Tuesday, December 27, 2016


The Kalpavriksha is a divine, wish-fulfilling tree mentioned in early Sanskrit literature and Mythology. While the idea of a Kalpavriksha is surreal, the title has been given to many trees over the ages. Our humble coconut tree is truly deserving of this title. Not to invalidate the claims of other hugely beneficial species, but to honour the most maligned one for sure.

We were taught in our Masters of Food Science and Nutrition program to treat the Coconut with suspicion and only in a few instances of liver and pancreatic disease were we ever advised to prescribe it. This is the way the entire world started to view coconut fat after a few studies showed that it increased cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

However, apparently these studies used partially hydrogenated coconut oil which, as everyone now knows, is a trans-fat. Similar studies also vilified all saturated fats around the same time. Can you believe none were conducted on unprocessed coconut oil let alone cold-pressed organic (which is the gold standard)? So we have been mightily misled as regards our South Indian staple’s actual healing power.

This table displays the nutritional content of different parts of the coconut used:

Form of Coconut
Calories (per 100g / ml)
Saturated Fat (per 100g / ml)
Dietary Fibre (per 100g / ml)
Protein (per 100 g / ml)
Other important nutrients
Fruit (CF)
354 Kcals
Iron, Manganese, Copper, Magnesium, Phosphorus, B vitamins,
Water (CW)
19 Kcals
Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Cytokinins
Milk (CM)
230 Kcals
Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus
Oil (CO)
862 Kcals
Phytonutrients, antioxidants and MCTs
400 Kcals
13g (can vary)
13g (can vary)
375 Kcals
Inulin, Polyphenols, Antioxidants

You may notice that there is only a mention of saturated fat. This is because coconut fat is mostly composed of saturated fat and for a long time, scientists believed all saturated fats were bad for us but in the past decade, we have seen a turn-around on that theory.

It is now known that all saturated fats are not equal. Those from plant sources are seen to be of superior quality containing beneficial phytonutrients namely polyphenols which have antioxidant properties. Cytokinins (especially in CW) such as trans zeatin and kinetin show anti-ageing, anti-thrombotic and anti-carcinogenic effects. The fatty acid composition of CO is unique with beneficial saturated fatty acids such as Lauric, Myristic and Caprylic Acids comprising the major percentage of Coconut fat. These are chemically classified as Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) and are credited with increased energy available for immediate use, favourably affecting blood lipid profile, help clear atherosclerosis and speed up metabolism. The coconut is also a good source of fibre, minerals and vitamins.

Although pretty much any component from the fruit to the flour is rich in healthy nutrients, the degree to which these are available to the humans who eat them depends on the extent of processing and chemical treatment they have been subjected to.

The following studies and their results deserve special mention:

Coconut huskfibre – A decoction from this part of the plant is shown to have antimicrobial, anti- viral, pain-blocking, anti –inflammatory and anti-helminthic (anti-parasitic) activities.
CM and CW both have the effect of healing ulcers and coconut milk is the more powerful of the two.
CO can be used on skin having the effect of the best moisturizer. Much better than commercial mineral oils as proven in one study. Mineral oils such as well known baby oils and lip balms are absorbed (may cause harm), they clog pores and don’t give your skin anything beneficial.
Dietary intake of CO elevates HDL (good cholesterol) and reduces abdominal obesity in both men and women.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) of CO increase cognitive performance in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Oral intake of CO can be given alongside chemotherapy as it reduces the side effects.
CO has anti-inflammatory activity and has a beneficial impact during fevers .
CO has been shown to kill candida yeast infection (Urinary Tract Infections, Thrush).
CO has been shown to reduce ruminal fermentation and methanol production in lactating dairy cows. When methane emitted from cattle is labeled as a major cause of global warming, this particular effect takes on new significance.
CO promotes beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system when used in conjunction with exercise.
CO topically applied on wounds can improve healing.
Virgin CO improves liver fat metabolism.
Myth 1…. Only Virgin Coconut Oil is good……not true…just make sure you buy organic cold-pressed regular coconut oil. It is the best cooking oil as its MCTs don’t break down when heated and the oil’s antioxidant capacity is actually increased on heating.
Myth 2….  Long term usage of coconut oil may not be good for the heart since it is a saturated fat.  
There is a bias in ‘modern science’ against saturated fats which we are just getting over. We were taught to almost never prescribe this oil for fear of increasing heart disease risk. Coconut Oil in fact raises good cholesterol, HDL and beneficially alters the lipid profile of blood so as to protect the circulatory system and heart.
Myth 3…. Saturated fats present increase weight and may lead to obesity.
This is not true as MCTs increase the rate of metabolism so the body consumes more energy and burns more fat.
Myth 4 Coconut Oil is thick and not absorbed easily on skin.
It  is neither sticky nor greasy and is readily absorbed by the body.
Myth 5 Coconut Oil goes rancid very easily. Not true, cold-pressed coconut oil is more stable than other cold-pressed oils .

Children benefit greatly from coconut oil as they need moderate amounts of fat to fuel growth, generate hormones and absorb nutrients from food. Coconut water is said to be the most beneficial and can even cleanse your little one’s intestine of parasites. Active kids also need to rehydrate often and coconut water has the closest electrolyte composition to that of blood.
How to add coconut into your kids meals:
  • Use Coconut oil and flour in your baking and cooking.
  • Add the oil to curd (in a bowl without sugar).
  • Add the coconut fruit (meat) raw in smoothies, milk-shakes, soups, etc or can just be eaten raw.
  • The tender coconut water and the tender fruit make a great evening snack.
  • Coconut milk can be made at home and the residual meal can be dried and used in baking.
  • Coconut Sugar can be added instead of white sugar as your staple sweetener.
  • Use the oil, fruit, milk and flour in desserts instead of the usual suspects.

Benefits of Coconut for our Mouths:
The antimicrobial properties of coconut have now been proven so it makes sense to use it in our mouths for that purpose. To back it up, there are many blogs, articles and videos of people to whom these next 2 practices have made a difference. Everything from plaque removal and whitening of teeth to healing of dead teeth.
Coconut Oil Toothpaste: The ultimate recipe is 1 teaspoon of Coconut Oil + a pinch of baking soda + a quarter teaspoon of turmeric  + a few drops of peppermint oil.
Oil pulling : This Ayurvedic practice involves swishing coconut oil in your mouth for around 20 – 30 minutes after you brush your teeth first thing in the morning. All the bacteria and toxins from your mouth are pulled into the fat, cleansing it. Plaque in your mouth is not water soluble – it is fat soluble and so it makes sense that only a fat would have the capacity to rid our teeth of this build-up.  Studies have shown that at the very least, oil pulling with coconut oil is equivalent to using a mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, your choice.
If you now choose to go to your nearest organic outlet or online retail site, kudos on making a valuable addition to your kitchen superfood cabinet. However, we must use it sensibly and not overdo it, for that will cause an imbalance and has consequences for the body.  Use 1 – 2 teaspoons per day for children and 1- 2 tablespoons of it a day per adult and ensure your family is using other healthy un-refined fats like sesame (til), mustard, groundnut, ghee, etc. If you want to use it only on a weekly basis, that’s OK too. A blend of such fats in your family’s daily diet will supply all essential fatty acids and heal the body.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What Your Child May Be Afraid Of…….And You Had No Idea!

Just imagine if your child suffered a panic attack and severe stress by just looking at a mushroom sitting on a plate or refused to eat any food at all due to an overwhelming fear that it might cause bodily harm. What would life be like for your child and you? Would mealtimes be hellish? Are they at that stage right now? Your child could be suffering from a food phobia.
ACEROPHOBIA – Fear of sourness
ALEKTOROPHOBIA – Fear of chicken
ALLIUMPHOBIA – Fear of garlic
ARACHIBUTYROPHOBIA – Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth
CARNOPHOBIA – Fear of meat
CONSECOTELAPHOBIA – Fear of chopsticks
EMETOPHOBIA – Fear of vomiting
FRIGOPHOBIA – Fear of cold things
GEUMOPHOBIA – Fear of taste
ICHTHYOPHOBIA – Fear of fish
LACHANOPHOBIA – Fear of vegetables
MAGEIROCOPHOBIA – Fear of cooking
METHYPHOBIA – Fear of alcohol
MYCOPHOBIA - Fear of mushrooms
OENOPHOBIA – Fear of wine
OSTRACONOPHOBIA – Fear of shellfish
PHAGOPHOBIA – Fear of swallowing
PNIGOPHOBIA – Fear of choking
THERMOPHOBIA – Fear of hot things
TOXOPHOBIA – Fear of being accidentally poisoned
XANTHOPHOBIA – Fear of the colour yellow

“A Phobia is a confused state” says B. Mallika, a counsellor based in Chennai. A child who suffers from a phobia is unable to communicate and express what they are going through. More importantly, parents aren’t teaching them how to do so and often react in frustration.
Phobias can be present in an individual from a very mild degree to extreme forms which severely impact quality of life for him or her and people around them. If you recognise that your child or family member has symptoms, it is time to get help from a mental health professional.
Let’s look at a couple of more common food phobias to get an insight into the suffering that people with these conditions go through.
Cibophobia / Sitiophobia:
Quite literally, it is the fear of food. It is not linked to body image and is thus distinct from anorexia and bulemia. As in all other phobias, the extent of the fear is revealed by severity of symptoms. A person suffering from this disorder is convinced that eating certain foods (mostly mushrooms, cheese, pickles, eggs and milk) will cause great bodily harm.
He/She would be concerned with expiry dates on food packaging and tends to overcook foods to the point of burning them to avoid microbiological contamination. Psychological stress after consuming such a food may result in nausea, vomiting and physical trembling. Chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms of severe anxiety may also arise. Every case is different because every individual, their thinking patterns and triggers of the fear are different.
Some psychological symptoms are
  • Knowing your fears are unreasonable yet feeling powerless to control them.
  • A feeling of anxiety when you think about or are exposed to eating foods you are afraid of.
  • The feeling that you must do everything possible to avoid eating.
  • You are unable to function normally because of your anxiety.
Sufferers often don’t drink and eat enough to supply adequate nutrition and may as a result, have nutritional deficiencies and health problems. They then need nutrient supplementation to maintain health. Some children and even teens will refuse to eat solid foods. Their condition can disrupt family harmony and such children experience isolation by their peers. Sleep is impacted. Bed-wetting, nightmares, refusal to sleep alone and other behavioural issues are usually present.
A mental health professional is the best person to assist a child with such symptoms. That being said, drugs and medication may tackle only the symptoms apart from having side effects. A recent study in the US concluded that 90% of children on medication for behavioural problems didn’t require them at all! Even if medication is necessary, it would not address the patterns of thinking that are actually the core of the problem.
Food Neophobia:
Neophobia is the fear of anything new. Sufferers of food neophobia reject new and unfamiliar foods. It usually first appears in infants between the ages of 12 – 24 months and is thought to be an evolutionary trait to protect babies from eating poisonous / harmful foods. Acceptance of new foods until the age of 5 years may often require at least 5 – 10 exposures to a particular food. Older children and adults are mostly capable of overcoming it.
Neophobias in children can be lessened in degree or even overcome through their role models (parents, teachers, superheroes, peers, etc). If they create a positive impression, the child may be influenced to try new nutritious foods.
Speaking of which, the food groups most often disliked are dairy, cereal grains and pulses, meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. As with cibophobia, neophobia restricts food choices and can lead to nutritional deficiencies without proper intervention.
How do Food Phobias Develop?
Children may develop cibophobia whilst eating in front of authoritative figures. Child abuse and news of a death of someone close to them can also trigger this phobia in tender minds. Phagophobia, the fear of swallowing is said to be directly related to the vocal chords. When they are tight, constricted and won’t open fully this signifies that communication is suppressed in this individual. She/He does not know how and is not encouraged to be open and communicative. They are suppressed and told to be quiet often. They might be mocked, scolded and have low self esteem.
When this environment alters, when children are encouraged to read aloud, sing and tell stories and express themselves without fear of repression, they start thriving and the degree of the phobia is lessened and often disappears completely. Studies have also shown that children who are allowed to touch and play with their food are much less likely to develop food neophobia.
Surprising isn’t it? Fear usually thrives in negative, dis-empowering, oppressive environments. Every family goes through rough patches but parents should be careful that their children are not impacted as the stress produced is harmful to their physical and emotional health.
If you make negative statements about a child as s/he eats, the less s/he will eat and the converse is also true – More appreciation and encouragement is related to increased weight of the child.
Food phobias (and any other type of phobia) not only impacts the sufferer and their quality of life, they affect family members as well. A harried mother trying desperately to feed her child will soon despair and vent her frustration on other family members.
Mealtimes become a battleground and the family’s focus may be on the child suffering, relegating the needs of siblings to the background. Individual stress levels increase, affecting their short term and long term health. Parents whose child(ren) are fussy eaters tend to be frustrated and that condition affects how they view, love and parent that child.
According to Mallika, The first reaction to anything new is that our body objects to it. Consider that for a moment. The body says ‘No’ to any new experience, even if it’s a fraction of a second before both body and brain learn to accept the new experience. This means that parents can also show the way to their children by teaching them to differentiate between positive and negative experiences, establish rules, guide them as to how the world works, what they can transform and what they must learn to accept.
Learning to accept the new – both comfortable and uncomfortable is a valuable life skill that needs to be instilled very early by parents, family and teachers. What is also critical is that all this needs to be done with empathy and with a view to empower children. There is no way to guarantee this 100% but what matters is being aware of and acting on this responsibility.
So what else can we do to prevent or mitigate food phobias from developing? Sit down to a family meal as often as possible. Teach your children that they eat food to nourish their bodies and make sure you are transitioning to a super healthy and nourishing eating pattern. Allow them to eat how much they choose because they can recognise when they are full.
Movement and exercise is just as critical for young bodies and minds. The more they move, climb, jump, commune with nature and laugh the clearer their head and heart will be. As B Mallika says, “Fear is darkness, Clarity is Light”.

The edited version published in the October 2015 issue of Parent Circle....

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Say No To Caffeine

Caffeine is a Drug
The Union Health Ministry will soon issue an order that asks beverage manufacturers to carry a mandatory caffeine content warning label prominently on their packaging… “Not recommended for children, pregnant, lactating women or persons sensitive to caffeine.”
Energy drinks, all laden with caffeine, will have to cease using the ‘Energy’ tag and instead realistically be called ‘Caffeinated beverage’. These will carry a warning label stating the following “Not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women, persons sensitive to caffeine and sportspersons”. In addition, the packaging also needs to warn consumers “No more than 2 cans should be consumed per day”.
Why all this fuss? Study after study has shown caffeine to act in the body as an addictive substance does. Just like sugar, nicotine or alcohol. It especially has radical, measurable side effects if consumed by children. Just as in the case of many medications, a reduced dose of caffeine does not mean reduced consequences in young ones. Caffeine’s effects are magnified even at low levels of intake.
OK, so you never give your children coffee. What about soft drinks? Does your teen spend some pocket money on energy drinks or even colas on the way home from school or even at a social event with friends? How about processed coffee flavoured chocolates or milk drinks? Did you think dark chocolate was safe for kids? Not if they consume half a bar… they’re getting too much caffeine.
What are the effects of caffeine consumption in children?
  • Jitteriness (inability to keep still for short periods), trembling hands, difficulty in concentrating
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Headaches
  • Upset digestion
  • Dehydration – caffeine is a diuretic which means it causes flushing of water from the body. Definitely no cold drinks on hot summer days.
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

List of processed products that contain caffeine:
. Regular coffee powder
. Instant coffee powder
. Regular Black Tea leaves and tea made from this
. Instant tea mixes or ready-to-drink teas
. Red Bull, normal can contains 112 mg of caffeine
. Red Bull, sugar free – 80 mg of caffeine
. Mountain Dew
. Diet, Zero and regular Coca Cola
. Diet and regular Pepsi
. Thumbs Up
. Coffee-flavoured milk drinks, biscuits and chocolates
. Dark Chocolate
. Coffee liqueurs
. Weight loss supplements (which aren’t meant for children anyway)
Many other products also contain small amounts of caffeine unless labeled ‘Decaffeinated’ (which may be worse, chemically than caffeinated itself). It is always better to stay away from processed foods for this and many more reasons.

Green tea also contains a nominal amount of caffeine. One cup of coffee contains 100-150mg of caffeine; a cup of green tea has only about 25mg of caffeine. However, there are many variables affecting these numbers. For example, the caffeine content of different types of green tea can vary; also a longer brewing period can result in more strongly caffeinated tea.

Green tea contains two other stimulants in addition to caffeine. These substances, theobromine and theophylline, may affect heart rate and the central nervous system in a way somewhat similar to caffeine. These substances are also found in chocolate.

The combined stimulant effects of caffeine, theobromine and theophylline in green tea may be balanced by another substance in the tea, the amino acid L-Theanine which simultaneously calms the nervous system and enhances concentration abilities. So green tea may not be suitable for children below the age of 15 years, however older children may consume in moderation.
How does caffeine affect our family’ bodies? When you consume caffeine, the drug begins its effects by initiating uncontrolled neuron firing in your brain, according to Stephen Cherniske in his book, Caffeine Blues. This excessive neuronal activity triggers your pituitary gland to secrete a hormone that tells your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, cortisol and nor-epinephrine. This process puts your body in "fight-or-flight" state and when this adrenal high wears off later, you feel the drop in terms of fatigue, irritability, headache or confusion.

On regular consumption of caffeine containing products, your body enters a state of adrenal exhaustion. Your caffeine consumption has simply pushed your adrenal glands so much that they've burned out, making you more and more tired over time. This over production of stress hormones also takes a toll on health, mainly weight gain and under-functioning of several important physiological processes. The heart and liver are also affected.
A study examined Caffeine’s effects at a low dose in youngsters and found that post pubescent teenage boys showed the most vulnerability to Caffeine’s side effects. The Canadian Government’s guidelines for children aged 4-6 years sets a maximum of 45 mg per day. One cup of filtered coffee contains approximately 150 mg of caffeine per 250 ml and the same quantity of Pepsi contains 55 mg. Caffeine is not a ‘necessary nutrient’ by any standards so it can also be present at 0% in your children’s diet.
These are several great incentives to minimise caffeine consumption yourself and in your children. All the more necessary for pregnant and breast-feeding women to avoid caffeine. In addition, moderate caffeine consumption in these critical phases increases the risk of miscarriage, difficult labour and finally, can result in low birth-weight babies.
Add to this the fact that stopping caffeine consumption results in withdrawal symptoms, now you know why Caffeine is labelled a ‘DRUG’.
In terms of stimulants, it is tough to keep abreast of the latest chemicals being used in foods and drinks. If you see Guarana (40 times as potent as caffeine and lethal when combined with it), Taurine and Ephedrine on any product, put it down and look for a genuinely natural alternative if absolutely necessary.
Last year, of numerous energy drink related reports at the US National Poison Data System, 50% were in children younger than 6 years! They didn’t go out to a store and buy those drinks….they found them at home. Which brings me to the point…can you really monitor your kids 100% of the time? Don’t leave caffeinated beverages unattended to at home, just like you keep all poisonous chemicals out of reach. These cause harm and children don’t really understand the possible consequences.
Lastly, I stopped drinking coffee regularly a few months ago. Immediately I noticed withdrawal symptoms which subsided after a week. I noticed more clarity of thought, positivity and most importantly, regularized sleep pattern. I do have a cup now and then (and I notice the consequences too) but I mostly drink green and herbal teas when I need them which contribute to my health.

Why Carbonated and Energy drinks are not a good idea besides their caffeine content….They

  • Contain acids which erode teeth enamel besides having many harmful effects on the body
  • Contain sugars which are harmful for metabolism and cause dental caries too.
  • Artificial sweeteners in diet drinks have been linked to everything from cancer to sugar cravings!
  • Contain a chemical cocktail of additives, some of which have been proven to cause cancer
  • Affect children’s delicate metabolism and promote obesity
  • Cause satiety with no nutrients and are consumed instead of nutrient dense, healthy snacks. Therefore, children may exhibit signs of nutrient deficiencies (easy fractures, low energy, etc.)***

Snapshot of the edited version of this article published in the Dec 2015 issue of Parent Circle...

Feedback on the above article.....