Category Archives: The Food Police says…

Say no to white bread, eat potatoes in moderation

I tend to be very anti-white bread because I view it as a zero-benefit food, since it is made of white flour which offers no significant nutrients.

This also makes it a high glycemic index food, like potatoes. The risk from these as well as other high GI foods – which raise the level of blood-sugar too quickly – is described here and here. Both stories profile a recently concluded study that links the consumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates to the increased risk of coronary disease in women.

The surprising thing was that the list of high GI-foods includes watermelon, which one might imagine is quite harmless, and brown rice, which one is always exhorted by most informed/medical opinion to choose over white rice.

Just goes to show that probably moderation is the key though with bread I believe it is best to skip the white variety altogether.

And the combination of bread and potatoes – which probably counts as double-trouble, in view of  the science- in bread rolls is what decided my mind against writing the recipe as I completed the post about this dish today morning !

The small bit of good news is that when I looked up “glycemic index” just now, I saw on the Wikipedia link that Basmati rice is listed under “medium” GI foods.

Phew !  That’s one less worry for an Indian kitchen !


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We eat this so often – it is my favorite mix of salad greens – that I thought it merits a mention here.

According to sources such as wikipedia and wisegeek, mesclun (“to mix” in the Provencal language of the south of France) is a mixture of young greens (i.e. harvested while they are young, for a great flavor)  and can include  dandelion leaves, sorrel, rocket or arugula, mache or lamb’s lettuce, other leafy lettuces, spinach, mustard, swiss chard, chicory, frisee and sometimes edible flowers such as rose petals and nasturtiums. The original mix apparently consisted of chervil,rocket, types of lettuce and endive mixed in equal amounts.

A delicate olive oil and lime juice dressing is all a mesclun-based salad needs, I feel, so that the fresh flavors of the leaves are not subdued.

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Peanut Butter-The Good and the Bad

The girls – and, I must confess, Shri and I too – have taken to peanut butter in a big way in recent months.  A spoon of it on a crepe, or a slice of bread -or just heaped on the spoon ! -makes for a very satisfying snack. The girls sometimes have a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast now, with a glass of milk.

Hence this post, as  I try to find out whether it is all good or whether there are things about it we need to know.

It seems that trans fats, which are part of the problem  in all processed foods, are the chief villain here too. The mostly fat-derived calories are not such an issue – though eating this food in moderation would therefore be a good idea – because the fat in peanuts is supposed to be the good sort.

From the sources I have looked at so far, it looks like switching to an organic variety should allow us to continue indulging – but only once in a while.

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Vegetarian for a Day…

While I don’t think I am for cultured meat (which is what the story below is about), the first video there , which shows how they separate those poor little chicks from their shells on a separator tray, makes me think about becoming a vegetarian; or at least that I must never again buy industrially produced chicken

This reminds me of how Noor declared some months ago that she was going to become vegetarian.

The girls were watching me skin pieces of chicken, before I marinated them in preparation for  tandoori chicken that I was planning to make for dinner guests the next day. The sight of a little bit of blood still visible on the leg pieces seemed to affect Noor enough for her to make this statement.

She actually resisted eating the chicken with the rest of us the next day, and even the day after that I was unable to tempt her with the leftovers.

Since then,  though she has gone back to her meat-eating ways, every once in a while she does state her intention to become a vegetarian one of these days.

Indira’s reaction to the whole thing is more objective/prosaic. She said to me once, when she was 6 or 7 I think, “Well I am sure there are lots of chickens in the world and it’s not as if we are killing all of them !”

Spoken like the meat-lover that she is 🙂

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So just how bad are sausages- and other processed meats -for you,really?

I have held this vague notion for a long time that this form of meat, as well as other processed meats, are just not a healthy food choice.

So I have been thinking for a while that I need to find out exactly why they say that processed meats, including sausages, aren’t good for you. Is it the additives and preservatives? Is it the high amounts of salt? In the case of sausages, is it the cuts of meat used to make them? Are there are some kinds that are better than others? Should I relax the rules at home about not eating processed meat too often?

One suspicion commonly held against processed meats is that they cause cancer. But I found mixed evidence of this.

In 2006, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden seemed to find a connection between processed meats and stomach cancer.

They analyzed the results of 15 studies, of patients suffering from stomach cancer, published over the last 40 years across Europe, and North and South America .

They found that, compared to the normal population, those people with stomach cancer were more likely to have processed meats in their diet – foods like bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, land liver pate, and that the highest risk factor among these was bacon.

But as can happen with scientific studies, this one was not conclusive because it was felt that it could well be that people who ate processed meats led a lifestyle that predisposed them to cancer from other causes, rather than it being that the processed meats were the cause.

But the results added to a growing body of other evidence linking processed meats to cancer. Last year in a study they were linked to pancreatic cancer, and in other earlier studies, to cancers of the colon and rectum.

So how might the consumption of processed meats lead to cancer?

This brings us to two controversial ingredients of processed meat; the additives and the preservatives- the latter are the nitrates and the nitrites which are added to meat to retard rancidity, to stabilize flavor, and to establish the characteristic pink color of cured meat, and because they are antioxidants.

As with the link between processed meat and cancer, the news on nitrites is somewhat mixed.

The concern really centers around nitrosamines, or the compounds derived from the nitrate and nitrite salts, which are known to be carcinogens.

One reason those barbecued sausages may not be a good idea- apparently the high heat at which sausages and bacon are sometimes cooked aids the formation of nitrosamines.

And nitrites, and by association cured meats, are linked to the incidence of chronic pulmonary disease (though a conclusive causal relationship has not been established.

But there are also studies reported in scientific journals which say that nitrites may protect the stomach from ulcers; topical nitrite preparations are known to be effective in wound and burn healing; there are studies which indicate that nitrites may help improve recovery after a heart-attack (demonstrated so far only in animals), and there is some expectation that dietary supplementation of nitrites and their topical uses will be effective and inexpensive therapies to help decrease the incidence and severity of heart attack and stroke or enhance recovery.

Interestingly. vegetables have high levels of nitrates too. But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says that someone on an average daily diet of fruit and vegetables is unlikely to consume a dangerous level of nitrates.

Whatever the truth of the matter, nitrates and nitrites certainly have a negative connotation and therefore some manufacturers have apparently begun to make “nitrite free” products though these often get around the problem by introducing nitrites in the meat through the use of additives such as  celery and cane sugar juice,as well as selected types of salt, which are high in “natural” nitrate.

The other additive to look out for in sausages is E128, also known as Red 2G. It is banned in some countries such as Japan already and in 2007 the EFSA recommended that it cannot be considered safe for humans because it gets converted in to aniline in the body, which is a substance known in lab studies to cause cancer in animals.

Another risk, associated with eating salami and other raw sausages (found by a 2001 study done at  Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology) is that a bacterium in these foods, which is resistant to antibiotics (and which could be transferred to humans consuming these kinds of meats and other raw foods such as some kinds of cheese) can render consumers of such foods non-responsive to antibiotic treatment.

The source of this is the antibiotics that animals like cows are given in their food, and against which the animals gradually develop genes resistant to them.

(The scientists who carried out this study did intend to try and find out next if the same can happen through plant foods).

As for what goes in to making a sausage- many people’s reservations are related to the use of offal – “anything on the floor”, as some have said.  (Offal is the term used to describe the entrails, internal organs and extremities of an animal – the parts that fall off when the carcass is butchered. For a detailed discussion on what exactly makes up offal, see and

After reading those links, I quite understand how this would make some people squeamish, and certainly I won’t be looking at a sausage too fondly the next time ! For aficionados, though, and people who believe that it is a waste to not use all parts of an animal, I believe the saying goes “you can eat all of the pig except the squeal” (For an amusing read on one lady’s experience of eating the very popular French sausage called Andouillette, see

Of course, as with everything else, one can always make one’s own (

The other option I guess would be to buy discerningly, from speciality sausage makers who promise only prime cuts of meat.

As for me, I guess I am going to err on the side of caution and continue to skip processed meat as much as possible, or I’ll start to think about what kind to buy and where. Those nitrites – especially the nitrosamines that they get converted in to – worry me and I think what Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) said may well hold true even today –  “The less people know about how sausage and laws are made, the better they’ll sleep at night.

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On choosing breakfast cereals carefully

Remember that old adage, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and so on?
There is plenty of scientific data out there to support that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

For many people scrambling to get to work or school on time each morning, a bowl of cereal with milk makes for a quick, convenient and filling start to the day. But is it always as nourishing as it ought to be?

There is of course a dazzling array of choices in the cereal aisles of food stores and supermarkets.

But a closer glance at what is on offer would reveal that instead of a product that in an ideal world would be nutrient rich and based on complex carbohydrates, what is on offer is often an unhealthier option, with excessive amounts of added sugar, hydrogenated oils and too-highly-processed grains.

The added sugar usually appears on the list of ingredients of most cereals in more than one avtaar – sugar, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup and maple syrup, among others. The choice of your breakfast cereal becomes significant when you consider that the amount of sugar permissible each day on a 2000 calorie diet (make that around 1500 for children) is a mere 40 g and many popular brands fulfill 25-50% of that amount. So eat breakfast like a king, yes, but like a wise one, not a hedonistic one.

Hydrogenated oils too are bad news when you consider that they are linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. So why do manufacturers use them, instead of healthy polyunsaturated fats, in the processing of their products? Because hydrogenated oils increase the shelf life of these products and add to their taste and texture.

The third big source of trouble comes from the cereal or grain itself. Most commercially available cereal-based products use refined flours, since the oils present in the whole grain can cause rancidity, which would complicate processing, storage and transport.

But the milling that cereals undergo during refining, strips them of the bran and the germ portions of the seed, leaving only the endosperm. This means that vital nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and natural oils are lost in the process.

It is important therefore, to look beyond the marketing hype on the front of a box of cereal and to read the list of ingredients very carefully. The biggest ingredient is required to be listed first. So if this not “whole wheat”, for example, then you are not looking at a product that is made with whole grain. A common trap is a label that says “made with whole grain”. The loophole here for manufacturers is that the product is often made with refined flour, in the case of wheat-based cereals, with a little bit of whole wheat thrown in for effect, since they are not required to say HOW much whole grain is actually used.

So what is one to do? What is the alternative to the myriad ready-made delicious ways to start the day, with sugar, chocolate and honey added in rash abundance to all those pops, flakes, clusters, loops, krispies and cookies?

Make your own. Here’s my formula, which so far has worked reasonably well with both my daughters, aged 7 and 3 and a 1/2.

I keep a selection of the simplest -read no added sugar and not too highly processed -cereals like oatmeal, Weetabix, wheat flakes and muesli mixes, because these typically have a much higher percentage of unrefined grain as compared to the bulk of cereals targeted at children.

To make these staid choices exciting, I keep fresh fruit and nuts handy that can be chopped and added easily to any of these cereals. Some additions that I find they enjoy are soft seedless dates, blueberries, apple,banana, raspberries, apple or pear compote, raisins, almonds and walnuts.

The beauty of this is that most of the time, you don’t even need to add any sugar since the fruits bring their own sweetness and flavour to the cereal though a small spoon of honey or unprocessed brown sugar works well with some of those additions.

This is not to say that we deny ourselves the occasional treat from a box of chocopops or honey loops. But even there, I sneak in to everyone’s bowl a spoon of wheatgerm, commonly available in powdered form, to console myself that there is a smidgen of nutrition in what my girls are eating that morning.

Hey, what’s a mother to do – just trying to beat the cereal makers at their insidious game.


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