So you thought fruit juices are good for your kids, eh? So you thought all those “fortified” juices in fancy tetrapaks would make your child bounce and glow, eh? So you thought a hefty swig of fruit juice four times a day would make you healthy, wealthy and wise, eh?
Way back in 2001, The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) had issued a policy statement on the use of fruit juices [The use and misuse of fruit juice in pediatrics. Pediatrics, Volume 107, pages 1210-1213, 2001.] Here’s an extract:
Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit for infants younger than 6 months and therefore should not be introduced into their diet. For older infants and children, fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit. Fruit drinks are not nutritionally equivalent to fruit juice. Juice is not appropriate for treating dehydration or managing diarrhea.
Surprised? You ought to be. Here are some more juicy facts for you:
Excessive juice consumption may be associated with malnutrition and can cause diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal distention and tooth decay.
Unpasteurized juice may contain pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. In place of ‘unpasteurized’ read ‘squeezed in a fruit juicer at home’.
Infants should not be given juice from bottles or hi-tech transportable covered cups that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day. Infants should not be given juice at bedtime. Intake of fruit juice should be limited to one small glass per day for children 1 to 6 years old. For children 7 to 18 years old, juice intake should be limited to two servings per day.
Children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits to meet their recommended daily fruit intake. Infants, children, and adolescents should not consume unpasteurized juice.
I could quote several other reports and articles about the perils of juicing, but I’m sure you can do your own research, instead of taking me at my word.
No point in squeezing the life out of all those fruits and raw vegetables. You may actually be doing yourself and your child some harm.
In case you didn’t get it, the message is …
JUICING IS UNSAFE!
Diet gurus would have us believe that juicing is the answer to mankind’s ills. There are all kinds of ‘organic’ juice concoctions that promise to reverse disease, stop aging and generally bring happiness to one and all. “Live”, uncooked juices, we are told, flush the body of “toxins”, leaving us in state of eternal bliss.
When you juice the crap out of a fruit or vegetable, you lose all the other benefits you can get from it, like fiber for instance.
Fruit or vegetable juice is not a substitute for food. Fruits and vegetables are meant to be eaten. What do you think your teeth are for?
Yes, fruits and vegetables are good for you. That’s the primary message of my blog.
But…eat your fruits and vegetables. Don’t drink them!
Antioxidants! Those colorful little pills of immortality. Those iridescent capsules filled with promises of eternal health and never-ending youth.
Or are they just filled with lies and worthless crap?
Did you really believe you could become immortal by simply popping a capsule of antioxidants every day? Seriously? Are you that dumb?
What are these antioxidants anyway?
The human body uses nutrients and oxygen as fuel. It also uses oxygen to help the immune system combat disease. These normal processes in the body create some unstable and energetic by-products called ‘free radicals’. The fancy term is “reactive oxygen species”, often abbreviated by nutra-peddlers as ROS, just to confuse you.
Left to themselves, free radicals can damage your body cells and may affect your DNA. Therefore, free radicals are believed to be responsible for some of our ailments.
When combined with elevated sugar levels in the blood, as it happens with diabetes, free radicals can potentially be quite nasty to your body. The scientific term is “oxidative stress”. If you see a peeled apple turning brown, know that oxidative stress is making that happen.
All this is well known to science, since many decades.
Free radicals are aggressively advertised by nutra-peddlers as terrible villains that will strike you dead – if you don’t buy whatever they’re peddling.
What the peddlers of nutra-crap won’t tell you is that free radicals are also useful to you. They help your body fight off germs and may increase your life-span in many ways.
As it turns out, oxidative stress may be good for you.
What the peddlers also won’t tell you is that your body has its own enzymatic defence system against free radicals. In fact, your body has a highly evolved defence mechanism to neutralise free radicals, and it does so quite well.
So why should I buy these expensive anti-oxidants in a bottle?
Free radicals have been around quite literally since the dawn of life. Almost 200 million years ago, when plants first evolved, they developed their own defensive molecules to deal with free radicals. These antioxidants, like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherols (vitamin E), polyphenols, flavanoids and so on, are still to be found in modern-day plants.
Theoretically therefore, by eating plants and fruits that are rich in antioxidants, we can help our bodies combat our own free radicals.
However, if you are sensible and eat plants and fruits, then how do the nutra-peddlers make their money?
So, what they do is to extract these anti-oxidants, patent those extracts, put those extracts into capsules or tablets, or “health” drinks, or what-have-you, and laugh all the way to their respective banks, as you guzzle all that stuff.
The reality of antioxidants in a bottle is …
Science says NO!
The only way to settle the question scientifically is by long-term controlled clinical studies. Since the past two decades, hundreds of clinical trials have been conducted, involving thousands of human subjects.
Here’s the gist of all those mega trials across the world:
The benefits of vitamin E are inconclusive. At high doses, vitamin E may increase the chances of internal bleeding, especially in patients who are on cardiovascular medication (like me).
There is no solid evidence that vitamin C prevents or cures a cold, or any other ailment for that matter.
Beta-carotene actually increased mortality and increased the incidence of cancer in some people.
This is what the US government’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has to say:
“research has not shown antioxidant supplements to be beneficial in preventing diseases”.
No need to blindly believe me. Read the entire report here.
And this is what the American Heart Association says:
“The existing scientific database does not justify routine use of antioxidant supplements for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease”.
That hasn’t stopped nutra-peddlers from selling antioxidants as if they’re Mankind’s last hope. Many have concocted new ‘concentrates’, which, they claim, provide the same benefits as real fruits and vegetables.
Use your common sense, will you? Anti-oxidants are not the only useful things in fruits and vegetables. You get loads of fiber, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and many other nutrients that your body needs. Even the skins and seeds are useful.
Do you think it is really possible to condense all these useful ingredients into a tiny pill?
I’ve tried myself, for years. It’s just not possible, believe me.
And why take all the trouble and expense anyway, when Nature has already put all those antioxidants into delicious, easily available and inexpensive natural containers – called fruits and vegetables?
The long-term benefit of any single antioxidant in a bottle has never been conclusively established, beyond reasonable scientific doubt. Never.
Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables!
If you’re willing to waste two thousand rupees on a few grams of carrot extract or a few ounces of an anti-oxidant drink, you might as well eat real carrots for one full year with the same cash … and get more benefits.
In general, most of the non-green and brightly colored fruits and vegetables you see in your supermarket are excellent sources of anti-oxidants.
Thus: Oranges and lemons (ascorbic acid), yellow or red capsicums (flavanoids), oily fish from the sea (sardines, salmon, vitamin E), seaweed sheets or edible algae (vitamin E), grains, peaches, mangoes, nuts, grapes, coffee, tea, and on and on.
Heard of Wikipedia? Here’s a huge list of foods that are rich in antioxidants, and far better and cheaper than patented nutra-crap in a bottle. Most of these foods can be seen at your local grocer’s, or in my country, at roadside shops.
And here, from my own blog, is one of the best sources of antioxidants that you can find.
Sorry, but immortality doesn’t come in a bottle … not yet anyway.
Ayurveda prescribes its consumption after every meal, our ancient scriptures describe it as one of the five sacred foods, and modern-day nutritional studies tell us that as a health food, it has no equal.
Nutra-peddlers put it into capsules, give it a fancy name called ‘probiotics’ – and make a lot of money selling those capsules back to us in India.
Dahi, or yoghurt, has been made in India since at least three thousand years.
Dahi is filled with billions of helpful bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli and Streptococci. These bacteria break down milk proteins and make it easier for the body to assimilate them. They also consume the lactose present in raw milk, allowing lactose-intolerant people (like me) to safely consume it. Dahi is rich in several vitamins and it also has calcium in a form that the body can absorb.
Ayurveda prescribes Dahi for diarrhoea, indigestion, acidity and other gastric ailments. And with good reason. The helpful bacteria in Dahi multiply rapidly in the small intestine and quickly outnumber any harmful bacteria present. They overwhelm a gastric infection through sheer volume of numbers.
Dahi being a natural product, cannot be patented. That’s why nutra-peddlers extract lactobacilli and other friendly bacteria from Dahi and develop products that they can patent.
In addition to its beneficial effects on the body’s digestive system, Dahi is good for weight loss, cholesterol, blood pressure and for preventing osteoporosis. It might be useful in preventing tooth decay in children, according to research done in Japan.
Dahi is an effective cooling agent after a spicy meal. Capsaicin is a key phtyochemical found in chillies. It causes intense inflammation and heat. Capsaicin is not soluble in water, so there’s no point drinking buckets of water if you bite into a chilli. But it binds readily to milk proteins in Dahi and can be removed harmlessly by the body. That is why it is a tradition to eat Dahi in some form after an Indian meal.
Several countries consume yoghurt, but only in India do we use it in so many different forms like raita, lassi, mishti dohi (sweet curds) and my favorite, shrikhand. And only in India, do we use Dahi as a cosmetic in home-made facepacks and as a hair conditioner.
Do you know, the dahi that you make every day at home is made from bacterial cultures that are hundreds of years old? In many homes across India, it is basically the same dahi that has been continuously used since decades.
Dahi making is an art as much as a science. Here are some tips from Yours Truly:
Use whole milk or toned milk. Skimmed milk is no good. Heat the milk to boiling point, turn down the flame, and simmer for ten minutes more. This will thicken the milk. Cool the milk to 450C (1130F). Add not more than one tablespoon of yesterday’s dahi. Stir briefly. Pour into a casserole. Cover casserole with a thick towel or scarf. Set for five hours. At five hours, gently open the casserole and check the dahi visually. If it appears firm, transfer the casserole carefully to the fridge, and use it the next day.
Important: Ensure that all vessels used are spotlessly clean and thoroughly rinsed until they are completely free from detergent. Otherwise, the bacteria do not grow properly.
I was in herbal research for a long time. Let me tell you, there’s no shortage of herbal con-artists in the field.
One of the great herbal hoaxes of the modern age is – Wheatgrass juice.
Make no mistake. It’s a hoax, plain and simple.
Nothing annoys me more than this great misconception that many people have – namely, if it’s herbal, there are no side-effects. It’s a default response. If I say ‘Herbal’, you’ll say, ‘No side effects’. I’ve seen too many people screw up their health because of this myth.
There are innumerable claims being made about the alleged health benefits of Triticum aestivum, that being the scientific name for Wheatgrass.
Not one of these claims is backed by hard scientific evidence. Not one.
The alleged “detoxifying” effect of wheatgrass juice is non-existent. Our liver and kidneys do an excellent job of removing toxins from the body – whatever one means by “toxins”. Wheatgrass juice has no proven effect on either liver function or renal function. No effect whatsoever.
And to your misfortune, if your liver or kidney function is compromised due to infection, or chemotherapy or anything else, wheatgrass juice will not help you in any manner at all.
The “living” chlorophyll found in wheatgrass (whatever that means), is simply not available to the body, for a very good reason. That chlorophyll is broken rapidly by the strong acid in your stomach. Even if it were available, your body has no use for it. Chlorophyll is not a substitute for the body’s natural hemoglobin.
The same fate befalls the enzymes found in wheatgrass. They are all destroyed by stomach acid, within a few minutes after ingestion. Whatever health benefits you think you’ll get from the “living enzymes” in wheatgrass, exist only in your imagination.
Wheatgrass does contain some minerals, vitamins and other useful phytochemicals – just like all other plants that you eat. It is no way better or “healthier” than any other vegetable you like.
There is no real, proven benefit to be obtained from drinking raw plant juices of any kind, including wheatgrass. There is however, a good chance of picking up a serious E.coli infection or worse, a tapeworm infestation, especially if you use improperly treated compost to grow that green stuff in the comfort of your own home.
The only established fact about wheatgrass is that it is a decent source of plant fiber – just like all other plants on this planet.
Still, if you do want to guzzle wheatgrass juice thinking that it will cure you of all your ills, I can’t stop you. Just be aware of the risks involved – acute gastroenteritis being just one of them.
You know that pink and grey stuff that’s inside your skull? It’s called a brain. Use it.
The spices and condiments that are typically used in Indian cuisine, have their origins in the world’s oldest medical system, Ayurveda. You use them every day in your food without a thought about the real reason why they’re there. They’re there because your body needs them and because, in many cases, Ayurveda says so.
Stinker in your kitchen
Meet this pungent little bulb, lovingly known in the West as the Stinking Rose. The distinctive odor of Allium sativum will assail your nostrils anywhere you go in India. Love it or hate it, you just can’t ignore it.
It’s a spice, herb, medicine, patentable cash-cow, and it stinks, depending on your point of view and which side of the table you’re on. Garlic is one odoriferous package of surprises.
Garlic has been in our kitchens since five thousand years. From its origins in China around 3000 BC, garlic has spread its tantalizing odor all across the planet. From the Med to the Atlantic, from one Pole to the other, you’ll find garlic bulbs adorning the kitchens of every country on earth.
According to Ayurveda, garlic is a promoter of agni, the body’s digestive fire, and is used as a carminative (appetite stimulant) and for gastric distress in general.
Regular consumption of garlic is believed to improve circulation and revitalize the body. For the same reason, garlic is believed to be a potent aphrodisiac. That’s why since Vedic times, the scriptures forbid its use by students, Brahmins and anyone engaged in spiritual pursuits, lest they get aroused by naughty ideas.
The French, on the other hand, take large amounts of it, for exactly the same reason. No wonder they also make the world’s best perfumes. The Russians use it a lot in their cuisine, mainly for rheumatism and joint pains.
Believe it or not, garlic makes a good face pack. It is effective against skin disorders like acne and pimples. That’s because garlic is a fairly strong antibacterial agent. Raw garlic paste directly applied on to the affected area will drive acne and worms away (and have the same effect on the general public).
The science behind the stink.
Garlic’s benefits and its smell are both caused by a group of sulfur-containing chemicals. Chief among them is allicin. This sulfurous phytochemical is responsible for many of garlic’s effects. There are so many scientific studies on garlic and allicin that one can mention just a handful of them here.
Blood pressure: Garlic is a vasodilator, that is, it dilates small blood vessels, and increases blood circulation. It brings down blood pressure as a result, and both Ayurveda and modern medicine recommend the moderate consumption of garlic by hypertension patients.
Cholesterol: Clinical studies on garlic show that it can potentially reduce cholesterol levels.
Antioxidant: Allicin has been studied as an antioxidant and for its effects on tumors. The results are encouraging. Allicin has been shown to inhibit a process called apoptosis or cell death. It can inhibit aging, in other words. So, an allium a day, keeps old age at bay, and everyone else away.
Statutory Warning ( I mean it!)
Garlic is known to interact with several drugs. Eating large amounts of garlic when you’re on blood pressure medication can be a genuine health risk. Garlic can decrease blood pressure by itself. In combination with anti-hypertensives, it can have a nasty synergistic effect.
Garlic can cause bleeding when used in combination with blood thinning drugs that are commonly prescribed to heart patients (like myself). Garlic can react adversely with herbal formulations and other nutritional supplements, so be careful if you’re the type who falls for nutraceutical TV ads hosted by nubile nymphets.
If you want to use garlic for its health benefits, the golden rule is: First ask your doctor. More so if you want to take garlic capsules for their claimed benefits. No matter how you use garlic, please do so in moderation and reap its benefits without any worries.
Size does matter. Large bulbs stink less. The extra-large variety has a mild, nutty flavor and can be cooked as a vegetable by itself. The tiny variety, on the other hand, will definitely make its presence felt in your breath, so use it sparingly.
Garlic cloves can get charred quickly, so always fry them on a gentle flame, along with onion or ginger, never alone.
There’s no point in gargling desperately with mouthwash after a garlicky meal. Garlic breath happens because garlic’s breakdown products are partly eliminated by the lungs. Even if you swallow a garlic bulb without chewing it or gulp a garlic capsule, you’ll still get garlic breath an hour later. Try chewing a few coriander leaves and keep one clove (lavang) in your mouth for a few minutes, and hope for the best. If you’re a heavy eater of garlic, one would strongly recommend a regular sauna to flush your skin of garlic by-products. Or else, your body will exude garlicky fumes all day long.
A recipe for you from my part of the world: Belluli Rasam (or mulligatawny soup, if you will).
Blanch and peel ten medium-size garlic cloves. Gently heat two tablespoons of pure ghee or butter, sauté a diced onion till light brown, add the garlic cloves, and sauté gently. Add a pinch of freshly ground pepper, a dash of cinnamon powder, one finely chopped green chilli and one thinly sliced finger-size piece of ginger. Fry for a minute and add a blanched and roughly chopped tomato, sauté till the tomato turns dry. Then add a teaspoon of commercial rasam powder, sauté for a minute more or until the aroma fills the entire building, add three cups of warm water (about 400 ml), bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for ten minutes.
At the end, add half a teaspoon of salt, simmer for one minute. Then drive out your salivating neighbours, lock the door, and, as we say in Bengaluru, enjoy like anything only. Serves three, but who cares?
Stay healthy. Stay safe. As Nature intended.
Garlic National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US Dept of Health and Human Services.
The ancient Polynesians ate the malodorous fruit of Morinda citrifolia as part of their regular diet. The Polynesians were great seafarers. Over the centuries, they migrated across the Pacific Rim and southeast Asia. Wherever they sailed in their canoes they carried along several plants for food and fiber. One of those ‘canoe plants’ was Noni.
Eventually, the plant found its way to India as well. Noni is more or less self-sustaining and flourishes in sub-tropical climates with minimal maintenance.
The Polynesians liked the fruit in spite of its cheesy stench, because they thought it was healthy. Well, if you like stinky fruit that’s your business. The juice of this cheesy stinker is another matter.
Suddenly, we are being bombarded with awe-inspiring stories about Noni juice. We are told it’s miraculous, sacred, divine, God’s gift to mankind, cure for cancer, cure for arthritis, colic, seizures, cough, diabetes, inflammation, kidney disease, liver disease, and just about every ailment known to Man.
Noni-nuts like to throw impressive adjectives at us, without really knowing what they mean, like immunomodulator, anti-proliferative, adaptogenic, and the like.
There are herbalists, botanists, alternative medicinalists, self-proclaimed “eminent” scientists, research labs with grandiose names peopled by afore-mentioned “eminent” scientists, all screaming themselves hoarse about the allegedly miraculous benefits of this alleged gift of God.
According to these self-proclaimed eminent scientists, about 32,000 pharma companies across India are run by fools. Millions of responsible doctors across India are also fools. All the health regulatory agencies in the country are also fools. They should all stop giving us all medicines of all kinds – and give us Noni juice instead.
I’m not being sarcastic.
What scares me is that there are “scientists” I know who actually make these statements out loud. What really scares me is the increasing number of consumers who actually believe these statements.
The “scientists” will shut up skeptics like myself with review articles (written by themselves, of course), research papers (authored by themselves, of course), reams of “scientific” reports (produced by themselves, of course).
But there is something missing in all the information they bury you with – EVIDENCE.
Noni is being touted as a guaranteed cure for cancer. The number of peer-reviewed research papers that conclusively prove this claim is nil.
In fact, the number of peer-reviewed research papers that provide you with conclusive evidence of any of Noni’s claimed health benefits is nil.
No wonder then, the USFDA sends out formal warning letters to manufacturers of Noni juice for making ridiculous claims. You can see one such warning letter, here.
The truth about Noni …
There are several peer-reviewed reports that noni juice can cause liver damage. Here are a few:
Check out these papers yourself, and judge for yourself.
Did you know noni juice has unhealthy amounts of potassium? If you’re taking medication for blood pressure or cholesterol, you should not take noni juice. You might damage your kidneys. Since noni juice can damage your liver as well, you should not take it with any medication that affects your liver. And that’s a long list.
If you like stinky fruits, eat Noni fruit once in a while if you can get it. Eat it in moderation and with caution.
If you think the juice of noni is a God-send that can cure you of everything from cancer to old age, you are utterly wrong. Drinking noni juice for extended periods is a bad idea. The health benefits are non-existent. The health risks are real.
Why can’t you enjoy normal fruits like normal people do? You know, bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes and stuff. They’re much better for you.
Stay healthy. Stay safe. As Nature intended.
Noni: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, US Government Dept of Health & Human Services.
So. You want to drink Aloe juice. Why? Out of your mind?
It is a complete myth that herbs are safe for you. There’s a long list of herbs that are hyped out of proportion but are directly harmful to you. At the head of this list, stands Aloe. And not just for alphabetical reasons.
Aloe vera or Aloe barbadensis, has been used in folk medicine since a few thousand years across various countries, including ours. Traditionally, aloe gel was a topical application for small wounds, cuts and burns and for skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis. The term ‘topical’ means ‘applied on the skin’.
Aloe juice is used in Ayurveda as a cathartic. The term ‘cathartic’ means ‘crap your guts out’.
That you see, is Aloe’s primary effect when ingested. It will make you crap your guts out.
That is why Ayurveda uses aloe juice as a medicine, not as a “health drink”. And like any other medicine, Ayurveda uses it sparingly. And under strict medical supervision.
There are innumerable claims being made about the juice of Aloe vera. You know, the usual tall tales – antidiabetic, antibacterial, anti-cholesterol, anti-hypertensive, anti-arthritic – and to top it all, the claim that aloe gel can cure burns caused by an atom bomb. Yeah. Atom bomb
Finally, as with all herbal remedies, it boils down to … evidence.
And in the case of Aloe, as with many other over-hyped herbal remedies, the evidence about its claimed health benefits is exactly equal to zero.
On the other hand, the evidence about Aloe’s nasty effects on your body is very real indeed.
A two-year study has shown that Aloe extract can cause intestinal cancer in rats and mice. And this study was done by a division of the US government’s department of health, no less. You can download the entire report here.
Abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported with oral use of aloe vera.
Diarrhoea caused by aloe can in turn decrease the absorption of many drugs.
Aloe can interact with your diabetes medication, and can bring down your blood sugar drastically.
Some studies have shown that aloe can adversely affect your liver.
Please don’t believe me. Download a detailed technical report from the US Dept of Health and Human Services, here.
If you want even more information, please visit The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, this being the US Government’s “lead agency for scientific research on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine“.
On the other hand, no major toxicity has been reported from the use of Aloe gel as a topical application for sunburn, rashes or minor abrasions on the skin. Mind you, aloe gel will not treat any skin condition, especially sunburn. But it can soothe irritated skin and have a cooling effect, while your body heals itself. Use a reputable commercial brand, not some home-made junk that you made yourself.
Use the gel on your bottom, if it’s been exposed to the sun.
Instead of using aloe gel after you burn your skin in the sun, don’t you think it’s better to stay out of the sun in the first place? Or, use sunscreen. Or, use an umbrella. I’m not joking. Dermatologists will tell you that the best way to protect yourself from the sun is to use an umbrella.
And here’s what you do not do. You do not guzzle aloe juice, as if it’s nimbu paani. Aloe juice, no matter where you get it from, is not entirely safe for you. Why do you want to drink aloe juice anyway? What incurable disease can it cure? What miracles can it perform in your body? Make you young again? Grow your hair back?
Do you know how awful that stuff tastes?
Herbs can cure. Herbs can kill. Look at the evidence first. Get your facts right. Talk to a real doctor.
And even then, think twice about taking any herbal remedy instead of properly prescribed medicine, a sensible diet and regular exercise.