Antioxidant Basics–Published in Marie Claire, January 2011

Antioxidants are substances or nutrients in our foods which can slow down the oxidative damage to our body. Oxidative damage (oxidants) is caused when our body cells use and absorb oxygen. Free radicals are the by-products of oxygen use and antioxidants prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals. These free radicals are known to cause health problems such as cancer, heart disease, macular degeneration, diabetes, etc. by slowly attacking the cells. They also damage the cells in our body that are important for a youthful look and that is why you see antioxidants in cosmetic and grooming products as well.

These free radicals are introduced in a variety of ways including exposure to the sun or pollution, internal stress, as well as the diet. Alcoholic beverages, unhealthy foods, and cigarette smoke all contain them.

Now that we know the importance of antioxidants to combat cellular damage let’s find out the best sources to get them. The media is full of news about new studies pointing out the foods combating various chronic ailments by their super antioxidant properties. Pistachios, berries and pomegranates have been recent discoveries. In fact the study of antioxidant sources is one of the hottest, most publicized areas in current nutrition research. Most fruits and vegetables have antioxidants and many of these studies are exaggerated and funded by associations which want to promote that particular food. For example the wine associations will promote the antioxidant value of their red wine or almond grower associations will fund a study of the antioxidant properties of almond oil.

But there is an “antioxidant team” consisting of vitamins, carotenoids and the trace mineral selenium that work to protect the body from free radical damage that you shold know well. Here is the team and the best source to get them:

Vitamin C – this popular vitamin known to fend off colds has many immune boosting antioxidants. Citrus fuits such as sweet lime and oranges are well known source but there are many others. Capsicum, other bell peppers, strawberries, cabbage, guava, amla and tomatoes are high in vitamin C.

Vitamin A — is found in three main forms: retinol, didehydroretinol, and 3-hydroxy-retinol. These many sound familiar as they are found in anti-aging creams and moisturizers. But the best way to get vitamin A is through foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, oranges, mangoes, guava, papaya, milk, paneer, curds, egg yolks and mozzarella cheese, nuts, fruit and seeds.

Vitamin E — is found in many oils including wheat germ, safflower, corn and soybean oils, and also found in mangoes, guavas, nuts(especially almonds), fruits, seeds, broccoli, parval, and other fruits and vegetables.

Beta Carotene – is a member of the cartenoids family. Carotenoids work with vitamin C and E in the body to protect free radical damage. They are found in many foods that are orange in color, including sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, strawberries, pumpkin, figs, oranges, papaya, water melon, sweet lime, carrots, parval and mangoes. Some green leafy vegetables including spinach, methi(fenugreek plant), and sarson(mustard plant) are also rich in beta-carotene.

Lycopene – some vitamin tablets are sold with extra lycopene because of studies that found lycopene to ward off certain diseases. This potent carotenoid antioxidant can be found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, chikoo, figs, apricots, oranges and other foods.

Lutein – this carotenoid is plentiful in green, leafy vegetables sarson(mustard plant), methi, black jamun and spinach. It is associated with healthy eyes.

Selenium – is a trace mineral found in the soil in varying amounts. It functions as part of an antioxidant enzyme system that defends preventing the body in forming free radicals. Research is currently underway to find the role of selenium against the development of some forms of cancer. Plant foods like rice and wheat, nuts and fruits, seeds and garlic are the major dietary sources of selenium. The amount of selenium depends on the soil and the food grown on that soil. Also animals that eat grains or plants grown in selenium-rich soil have higher levels of this mineral their muscle.

Antioxidant supplements are a subject of heated debate within the scientific community. Some advocate enriching foods with antioxidants, others prescribe vitamin supplements and some believe getting all the nutrients from a natural diet.

Our basic Indian diet with vegetables, pulses, curds and cereals is healthy but sometimes it is not possible to get the needed nutrition on a daily basis and supplements may be necessary. Strive for 6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Eat green leafy vegetables 4-5 times a week and eat fruits that give you vitamin C including oranges and guavas and check with your nutritionist if your diet regularly supplies the antioxidants your body needs to sufficiently fight free radical damage.


Attorney Advice – –Published in Marie Claire, January 2011

Shashiprabha Daté, 70, Pune
I am not one to fight or raise my voice in a court room but through my 33 years in family law, I have seen some of the cruelest human behavior in family relationships, things that left even a battle-scarred warrior like me shuddering.
There are several reasons why marriages break up – infidelity, alcohol abuse, squandering of money. Wife-beating and abuse are not confined to the poorer sections of society; they are widespread, and even well-educated, well-off families are guilty of abuse.
But one reason for divorce I have seen most often is interference from in-laws, both from the woman’s and the man’s side. Mothers-in-law think it is their right to boss over their son’s wife. In most situations, the son sides with his mother. It may be for dowry or she may just be shouting at her daughter-in-law for supposedly bad cooking. In both cases it is harassment and puts a strain on marital relations. The opposite it also just as true. Berating the husband, especially by the wife’s family who may be wealthier or more powerful, is also common, and can ruin the couple’s relationship. I strongly believe that in-laws should not interfere with the upbringing of their grandchildren as this can also be a source of friction, especially since most Indian couples still live in joint families.
Couples need to have a basic sense of give-and-take in a relationship. After all these years of observing warring spouses, I have realised that understanding each other’s point of view and not taking the other for granted are vital tools in any marriage. Do not berate or belittle your spouse in front of other people including your own children or other family members; on the contrary, stand united when facing problems. Respect each other’s feelings and opinions, especially when you need to take important decisions together, such as large purchases, delicate family relations, or child issues. Men should not consider their wives lesser mortals, and neither should women assume their men are fools! Give time to each other and enjoy each other’s company.
When things go wrong in a relationship it is rare for them to improve but unfortunately many women, and particularly Indian women, stay on and suffer. I believe that once relations have gone badly in a marriage, it is difficult to salvage the relationship or to be happy in that relationship. It is then better to part ways. It is sad to see people divorce but after so many years in this field, I have noticed that people don’t change and it is better to accept that and move on.

As told to Rita Date

Eight Reasons You Eat Too Much –Published in Marie Claire, August 2010

You’ve just had some great Pasta Puttanesca at a friend’s place. Quite full and satisfied you plan to resist dessert or at least only have only one bite. A delectable chocolate mouse is brought out and you help yourself to a very small portion but then your senses get the best of you and you end up eating two more servings.

Sitting with the family for dinner, you plan to have only one roti and some subzi, but the food is exceptionally good and you end up eating 3 rotis and lots of subzi!

These are scenarios we have all lived through many times. Two thousand calories is the estimated average calorie intake needed for women to maintain their weight. Unfortunately most women are overweight simply because too many calories are consumed and too few calories are expended. You may be working out hard at the gym but if you are chomping down too many calories weight loss will never come.

Easier said than done — It is not very easy to control overeating, as we can see from rising obesity rates. But being aware of certain environmental factors will help. Watch out for these pitfalls:

1. Sights, Sounds, and Smells— Overeating can be triggered by the alluring smell of wada frying, the sound of dosa batter being put on the tawa, pictures of foods in advertisements, and much more. “You are influenced by your surroundings, and our studies show these kinds of cues result in eating more food,” says Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindful Eating.

2. Mindless Eating – Wansik’s research points out that concentrating on the task at hand always give better results and the same holds true for eating. If we focused on our food instead of the television, other conversations or simply wandering thoughts then we would realize that we are full and satisfied. Food meditation – just pay more attention and the bowl of chivda will not all be gone!

3. Food, food everywhere – Social gatherings, office birthdays and stepping into the kitchen when you are home alone are all weight gain hazards. Some stay at home moms complain that they are prone to eat because they have easy access to the kitchen and some working women complain of constant office celebrations and lunch meetings. The fact is that there will always be food around. We are a food focused society and it is our reaction to it that is important. You do not have to say no all the time but must be aware when you are saying yes and make sure you set limits.

4. Portions – This point is perhaps the most difficult to overcome and is the underlying premise of overeating. Our taste buds just want more and more of the same great taste, after all eating is more of an act of pleasure than an act of survival. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to comprehend that it is full; eat slow and savor food. Pay attention to the amount you eat and remind yourself that you have enjoyed the food and are full.
Do not have the attitude — “Oh well, I have eaten this much, might as well eat more and I will make up for it tomorrow.” Learn to have control over your eating at all times—or at least most of the time.

5. Too much variety – Avoid buffets. Buffets at restaurants seem like a great bargain but the fact is we lose out by taking in too many unnecessary calories. There are rarely any low calorie items in a buffet spread unless you stick to undressed salads and even if you take a small taste of some of the rich entrees the calories add up.

Private dinner party buffets are unavoidable. A simple trick is to not go to the party hungry. Have a small snack beforehand and at the party stick to a small portion of one of your favorite foods such as dal-chawal or chicken masala-roti. If you take both of these on your plate along with some of the other dishes, then chances are you will overeat.
Eating a variety of foods is important to get the nutrients you need, however do not eat them all in one sitting.

6. Not Wanting to Waste Food – With over one-third of our country’s population undernourished it is true you should not waste food and generally as adults we do not leave things on our plate; it is a different story for moms who see their children wasting food. Just remember that by eating the remains of your child’s food you will not solve India’s hunger problem. It will however enlarge your waist and cause you more harm than good. Serve less food to your child; it is never too early to learn about portion control. Also teach them the importance of not throwing away food. If you have leftovers that you feel you must finish, no matter how expensive or time consuming it was to make, giving them to your maid is a better idea than overeating.

7. Large dishware — We tend to eat more from larger plates and when served from larger serving bowls. Wansink found that when students were given food in larger bowls, they served themselves 57% more and consumed 53% more than those who used smaller bowls.

When smaller, plates, bowls, spoons, and glasses are used there is no feeling of being deprived because the food will look more plentiful, Wansink says. Delicate dishware and smaller utensils and serving containers can also help you control your portions.

8. Too Much Time in between Meals – Do not be famished at mealtimes, in addition to the extra calories of overeating, large meals tax the digestive system, making it work harder. Eat 5-6 small meals in a day. If this is not possible, eat a small snack in between meals–salted lassi, a few nuts and fruit are all good options.

In Bruges—Published in Marie Claire, July 2010

I was lucky to have accidentally landed in Bruges, the capital West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium There were no hotel rooms available in Brussels, the location for a conference I was attending and the reason for the rush. A friend suggested that I look for a place in Bruges, an hour train ride away but even that was almost full.

Bed and breakfast shopping is tricky for me as I require one that is smoke and pet free—too may allergies. But I managed to find a delightful little place located right in front of one of Bruges beautiful parks. Family run, the hosts were friendly and offered many tips on the city.

I woke to an elegantly laid out breakfast with fresh breads, homemade marmalades, muesli, creamy milk, fruit, cheese, great coffee and more. A software engineer from Paris occupied the only other room in the B&B that night and he was speaking animatedly about the bread with Marie, our hostess. Bread making was his hobby and he wanted to know where to buy fresh bread. I asked Marie how she remains rail thin in a place filled with such nice bread, cheese chocolate and she replied in broken English, “I eat much but I eat fresh food and I walk everywhere every day.”

Walking is a pleasure in Bruges and as a first timer in the city I was overwhelmed by the pretty cobblestone streets and beautiful canals that lace the outer vicinity. I had not done the usual tourist research on this medieval wonder–on what to see, where to eat etc. but I was excited to explore blind. Marie had given me a few suggestions on what to do and with a map in hand I just stepped out and began to walk. I spent the entire day walking and roaming the narrow streets, green parks and spotless canals of the city. I have been to several European cities but this one was special. I am not exaggerating when I say that the city is absolutely enchanting and I can see why it is on the itinerary for 4 million tourists every year. The entire city centre, Grande Place de Bruges, was aptly added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List just over a decade ago.

The markets were open early and people were doing their daily shopping. Fresh meats, seafood and vegetables were under one roof in a corner of the ancient city square. Plump mussels, a specialty of the region, were looked enticing I knew what I would order for dinner. I collected a few large perfectly shaped clam shells as souvenirs and moved onto the well known Belfry Tower. Energized I climbed up all 366 steps of the Medieval Gothic structure and was rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the entire city.

As I moved back towards the city square I noticed several cheese shops, all selling dozens of varieties of cheese. The shopkeeper of one told me that the cheeses all came from the hefty cows grazing on rolling farms that I saw on the train in. Sampling is usually not encouraged but since I asked a few technical questions about cheese making the shopkeeper was excited and insisted I try a few local cheeses. I bought a few types of cheeses and some fresh bread for a picnic lunch as I headed out to a spot by the canal to nibble and read about the history of Bruges.

Brussels, a burgeoning metropolis, is the administrative centre for the European Union and the capital of NATO and yet Bruges which is only a short distance away appears as if time has stood still, its history preserved well.

The golden era for Bruges was between the 12th and 15th centuries where the city was an important world port. Flanders was then one of the most urbanized areas in Europe. The area was known for its high quality Flemish woolen cloth which was exported to the whole of Europe from Bruges.

I imagined how the city must have been like when it was the trade and banking capital of Europe. Interestingly the Bourse which opened in 1309 was most likely the first stock exchange in the world and it developed into the most sophisticated money markets by the 14th century. A series of uprisings by the marginalized poor, political upheaval and epidemics slowly brought the region into decline and the city lost its prominence to Antwerp.

Bruges got back on the map in the following century as the world began to take notice of its rich art, culture and well preserved historic beauty and this remains the case today.

The city’s jewels—chocolate, beer and Michelangelo were on my agenda for the afternoon, followed by a dinner of Bruges mussels.

At the De Halve Mann brewery I got a lesson on beer making and a taste of their freshly brewed beer, Brugse Zot. Since Belgian beer is not permitted to use preservatives it cannot be exported. It was refreshing and delicious. The attached popular dining area is well known for its cuisine using beer as an ingredient.

Michelangelo’s Madonna and the Child sits in Our Lady’s Church, a large structure with a unique architecture. The church is the most visited because of this piece; the stunning marble sculpture is noted because it was the only work of Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. It has left Bruges many times for various reasons but always ended up back in the city.

The final stop before dinner was a trip to Chocolate Line (, an old fashioned shop in the middle of town where there are over 50 types of chocolates to choose from including tequila, cola and creole flavours. I stuck to my favourite–traditional milk chocolate with almonds.

En route to dinner I saw the Manneken Pis—yes sounds like and looks like a mannequin pissing. A famous tourist attraction which has become an icon of Brussels, it is a bronze statue of a boy peeing in a fountain, an odd icon but a popular one nevertheless.

The outdoor restaurant at the Rue des Bouchers, a pedestrian only lane, lined with restaurants featuring seafood, frites, delectable deserts and more was the perfect ending to the day. The steamed Mussels and beer were superb. I wished I had more time in Bruges, one day was not enough but I was sure it would not be my last visit. More planned maybe or maybe not.