Desi Visitor To The US – Part 3

Hello there ,

I’ve been waiting to tell you this ..!

After I last spoke with you, I had some shopping to get done before the upcoming weekend and off we went. Now, this is a warehouse store where you get to shop when you are a paid member with them. One thing about these places is that you get giant quantities at bargain prices. (And you’ll end up eating more than you want to, just because you bought it. Well .. that’s a topic for another day!) But like I said,  the best of us can go down a rabbit hole if we don’t watch out. And this time it was ME!

Here’s what happened.

I needed two items – Basmati Rice and a big bag of baby organic greens like Spinach or Kale. So, I pulled the cart and husband showed the id card and we were in. Right by the entrance was a sampling booth handing out Trail Mix – it’s a mixture of dried fruit and nuts. So, I accepted and Venky said a terse ‘no’. I dismissed it as his grouchiness that comes up when we go shopping! Earlier it was worse, now it shows up only now and then 🙂

Well, I was walking as I was still chomping this, when the next sampling lady was offering some Lemon Tea. It got me curious and I stopped to see that it was a new brand, Uhmm. The lady said how she loves it when she carries it in the car for long drives. I tasted it and moved on. As I was coming out from the produce section and going towards the Rice aisle, there was a big line to taste some Ice cream samples. This wasn’t my thing and I was wanting to get done with shopping and so, took a detour around two other aisles to get to where the Rice was.

Now, here was another sampling booth with almost no takers, w-a-y in the back. And the sample lady was breaking slabs of chocolate and filling them in tiny paper cups. It had specks of green and red and looked very pretty even from far.  Before I knew, I was chatting her up and eating that absolutely beautiful, inviting, divine chocolate! And asking her which aisle it was in!! It felt soo good upon  finding it and then picked up the Rice. My husband was wearing a full blown grouchy expression by this time. I gingerly asked him why – he gave me that look and said “I thought we came here to buy exactly TWO things!!”

So, add this to your shopping smarts list as the #6:

Shop like men – go exactly to where your required item is, in the shop, and refuse samples entirely if you don’t want to be lured in. Two reasons why –

a. It is not rude to refuse it. b. You’ll not miss what you don’t try.

If you’re curious what I fell for, here it is –

It helps to know, sample stations are strategically placed and samples are handed out – not because the stores love you – but to sell it to you in a way you don’t even realize it! We both ate some of that damn chocolate and now he’s hidden it in a safe place. So all’s well 🙂

Ready for label gyan?

There are two important pieces of information on the back of a package.

1. The Nutrition Facts – a nutrition table

2. Ingredients – the list of ingredients in the decreasing order of weight, which sits right below the nutrition table. I tend to start with the ingredient list.

1.Make sure it reads like a list of foodie things which a seven year old can read. Such as this one here:

You absolutely do not want something that feels like it was put together in a chemistry laboratory. Check this one out:

2.Since the ingredients are listed out in the decreasing order of weight in which they’re present, You do NOT want sugar, salt or oil to be your top ingredients.

Now, this is easier said than done. Because often, sugar is not written as plain sugar. They may call it fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate and so on. Apparently, there are close to sixty or so different names for sugar alone!

Fats similarly, comes in many guises. Oils of any kind, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, are ALL fats. Laughably, even when the front of the package says zero-fat or low-fat, the reality is often the exact opposite of that description.

Salt goes by names such as table salt, sodium, sodium nitrite, sodium benzoate, disodium and so on.

3. It would be great to have the word ‘whole’ before as many ingredients as possible, as this would mean that fiber content is intact. If you spotted the word ‘sprouted’ that would be a huge plus too, as sprouting enriches the nutrient density big time.

Moving on, let’s read the Nutrition Facts, the table you’ll find above the ingredient list. If we used my favorite tortilla example here

1. First look for Calories. This one has, 120 Calories.

2. Make sure that calories coming from Fat is always less than 20% of the total calories. So, 20% of 120 would be 24, and we want it to be less than 24. Now, let’s check! Wonderful, it’s only 15.

3. Then, make sure the Sodium content is the same number (or less) as Calories. This one totally rocks it – it’s Sodium number is 10!

So what this means is, for every serving size mentioned, you’ll get 120 calories. Out of this 15 comes from Fat. This amount of serving will also give you 10 mg of Sodium. ( 2 tortillas is the serving size mentioned on the label)

Next, you know what? Ignore every other number! They just don’t matter.

Let’s see how you do it on your own.

Would you buy this? Why or why not?

Waiting for your answer,


Desi Visitor To The US – Part 2

Hope you are doing fabulously 🙂

The strange thing my aunt noticed and pointed out about the US is how every gas station doubles up as a mini food shop. Soon, she changed her stand and said how e-v-e-r-y kind of shop carries food items here in this country – hardware shops, home improvement shops, even the laundromats! She says she got tired fighting her temptation for chocolates, my dear aunt.

Food scientists have pointed out that there is a food ad every five minutes or so in the television at any given time. And needless to say, they are NOT advertising the goodness of eating veggies! So, it is important to realize that you will be bombarded with food cues to the point that it will wear your resistance down and push you towards making some choices that may not be typical of you. So, please be aware.

Second point to observe about the food scene here is the size. A regular cookie in a coffee shop will look like the size of homemade poori. A coffee or tea bought outside is given black and you are free to take as much milk or cream as you desire. Less said the better, about the cold beverages – they come mostly in super large bottles and smaller ones actually cost you disproportionately more in price. The desserts such as cakes and pastries are just frosting more than two thirds of the way. Single serve portions of anything are huge for one person.

Then, you will also find that foods tend to err on the sweeter side, actually cloyingly so. Even the supposedly savory ones like ketchup or salsa. Some call out to you as “health foods” and especially the convenience of it all can be tempting. For example, Granola and yogurt which is very popular or even the granola bars. With misleading names and deceptive descriptions like ‘all natural’, ‘honest goodness’, the best of us can fall hook line and sinker for these things.

Please also keep an eye for the sneaky salt in foods where you least expect to see in such ridiculous amounts. The breads, pizza bases, dinner rolls, ready to eat soups, even soda has it! Also look for it the sauces, ketchup, canned rajma, chana and other cooked beans.

All these above factors can cause you to gain weight if you are not watchful. Did you say “enough already, this is depressing?” Oh, nooo – I only meant to alert you, that’s all. When I see my own relatives when they visit here, I find them erring on the extremes of too much trust or too wary. But knowing these things can help you navigate much more confidently.

So, what do you do differently? Number one thing to do is,

1. Do not shop or even step out to these stores when hungry.

2. Make sure to carry a little food in your bag all the time. This way you’re never at the mercy of a poorly stocked shop for food, ever.

3. In a Departmental Store, all the safe foods are in the periphery, usually near the entrance – colorful fruit, veggies and so on. The aisles are where the junk is.

4.  This one is the most important – if you have to go to aisle and buy packaged food, DO NOT pay any attention to what the front of the package says.

5. Always turn it around to read the ingredient list and the nutrition label.

I will stop at this and we’ll go into detail about these two things – the ingredient list and the nutrition label, in the next post.


Desi Visitor To The US – Part 1

The coming summer months in the US bring a lot of Desi visitors – both at home and business alike.

There is a definite concern to stay healthy through their stay and make the most of their travel. So all this month, I’ll stick with this theme and share some important tips to eat healthy while in the US. This could be of interest to you right away if you or your dear ones are planning to visit here soon. So feel free to forward the mail to whoever needs it.

This part is all about shopping for vegetables and fruits while in the US.

The most prominent question I get is whether to buy organic or the regular produce and the ‘why’ behind it.

If parents are visiting their children here in the US, first responsibility they take upon themselves is the kitchen department 🙂
Cooking, grocery shopping the whole nine yards! The place where I live, we see a lot of business visitors as well – round the year, but spiked around this time when they tend to combine family holiday with work. All these situations involve some produce-shopping instances. And if you have a standard mantra that’s like “buy what _looks_ good AND reasonably priced”, it’s likely gonna be disappointing to you often. My relatives often grumble about veggies being tasteless here!

Well, until they went shopping with me!!

Personally I shop for organic everything, as much as I can. This is because organic way of farming works  towards preserving long-term soil fertility, preserving genetic diversity and reducing all forms of pollution. This is IN complete alignment with my values, so I don’t think twice about my preference for organic. Besides, the taste is just bursting with flavor when it’s grown with care.

But I like to remind my people that a mere organic tag does not make ALL food choices healthy! For example, potato chips made from organic potatoes and fried in organic sunflower oil!!

So, here we go – Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are your two important lists.

Dirty Dozen is a set of twelve produce items that are best bought organic. These were found to be the most pesticide-laden of all when they are non-organic.

Clean Fifteen are the ones that are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides.

This list is put together by EWG which stands for Environmental Public Group. They are a non-profit organisation with a mission to “empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.”

I feel compelled to educate you, my dear Desi reader, about these things that you may not know, as a visitor.. I want you to have a whale of a time here!

Dirty Dozen – Strawberries, Spinach, Nectarines, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries, Grapes, Celery, Tomatoes, Sweet Bell Peppers (Capsicum), Potatoes.

Clean Fifteen – Sweet Corn, Avocados, Pineapples, Cabbage, Onion, Sweet Peas, Papaya, Asparagus, Mangoes, Eggplant(Brinjal), Honeydew melon (a variety of Kharbuj with a smooth light-green or light-yellow outer skin), Kiwi, Cantaloupe (a variety of Kharbuj with a wrinkled dull yellow skin), Cauliflower and Grapefruit.

Big part of visiting a new place is getting to shop and eat for local produce and specialties. Here is a link for you to locate a Farmers Market near you and check out the offerings. What you’ll find at these markets is way superior compared to a big box store, given that everything here is very fresh.

My next part in this series, I will address a hot-pain question .. “last time I came to the US and gained all the weight in the world!how do I eat smart this time?”. So be on the look out for that as it’s all about smart shopping.

Ask away any food questions you may have about your US visit, in the comments section.


Why Won’t You Eat Healthy?

Hey y’all! Hope you are all doing fabulously .. wishing each one of you a fantastic 2017.

I refuse to get pulled and pushed about making resolutions about this or that, so I am not going to ask you either. I took some time to understand the feedback given to me by my private clients recently and I saw a wealth of information that I am eager to share with you, so let’s get started.

There was a client that I will call Emily, for my Spice Up workshop. Em had a great time learning about spices, she enjoyed cooking some simple dishes using them. She was blown away by the delicious results as well. Fine, she almost expected something along these lines as she had a friend who had taken my workshop earlier.

What did surprise her was this discovery about herself: that she enjoyed cooking.

I prodded her to tell me more. She said, it was delightful for her as she reached out for ingredients with her inner muse guiding her on the steps .. she could do this all over again if only she was ably assisted in her own kitchen, she remarked. I asked her to elaborate on what kind of assistance she would love to have. She smiled and said, ‘I’d like to play the chef’.”

She wanted all her ingredients laid out in the order she would need them, veggies washed and chopped beautifully, an appropriate container washed and dried ready to receive the food she prepares and a serving plate or bowl with spoons and forks set out .. do you see where she is going with this?

And then she grandly summed up with, “THEN I would most definitely eat healthy everyday”. This is a very common inference in my workshop and I wanted to discuss this with you.   

In this day and age, there is no dearth for information. There is a ton of the good and bad kind all mixed up, though. And this is a topic for another day. But information is accessible to most of us. We know reasonably clearly that it is good to eat our meals on time, we have our ways of measuring what is right for us, and what kind is best for us. So far so good.

But then day after day, we grab the wrong foods as we hurriedly get about our work, throw out that bag of sprouts or that expensive bag of micro greens we picked up so fondly in an effort to eat healthy. Not to mention, that whole crisper of veggies that sat there for two weeks in different stages of wilt. You just tossed it all in the compost bin and comforted yourself that it’s not a waste after all! Sounds familiar?  

Disorganization is the biggest non-food reason why we don’t eat healthy. What do I mean by this? Like how Emily said, most of us would like to play the chef in our kitchens. We desire to enter the space and find our mise en place all set for us.

When we open our refrigerators, we would like to see our veggies all washed and prepped – ready to go. Our onions to be chopped, garlic peeled and appropriate herbs for our dish – all neatly laid out in their containers.

What we actually have, is an exact opposite of this in varying degrees of messiness. We remember picking that peeled garlic – for a higher price, to make it easy on ourselves and the damn thing is nowhere to be seen. The cilantro looked so fresh at the farmers market and you bought it right away. But what you did not notice is, the roots with sticky mud still clinging to it.

You put it in the refrigerator hurriedly to keep its freshness, thinking you will get to washing it just after lunch. And then, you have three knives in your cutlery tray, (hiding with the eating utensils) but not one of them is sharp or to your liking. Also, veggies all need washing before you can use them. Damn!! 

Picture #1

Organic Ginger and Organic Cilantro in different stages of wilting cohabiting with a reasonably good looking Organic Onion and Organic Bell Pepper inside the same baggie. Buying the best organic vegetables does NOT MEAN you eat the best organic vegetables.

Picture #2

The everyday knife which is sooo dull was first reached out to, but was found unwashed in the sink. Then remembered the knife-set received in a thoughtful gift, oh! DAMN, the two in there are serrated ones, where are the regular ones??? Aaaahhhh, want to run away from here!!!!

Picture #3

Every ladle and spoon there was, was in the sink waiting to get washed at the time of this picture. As was the bowl, Vitamix and few pans and …!

Do you see how just streamlining this will take you a minimum of 20-30 minutes of your precious time when all you had was 20 minutes to cook and eat a simple something? Why are you surprised that you just grabbed a cookie and left the place? And when you came home in the evening, though you had the time ahead of you, this somehow did not feel like anything you would enjoy doing. So, you called for a pizza to be delivered.

So, here is what I want to share about my own experience about staying organised in the kitchen and eating healthy:

  1. Aiming to never fail FAILS big time. Therefore your goal must be to only catch yourself going off track AT THE EARLIEST and get back in the groove again.

What do I mean by this? Let’s say you read this on Thursday and you are inspired to action and you decide to prep for every single meal Monday through Wednesday. And you have every intention of doing the same on Wednesday for the rest of the week but totally missed it, for whatever reason. And you feel the pinch of it on Friday, when you had friends over at short notice. Instead of bashing yourself, or saying, ‘oh well, this is just not my thing, it does not work for folks like us!!’, get back to doing your meal prep promptly on Saturday. That’s it!

  1. Define what eating healthy means for you, very clearly.

As in, say ‘ I will make sure to have two veggies for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this week. One of them to be served raw, the other in cooked form”. See how it carries its own action steps for you? All that’s left is for you is to figure out what veggies you will need for which dish.  

  1. Bridge the knowing-doing gap with DONE and DON’T lists.

Imagine a list like this on the refrigerator: Carrots – grated, Potatoes – boiled, Quinoa – cooked, Garbanzo and Pinto – boiled, Onions – sliced 1, diced 1, Garlic – peeled, Cilantro and Mint – chopped, with a tick mark against each. Will you not feel a sense of accomplishment? It is this joy of success which will propel your next series of steps in the desired direction.

DON’T lists have their place as well. Especially if doing the bad thing has become a habit. I have stuck a pink post it that reads NO EMAILS on my kitchen table as it had become a mindless activity to check them while eating, in the mornings. My intention was to get mindful about what was going into my mouth and enjoy the tastes rather than going through emails at that time. I have similarly stuck a “STOP@5” postit reminder on the raisins bag.   

If you have to or already have organized your kitchen for cooking and eating healthy, what are/were your TOP three steps? I would love for you to share it the comments.




Knowledge and Behavior are two different things

Let me share with you this insightful conversation I once had with a stranger. We were both  at an airport, having some time on our hands before we could board our airplanes. She goes ‘ we all know we shouldn’t be hogging on potato chips. But I do!  As a dietitian do you also feel like it, how do you deal with it?’

Here’s my confession: I love  deep fried food, I always have. Chips, banana fritters made the Indian way, Onion and Cashew Pakodas (haven’t heard ..? go look up) don’t even get me started. I can hog on these any time of the day or night but I don’t.

Up until my mid-twenties I just ate whatever my heart yearned for, so long as it was vegetarian. Around this point, I took a course to learn what it meant to be a counselor. And my mentor there said two things – to be helpful to others and understand them, one needs to understand oneself.

Second one was, writing is a very useful tool to look inwards. So, I got into the habit of keeping a journal. It was a no holds barred kinda writing. It would have all areas of my life running into each other in a way it made sense ONLY to me! From this I’ve dug out four findings about myself over the years, that helps to this day, in managing my ways with many things, definitely around food.

  1.  Am lazy
  2. Love simplicity
  3. Need routines
  4. Am highly motivated to do the right thing

Laziness is a wonderful trait to have if you want to eat healthy. This is what drives me to cook a one-pot meal in a pressure cooker versus deep frying fritters, standing the entire time in front of a hot stove, making it. Rather than fight laziness, I’ve found ways to creatively use it to my advantage. For instance, we keep Cookies or other treats in the top most cupboard, above the refrigerator, in our house. And for extra discouragement, I’ve put our water filter over the step-stool! It takes me a good fifteen minutes PLUS back-breaking hard work  to get to that damn thing that I rarely ever eat what’s up there!! This is such a foolproof method for me, you gotta try to see what I mean.

And if you combined this love for simplicity with laziness, you can get more uses out of the combo. Like, eating salad becomes a breeze. Especially, if you’re the kind who has trouble getting started with a veggie dish but eventually love that you decided upon it. Or you may come up with new ways of substituting elaborate dishes that take only a fraction of the time. For instance, Medjool date stuffed with

For instance, Medjool date stuffed with nuts  makes for a very satisfying dessert. We were served this at a party recently and it vanished off the plate in just minutes. Nobody thought it was stupid or blah! The hostess here definitely came across as someone who embraces her simplicity. We have another couple in our friends circle. And in their house, breakfast for the warmer half of the year is always fruit. Just plain fruit – a bowl of berries or sliced melons or a banana or some fruit.

I’d be totally rattled if I have to figure out a schedule for the basic stuff on a daily basis. Not happening! Mondays and Thursdays, I walk with friends – it is all fixed – time, duration, where we meet, everything. Three days a week we eat some dish made of greens. This is my Indian thing – many of us skip the evening meal on the eleventh day of the moon cycle, four days before the full moon. Many of us have and like our routines but what is key to understand here is that they are not set in stone. If there are some habits you had as part of your routine that aren’t serving you well, they can be changed. Habits do fall off with me too and I put them back from time to time. Recently I’ve re-introduced  the sprouts into my routine.

When you are highly driven to do the right thing, even a slight support from people in your lives can do wonders. And it is even better when we can articulate how we’d like to be supported and delegate. For example, you can ask them to encourage (or discourage) at the right times. Last evening, I wanted to munch on something very badly. My husband was his usual generous self to get up and bring some goodies on a plate. Then I went ‘oh, my mouth is all too sweet and now I want some savories’.

I’ll pause right here. This is where the craziness can use some help. On my own, I tend to forget to get mindful. I am all caught up about the party in my mouth and little else matters. But! If there is a well-meaning person that can recognize the craziness on your behalf and help you get aware, it can be averted. Over years, I’ve come to a point where I need only a slight help and not a whole lot. So, if we’ve company then my husband says a blank-faced ” huh??” and pretends not to have understood me. It’s enough to redirect me to whatever activity on hand. If we’re by ourselves he may suggest that I fetch it for myself.

Going back to the story, he quipped  just in time ‘sure, just go bring it’ – I took the cue and decided to  focus on  the movie instead!  The tricky part here was to see that he was helping me and therefore not get sour about him. Was it purely my motivation to do the right thing, it’s difficult to say for a fact. But in combination with my laziness, it sure worked in my favor.

One month after that airport lounge chat, my new friend Facebooked to say she had figured out one useful finding about herself: how she likes four of everything. She went by the number four as if on a autopilot – four spoons of oil, four cookies with tea, four servings at meals! Next, she decided to pre-cut all the cookies in the jar to a half. She switched the spoon next to the oil jar to a smaller one. And when she baked a pizza next time, she first packed away one half and only served the other, cut into four wedges. She noticed she did not even miss it. And it was a treat to have more left for tomorrow’s lunch, without even trying! I remembered her saying she was a leading Actuary in her town and it all made sense how she had expertly drawn these conclusions.

So, why am I sharing all this with you?

Here’s why – I’d like you to deeply understand one thing – we don’t get healthy by reading a book or getting a masters degree in health sciences. All this add to your knowledge base. It’s like saying, I’ve got bags of food loaded in my pantry. This does NOT mean your hunger is satiated. Right? You gotta put in some effort to translate that knowledge to real action steps which comes down to what we do in tiny increments day after day.

You need to take time to observe yourself for these traits and quirks that drive your behavior so you can modify them in a way that works for you. It is just like acknowledging the motorist tendency to speed at particular points and putting a speed breaker in place. Only, you are responsible for installing your own behavioral controls for certain things in life.

Did you find this useful? Share about one behavior that you’ve happily retained or modified and what was your tool to achieve that?