Cheat Sheet to Eating Healthy…Published in Prevention, April 2012

Too busy to plan a “complete meal?” Worried you’re not following all the advice that doctors and the media is dispensing? Don’t fret. You haven’t let your children or your family down. No one has the perfect diet. There should be no ‘pressure’ to eat well every single day but, it is important to plan meals well and stay on track. Here are five ways you can make sure you and your family is getting the essential dose of nutrients, without you losing your sleep over it.

Rule #1
Balance –Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all necessary for the perfect functioning of your body. Fatigue is often attributed to not getting the proper nutritional balance. Each and every nutrient is important to live an energetic life without disease.
There is growing evidence that the popular high protein or low carb diets may work for weight loss in the short term, but for good health, a blend of carbs, protein and fats are recommended at each meal. The Indian meal of roti sabji- dal chawal made with a little oil for tadka incorporates all these and makes for a very well balanced meal. Adding some protein-rich sprouts to a chutney sandwich makes a complete meal as well – the bread serving as the carb and the coconut in the chutney serves as fat.
Protein plays an important role in building muscle fibers as well as building immunity. Fish, lean cut meats, dals, pulses, and nuts are all excellent sources of protein.  Vegetarians don’t have to worry because they can get their protein quota from our Indian meals which are rich in dals and pulses. Even three katoris of dal gives you approximately 45mg of protein which meets the daily requirement for most people, though athletes and pregnant women may require more. Nuts are protein-rich every which way and there is no need to add soaking nuts to your ‘things to do’ list.
Are you avoiding pulses and beans because you feel they are causing gas and bloating in the stomach? To reduce these indigestion problems, discard the water used to overnight soak the pulses. Adding 2-3 cloves to the water when soaking will reduce this.  

Rule # 2
Eat Healthy Carbohydrates — Have you noticed champion tennis players such as Rafael Nadal and Roger Fedrer eat bananas during their matches – bananas are full of the carbs that are needed for the sustaining energy. Carbohydrates are not your enemy – in fact they are your main source of energy. Eat high-fiber carbohydrates, meaning carbs that do not spike your blood sugar and are also high in fiber. They are known as complex carbohydrates and the best examples are whole grains such as whole wheat flour which we use in rotis, and vegetables and fruits, including guavas, apples, and tomatoes. Simple carbs are carbohydrates that have been robbed of their nutritional value, such as simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, including maida based products like white bread and biscuits. A spike in blood sugar causes cravings(amongst other problems) and does not satisfy the body.

Rule # 3
Cook Foods with Minimal Nutrient Loss –There have been numerous studies on the best ways to cook vegetables and the results differ in each of the studies. Only one position is conclusive – frying the vegetables kill nutrients the most. Raw veggies are great, but surprisingly a diet consisting of only raw foods is not at all ideal. In the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers report a study involving 198 Germans who strictly adhered to a raw food diet. They had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta carotene.
But they fell short when it came to lycopene, a potent and vital cartenoid found in tomatoes and other red pigmented vegetables. Nearly 80 percent of the persons tested had plasma lycopene below average.
Both nutritionists and researchers many times are at odds on the best way to cook vegetables, but one point that they do not disagree upon is that consuming veggies in any form is better than not consuming them at all. Also, more important than the way you cook vegetables is to eat a variety of vegetables regularly – you should be eating different vegetables everyday and green leafy ones like palak and methi at least 3 times a week. Do you sneak in veggies in any way possible in your kids’s meals – you should add vegetables whenever possible to whatever possible. Add grated carrots to meat cutlets, palak leaves to dals, and coloured peppers in omelets and sandwiches and mix in some greens into your chutneys. Each vegetable is packed with its unique blend of vitamins, minerals and fiber and should be the majority of what is on your plate!
Most people complain that vegetables get boring. If you cook them the same way every week then naturally vegetables will get ‘boring.’ Mix the vegetables up, use different readymade masalas – who says mutton masala is only for mutton. Use different spices and cooking methods. Spring onions and pumpkin taste great roasted in the oven. Try vegetables you never considered before. Roasted beets with raisins, walnuts and a touch of balsamic vinegar with a side of mashed sweet potatoes anyone?

Rule #4
Fats — Eating the right kind of fats in the correct quantities does not make you fat. Fats are not only good for health but play a critical role in the body. They help regulate blood sugar and slowly release energy to keep your body satiated. They also have powerful antioxidants for cellular regeneration for repair of hair, skin and joints. Nuts and oils are your best source, butter and transfats are your worst.
Oils – the best oils are unsaturated and remain liquid at room temperature. If your oil becomes solid, then chances are it is not good for you. Olive oil, rice bran oil, canola oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and saffola oil are all good options. The omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseed have been proven to aid in reducing chronic diseases like heart disease and hypertension. A daily spoonful of flaxseed chutney is a great vegetarian way to get your Omega-3 daily.
Nuts – Nuts, especially almonds, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts are also full of heart-healthy fats, protein and fiber. They are compact, non-perishable and make a great portable snack. Use them in cooking, add it in salads or just eat them plain.

Rule #5
Get your iron — Without iron(hemoglobin) your red blood cells can’t carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Unfortunately, nearly 50% of Indian women have some form of iron deficiency, mainly due to menstruation and pregnancy. Symptoms of iron deficiency known as anemia, include being tired, pale, cold, and feeling dizzy, and trouble concentrating.
Certain shell fish and beef are the best sources of iron but vegetarians also have plenty of options such as dark green leafy vegetables, liquid gur(molasses), walnuts, raisins, dates, pulses and chole. Vitamin C based foods help with iron absorption so include a bit of salad made with foods such as oranges, tomatoes, capsicums, sprinkled with lemon on your thali to  help with the absorption of plant based iron foods.
Cooking foods in an iron skillet can also boost the iron in your food.
While there should be no pressure to eat well, it is important to stay on the right path to remain healthy. If you think you can eat all your favourite foods in moderation all the time, chances are you will be depriving your body of some essential nutrients. Follow the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of the time you will make an effort to eat nutrient dense foods in balanced meals. The remaining 20 percent of the time, allow yourself to eat the foods you crave and for certain occasions such as holidays and family occasions. And if weight loss is your goal then make this ratio 90-10. This way you are not denied any foods and will not crave and binge on those foods.

Box 1
Get your Fiber– Fiber  regulates blood sugar levels, is good for your heart, and most importantly helps you to have a healthy digestive tract by warding off constipation. High-fiber foods include beans, lentils, and green leafy vegetables, whole wheat chapattis and rotis made with grains such jowar, bajra and ragi. Add veggies like red and capsicums, cabbage, and green beans to any meal. The more color on your plate, the better. Salads with spinach and romaine lettuce tend to be more nutritious than those made with iceberg lettuce.

Box 2
Limit Sugar — Sugar is perhaps the most harmful of the simple carbs. The dangers of sugar has been documented for decades. As far back as 1957 in his article published in the Michigan Organic News, Dr. William Coda classified sugar as a poison because it is stripped of life forces, vitamins and minerals. “What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates. Incomplete carbohydrate metabolism results in the formation of `toxic metabolite` such as pyruvic acid. This interferes with the function of a part of the body and is the beginning of degenerative disease”.
In 2009 Dr. Robert Lustig’s lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” was 
posted on YouTube and has received over 2 million times hits. His research indicates that excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years (as have Indians). He also calls sugar “poison” and blames it as the cause of  other chronic ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
There are plenty of healthy alternatives to sugar such as good quality honey and molasses(liquid gur), and stevia.  You can make a powder suing jaggery in place of brown sugar which is simply white granulated sugar with dyes added so it no better that white sugar.

Shopping in Emerica

The US or Emrica as the United States is known for many of us here in India stirs up different images for different people. The initial images of the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls and the White House have faded. Now for many of us the US has become a place to have different experiences, many times while visiting family and friends, and to extend one of our quintessential pastimes, shopping.

No trip to the US is complete without trips to the mall to buy and return goods, trips to the dollar store to buy gifts for the loved ones back home and let’s not forget trips to the our very own Indian stores for dry fruit and saffron purchases.

Good deals appeal to all our senses. This capitalistic country has taught the rest of the world marketing and selling skills with sales appeals to the bargain hunting devices. 25%-50% off, up to 70% off, buy one, get one free, buy 2 get one free, rebates, freebies are just the beginning. Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Valentines Day have been emulated by the world over by opportunistic corporates.

Liberalization has made nearly everything available in India, the keyword being nearly. Yes there are western clothes and Italian spices and excellent perfumes available now, the wide variety of choice is what is missing. We can go to a Nike or Addidas store and buy sneakers and track pants but what are the choices. In Sears, a department store, there are 17 types of Nike sneaker models and several types track pants. This is in a department store, in a sports store the numbers are much higher.

Then there is a question of price. In India, we have to pay a higher rate for quality. Last year’s model of a popular sneaker brand costs much more here. The same pair is outdated in the US and available at almost half the price in the majority of stores! In the US, there are bargains for just about everything and this is why the US is the number one shopping destination in the world.

People from all over the world, including the Europeans, Australians, the Chinese all think that the best goods are available at the best price in America. Stores such as TJMaxx and Marshalls sell designer clothes for one third the price. Walmart and Target sell almost everything you need to live at rock bottom prices. The US has been a consumerist society for nearly a century and the supply demand chain has been created by creative marketers forming in turn a healthy flow of goods. In other words, Americans have been shopping for more things for a much longer time than the rest of the world. When the times get tough the rich go shopping.

Online shopping has made bargain hunting a science with plenty of sites to compare prices as well as goods. Knowledge is power and now world over shoppers have become armed with the power of knowing where to buy the best goods at the best prices. So to those grandparents who have traveled to the US and are stuck at home babysitting, there are great deals online.

With shopping comes stuffing, better known as packing. The weight limit for bags used to be 32 kgs for trans atlantic travel but a few years ago one bright airline executive decided to reduce the weight to 22 kgs or 50lbs. The porters and baggage handlers no longer needed physical therapy to tackle their occupational hazard, at least less frequently, and soon enough all the international carriers followed suit.

When the weight limit was larger, the bag size was larger as well. The largest possible suitcase on the market was needed and was stuffed to capacity with gifts and corelle dishware for the home. With the decrease in weight limit, those large bags have ample room and all shopping is done with weight in mind. After all, 50 pounds is not much, especially if you have a 20 pound bag of almonds.

There are a few things you get in the US that is not available in India. There is a delightful dry fruit called cranberries. The real fruit is sour but the dried version is sweet and tangy and tastes great in salads or just eaten plain. I also love bagels and jalepeno cream cheese from a local bagel shop in Boston, the city I frequent most often. When I bring back a dozen they are devoured within 2 days by the family.

Returning to shopping in India has its charms. You can get things cheaper, albeit the quality is lacking, but who needs great quality $10 rubber slippers anyway?

Why Aren’t We Afraid?…

Fear is contagious and looking at people on the road wearing masks, it appears that everyone is terrified. Everybody from my gardener who is tending the garden with his homemade mask to my next door computer techie neighbor, who drives to work in his own car with his N95 mask on, is taking precautions against getting infected.
Why do people think that wearing a mask will prevent them from getting the flu? Was it written in the papers and, and if so were guidelines about mask usage also written? Where are people getting their information? As a communication professional I find it amazing how information is being disseminated.
Now, much has been written about the swine flu but people seem to absorb what suits them. Yes, it has killed people and there are reasons to take precautionary measures; however aren’t there more dangerous things than the swine flu? Other diseases have been publicized, AIDS and TB have caused many fatalities, yet there is no fear regarding these deadly diseases.
The same people wearing masks driving their bikes drive without helmets and talk on their cell phones while driving. The chances of them having a serious fall are much more than catching the swine flu, especially while driving! How do we put fear in their minds?
Unsafe sex –India has the one of the highest rate of the spread of AIDS in the world. There are several awareness campaigns and progress has been made but not enough. How do we put fear of AIDS in people’s minds?
Tuberculosis –TB today kills more people than any other infectious disease in India. One thousand people die in India each day due to this disease. TB is widespread and contagious, everyone is at risk. One out of every two adults is infected with the tuberculosis bacilli and according to the World Health Organization, 28 people out of every lakh are dying due to TB. I think these figures are truly quite scary, why aren’t people scared?
Spitting is a trigger to the spread of TB (many infectious diseases including the swine flu in fact), yet no one seems to know this, and spitting has not decreased at all. Unfortunately, some mask wearers push aside their masks for the few seconds they need to blow their nose or spit in the street! How do we educate people about the basics…no excretion from any part of your body in public! Why aren’t people scared if they see someone spits?
Garbage –Pune has become a dirty place with bins of overflowing garbage all over the city. These unhygienic conditions are a brewing ground for all sorts of diseases including malaria, dengue, and gastritis. But we are not scared. If there was a plague scare then at least perhaps our Babus at the corporation would implement a solution to clean up.
How do we educate people about the importance of hand washing and hygiene as prevention to the spread of all types of diseases? This is the need of the day, an opportunity to get people to listen. For how long can we close public places and schools? Let’s use this time to educate the people on good hygiene. Masks are necessary for certain individuals in the high risk category such as health professionals or those that need to go in a crowd. Masks should also be used if you have a cold or illness so that you do not spread it to others.
Hand washing is the best solution to deter spread of disease. Our hands are in contact with hundreds of germs on a daily basis. If we touch our mouths, eyes, nose or another person then those germs spread. Despite the proven health benefits of hand washing, many people don’t practice this habit as often as they should — even after using the toilet.
Follow these instructions for washing with soap and water:
§ Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
§ Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 10 to 15 seconds.
§ Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
§ Rinse well.
§ Dry your hands with a clean or towel.
Although it’s impossible to keep your bare hands germ-free, there are times when it’s critical to wash your hands to limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Always wash your hands:
§ After using the toilet
§ After changing a diaper — wash the diaper-wearer’s hands, too
§ After touching animals or animal waste
§ Before and after preparing food, especially before and immediately after handling raw meat, poultry or fish
§ Before eating
§ After blowing your nose
§ After coughing or sneezing into your hands
§ Before and after treating wounds or cuts
§ Before and after touching a sick or injured person
§ After handling garbage
§ Before inserting or removing contact lenses
Please pass this info on, translate it into Hindi/Marathi and put up signs. Tell your loved ones, neighbors, colleagues and household help. We can all play a part in spreading the correct information at this crucial time.

Cuba in Miami

What is it that attracts people to Little Havana in downtown Miami. Perhaps it is the lure of the forbidden; Cuba is still a prohibited land for Americans so many make do with the trip to Miami. Or perhaps it is the rhythm of the Latin music and permeates in most cafes. Calle Ocho, which means street number eight in Spanish, has an attractable charm. If a Latin country visit is not foreseeable future then just come to the tip of the US, Miami. A foreign like land filled with wonderful music, food and dance.

There are signs that read, “English Spoken Here.” The neighborhood has a pleasing appeal with cafes where people meet and everyone seems to know everyone. Miami is a relatively new city but on Calle Ocho you feel the old word where everyone knows your name, people have time to spare and it is not a sin to just sit and watch the world go by.

It is not your typical tourist destination. Shops and attractions are not everywhere you turn as in Chinatown of San Francisco or Little Italy of New York City. Set off on foot and you will find plenty of gems that will keep you coming back for more.

Domino Park
In Maximo Gomez Park, also called Dominoe Park, people, mostly retired Cuban men get together to play various games such as chess, cards the local favorite, dominoes. The players are competitive and play not just to pass the time but to win. Many are supporters and on lookers that like to just be around the action or to wait their turn as there is rarely an empty seat at the game tables.

Coffee and Cigars
Around the corner there are several small cafés where Cuban coffee is served in small espresso cups. The size of the cups should not fool you, the coffee is extremely strong, no milk but lots of sugar. Not used to having such a little quantity of coffee, a double is usually necessary for me, although locals ensure one shot will do the job of the needed caffeine high. Café con leche is the same strong coffee mixed with steaming milk.

My photographer positions the coffee on the table to take a photo and an elderly gentleman who has just finished a round of Dominoes at the park places a stack of cigars near the coffee cup. He says in Spanish, “cigars are special here, remember to take photos of them.”

Cuban cigars are renowned world over. In Little Havana they are part of the staple diet. Men mostly, light up for a smoke in the cafes and of course during their dominoe game. There are at least 4 cigar shops on Calle Ocho alone. Similar to wine, one can learn to smell, taste and feel the tobacco before it is delicately rolled into its smoking form. Authentic cigar boxes, humidors, are available in various sizes and ensure the proper storing of these perishable products.

The street offers Cuban fare for all tastes and budgets. For the first time visitor to the area the Versailles, located near 35th Avenue is a must. Genuine, a tasty sampler plate to get a trial of Cuban food is perfect. Croquettes, roast pork and sweet plantains are part of the sampler.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at Los Pinarenos. A casual diner with little ambience but much to offer in terms of great food and drink. You can also cool yourself off with the various fruterias or juices offered such as a “guarapo” or sugar cane juice, pineapple, guava and many, many more. This establishment has been here since 1967 when the first wave of Cuban immigrants came to shore and is located very close to the Bay of Pigs monument. Los Piñarenos is value for money and as a delicious lunch is only a few dollars..
The famed Cuban sandwich is a must have when in Little Havana. Traditionally, the sandwich is made up with slow roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese and pickles. The key to making a great sandwich is in the grilling. A sandwich press, called a plancha is used until the ham, pork, and pickles have warmed in their own steam (the steady application of heat and weight fuse the meat, cheese, and bread into a delectable and compact treat). One of the greatest errors in Cuban sandwich preparation is too light a press. A heavy hand on the press pushes all the juices and flavors together while still achieving the desired crunch crust. These sandwiches use no mayonnaise, lettuce, onions, peppers, or tomatoes; butter and mustard are optional. Cuban bread too is a key component to the sandwich. It is moist on the inside and not chewy. The use of lard in the bread makes it soft and tender, however it must be eaten fresh on the same day.

Due to the influx of other Latin American immigrants there are Peruvian, Columbain, Nicaraguan and more in Little Havana. The meats, rice and beans all are similar but each country has its unique flavors, herbs and cooking methods.

Latin music automatically makes your body move and crave for a night out in this city that does not sleep. All types of dancers from novices to pros can be seen on the dance floors of some of the hottest dance bars in the city. Hip-hop, reggae and rock are also popular. Caribe Night Club, Hoy Como Ayer and Casa Juancho are no-frills places for Latin music and dance located right on eighth street.

Santeria is a religion that combines elements of African and Catholic beliefs. Brought with slaves from the West Coast of Africa, this belief system is still widely practiced in Cuba and among select groups in Miami.
Believers of Santería place their faith in the orishas which are the ashe, the spiritual energy that makes up the entire universe, all life and all things material. The orishas are the spirits or gods that interact with humans by controlling nature and attending to the daily needs of the religion’s followers. They are approachable and can be counted on to come to the aid of followers by guiding them to a better life, materially as well as spiritually.
A visit to the Botanica, shops catering to a variety of individuals who practice this traditional religion. Candles, books, oils, incense and statues of saints are a few items that can be found.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to time your trip in February and March then you can enjoy the Carnaval Miami, when Calle Ocho turns into a 23-block street fair, attracting more than 1.5 million people. The Miami carnival is the largest Hispanic festival in the USA. Carnival participants listen to Latin music, dance behind a parade of floats, shop for arts and crafts and enjoy Latin food and drink. Visitors enjoy Cuban foods like medianoche (ham and cheese) sandwiches, lechón asado (spit-roasted pork) and the black beans and white rice dish that Cubans call “Moors and Christians.”
For 10 days, Carnaval Miami is a lively tribute to the Cuban heritage that flavors the melting pot of cultures in Miami.