sodium per day to prevent heart disease.

     However, this post isn't about our salt consumption though I promise that's coming soon....... rather this post is about the medical advice I listened to on World Health Day last Sunday......

     I've been treated with the homoeopathic medical system since I was around 12 years of age (when we moved to Mysore in Karnataka). Our Homoeopath, Dr Khader, who is also a close family friend has helped me get through various illnesses that plagued me - from healing my liver (had 2 bouts of jaundice when I was younger) to dealing with viral infections and more (I wasn't exactly a picture of perfect health, especially as a child and young adult).

     Dr Khader used to work for a pharma major in the US, always planning to ultimately return to India. He saw first-hand the methods used, unscrupulous dealings and the actual effects these chemicals had on one's body. He also saw the way man has become dependent on artificial materials rather than natural. He decided that this life was not for him and although he worked for a year or two with the same company in their location in India, he chose to give up a cushy job and move back to Mysore with his wife and daughter to practice Homoeopathy.

     He makes a difference in several ways...firstly, treating / curing thousands of people through homoeopathy, a gentle, natural system of medicine. Secondly, he owns an organic farm, the produce of which he makes available to his friends and patients for a nominal price. Thirdly, he has addressed hundreds of thousands of people in Karnataka and other states on Organic / Natural Farming.....assisting thousands of farmers mainly in Karnataka to convert to sustainable, natural, organic methods of farming. Finally, he creates awareness among individuals and communities on healthy, earth-friendly living at public speaking opportunities.

     His lecture on World Health Day was a combination of advice he has personally given me and countless other patients as well as new nuggets to chew on......I've compiled a list of thought-provoking ideas that he communicated......

   ---   Disturbing Trends..... Children developing Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, girls as young as 7 years of age entering puberty, toddlers having seizures and suffering from a variety of autoimmune disorders.

   ---   Even rising number of cases of breast cancer in women. He was describing watching a 'Run for breast cancer awareness' held recently with everyone in pink shirts. The irony was, did they know what were they really running for? Fighting this type of cancer? Or Prevention? If prevention, then what information are they actually giving women out there to prevent breast cancer?

   ---   One of the simplest ways to kill two birds with one stone (only figuratively speaking) is 'Breastfeeding'. The natural process of humans feeding their young with the most complete source of nutrition is being sidelined nowadays in favour of formula feeding. There are of course those very real instances of non-availability of breast milk or other feeding problems which need to be dealt with separately but the bottom line is women should by any and every means possible feed their child solely with breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding has a protective effect for women in later life - rate of gynaecological cancers and many other disorders are lower in women who breastfed their children.

   ---   For children, exclusive mother's milk for the first 6 months of life gives the maximum protection against chronic disease in later life and the strongest immune system during childhood itself! The risk of the above childhood problems then is reduced considerably. A woman can continue breastfeeding for up to 3 years! Needless to say, the maternal diet during these critical phases of life also play a huge role in the health of the foetus / infant.

   ---   Another way to prevent childhood health disturbances is by feeding your children (after 6 months of age) whole grains - millets (like ragi, bajra, jowar, foxtail, etc), red and brown rice, whole wheat (all preferably organic) and locally grown apart from a variety of whole pulses and legumes. Millets which were once labelled as 'kirudhanya' (lesser grains) have been renamed 'siridhanya' (valuable / rich grains) and are making a comeback into kitchens - explore different ways in which you can use these grains - they contain abundant nutrients and add fibre and variety to the diet. For more info, refer my post on whole grains.

   ---    A source of ills is our dependence on only two main types of cereal grains - white rice and wheat. White rice has almost no real nutritional value - just supplying refined starch and the problem with wheat is the varieties available now in stores are so hybridized and genetically diverse from natural strains that they have a huge impact on health.

   ---  Our country is under the monopoly of food industries and pharma companies -neither of which is really interested in anything but their own profits. Going by the media advertisements, eating healthy food is infra-dig and the real food is all that tasty fast stuff. Unfortunately, natural, whole foods cannot speak for themselves or advertise and are therefore not considered as important by the public!

   ---  Processed food available freely across the country is the major culprit of our deteriorating health....there are countless toxic chemical ingredients in these foods that may be regarded as clinically safe but in reality, build disease in our bodies with regular consumption.

   ---   It's critical to understand that there's no end to living healthily - start making changes that last a lifetime if you want your whole family to reap the benefits - if you want the disorders you started out with or were at risk for, they'll be back the minute you get back to your old ways! Get real - wellness involves creating healthy habits for life...

Parting gem.........

........ include green leaves at least 3-4 times a week in your eating pattern - they are your liver's best friends. They help detoxify the body ongoingly. Try different local varieties - here in Karnataka - honge, amruthaballi, neem, hongone, vandelega, doddipatre, etc. all have medicinal value. Also, don't forget the medicine cabinet in your kitchen - the spices you use on a daily basis are some of the most potent remedies for our ills. For more on this, refer the post on Kitchen Secrets.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lip - Smacking Dry Tomato Pickle

     I could eat any kind of pickle day or night but I don't since all pickles add considerably to my daily salt intake. Moderation is my mantra..... sigh. So I have a few faves, Amma's nimbu achar, an Aunt of mine makes a superb lemon peel chutney, vegetable pickle in masala and mustard oil, sour raw mango achar, green tamarind thokku, midi - mavinkai pickle in brine, just to name the ones that have me salivating right now. My favourite is this Tomato Pickle made from a borrowed and improved-upon recipe.


Tomatoes (firm, a little under-ripe) - 1 kg

Salt - 5 tsp
Organic, Cold-pressed Oil (any kind) - 5 tsp
Turmeric Powder - 3 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 3 tsp
Cinnamon stick - 1" piece
Cumin seeds (Jeera) - 1 tsp
Red Chilli Powder - 1 - 2 tsp
Cloves - 2 pcs
Asafoetida - a pinch
Garlic (optional) - 2-3 cloves

Before you even start planning to attempt this recipe - be sure of your weather forecast - you need direct bright sunshine giving heat for at least 3 days. If the weather becomes muggy and humidity increases, you might wind up with a fungal growth instead of nicely dried tomato. So the best season in Karnataka to do this is end of Jan through Feb, dry summer. In TN, it would probably be April - June. 


1] After washing and cleaning the tomatoes thoroughly, check to see they aren't bruised or damaged in any way - even a slight amount of rotting could result in spoilage.

2] You can use either naati (round) tomatoes or hybrid ones (oval in shape). The naati variety is sourer but also has more moisture. The hybrid has less water content. A way to balance the end flavour is to use half a kilo of each. 

3] Cut each tomato into half, remove the core (green stem end) and slice into thin slivers. Arrange the slivers (1 kilo worth) in 2 large steel plates. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the entire quantity. You can mix it in by hand but this is not really necessary. If you're using garlic, this too has to be sun-dried - chop the garlic finely and spread in a small separate plate.

4] Place these plates in a location which has good direct sunlight for at least 8 - 10 hours daily (unblocked by shadows). Bring the plates in as soon as the sun dips and store in a cool dry place. It will take at least 2 - 3 days of sun-drying for all moisture to evaporate. This dried tomato can now be pickled.

5] Remove all the dried tomato into a bowl, add the turmeric powder and mix it in so as to coat the whole quantity. If you're using the dried garlic, add it in now. Whip this in a blender for half a minute to achieve a rough paste texture.

6] In a small pan, roast the fenugreek (methi) seeds, cinnamon, cloves and cumin. Powder this spice mixture.

7] Heat the oil in a kadai on medium flame for 2 minutes, add in the tomato paste and stir well, ensuring the paste and oil blend thoroughly. Add the asafoetida, roasted spice and red chilli powders and mix well again.

8] Oil will not separate out since I have suggested only the bare minimum to preserve this pickle. Cook till you can smell that it's done - the tomato will have a cooked aroma and flavour.

9] Store your pickle in the coldest region of the fridge to preserve it for a longer time. It probably won't last beyond 2 weeks because you'll want to taste it every day!

      If you're stuck with monsoon weather but really want to make this, there's an instant version.......

     Just heat 3 tsp of oil in a kadai on a medium flame, add 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds, when it splutters, add in a pinch of asafoetida and 1 tsp of turmeric powder.You need only half a kilo of chopped tomatoes which has to be added in at this point. Mix well and cover to cook for 5 minutes. 

     Follow step 6 of the above dry recipe. Remove the lid, keep stirring so as to evaporate the water content of the tomatoes. Once the tomato pulp starts sticking to the pan, it is time to add in a tsp of salt along with the red chilli powder and roasted spice powder mix. 

     Blend well, the entire paste will thicken and leave on the flame for a couple of minutes. Again, oil will not separate out but the end product will look glossy. This instant pickle will last for a few days in the fridge. It is an ideal accompaniment for rotis, dosas and idlis.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

4......Ten Ways to Raise a Nutritionally Aware and Responsible Child

     ‘My child has no self control when it comes to food’, ‘If there is junk food, my child is the first one to choose the unhealthiest thing available’, ‘He/She throws tantrums in the supermarket especially in the sweets and snacks aisle’, ‘Feeding my kids is a constant struggle as they complain the healthy food I make doesn’t taste good’.

     Are any of the above statements true for your child(ren)? It might be easy to place the blame on the TV ads, their friends, what other moms serve at friends’ homes or the kind of food available at the school (or even college) cafeteria. The fact is, you as a parent are responsible to empower your kids to make healthy food choices for themselves. This ensures they take care of their health and wellness even as adults and pass on this education to their children.

     The good thing is that implementing the advice below is not difficult. It does start with your willingness (plus your spouse’s and other family members’) to walk the talk. This won’t work if you make a face while eating your greens and expect your child to love them without question. Good nutrition is good for everyone not only children!

     Here are ten pointers to enable them to make healthier choices all by themselves:

1] Let them choose what they want for meals and snacks – teach them the different components of a balanced meal and leave it to them to decide which items they want. The catch? Give them only healthy options! It may not work to give them a choice on a daily basis – get them involved in planning a weekly menu so that you can shop accordingly. Before you do this, you have to teach them the basics of planning a nutritionally balanced meal. Also, keep only healthy foods at home so that those are all they have to choose from – be consistent – don’t buy the unhealthy stuff or allow those that come as gifts to linger in your cupboard / fridge as snack options – give everyone a little bit and dispose of them. Better out than in.

2] Educate your kids before you take them shopping with you. Teach them what ingredients and nutritional components of foods are potentially healthy or unhealthy. Take it one step further to explain how unhealthy ingredients damage our body. Make the whole experience of selecting food a game for them – they get to look at the nutrition labels and choose healthier foods. Start with the relatively healthy foods and end in the snack aisle – they will get the picture. Explain how fresh produce (fruits, veggies, etc), packaged grains, pulses, spices, etc. don’t need labels since their healthfulness is unquestioned. Natural foods are always best.

3] Have them grow something – it could be coriander leaves in one flower pot on the balcony or a whole kitchen garden. Teach them about how much time, energy from the sun, nutrients from the soil and water it takes for the seeds to sprout and grow. Telling them not to waste food because there are other children who go hungry might be a tough concept for them to grasp. When they see how much effort it takes the Earth to produce just one sprout, they will be more likely to clean their plate.

4] Enlist their support in the kitchen. Young children must not come near an open flame or touch dangerous objects such as knives, grinders, mixie blades, peelers, etc. Instead, they can help with mixing, stirring, sandwich making, kneading, washing dishes, etc. Older children can be taught all processes and to be safe while in the kitchen. Always supervise when children are in the kitchen. Teach them about the function and health benefit of each ingredient that goes into making a dish. Start with their favourite foods to get them interested. Children will readily eat anything they had a hand in preparing.

5] Most school curriculums nowadays include food and nutrition topics – sometimes even both theory and practical classes. Correlate what they are learning there with it’s application at home. They will pay more attention in class and appreciate the value of what is taught. Retention improves as well.

6] Inculcate a culture of deferred gratification at home. Have them develop patience with respect to food. Children who have this capacity to wait are more skilful at choosing the healthier food when faced with temptation and are not likely to give in to cravings or binge. While planning a menu with your kids, keep their favourite dishes for the next weekend. Thus they learn to patiently anticipate this feast. With unhealthy food that they prefer (cupcakes / cream biscuits), tell them when you buy it (albeit rarely) that they can have it for their evening snack. Again, your children anticipate their enjoyment which is enhanced because they earned it. It is important while teaching them to defer their gratification to honour your word at all times. This builds trust and reinforces the lesson.

7] Don’t make food GOOD or BAD. Choose words like ‘healthy / unhealthy’, ‘powerful’, ‘energizing’, ‘nutritious / non-nutritious’, ‘body thanks you / doesn’t thank you for eating......’, etc. Teach them the meaning of these terms as well. Unhealthy foods can be enjoyed in small quantities and infrequently just so long as children know there are consequences to their body. Remember never to compare taste or flavour of healthy versus unhealthy foods. Explain that these flavours are just different and teach them to appreciate flavours of natural foods and spices. Taste is fleeting anyway. Food stays in our mouth for hardly a minute but then the body has to deal with it for hours, days, weeks or even months.

8] Try not to BAN or FORBID foods. This only makes the idea of the banned food (not the food itself) more appealing. Similarly don’t label foods as ‘treats’ or ‘rewards’. It’s OK to use words such as ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ or even ‘yummy’ to describe foods but definitely teach them that foods they like are not necessarily something their ‘bodies will thank them for’. Bottom line: don’t use food as reward or punishment and don’t use bribes just to get them to eat.

9] When eating out, create a game of choosing healthy options from the menu. First job is to select a healthier place to eat out such as Subway or that new soup and salad joint. Point out the various nutrients they will be consuming and assess how much oil / fat or sugar will be in each item. When you take them to a pizza or burger joint, do the same thing and compare the nutritional values - they will then understand why this fast food is only an infrequent experience. Even these joints nowadays serve salads and soups – ensure that you, as parents, choose healthily too!

10] Send healthy food in their lunch box regardless of what their teachers or friends say. Empower them by making it a game to explain the health benefits of what they eat to those with less awareness. This builds self confidence and ability to stand up for themselves and their choices and will come in useful later on in resisting peer pressure.

     Nutrition in childhood is critical not only for optimal growth but also for mental development which in turn determines academic and social success. Imagine all Indian families eating this way! Incidence of all chronic diseases would be drastically reduced and obesity would be a thing of the past. It all boils down to the healthy choices you make as a family.

This article was published in Parent Circle, March, 2013

3......For Our Children

Where it all starts.....A HEALTHY PREGNANCY

     To look at the impacts of non-nutritive food consumption on health especially in children, we need to begin by looking at pregnancy itself – that’s where a lifetime of good or bad health is created for a foetus.

     When pregnant (whether you’re eating healthy or not) your foetus is drawing whatever nutrients it needs from your body stores. You both share a similar blood environment. So you can't eat whatever you want including health damaging foods and expect a healthy baby. Not only will you suffer from nutrient deficiencies, your baby will have to adjust to a nutritionally substandard rather than a nutrient - rich environment which may have unwanted consequences too like inferior brain and bone development.

     Fortunately most women are now aware of healthy eating practices and are made aware through the public health system but what about the traditional practices of making ‘special’ items for pregnant and lactating women? These are mostly deep fried savouries or high fat sweets. 

     A pregnant woman may receive various food gifts from many people – is it OK to have a little bit each day? Absolutely not! The best policy is to ask for healthy gifts like fruits, dried fruits and nuts in advance. If such zero - nutrition gifts are received, distribute them amongst your domestic staff or donate to the destitute (it’s not healthy for other family members to gorge on them either).

     The danger comes from eating non-nutritive foods instead of nutrient - dense ones. Pregnancy is a physiologically demanding process and your baby and body NEED more nutrients than usual. If you are not focusing on consuming high nutrition foods at all times, chances are you’ll fall short. Supplements can only do so much and won’t prevent associated problems like pre-eclampsia (high BP), gestational diabetes, constipation, heart burn and haemorrhoids which consumption of zero nutrition foods can cause.

There is ongoing research into the impact of obesity in pregnancy which suggests:
  • Prenatal exposure to junk food flavours in amniotic fluid and then as an infant to breast milk may result in postnatal preference for junk food.
  • Gestational consumption of junk food may result in children being at risk for developing obesity, heart disease and diabetes in later life.
  • Maternal obesity before and during pregnancy may affect the health of the foetus and subsequently the child with respect to behavioural disorders like ADHD and Autism.
    Now this research does not provide conclusive proof but enough food for thought that we need to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves if we are really willing to take a chance with the current and future health of our offspring.

    Plan your pregnancy and start getting as close to your ideal body weight and nutritional status at least 3 – 6 months before even conceiving. During pregnancy, ensure that you are following an extremely strict healthy, balanced dietary and exercise regimen – this is the least and best that you can do for your unborn! 


     Half of the impacts of zero nutrition foods consumption in children stem from the fact that they eat these foods at the expense of healthier ones on a frequent basis.

    Compare the healthfulness of a few biscuits versus boiled peanuts as an evening snack. The biscuits contribute some quantity of unhealthy fat and refined carbs along with sugar plus some harmful chemicals. The boiled peanuts on the other hand supply healthy fat, valuable protein, age and disease defying fibre, resveratrol, isoflavones, Vitamins E and B complex and many minerals. 

    If your child had biscuits instead of the boiled peanuts, he lost out on the boost to his all-round growth, metabolism, immunity and cognitive development (resulting in lower IQ)! These aspects are the main cost of feeding zero nutrition foods instead of nutrient-dense ones to your child.

Research has indicated the following harmful effects in children:
  • May contribute to aggressiveness and behavioural disorders.
  • Increases risk of lifetime asthma prevalence. In several studies there was a strong link between high fast food consumption and more attacks of asthma and wheezing. The respiratory system in children is highly susceptible and needs to be strengthened through good nutrition. Conversely, a high intake of fruits, veggies and fish corresponded with low incidence of asthma in children
  • Heart Disease. The stage for cardiovascular conditions in later life can be set even in toddlers due to empty calorie consumption.
  • Insulin resistance is caused primarily due to abdominal obesity (a common occurrence in children eating convenience and fast foods often). This condition leads to deterioration of pancreas function (this organ makes and secretes insulin), leading to Type 1 Diabetes. The cases of children with this disorder are flooding in and no points for guessing the culprit.
  • Digestive disorders, the most common one being constipation, in turn leading to more serious bowel conditions in little ones. Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can also result.
  • Development of food allergies and other conditions due to many harmful chemicals ingested.
  • Metabolic Syndrome – a constellation of risk factors – abdominal obesity + insulin resistance (high blood sugar) + abnormal lipid levels in blood + high blood pressure. Children with even three of these symptoms are said to have the condition and have increased risk of diabetes, heart and kidney disease at a young age itself. to inculcate healthy food habits in children.

    This article was published in Parent Circle, March, 2013

2.......Industry Always Eyes The Bottomline

     The Fast Food Industry has endured a lot of controversy – inhumane treatment of animals, using leftover animal parts in certain menu items, etc. These have not made any dent in their sales. If anything, business is booming going by the queues in local fast food joints. 

Smellvertising:  Ever walked past a fast food place and been drawn in by the aromas that waft out? Not only fast food chains but even bakeries and restaurants resort to deliberately dispersing the aromas of their kitchen to the area outside.      This aroma triggers cravings and hunger pangs, leading to more walk-ins and greater sales. 

Non-food ingredients:  Food chains in the West have been accused of including some pretty strange non-food ingredients – sand, wood, duck feathers, animal bones and hooves, beetle juice and fertilizer! All are suitably modified and used to impart specific textures and properties to ‘food’. How far this may be the case in India is debatable but given that most global food chains have outlets in our country (and we don’t have a reliable monitoring body for food safety) -these may be the norm here as well.

Doubtful Quality: The Food Processing and Manufacturing Industry is equally lax about public health when it comes to profits for their companies. Apart from failure to list certain ingredients or making misleading health claims, they may be using inferior quality ingredients to start with. Processed food products have undergone some form of chemical processing and also contain a cornucopia of chemicals to impart desirable properties to increase acceptability (and addiction). The burden of dealing with these sometimes toxic, synthetic substances then falls on our livers.

Lack of Social Responsibility: Let's not even go into the subject of how they pollute the environment, exploit resources and short change the farmers. Not every food company out there is harmful but most just do what is legally required. Most MNC food companies especially are more ruthless in these cases. Not only do they follow practices (here in India and other developing countries) that are banned in their country of origin, they may also be using imported genetically modified foods.

Look Twice: Ever looked at a nutrition label or a health claim and chosen a product? That's just what they want ... so that you'll believe these inaccurate descriptions and contribute to their profits. (Refer my earlier post on Nutrition Labels)

Mirages: Both of the above industries also indulge in heavy advertising to make it seem that their products are safe, tasty and even healthy. These ads are targeted mainly at children who can influence food-related decision making at home. But that’s a topic for another post.

Here's a screenshot of the article in the magazine listing Zero Nutrition Foods:

This article was published in Parent Circle, March, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1.......Zero Nutrition Foods

     This article was published by Parent Circle in March, 2013 as the lead feature (available in news stands now) and was oriented towards child nutrition. I had written another one on the same subject for Life in Adyar for a more broader readership. I'm combining the two and hopefully this will make the educative impact  that I want it to.... it's a subject directly related to immediate transformation of current health status and prevention of future chronic disease. I'm breaking it into several posts as it is looooong.....


“Next time you pay for junk food, remember it will be paid for in two instalments; first in cash and then in your health”
                                                                  ----- Antonio Carillo 

     So what is junk food? Any food that does not deliver a significant quantity of a variety of nutrients and instead, gives mostly calories from fats, sugars and / or simple carbohydrates deserves this label. You’ve heard the term ‘empty calories’ – it was coined to describe these foods.

     Many people think that no food should be called ‘junk’. If they knew how, in reality, these foods are so processed and manipulated that they little resemble their original ingredients (and can’t even accurately be called ‘food’), they would change their mind.

     Ever since the term ‘junk food’ was coined in the early seventies, we have seen a global explosion in varieties available and consumption patterns. So obviously, this label is not working to alter people’s choices. 

     Let’s start calling a spade a spade and term them ‘ZERO NUTRITION FOODS’, ‘NON-NUTRITIVE FOODS’, ‘HEALTH DAMAGING FOODS’, ‘CHRONIC DISEASE CAUSING FOODS’, etc.  

     Don’t get me wrong, I have also consumed these – it’s impossible for anyone to completely avoid eating them – however, being aware of the consequences on my body enables me to say NO more often or, if not, consume these rarely in very small quantities.

     Consumption of ZERO NUTRITION FOODS in moderate quantities and regularly (even once a week) has consequences on the body.

  • Cause you to become addicted to the same kind of food, developing cravings and binge eating disorders
  • Lower your metabolism causing weight gain which in turn puts you at risk for chronic diseases
  • Are a burden on the liver and can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), and ultimately liver failure
  • Decrease the efficiency of your digestive system
  • Make you lethargic and may lead to mood swings and even depression
  • Lower your natural immunity resulting in frequent, small illnesses and infections
  • Increase inflammation in the body making you prone to heart disease

    A familiar sight at your local supermarket - the snack aisle.. be continued.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sour as heck ..... and loving it!

     Well, I just don't know why I haven't eaten more of this fruit in the past, given that I'm crazy about all things sour - from acid drops (candy) to sucking on a lemon (for real). Ok, it might now have something to do with the fact that I'm pregnant and currently having intense cravings for acerbity...... but I think this is the most under-rated and ignored of citrus fruits.

     I'm talking of our very own Chakotha hannu....Pomelo/Pummelo in English......Bamblimass inTamil and Malayalam.......Chakotra in Hindi and Bengali. The scientific name is Citrus Maxima or Citrus Grandis (the largest citrus fruit in the world). It is native to South Asia and Southern India. Unlike most other citrus fruits, it flourishes in tropical climes. The season of maximum availability is now! Jan to Feb, maybe even March, probably because of the weather in these months.

     My Mom lugged 5 of these enormous fruits all the way to Chennai from Mysore to satisfy her daughter's craving! I was so grateful :) So availability in Mysore is mostly at the main vegetable market in the city centre - we saw mounds of this fruit just lying with the vendors, drying up. It's such a shame to see an amazingly nutritious fruit going to waste - no one is even aware (well neither was I, really until earlier this year). I don't have much info as to where it is available in other cities. Please leave any info you might have on availability as a comment at the bottom.

     3 - 4 sections of this fruit can fulfil your Vitamin C requirement for the entire day! Most varieties turn pink on ripening but some do not. The pink ones, needless to say have more carotene (can be converted by the body to yield Vitamin A). When you start peeling the fruit, you'll notice that even the white pith is stained light pink - this indicates that the fruit is ripe and pink.

Health Benefits:  Vitamin C of course, Carotenoids which give it that amazing colour and flavonoids found mainly in the peel.Having said this, the peel can be used to make gojju / kolambu / curry - but don't over cook since it will lose it's nutritional advantage.  Like other citrus fruits, the pulp is a great source of Folic acid and Potassium. All the organic compounds listed are antioxidants which build immunity and protect against chronic disease.

     God knows I'll eat anything if it's nutritious, however it tastes (I eat young Neem shoots with relish) but I could not chew my way through the peel covering the sections - it was so tough. A lot is being made of the fibre content of the fruit but if you throw away the outer and inner section peels, the pulp actually may have less than advertised. However, this is soluble fibre, pectin and therefore this fruit can be 'jammed' or 'marmaladed'. You are of course destroying all nutrients by this process and adding lots of sugar.

     Apparently people on BP meds should cautiously consume this fruit as it can lower your blood pressure further. It's advisable to eat only half the fruit at most at a single sitting since it may decrease your blood glucose level and blood pressure significantly. Also patients with kidney issues on a Potassium restriction should be careful with this fruit as it is high in this trace mineral.

     A few tempting pics that I clicked...I could hardly wait to finish shooting before I polished it off. Hubby and everyone else liked it with demerara sugar but I ate it with a sprinkling of salt and rasam powder! 

Whole fruit, yellower the skin, the better

Appetizing pulp with brown sugar




With Mom's rasam powder and salt (divine)

Include this fruit on your shopping list, take advantage of the season and make it an annual family tradition. You can serve it to guests as well and spread the nutrition!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Peanut Sichuan Wholegrain Noodles

     I had a packet of dehydrated whole grain noodles sitting around in the kitchen cupboard for around 3 weeks and finally found the time to do something about it. 

     It's best to use minimally processed organic wholegrain noodles within a  month or two from the date of manufacture since they can become rancid. I've observed this with both Econut's and Aurovilles' noodles. 

     I just put together everything for the sichuan sauce on a whim, grinding the ingredients together.....wouldn't you know the flavour just clicked. The peanuts added depth to the entire dish.


The perfect bowl of steaming healthy noodles

Whole grain noodles (ragi / whole wheat) - 3 cups, dehydrated

Cabbage, chopped - 1/2, medium sized 
Capsicum, thick julienned - 2, medium sized
Carrot, thick julienned - 2, medium sized
French beans, thick julienned - approx 15 nos., medium length
Peas, green, shelled - 1/2 cup
Onion, julienned - 1, medium sized
Salt - to taste (about a full tsp)
Oil - 2 tsp
Water - 3 to 4 cups

For Peanut Sichuan Sauce

Peanuts 3 - 4 tbsp

Tomato - 1 small
Onion - 1/2 small
Red chillies - 5 nos.
Ginger - 1 inch cube piece
Jeera - 1 tsp
Pepper Corns - 1/2 tsp
Coriander - 2 to 4 tbsp
Zest of 2 small lemons
Water - to make a fine paste.
Garlic - 1 to 3 cloves (optional)
Apple Cider (or any natural) vinegar - 1 tsp (optional)

Method: This recipe calls for a lot of multitasking........

1] Get all your ingredients cleaned and chopped first (my Mother-in-law helped with this part). Segregate the ingredients for the sauce and the main pot. This saves a lot of time. Soak the red chillies (for the sauce) along with the jeera and pepper corns in the vinegar and around 3 tbsp of water.

2] Boil drinking water to cook the noodles (around 3 - 4 cups) - just enough to submerge the lot. Once the water starts to boil (or you see small bubbles), add the dehydrated noodles and cover with a lid - turn the flame to simmer. Leave for as long as the instructions say or test every 3 mins - bite into a noodle to see if it's cooked the whole way through.

3] On another low flame, heat the oil (preferably groundnut oil) in a kadai. Add the chopped onions first and fry till pink and aromatic. Then add in the rest of the chopped veggies and give it a good stir. Close with a lid and let it cook for 5 - 8 mins.

4] So you have time now to prepare the sauce. Roast the peanuts lightly till they start popping. Add these and all the rest of the ingredients for the sauce into the blender (you had already soaked the red chillies right?). The water that was used for soaking should be just enough to get the right consistency. If not, add more. Grind into a fine paste.

5] Check on your noodles to see if they're done - you need an al dente texture so as soon as they're cooked, take the vessel off the flame and drain your noodles in a colander. Run cold drinking water over this and allow to drain. This ensures they won't clump together.

6] In the midst of step 5 (don't ask how frenzied I was), also check on your veggies and give them a good stir - the greens and orange should still be bright and the cabbage just about cooked. 

7] Add the Peanut Sichuan sauce paste into the stir fried veggies and fold well. Add salt at this point, mix and then blend in the al dente noodles. Fold yet again. Just a word of warning, if you add in extra water (like I did) you might get a mushy product though it still tastes great. 

Serve steaming hot with a salad and enjoy :) 

Preparation Time: 30 - 45 mins      Cooking Time: 20 mins     Serves: 4


- To add in more protein, add a cup of sprouts to the veggies or include tofu. 
- Use the sauce recipe for other types of dishes as well.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Calorie Counting Catastrophe

Calories (noun) : Tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little bit tighter every night.

     I loved this quote on Facebook (author unknown). It seems to capture the eternal mystery that this term signifies for most of us.
     What is a calorie? It is a unit of measurement of energy. A kilocalorie is a thousand calories and raises the temperature of 1 litre of water by 1°C. This kilocalorie is what we commonly refer to as ‘Calorie’. In India another abbreviation used is ‘kcal’. 

     So how many Calories do we need per day? According to our National Institute of Nutrition, in the past:

A sedentary (inactive) woman weighing 50 kg needs approximately 1900 kcals per day. A sedentary man weighing 60 kg requires 2400 kcals per day.

    These values have now been updated and replaced with calculations which are more individualised but still the resulting values remain approximately the same as above. Moreover, these formulae are mainly for the use of clinical nutritionists working in a hospital setting where more specificity in overall nutrient intake not just calories is critical to survival of the patient.

     Here's the catch for ordinary folk. Suppose you are a woman weighing 60 kg, your requirement of calories does not automatically go up. If you are of average height, then you may even need to reduce your caloric intake. But again, you don’t really need to count calories. 

     The trend of counting calories for weight loss started back in the eighties and really gained ground in the nineties in the US. Over thirty years of calorie awareness and we have more obese people in the world than ever before. Obviously something’s not right here.

     Firstly, if you have been counting calories (from guide books or nutrition labels), you should know that these values are not accurate – in fact they may be off by about 20%! That makes a huge difference if you thought you were consuming 1800 kcals and really were consuming over 2100 kcals….
Secondly, tracking calorie consumption makes you focus on quantity not quality.

For example,

1 vegetable puff gives anywhere between 250 to 300 kcals depending on size and fat content.

3 medium sized phulkas (without fat) will give you 250-270 kcals without the extra burden of trans fats, refined flour and other harmful ingredients. They contain more complex carbohydrates, fibre and other nutrients as well!

     The point is that foods are not just about the calories. A food is a package offering a variety of nutrients at once. Unprocessed, organic, whole, natural plant-based foods are the best source of calories and the best part is that you don’t need to sum up if you are eating mostly these types of foods. Dairy products like milk, curd, paneer and cheese, so long as they are organic, are also healthy and white meat, cooked healthily is preferable to red.

     Thirdly, this whole process of doing food maths is stressful, taking away your focus on your body’s natural signal response system for satiety (fullness). It also increases feelings of guilt (when you have indulged) and encourages rather than discourages bingeing. A number of anorexics obsessively count calories which should ring a warning alarm in your head. 

     People who count calories may not do so with their nutritionist’s guidance and thus set their calorie intake too low. Consistently eating a low energy diet slows down your metabolism and leads to all types of chronic disease.

     Did you think being healthy = being thin? This is the idea that people who count calories generally have. A number on a scale does not translate into health. It is about overall fitness – people can be overweight and still be healthy. I’m not saying you can now justify those excess kilos. It is still best to reach your ideal body weight - however, that figure might be nearer to your current weight than you think. Meet a nutritionist to know what is ideal for you.

     To conclude, your health is comprised of the quality of food you choose to put into your body plus your physical output – the more activity throughout the day the better. If you’ve been trapped in this cycle of calorie counting --- weight loss --- weight gain, hopefully reading this will open up new routes on your journey to wellness.

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