Creating a stronger, healthier and an Immune India!

Bird feeding is one hobby that I have enjoyed doing since long time. In fact, I have seen my great grandmother feeding birds every day before taking her meals. There are a bunch of sparrows that daily visit me in my balcony and enjoy eating rice grains that I spread specially for them. They sometimes bring their little ones with them and try to teach how to eat grains. The sight of mommy sparrow feeding baby sparrow is something I have loved watching always. Once the baby sparrow learns to eat by itself, the mommy sparrow guards the areas in order to safe guard the little one. Once, it so happened that the baby sparrow was eating the grains so slowly that the mommy could not wait! It hurriedly went near it and fed the baby sparrow! This sight inspired me to write this article.

The behaviour of a sparrow here is so much like human beings! A mother taking care of the baby, feeding and then monitoring the child while consuming food. Mommy sparrow or Mothers in general exhibit this behaviour just to ensure that the baby has had enough food to meet its growth and development.

All mothers expect that the environment in which their baby grows be safe, healthy and the baby has a strong defense system to fight against diseases. This is possible when healthy mothers give birth to healthy children and then, the children get to enjoy the breast milk of the mother including the colostrum. Later, during the growth periods they should receive foods that are well balanced in all the nutrients thus, supporting growth and guarding against illness.

Research studies on humans have shown that bonding between a mother and a child increases when a child is breast fed by a mother. Colostrum-the first secretion of milk by the mother is the first food which comes as a blessing to the baby. It contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease and thus helps build immunity.

Many consider this as impure milk and discard it and thus, the baby is deprived of vital nutrients that it could have got through feeding on Colostrum. It is rich in protein and low in fat. Colostrum is regarded as ‘best first food’ for a new born baby. Research has also shown that breastfed children are less prone to allergies. Incidence of obesity in breastfed children is low. Breast feeding is a boon to a new born child.

In recent years, many Health workers, NGOs, Anganwadi, Balwadi workers and also media have played an important role in creating awareness among people regarding the importance of colostrum. This has had a positive impact on promoting breast feeding in India.

Milk secreted by the mother takes care of all the nutritional requirement of the baby till the baby is 5-6 months old. Later, mother’s milk alone cannot meet the growth and developmental requirement of the baby. Hence, supplementary feeding or weaning foods are introduced slowly to the baby.

A well planned nutritious diet for a child can help protect itself against various illnesses. Essential nutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals are required for a child’s growth and development along with enough calories from carbohydrate and fat containing food. When the infant is about 5-6 months old, strained baby foods based on vegetable, fruits and meat and pre cooked cereal foods are gradually introduced in the feed. Fruit juices provide the required amount of vitamin C. Milk is a poor source of iron and a fair source of thiamine and hence if Egg yolk is included, it provides both these nutrients as it is a fair source of iron and thiamine. Strained vegetables and fruits added in diets from 4th month onwards provide iron, vitamin C and also small amount of indigestible carbohydrates which may also help to prevent constipation.

Surveys carried out by a large number of workers in developing countries have shown that the diets consumed by a majority of pre-school, school going children and adolescents are deficient in calories, proteins and several essential vitamins and minerals particularly vitamin A, riboflavin, folic acid and iron. When a diet is deficient in vital nutrients the risk of developing deficiency diseases is high and children are also prone to illnesses of various kinds.

A balanced diet containing all the food groups helps solve the problem. Milk and milk products, vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, fish, legumes and cereals of various kinds, green leafy vegetables, nuts and oilseeds can help provide the children with the needed nutrients for optimum growth. Including fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans in daily diet not only provides vital nutrients but they are also sources of antioxidants and fibre necessary for immune function.

It is a known fact that even those with access to food often suffer terribly from Undernutrition. Children especially suffer, not only from the direct effects of malnutrition, but from increased susceptibility to disease and other health risks, such as neonatal disorders, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Low immunity to fight infections, poor hygienic practices is some of the factors for aggravating such situations.

Herbs of various kinds have been used in boosting the natural defense system like for example Amla, Ashwadgandha, Tulsi, Mulethi or Yasthimadhu etc.  Various herbal formulations can be given to children under medical supervision in order to boost immunity.

A carefully planned meal combined with supplements is essential to support growth and increase immunity in children. This will help us in creating a future generation who are healthy and strong enough to fight against not just diseases but also against various things that hinders the development of a Country.

A healthy child is essential to protect the mother (and also Mother India!) in future. It’s time for healthy mothers (unless a mother is healthy, she cannot take care of her family!) to protect the health of their children by providing adequate nourishment for optimum growth so that a stronger, healthier and an immune India can be built.

By the time I finished writing the article, the rice grains were over and the sparrow flew away happily with its baby only to return back again tomorrow morning. 🙂

                                   Image  P.S: To know about Dabur click

Dr.Sowmya Rao

Consultant Nutritionist

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

World Food Day!

Last week, I got a call requesting to give a talk on the occasion of World Food day. I was excited and thrilled to have got the opportunity to stand before a gathering and give a presentation. World Food Day is celebrated every year around the world on 16th October in honor of the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945. Each year, a theme is given and the theme for 2013 is “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”.  

The theme made me ‘THINK’! My excitement and thrill vanished!! Not because I could not give a talk about it, but the fact that million across the world suffer from food scarcity, hunger, unavailability of clean drinking water, malnutrition and infections..the list goes on…………….. !

 On a daily basis, most of the time, we are so busy in our own world and we never think of these global problems. Yes! but, we do mention about it here and there… ‘its hot this year compared to last year’, ‘no rains this year!’, ‘oh! Farmer’s suicide story in news paper again??’ ‘global warming’, ‘Malnutrition in school going children’, ‘contaminated water in taps’…………the list again goes on…………..!!

World Food Day is celebrated in order to create awareness on existing global problems and issues that needs action. This day is celebrated worldwide by countries under United Nations. This year’s theme is related to farming system, how sustainable it can be in order to make countries food secure.

A healthy, sustainable food system is one that focuses on Environmental Health, Economic Vitality, and Human Health and Social Equity.

Food Security means that all people at all times have physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods, which are produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner, and that people are able to make informed decisions about their food choices.

Food Security also means that the people who produce our food are able to earn a decent living wage, growing, catching, producing, processing, transporting, retailing, and serving food.

At the core of food security is access to healthy food and optimal nutrition for all.

Households are food secure when they have year-round access to the amount and variety of safe foods that their members need to lead active and healthy lives.

Food and water insecurity exist because of natural and human-made factors. Natural factors include the amount of rainfall and natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.

Man-made factors include government decisions about supporting agriculture, the amount of money spent on infrastructure to support agriculture and food distribution, and the increase in bio fuel production.

All of this is important because lives are at stake, and also because in the future water will be a major source of conflict between regions and countries.

Earlier, people focused on getting ‘Roti, Kapda and Makaan’…but now, “Health’ also is added to it! Food security and Nutrition is possible by achieving the following four components:


I remember a few years back when I had given talks to women working for KMF (Karnataka Co-Operative Milk Federation), they had mentioned that all the milk that is produced at home is sold retaining very little for themselves. This is one reason we gave nutrition education for such women. Milk, an excellent protein source, though produced at home is not retained and fed to growing children just because an extra litre of milk sold can add on to the family income! And hence households need to be food secure, simply meaning they get to eat what they produce and also have enough money to purchase other food items required to lead a healthy life.

Investing in smallholder women and men is an important way to increase food security and nutrition for the poorest, as well as food production for local and global markets.

Better use of agricultural biodiversity can contribute to more nutritious diets, enhanced livelihoods for farming communities and more resilient and sustainable farming systems.

Having vegetable gardens, rotation of crops and use of organic manure in the fields, recycling the food waste will help to increase the production. We all are aware of the pesticide contamination in foods. Organic farming is a means to produce better crops thus avoiding contamination from harmful pesticides.

It is high time we rethink how we grow our food, share it and consume our food!

It is said, if done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment.

Individual effort is needed to solve many problems in this whole wide world! Problems are many but, if dealt one by one with a collective effort there sure is going to be a change. Conserving what exists in order to gift it to the future generation should be our motto.

Food waste or food loss is food material that is discarded or unable to be used. The causes of wasted food are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, and retailing. As of 2011, 1.3 billion tons of food, about one third of the global food production, is lost or wasted annually. Loss and wastage occurs on all steps in the food supply chain. In developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms per person and year – is wasted at the consumption stage. These figures should not be surprising to us as we all have seen and known how food is wasted in India! Parties, weddings, functions of various kinds contribute to food waste when excess is estimated and prepared. Minimizing such food losses is always in our hands…. whether in functions or at home!

I remember, during my childhood, whenever we used to have gatherings at home and the food was served, we were told ‘Kids one who eats all the food that is served and finishes first will get a prize’! This line was repeated all the time we gathered, year after year and only when I grew up I understood its meaning. It simply meant “No wasting Food’ and the Prize is not just for the one who finished first……..but for all! 🙂

This habit of not wasting food is developed in us since childhood (isn’t it?) Then, does this habit help the world in some way or the other??! Yes of course, it does help! By not wasting food we are also decreasing the utilization of extra produce that can be used to feed more than 925 million people who are hungry and additional 2 billion people who are expected by the year 2050!!

A simple act of ours can be of a big help globally! By this thought, I regained my excitement and was thrilled to give a presentation to a gathering consisting of young participants, the future generation who are responsible for conserving our Universe! 🙂



Dr.Sowmya Rao

Consultant Nutritionist


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Recently, I had a chat with a truth and peace loving lady who is known for her courage and sacrifice throughout her life. She has always kept up her faith and spirits to win. A lady, whom I have seen since my childhood, yet never got a chance to write about until today!

Dressed up in Green designer Kanchivaram saree with gold zari work, she looked absolutely stunning! The flowers on her hair not just added to her beauty, but its fragrance spread the whole place just like our Indian spices!! I was amazed to see her mailing her friend using the latest version of a smart phone. It is always a delight to see her adjusting to new technologies each day and accepting and learning new things in almost all the fields one can imagine!

During our conversion that went on for hours, one topic that we discussed was on Nutrition. She said she loves following a ‘Balanced diet’!

(A balanced diet is one which contains a variety of foods in such quantities and proportions that the need for energy, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates and other nutrients is adequately met for maintaining health, vitality and general well being and makes a small provision for extra nutrients to withstand short duration of leanness.

In addition, a balanced diet should provide bioactive phytochemicals such as dietary fibre, antioxidants and nutraceuticals which have positive health benefits. It should provide around 60-70% of total calories from carbohydrates, 10-12% from protein and 20-25% of total calories from fat.

A balanced diet has become an accepted means to safeguard a population from nutritional deficiencies)

She mentioned that ‘Balance’ has kept her going all these years. Whether it is food or the people with whom she maintains friendly relationship!

Careful planning and execution is required for a diet to be balanced, but takes little effort when done keeping in mind the goals to be met.

In between the conversation she mentioned that although she loves all the food items that she purchases and also grows in her vegetable garden, her favorites are carrot, milk and spinach (Palak).

To be frank, I did get to hear ‘Nutrition class’ during our conversation! 😉

She told me carrots are rich in Beta carotene- vitamin A, which plays a role in visual cycle, maintenance of epithelium, growth and reproduction.  They are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and dietary fiber. In addition, this root vegetable is especially rich in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, pantothenic acid, etc., that acts as co-factors to enzymes during substrate metabolism in the body. Minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus are also present in them.

Milk and milk products (curd, buttermilk, butter, paneer, ghee, cheese etc) contain various nutrients that are essential for health. Calcium, vitamin D, fat and protein are some of the nutrients present in milk and its products that keep the body functioning properly. Specially Proteins have regulatory functions such as carriers of oxygen (haemoglobin), catalyse body reactions (enzymes), regulate body functions (hormones), protect the body against diseases (antibodies), potential source of energy, transport of some minerals (iron), and many others.

Spinach being a green leafy vegetable is known for its nutritional, antioxidant (vitamin A, vitamin C, and flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin and beta-carotene) and anti-cancer constituents. B-complex vitamins such as vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), Thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin, folates and niacin are also present in Spinach. Folates help prevent neural tube defects in the offspring. Apart from being rich in iron, spinach is a store house for many phyto-nutrients that have health promotional and disease prevention properties. Spinach leaves are an excellent source of vitamin C (powerful antioxidant) and vitamin K. Vitamin K plays a vital role in strengthening the bone mass by promoting osteotrophic (bone building) activity in the bone. (No wonder cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man loves eating spinach! 😉

The lady also shared some healthy tips with me. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Many dishes that are commonly prepared at home can be altered by including an extra ingredient to it, which not only increases the taste and nutrient content, but also the overall acceptability of the product. For example: Addition of whole grams like Green gram or Bengal gram to curries/sambar made out of green leafy vegetables, addition of a handful of peanuts to vegetable sambar or greens curry or chutney, addition of oats in various dishes, addition of various greens and vegetables in preparing chapattis, paratas and dosas.
  • Limiting the intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.
  • Balancing calories from food and beverages with calories expended.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity with at least 30-60 minutes five days a week.
  • Consuming plenty of seasonal fruits, vegetables and including whole grains that are rich in fiber.

She tried to highlight the importance of deficiency of some nutrients that have become ‘Nutritional problems in India’. Like deficiency of energy and protein in the diet resulting in a condition called Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM) specially in children, Iron deficiency Anemia (IDA) found specially among adolescent, pregnant and lactating women, Iodine deficiency disorder (IDD) resulting from low intake of iodine leading to Goitre, Vitamin A deficiency especially in children leading to night blindness and in severe cases resulting in blindness!

Proudly she also mentioned that National Nutrition Policy in India has achieved success in tackling nutrition problems through various programs, for example: fortification of salt with iodine to reduce IDD, providing iron and folic acids tablets to children and pregnant women under a programme called Nutritional Anaemia Prophylaxis Programme, providing oral dose of vitamin A every 6 months to children aged 1-5 yrs to tackle Vitamin A deficiency, introduction of Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) to reduce mortality due to diarrhoeal diseases in children below five years.

(It is opined that by appropriate educational action, about 50% of nutritional problems can be solved. Health education programme in nutrition is often a weak component. Its reinforcement is a key element in all health services development).

She was excited to give me the recipe of one of her favourite dish Palak paneer which includes her three favourite food items i.e. carrot, milk (paneer) and spinach. (She uses carrot to garnish the dish!).

She said although these three food items represent different food groups, they balance all tastes well to form a delicious and highly nutritious dish…….. when they come together!

The possibility of enhancing the nutrient content of a dish is higher when a balance is created by combining various available food items…….just like building a successful Nation!

India is known for her unity in diversity, rich heritage and culture. This charming lady in green Kanchivaram saree, who is peace loving and has kept up her faith and spirits with courage and sacrifice has completed 66 (years). It’s time to celebrate another birthday of Independent India!

Her three favorite food items mentioned in the write up represent the colors of our National flag!!

Careful planning and execution is required to have a successful Nation, but takes little effort when done keeping in mind the goals to be met…….. And when all come together it becomes Sāre Jahāñ Se Acchā Hindostāñ Hamārā…….

Dr.Sowmya Rao


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments


When I was in School, I loved collecting and pasting colorful labels on my text books and notes. Among all the cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse was one of my favorites! I remember my Dad buying me labels and scented rubbers with Mickey Mouse on it along with books that he used to often purchase from Gangaram book house Bangalore.

But, when I entered college, my craze for labels declined. Many times it was not just labels, but the books on which they were pasted 😉 Later, when I developed interest in the field of Food Science and Nutrition, my craze towards labels was regained. But, this time I did not like just the labels, but the products on which they were pasted too! Yes, I am talking about Food labels’.

What are food labels? In simple words, a food label is a printed information found on a packet of any food stuff that you buy, furnishing details regarding the name of the product, manufacturer, date and place of manufacture, net weight, cost, best before dates, ingredient list and nutrient content.

The Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) of 2006 clearly states in one of its chapters that ‘ No person shall manufacture, distribute, sell, or expose for sale, nor dispatch or deliver to any agent or broker for the purpose of sale, any packaged food product that is not marked and labelled in the manner specified by regulation’.  The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India was established to speed up the implementation of various rules and regulations in the act

Food labelling can be a boon to consumers if the consumer reads what is printed on the packet. Though the information is printed, many do not feel the need to go through it as they are always in a hurry during purchasing, or they are using the same product since many years and hence information printed is not important for them. Whether in hurry or not, one thing that is checked always is the price of the product and sometimes the expiry date. There are many other details that are furnished on the product that are important.

Check the ingredient list, quantity of ingredients added, net weight and best before dates. Also take a look at some instructions given in order to preserve and retain the quality of the product like, ‘store in air tight containers after opening’, ‘refrigerate after opening’, ‘keep away from direct sunlight’, ‘store in cool and dry place’, etc.

Some instructions are provided as to how to use the contents of the pack, this if followed precisely, the desired quality of product is obtained. Try to check the address of the manufacturer or packer, as this gives a clear indication of place where the product was manufactured. Without this information, the product’s quality cannot be trusted.

Checking the food label becomes essential for a person at times. For Eg: If your child is lactose intolerant, then before buying any food that the child consumes, a mandatory check is required to rule out the presence of lactose or milk in the product. Some are allergic to specific foods. Products containing major allergens (allergy causing agents) like peanuts, nuts like almonds, cashews and walnuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, sesame, soybeans and gluten, are labelled as “may contain ….” If these allergens are found in the ingredient list, then buying such products should be avoided by people who are allergic to such foods. A person who cannot tolerate gluten in the diet must look for ‘Gluten-free’ printed on the label.

According to the law, vegetarian food should be identified by a green symbol and non-vegetarian food with a brown symbol. A thorough examination of food label will provide you all the information that you are looking for in a product.

Always check packaged cut vegetables which are ready to use and sprouts of various grams available in the market. These are locally packed and hence come with minimum information on the packet. Check the ‘best before date’ and then make a purchase. Chapatis, rotis, pizza bases, breads, cakes, muffins are some of the items which spoils soon. Checking the ‘best before dates here again is helpful. As the moisture content of these products is high, the chances of mould growth on it are high.

Any food additive (colors, flavors, preservatives) that is added to food during processing has to be mentioned on the food label.

MSG (Mono sodium glutamate) is added to help enhance the flavor of food. The taste gained from naturally occurring or added MSG in foods is described as Umami’ – the fifth basic taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami is the savoury taste that people enjoy in foods. Many products and restaurants claim “No added MSG” due to the consumer demand for products without MSG. This claim means that the manufacturer has not added MSG into the food. It is important to remember that there may be naturally occurring glutamates in the food even if it has a “no added MSG” claim. Glutamates occur naturally in protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. Free glutamates are found in foods like tomatoes, tomato paste, cheese and mushrooms. Common foods that can contain added MSG include savoury foods such as stocks, seasonings, soup, sauces and savoury snacks or meals.

Beginning of this year, India joined a select band of countries where food containing genetically modified content must be labelled as such. Genetically modified foods should contain ‘GM’ printed on label. If the ingredients are derived from genetically modified organisms, then the label reads GMOs.

Reading nutritional information that are printed on the product makes sense if a consumer can understand the importance of it and knows how the information is helpful to him/her. The calories, protein, fat, vitamin and mineral content of the product is analyzed and then printed. Following are some important points that you might find useful when you read a nutritional label next time.

Serving size
Nutritional information is usually given per 100gram of product or for a specific Serving size (eg: 25g or 32g etc). Checking the net weight of the product helps to know how much more calories or fat is consumed if the serving size is doubled or tripled.


This is what most people want to know whether the food comes in a packaged form or it is served at home or elsewhere! Most of the food labels will tell you the total number of calories from each serving of the food and the number of those calories which are derived from fat. If the serving sizes are increased the calories consumed also increases. At the bottom of some labels, the ‘% daily values’ (DV) are mentioned, which are the recommended levels of intake for 2,000-2,500 kcal diet. But a individual should know his/her calorie requirement per day in order to know how much calories is met by the serving size of a specific product and how much more has to be adjusted.


Look for the words sugar, as in palm sugar or invert sugar; sweetener, as in corn sweetener; or syrup, as in brown rice syrup or malt syrup. Sometimes manufacturers split up sugar into dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, cane crystals etc. Ingredients list is given in descending order of weight so, the higher up on the list an ingredient is the more of it a product contains. If sugar is one of the first two ingredients, then you know the product is rich in sugar. More sugar means more calories!

Saturated fats, PUFA and Trans Fat content

In the product, if most of the fat comes from unsaturated fats, then it’s a healthy option to choose from. If it is saturated fat or trans fat that the product is rich in, then a second thought is required. Trans fat has been shown to increase levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol while decreasing levels of “good” HDL . Even though some labels claim ‘zero trans fat’, the amount of trans fat present could be in traces like 0.6 or 0.7mg/100gram of the product. When choosing foods low in trans fat, make sure they are also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Avoid hydrogenated fats.


Usually the sodium content is mentioned in milligrams (mg). Excess sodium is not recommended due to its ill effects on blood pressure and increase risk of heart diseases. Most of the processed foods (tomato sauces, canned soups, chips, etc) have high sodium content. 2300mg is the recommendation for sodium per day for adults.

Total carbohydrates

This will give information on the total of all the different types of carbohydrates you consume from eating the mentioned servings of the food.


This tells you how many grams (g) of fiber are there in the product. Fiber helps prevent bowel problem. Indian population has no problem with the amount of fiber content in the diet as most of it is met through diet. Labels of food that says whole grain foods and high fiber breakfast cereals contain fiber depending on how much amount of whole grains have really been used in the product.

Word ‘whole’ can give you an idea of any grain that is present in the product without undergoing any processing. If the grain is refined, then the germ and bran layer containing essential nutrients have been lost during processing.  ‘Enriched’ products losses key nutrients and fiber during processing. Try selecting whole grain products during purchase.

Vitamins and minerals

Some labels just mention the amount of vitamin in mg for example, 10mg of vitamin C per 100 ml. Most of the times vitamins and minerals are mentioned in percent of daily value (DV). This is the amount of each nutrient considered sufficient for healthy adults. It is opined that a food that contains anywhere from 10 percent to 19 percent of the DV is considered a good source of a nutrient.

Do we need to check label to eat even a small packet of biscuit or chips?? Yes! In simple words, as consumers, we pay money for the products we buy and hence it is our ‘Right’ to know what goes into making that product!

Food labels have lots of information to offer, only if the consumer is keen to receive it.  Nutritional labelling enables consumers to make wise choices while selecting foods. A label reading ‘healthy’, ‘quick and tasty’, ‘low fat’ can be assessed well when the label is read well.

A label on a vegetable oil may read ‘no cholesterol’, but it is up to the consumer to know that all vegetable oils have no cholesterol in them! A candy cover may say ‘no fat’ on it but it is wise to know that candy has sugars and sugar contribute to calories! So next time you read a food label do not get carried away with ‘no’, ‘less’, ‘free’ words, check the labels.

Today, I love reading Labels, be it on a book or on a product. A ‘Mickey Mouse label’ represents one of my books on ‘Food Labels’ …A label representing labels!! 😉

Dr.Sowmya Rao


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments



Disclaimer : The article does not recommend eating out in any hotel/restaurant of any kind. It also does not intend to recommend restaurants/hotels serving any Foreign dishes in India and does not mean to offend/hurt the feelings of Indians who have not tasted, or liked Chinese or any other foods mentioned in the article!  😉

Churmuri, pani puri , masala puri, ragda pattis, shev puri, dahi puri, these are some of the all time favourites that we all relish with our family and friends. Some more in the list like pizzas, burgers, puffs, cakes, hot brownies with a scoop of ice cream on top! And also not to forget hot paav bhaji and then a cool falooda at Juhu beach or elsewhere! 😉 Are you wondering if this is being written by a Nutritionist or somebody else?! 😉

A Nutritionist’s job is to recommend food items that can be included in a diet. Nutritionist plans a balanced diet by including all the food groups such that the meal is not only quantitatively satisfying but also meets the quality standards with respect to nutrients. Unless the condition of a client calls for exclusion of certain food items, a nutritionist does not advice a client to avoid any food stuff! All the recommendations that are made are usually planned keeping in mind the client’s food habits and food preferences.

Wait! This does not mean I am recommending you to eat the above mentioned foods daily! It’s just that these food items are so tasty and yummy; you can hardly resist temptation at times! So, can these be a part of your diet or should they be excluded completely?? I know many people who now want me to say that these foods are nutritious and can be included!! 😉

Of course, they are nutritious!! Take for eg churmuri, it can be considered a low calorie, beta carotene (vitamin A) rich, protein containing dish! (WHAT!) yes, ingredients that goes into making a yummy medium spiced churmuri  are puffed rice, grated carrots, onion, coriander leaves, chilli paste, tomato (optional), salt, oil lemon juice and peanuts. This can be considered a healthy snack when prepared at home. All chats mentioned above, like masala puris etc, have peas in them- a protein source. These dishes come with other ingredients like onion, coriander, carrots, tomatoes, which not just enhance taste of a dish but are also source of various nutrients.

What about pizzas then? Pizzas have extra cheese! Yes, a pizza is not a pizza without cheese!! But you can always order a vegetarian/non-vegetarian pizza with no extra cheese! Have more toppings of veggies on it and in case of non-veg pizza, choose lean meat. Try and make a healthy choice in selecting foods. Given an option to select between potato chips and roasted peanuts, you can always go for roasted peanuts, simply because it has protein, vitamin E, folate, niacin and healthy fat (monounsaturated fat) in it and you are satisfied easily compared to chips which you can go on eating as many as you want thereby adding up fat and calories!

What about Brownies, cakes, pastries and ice creams! I agree, they are too good to resist. Try to eat small portions of it instead of a large piece. How about sharing that small piece with your partner?! Thereby, you are not just decreasing the amount eaten but also increasing the Love between each other!(Partner could be your father/mother/sister/brother also ;)) Joke apart, try having small portion instead of a big one and also minimize on the scoops of ice cream you can have.

Falooda is wonderful Indian dessert. It has vermicelli, jelly, milk, ice cream and chia seeds (sabza/takmaria seeds). Chia seeds are good source of protein and also contain calcium, manganese and phosphorus. It is a great source of healthy omega-3 fatty acid.

In hotels/restaurants, if you want to keep a check on what you are eating and don’t want to fill yourself with extra calories and fats then, opt for an ala carte menu (order food from the menu card provided at the hotel/restaurant) rather than choosing a buffet lunch or dinner. This will help you make better choices and also restrict the amount of food that is served in front of you there by you can resist your temptation of trying too many dishes especially desserts which are usually part of a buffet.

Wise choices can be made while ordering food. Like for eg: ordering a plain roti instead of butter roti. Many restaurants now prepare rotis/kulchas using wheat flour rather than maida. Choose vegetable curries if you don’t want to include paneer. Steamed, boiled, sautéed, stir fried dishes are better choices in the order they are mentioned when compared to fried dishes!

Chinese foods are very popular in India. Various Manchurian (sometimes sold with Indian masalas!), noodles, fried rice, momos are relished by youngsters. The amount of vegetables that they use is what attracts many to authentic Chinese restaurants. Carrots, beans, broccoli, zucchini, lotus stem etc and the mildly flavored side dishes containing tofu (soya product rich in protein) attract people to their restaurants. While choosing these foods you can always make your choices too. Select steamed momos, dim-sums and wontons instead of fried ones. Opt for a dish that uses more vegetables rather than two or three along with selected noodles /rice.

Almost all restaurants these days oblige customers when they say that the food should have less oil. Check out if you are having artificial colors in the foods! This is one reason why you are advised not to eat Manchurian anywhere and everywhere and also because of the oil that goes into frying them. Food colors are used during preparation to enhance the color and acceptability of the dish, but if these colors do not meet the quality standards then they posses health hazard. Palak paneer, manchurian, green peas masala, paneer butter masala and many other dishes that look colorful and inviting may contain colors in them. This is also one reason why the palak paneer you prepare at home does not match color wise to the one you ordered in a restaurant! (you can always retain the color of green leafy vegetables and cooked peas by immersing them in cold water as soon as they are blanched)

All the above mentioned foods are source of various nutrients but, the fact that they might contain excess oil, spices, and low quality raw ingredients in them makes it essential for an individual to consider the place of eating such foods. Being thoughtful when you are eating out always has its own benefits.

Hygiene and sanitation is an important thing that has to be kept in mind. The surroundings where the food is prepared, water source for food preparation as well as washing utensils and plates, quality of ingredients that goes into making a dish, personal hygiene of person handling the food and disposing of the used plates and spoons… all are important in determining the quality of food that a person consumes.

Eating out is fun with family and friends as far as you don’t have a stomach upset next morning! The place you choose to eat food is also important. Give ‘eat out’ food items a ‘guest appearance’ role in your film and never allow them to play a lead role thus, ensuring a guaranteed hit at the box office called ‘Life’! (Bollywood again?!) 😉

Dr.Sowmya Rao



Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments


Once upon a time in Mumbai.. (oops! Too much of Bollywood influence! Once, when I was in Bangalore, there was a cookery contest that was telecasted in a popular Kannada TV channel. In that show, contestants from all parts of Karnataka were selected and were given a chance to showcase their culinary expertise. During the preparation, the contestants spoke about the dish, ingredients used and interestingly, the nutrient content of the ingredients too. After a dish was prepared, the contestants presented it to the judges. (A Chef from a famous Five star Hotel in Bangalore and a Nutritionist…… that is me!!)

It was indeed a pleasure to watch them cook with zeal and more pleasurable to get a chance to taste the dishes they had prepared! There were around 15 to 16 episodes and during the shooting of one episode, where a sweet dish was being prepared, I heard the contestant say ‘I am adding cardamom now; it has protein in it and is good for health”!  This made me THINK!

Whenever I read an article on food or watch a cookery show, most of the times I read/ hear people say proteins can be obtained by consuming foods like meat and chicken. This again makes me THINK!!

What is it that I am ‘THINKING’ actually? Is protein obtained only from Non-vegetarian food stuffs? Are vegetarians so desperate to include cardamom and other spices as protein source?? Are vegetarians getting any protein at all because they have never eaten chicken and meat?! Let me deal with it one by one…

Cardamom is a spice and is used as a flavoring agent in foods and beverages. The protein present is approximately 10 grams per 100 grams of cardamom. Meaning, if you want to get 10g of protein from it, you will have to eat 100 grams of cardamom! The amount of cardamom that goes into a sweet dish, Pulav/Biryani or any beverage is very little. Its role is not as a main ingredient but, as a flavoring agent. Hence, Cardamom cannot be included in a meal as a potential protein source!

The ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) recommends 1g/kg body weight of protein per day for Indian Adult Woman and Man. This recommendation is for Indian population. For an individual, ten percent of the total calories required should come from protein.

Food sources of protein are Pulses (whole and split- Bengal gram, black gram, channa, green gram etc), nuts and oil seeds (ground nuts, cashew etc), milk, eggs, fish, poultry and meat. All these are considered good sources of protein in the diet.

Cereals (Rice, Ragi, Wheat, Jowar), pulses, milk and milk products contribute most of the protein in Indian dietary. When cereals and pulses are included in the same meal (eg: Idli chutney/sambar, Rice Sambar, chapati dhal), the essential amino acid content of the two together is more in keeping with the body’s needs than that of each of these taken singly.

Any additional foods such as curds or buttermilk, vegetables or fish/ meat which may be included in a meal may help improve the quality of the protein by virtue of the essential amino acids they supply. Hence including two or more sources of protein in the menu for each meal helps to improve the quality of protein and its utilization.

The concentration of protein in most vegetables and fruits is small. These may not be counted to supply more than ten percent of the day’s intake. Though the quantity supplied may be small, these proteins do enhance the quality of protein in the diet.

Many community based Indian studies on frequency of food use by people have shown that the inclusion of non vegetarian foods is just once or twice a week. A person who is considered a non vegetarian by his/her food habits may or may not include non-veg foods every day.  The importance of any food as a source of protein depends on how often and how much of it is consumed.

For the utilization of protein in the body, calories are required. Low protein status   can occur due to less protein foods in the diet or less calories to utilize protein! (This is another example of ‘dieting’ going wrong!) When calories are restricted, protein even though present in the diet cannot be utilized well by the body. Low protein status is found in majority of the Indian women.

If all the above mentioned points are taken care, then the protein requirement can be met easily. In addition to other food items already mentioned, skim milk, Soya bean, soya chunks, tofu, paneer, whey water (liquid that remains after the milk curdles when paneer is prepared is rich in protein. This can be strained and used in chapati dough for making chapatis/phulkas or also in khadi and soups!) flax seeds, chia seeds (used in beverages and falooda- an Indian dessert) can be included in diet as protein source.

So, vegetarians also have a wide range of foods to choose their proteins from. Yes! Found protein at last! And by the way… in the TV show, the preparation was over and the dish was presented to us. It was a tasty sweet dish with the aroma of cardamom. The contestant was judged accordingly. She was happy to know that she was selected for semi-finals and also the fact that the 2 pinch of cardamom powder she used was to enhance the flavor and not to increase the protein content of the dish. 🙂

Dr.Sowmya Rao

You are welcome to  join ‘Food Facts’ on face book page

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


One food group that is considered a ‘Villain’ by most people most of the times and some people all of the time is ‘Fats and Oils’! This villain’s role is cut short all the time during cooking and I have heard they (fats and oils!) hate the word ‘ fat free foods’ and worst when they hear people say ‘No fat foods’!!! 🙂

Joke apart, the point here is, are fats and oils that bad? Then, why are they included in the Food pyramid? Why it is not eliminated?!

Fats and oils are an essential food group. Apart from improving the palatability and satiety value of foods, they also act as cushion and protect vital organs of the body. They do have an important role to play in conserving body heat. And most importantly vitamins like A, D, E and K need fats for their digestion and absorption in the body, as they are fat soluble vitamins. Hence, it is clear that fats have a major role to play in the human body.

Now, hoping that the villain has tried to make some place in your heart, let me now tell you what are ‘fat free foods’ or ‘no fat foods’?!

All food groups like Cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, roots and tubers etc etc that we use on a daily basis (and you get to see on a colorful Food pyramid chart!) provide us with Energy and nutrients like carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.  These food groups provide nutrients in varying amounts, some more and some less. For eg: Cereals are a source of carbohydrates and Pulses are a source of protein. This does not mean that cereals do not contain protein, they do have protein in them but, carbohydrate is the dominating nutrient in cereals and the amount of protein found is less when compared to proteins found in pulses, chicken or meat. Looks like I forgot the question! I was supposed to talk about Fats and the script has been changed to highlight facts on carbohydrates and protein! But then, I would say…You have the answer already!! Whether or not you are including visible fat in your diet, you are getting it through various foods in the form of invisible fat (though in small amounts) as they are inherently present. Hence, a food item cannot be considered ‘no fat food’ or ‘fat free food’ (Unless you are consuming only sugar! Because sugar has no fat, it provides approximately 99g/100g of carbohydrate and 387 kcal/100 g!)

 Sources of Fats are Visible fats (vegetable oil, ghee, butter, lard, margarine, cream) and Invisible fats (milk, oil seeds, nuts, mutton, eggs, liver). You can always monitor the amount of visible fats that you add to food i.e., the amount of oil you add while cooking food, or the amount of butter on your toast or ghee to your rice and rasam! And also by avoiding, the invisible fat dominant foods like egg yolk, certain meat products, avocados to name few. ‘Low fat diet’ can be carefully planned when these basic things are kept in mind. This means you can always plan a ‘’Low fat diet’ but not ‘No fat diet’!

Fats are very essential during the growth periods and hence everybody may not need a ‘Low fat diet’! Changing times and changes in lifestyle has given way to various Non- communicable diseases that are affecting normal life and excess fat in diet has a role to play in various diseases and disorders like Cardio vascular diseases, overweight/ obesity to name a few. Total fat (Visible plus invisible fat) included in the diet is carefully planned by a Nutritionist depending on the condition and requirement of a client/Patient and the modifications are made accordingly. In the diets of adults in India, about 20 percent energy may be derived from fats. Invisible fat furnishes about 9 percent energy and visible fat 10 percent. This would come to 10-20 grams of fat per day depending upon the levels of calories consumed.

When fats are avoided in the diet without careful planning, the functions that fats play in our body are affected. Teenagers and health conscious individuals who take pride in eliminating fats and oils from diet have to give it a second thought! Excessive exercise, high fiber, low fat intake lead to low circulating estrogen levels, irregular menses and low bone mass. Predisposition to osteoporosis is in part at least the result of dietary deficiency of various important nutrients and exercise patterns during developmental years.

Next time you are thinking about fat, don’t consider it a villain.  Let the goodness of fat get some credit! Too much of anything is harmful. Fat is not fattening!! By making wise choices, let us allow fat to play the role of a hero and not over use it and prove it a villain! 🙂


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments