The Rogue Elephant … Review

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For a middle-aged heart patient who’s intolerant to several items, finding a good place to eat out in a city that exclusively enjoys spicy oily junk food, is a remarkable challenge.

The Rogue Elephant is an odd name for a garden café, but one had heard good things about it, and decided to take a chance. This rustic little cafe is located next to Krishna Rao park in Basavangudi, one part of Bangalore that still retains some of its original character. No vulgar condos and foul-mouthed H1B types here.

The café is part of an old Bangalore home and is flanked by another classical bungalow. Ambience is quiet and homely. A huge gulmohur tree provides shade and an avian concert as well. Barbets, koels, tailorbirds and sunbirds dart to and fro over my head. Thankfully, no monkeys.

In any eating house I venture into, the one factor that really really pisses me off is bad co-diners. This place is a pleasant change. The people who feed here are generally well behaved and keep their voices down. Another plus – no loud music.

The food is advertised as Mediterranean and North Indian. Wonder why they take the trouble to offer pedestrian stuff like palak paneer, aloo tikkies and the like. The Mediterranean offerings are actually pretty good.

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I start with roasted pumpkin soup, billed as the soup of the day. It’s hearty, non-spicy, piping hot, as I like it. A trifle heavy on the butter, but a good robust soup to start a meal.

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The waiter recommends hummus with grilled chicken and pita bread. The hummus is well made, with a nice smooth texture, served with two olives and a hefty amount of olive oil. The grilled chicken is not exactly world-class, however.

A half-portion of spaghetti with meat sauce follows. The quantity is right for one lonely soul and the meat sauce is generous.

rogue-04175-2For dessert one indulges in apple pie and ice cream – in direct defiance of my cardiologist’s orders. The apple pie is passable.rogue-04180One finishes the meal with french-pressed coffee, strong and fresh.rogue-04200Prices are steep. My meal cost me about Rs. 800/-.

Overall impression – chalega. Not bad.

Minus points for: Bottled water being sold at twice the legal retail price. And the 10% service charge. Which is why I do not strongly recommend this place.

Cheers … Srini.

 

The Paowallahs of amchi Mumbai.

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CC image by Deepesh

What is Mumbai without its pav?

Vada-pav, pav-bhaji, maska-pav, bhajiya-pav and just plain old chai with pav. The humble pav is Mumbai’s icon, it is uniquely and typically Bombay, it exemplifies the bindaas attitude that defines the City of Dreams.

The word ‘pav’ does not come from the alleged practice of bakers using their feet to knead the dough! No bakery in Bombay is known to do this (at least I hope not). The word ‘pav’ actually comes from the Portugese ‘pao’, which means bread. The technology for pao-making was brought to India by the Portugese in the late 15th century.

After the Portugese took over Goa, that state fell into economic ruin. Many Goans migrated to Bombay, and settled in a place called Cavel, near Dhobi Talao in South Bombay. One such Goan was Vitorino Mudot, an enterprising young man from the village of Assagao. In 1819, he set up the first bakery in Cavel, and started making Portugese-style pao.  Vitorino encouraged his fellow Goans by giving them jobs in his bakery and by helping them set up their own bakeries. Vitorino Mudot became a rich man in the process.

In 1843, one of his own assistants, Salvador Patricio de Souza, forcibly took over the business. He in turn grew rich and powerful, and diversified into banking, real-estate and cotton. Under his reign, Goans monopolised the bread-making business in Bombay. After he died in the late 1890’s, the Goans were undermined by the aggressive Iranis. The pav business in Bombay is now dominated by north Indian muslims, most of whom are in the Grant Road area.

The golden age of the Goan pao-makers is long gone, but the nickname given to them still remains – makapao. It’s not a polite nickname, but the easy-going Goans take it sportingly (usually, but not always!)

So the next time you bite into a spicy vada-pav, don’t forget to pay your respects to Vitorino Mudot, the young baker from Assagao.

Cheers … Srini.

A dose of Dosa.

20170714_155307It’s a multi-billion dollar industry in India, not to mention the rest of the world. It is breakfast, lunch, dinner, fast food and health food, all in one. The dosa is, well, the dosa.

The idli isn’t really Indian in origin, but the dosa is totally desi. Dosa making goes all the way back to 600 AD, somewhere in south India.

The masala dosa on the other hand, was invented in the 1960’s, at Woodlands Hotel, Udupi, by Kadandale Krishna Bhat. Potato curry was usually served separately with plain dosas. During a potato crisis in the 1960’s, Krishna Bhat served dosas with a layer of pureed potato curry applied inside the dosa, to save on potatoes. Thus was born the masala dosa.

In its classical form, the dosa is made with parboiled rice and urad dal (black gram), ground together in a ratio of 3:1, and fermented overnight. As with the idli, the process of fermentation increases the dosa’s nutritive value, making it a super-food. There are several dosa versions without rice, like the ragi dosa, adai, pessaratu (made from moong dal), wheat dosa, cabbage dosa, and what not.

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Davangere benne dosa. Fried in pure butter. Might give me a heart-attack, but who cares!

The traditional dosa is a powerhouse of nutrition. The normal dosa has about 80 calories only. It has significant amounts of vitamin B, carbohydrates, protein and almost no fat (provided it is not fried in ghee). Instant dosa mixes are simply not as good. And hotel dosas are generally bad for you. Instead, make them at home, with parboiled rice and urad dal. Add some home-made potato curry, or better yet, add a lightly spiced paneer or soya curry, and you have one terrific low-cal, high-protein meal.

There are almost as many dosa variants as there are cooks in India. Onion dosa, banana uttappa, pineapple uttappam, set dosa, benne dosa, neer dosa, and some weird ones like Amitabh dosa (six feet long. I’ve eaten one such), Punjabi dosa, and Schezuan dosa and chop suey dosa (of all the things!).

My personal favorite: Kheema dosa – traditional dosa stuffed with chicken mince. Superb stuff. (My mom would be scandalised!).

Cheers … Srini.

The Great Weight-loss hoax – part 2

obesity-crop-187102.JPGUnderstand this:

Obesity is a medical condition. Like all other medical conditions, obesity needs medical attention. Period.

So, first and foremost, you must consult your primary healthcare provider.

Disregard all promotional hype about supplements or herbals. Remember, this stuff is not made by people who deeply care about your weight or your health. These are people who want your money.

That does not necessarily mean that all nutra-peddlers are dishonest. But it also means that they are not necessarily scrupulously honest.

You have a medical condition. You talk to a medical professional.

So what are my options?

If you’re a few kilos overweight, and below a BMI of 26 or so, then a sensible doctor would advise proper diet and exercise – and nothing more.

Dieting means eating smart, making the correct choices, and still eating well. Exercise does not mean huffing and puffing in a stinking, expensive gym. It means getting off your butt, getting into moderate aerobic and anaerobic workouts, and also workouts that improve your flexibility and balance, like hathayoga.

The first-line treatment for weight management has always been, and will always be, diet and exercise.obesity-crop-1920.JPG

Across the world, every single government agency that regulates public healthcare solidly endorses this line of treatment. Diet and exercise.

What if I’m really obese?

If you’re above BMI 27 and you have a family history of diabetes or coronary disease, you are morbidly obese. Don’t worry. Your doctor has several options:

1) Prescription meds: These are medicines approved by the USFDA or the relevant government agency in your country, and available only on prescription.

Do they work? Yes, they do, within reasonable limits. And when taken under medical supervision.

Are they safe? There is no “safe” drug.

There is no “safe” dietary supplement or nutraceutical either.

In a medical context, “safe” means that the drug has been approved after rigorous testing over several years, and the benefits of the drug outweigh its potential side-effects.

Even so, any responsible doctor will think twice before prescribing a drug for weight-loss.

Six prescription drugs are in common use for obesity management. I won’t mention any names, in case you think I’m promoting any particular medicine. Each of them is useful in treating severe obesity and each has its own benefit-to-risk profile.

How long do I take prescription meds?

This is the difference between scientific obesity management and nutra-quackery.

Prescription meds are taken under medical supervision for limited periods of time. Depending on your response to the drug, your doctor may prescribe it for a few weeks to a few months. The doctor’s objective is to use drugs to bring down your weight to the point where you can take up a diet and exercise program. At this point, the drug will be discontinued.

The nutra-peddler on the other hand, will try to convince you that you should buy his “safe” nutraceutical stuff for the rest of your life. It’s “just” a dietary supplement, you will be told.  You can take his “safe” dietary supplement for the rest of your life and remain slim and sexy for the rest of your life.

Yeah, sure.

If you’re expected to consume a nutraceutical, every single day, for the rest of your life, don’t you think you should be deeply worried about its long-term effects on your body? And don’t you think your nutra-peddler should give you safety data on his weight-loss supplement? By long-term, one means over a period of ten years at least.

In most cases, your nutra-peddler won’t give you this data. Because he doesn’t have it. Because long-term safety studies cost money. Because it’s cheaper to hire a smart lawyer instead.

2) Surgery

For patients whose obesity is potentially life-threatening, and cannot be managed even with prescription drugs, a doctor will consider bariatric surgery. The objective of bariatric surgery is to temporarily or permanently reduce the size of your stomach, and thereby restrict the amount of food you can eat.

Bariatric surgery can result in significant and sustained weight-loss. But remember that any surgical procedure, even a simple tooth cavity filling, has an element of risk. And also remember that bariatric surgery is not a cosmetic procedure, like a liposuction or a facelift. Bariatric surgery is a serious intervention and it does carry some risk. When it is performed by the right surgeon, the procedure can be life-changing.

Any kind of surgical intervention is used as a last resort, and bariatric surgery is no exception.

But then, most obesity patients can be readily treated with diet and exercise, and if really necessary, a short course of prescription drugs.

Obesity can be psychologically devastating. I’ve seen how bad it can get.

In my opinion, nutra-peddlers who exploit your fear to sell you worthless and very expensive nutra-crap, are the lowest forms of human life on this planet.

I have spoken.

Srini.

 

Key references:

The NHLBI’s Obesity Education Intitiative, under the US government’s Dept of Health and Human services provides a wealth of information and booklets that you can download. I would seriously recommend that you read them.

Here’s the link:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart#obesity

Nutra Tamasha – The great weight-loss hoax – Part 1.

obesity-crop-187102.JPGTamasha: In India it means “farce”.

Obesity: In the world of nutraceuticals, it means “cash-cow”.

Nutra-peddlers can always count on your irrational obsession with your waistline – to improve their bottomline.

Every profit-making nutraceuticals manufacturer (and there are a lot of them, thanks to you), has at least one “guaranteed” product in his arsenal for weight loss. You can safely bet that half their profits come from your paranoia about your bulging belly and your jiggling butt.

Whether any of these weight-loss nutraceuticals or dietary supplements actually work is debatable. Very debatable.

The root cause of the problem is social. We have weird, illogical, physiologically unattainable and medically ridiculous standards of beauty. We judge others by their physical appearance, not by their competence.

In other words, the root cause of the problem is not the nutra-peddlers, but you.

Nutra-peddlers know this very well and they exploit your stupidity to the hilt, as they ply you with one “scientific” dietary supplement after another, each backed by “research”, each guaranteed to make you as sexy as Adonis (or Aphrodite), and each equally worthless.

What’s obesity anyway?

Ah. That’s a good question. Innocent laypeople (that’s you), cannot distinguish between normal weight gain and morbid obesity.

I said, normal weight gain. It is perfectly normal to gain some weight as one ages. Obviously, you cannot expect to be as slim and hard at fifty as you were at twenty. Normal human beings tend to gain some weight, as their metabolic rates decline with age.

The technical term is basal metabolic rate or BMR. Simply put, BMR is an indicator of how much energy you consume at rest. As you age, your BMR will decrease. This is a natural process and not something to be tampered with.

Many nutra-peddlers claim that their products, uniquely, can increase your BMR and make you lose weight dramatically.

Bullshit.

It is exceptionally difficult to raise your basal metabolic rate, partly because it is difficult to accurately measure your BMR in the first place. No nutraceutical or dietary supplement that I know of can increase your BMR to the point where you will lose weight just like that.

If any supplement does increase your BMR, then I would definitely wonder about what that supplement actually contains – because only certain prescription drugs are known to affect BMR, and those drugs have nasty side-effects.

How do I know if I’m just overweight or really obese?

What you need to know is your body-to-mass index, also known as BMI. It’s easy to calculate. Simply divide your weight in kilos by your height in square meters.

For a 6 foot tall man weighing 80 kgs, his BMI would be 80/(1.83)^2 = 23.8.

Another quick calculation is your waist-to-hip ratio. That’s easy. Measure waist, measure hips. Divide.

A BMI of more than 26 is generally considered obese. If your BMR is more than 30, that’s morbid obesity.  If your waist-to-hip is more than 1.2, and your BMR is in the high twenties, it would be a good idea to seek professional help.

Mind you, professional help. Not nutra-crap in a bottle.

Up next: How to properly treat obesity.

Stay tuned.

Srini.

 

Key reference:

Weight control, US Dept of Health and Human Services.

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/weightcontrol

 

Some juicy facts.

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Public domain image

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?

You’re wrong.

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.

You can download the entire report here.

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.

Bullshit.

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!

Stay healthy. Stay safe. As Nature intended.

Cheers … Srini.

Nutra Tamasha: Antioxidants – Science or fairy tales?

grapefruit-1180216Antioxidants! 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?

Exactly.

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”.

And here is the original report in ravishing detail.

Fact or hype?

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?

Bottom line

The long-term benefit of any single antioxidant in a bottle has never been conclusively established, beyond reasonable scientific doubt.  Never.

Moral

Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables!

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The best antioxidants that money can buy!

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.

Cheers … Srini.

Up next: The Weight-loss Hoax.