Archive for the ‘.Basics’ Category

Fruits are the best snacks.  They are terrific sources of nutrients—vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

But kids with multiple allergies may not be able to eat from the entire variety of fruits.  Some fruits are known to produce allergic reactions, especially fruits like mangoes, papayas, pineapples, bananas, avocados, some kinds of berries, and in rare cases, apples. 

It is good practice to follow a few precautions before trying any new food, even fruit.  One strategy is to mash and apply that food to the skin to see if it produces any kind of itching, rash, redness or hives.  Even if no such symptoms occur, it is wise to give a very small quantity while introducing that food for the first time.  Allergic reactions can appear after several hours, so it is best to watch and wait before continuing to serve the new food.

Allergists recommend that all fruits should be washed thoroughly.  Many fruits have been treated with pesticides and fungicides.  Peeling is important, especially when fruits and veggies have been waxed, as in the case of apples, pears, cucumbers and squashes, 

Conventionally grown strawberries are often treated with a fungicide and must be washed well.

No plant/fruit wants to be eaten.  Some have ways of fighting back, with chemical ‘weapons’ which can attack the body’s immune system, producing a damaging mediator, namely, histamine.

Some fruits cause allergy-like reactions because they contain histamines—e.g. bananas, pineapples, avocados.

Pineapples and papayas contain certain protein breaking enzymes which can attack the mast cells, which are a part of the body’s immune system.  Nutritionists recommend that these fruits should not be eaten on an empty stomach.  Canned pineapple is safe, as the heat used in canning destroys this enzyme.  Mango is another such fruit and must be introduced with caution.

Dried fruits are often treated with sulfites to prevent them from browning.  Kids with asthma could react to sulfites.

Fruits and veggies fall into certain botanical categories, ‘food families’.  Although it helps to know which ‘family’ a fruit or a vegetable belongs to, there is no thumb rule which indicates that a child who is allergic to a food from a certain group will be allergic to other foods from the same group.  Kids allergic to ragweed, may not necessarily be allergic to bananas which belong to the same family as ragweed..  There can be cross reactions with pollens such as birch pollens with apples.  Even peaches, plums and cherries are know to affect kids with birch pollen allergy.

The keyword here is caution.  The good news is that there are lots of options with fruits.



One apple has more fiber than a serving of oatmeal.  A medium apple has nearly 160 g of potassium, somewhat similar to oranges and bananas.  Researchers in the UK say that kids who are big apple eaters have better lung function and are at a lower risk of asthma.

Orange juice, when taken with meals, increases the absorption of iron and calcium from food.

Juice with pulp is better than pulp free juice.  Fruit pulp not only contains fiber, but it also has minerals like calcium, vitamins and antioxidants.

Most fruits are high in Vitamin C, the big antioxidant.  Berries and citrus fruits are great sources of this vitamin.  Fruits, as key sources of Vitamin C are extremely important for kids who are on regular maintenance medications for allergy.  Since steroids reduce the absorption of Vitamin C from the gut, these kids need to have that extra bit of Vitamin C.

An avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable.  It has 60% more potassium than a banana, and is cholesterol free.  It contains the good, monounsaturated fatty acids like olive oil.  Mashed avocado can be used as a butter alternative—just add  pinch of salt and spread it on those rice crackers.

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What is MSG?

Glutamic acid is one of the amino acid links in protein.  When glutamic acid is freed from the protein chain, it becomes soluble in water or body fluids, where it meets a sodium molecule which floats with it.  Hence the name Mono Sodium Glutamate or MSG.

In most foods, some of the glutamic acid is freed from protein.  Since it is not bound to protein, this freed glutamic acid or MSG is absorbed quickly in the blood stream.  If the amount is small, the impact is non existent.  If the amount is large, its fast release and absorption can overwhelm the body’s metabolism, and trigger a reaction.

MSG is sometimes difficult to identify because it is hidden in other food additives, or is the result of food processing, when it is added as a flavor enhancer.

Manufacturers add it as an ingredient that is part of another ingredient, such as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”.  This is simply vegetable protein that is broken down (hydrolyzed) into its constituent amino acids

MSG may even hide behind a label like “natural flavors”.

Milk protein contains about 20% glutamic acid, but it is firmly bound to the protein chain.  In the cheese making process, fermentation breaks apart the protein, and releases MSG.  The more AGED the cheese, the more milk protein is digested, and more MSG is released.

Highly fermented soy sauce could also have high levels of MSG

It is best to exercise caution with fermented foods

Certain foods, such as peas, corn, mushrooms and tomatoes contain high levels of free glutamic acid.  BOILING removes much of the water soluble MSG. When corn is removed from the cob and boiled, each kernel gets exposed to boiling water and loses most of the MSG.

MSG is probably lost during some forms of corn processing which occurs in products such as chips, syrups etc.

Cooking helps to minimize the MSG in food.  Beans and sprouts, especially must be cooked.

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Soups can be tasty, varied and wholesome. At the toddler stage, soups provide the best basic nutrition. Tasty and creative combinations add a new dimension to eating out of jars, jars and more jars. Moreover, it is better to develop a liking and taste for veggies at this early stage. A 2002 survey tells us that one in five babies is “eating candy every day. And the #1 vegetable for toddlers isn’t pureed carrots: its French Fries.”

For older kids, soups are good comfort foods. Soup bases and purees can be used in many interesting ways with pastas and meats to provide wholesome meals. Even if some foods have to be avoided, there’s plenty which one CAN have and enjoy,and pack in lots of nutrition too.

Homemade, fresh/frozen soups have many nutritional advantages over canned/packaged soups—

  • The high heat typically used in making canned and jarred foods softens veggies and causes them to lose color, flavor and nutrient value, while meat can shrink and toughen.
  • The thickness of canned soups often comes from added thickeners.
  • Many of these soups are loaded with sodium.
  • The main additives of canned foods are salt and sugars, as in the case of fruit.

All Soups recipes in this section yield 4 adult servings.

The whole family can enjoy these soups—in fact, it is essential to have part of a meal at least in common with the child who has food allergies. This reduces the sense of exclusion that food sensitive children may develop.

I like to double the recipe and freeze at least half of it, in such a way that even small portions can be taken out right after that soccer game, or to satisfy hunger pangs on a cold evening.

To Freeze Soups

  • Remove the portion to be kept aside, before diluting the rest with milk, broth or additional water.
  • Pour the thicker portion into ice trays.
  • Cover with plastic foil and freeze for at least 6 hours.
  • Remove ice trays. Invert, hold slightly above the plastic foil that will come off the tray, Twist the tray so that frozen cubes will drop onto plastic foil.
  • Pack in Ziploc freezer bags taking care to eliminate as much air as possible before sealing the bag
  • Only the required number of cubes can be removed as and when needed. Microwave and dilute with milk, broth or water, or add creamed silken tofu for a dairy free alternative.

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Some Notes on Rice

Rice, the most non allergenic of food grains, is a staple in any allergy free, gluten free diet.  Mostly, it is an essential accompaniment and a good bulk food which provides eating satisfaction.

When rice is milled and polished (such as white rice), it loses some of its nutrients, especially the B group vitamins, Vitamin E, iron and a few other micronutrients. White rice sold in stores in the US is generally fortified, the lost nutrients added on and prewashed, so further washing is not required.  Washing of rice also diminishes nutrients, but it is necessary to wash rice thoroughly, rinsing out the water 3-4 times, in order to remove impurities and pesticides which may have been used.

Parboiled rice retains more nutrients than polished, white rice.  Brown rice is richer in most nutrients and especially in fiber. but protein content is more or less similar to that in white rice.

Although rice has less protein than wheat, the quality of protein in rice is generally superior and is better assimilated by the body.

Of all the varieties of rice, basmati has the best kinds of complex carbs, which are burned slowly, thus providing longer lasting energy.  Basmati rice has a Glycemic Index which is lower than almost all other kinds of rice.  The stickier the rice, the higher it is in starch content, and will therefore have a higher Glycemic Index.

Wild rice, which is more of a gourmet rice has excellent nutritive value.  It is rich in protein, fibre and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.  It is actually a seed of a variety of grass that grows around lakes and rivers.  In the US, wild rice comes from a type of grass that grows wild in the Great Lakes region.  It has a nutty flavour and a chewy texture.

Because wild rice is pricey, it is often mixed with other grains, most often with brown rice as both require the same amount of cooking time.  It also needs to be washed thoroughly.  About three times the amount of water works well for wild rice.

Generally, rice has to be used more as an accompaniment, so that other nutritious foods go down well.

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Meat and poultry are excellent sources of protein, fat soluble vitamins such as A,D. E and K. calcium, iron, Vitamin B12 which comes only from animal sources, and many other nutrients.  The iron in the meat can be used more efficiently by the body than the iron in plants and supplements.  Meat and poultry, however, do not contain fibre and phytochemicals, the protective factors in food.

Lamb is considered the most hypoallergenic of all meats.  Allergies to beef, pork chicken and turkey are rare.  Fish, with all its wonderful health benefits is an established allergenic food.  I have, therefore, stayed away from fish and shellfish recipes.

There is a close connection between allergy and protein.  The immune system looks at protein chemistry when it decides whether certain foods are acceptable to the body or not. It is the protein in peanuts, soybeans and other foods which provokes allergic reaction.  We need to note here, that commercially raised animals are given growth hormones (synthetic proteins).  Hence it might be safer to use organically produced meat and poultry, from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics.  This could minimize the risk of allergy to artificially made protein and other substances like antibiotics.  Nutritionists tell us that Omega 3 fatty acid is present only in the milk of grass fed animals.  Grain fed animals do not yield any Omega 3 fatty acid.

Red meat is highly nutritious, but it also has a significant amount of fat.  Forty to fifty per cent of fatty acids in meat are saturated.  It is better to eat red meat in moderation, and to use mostly lean meat.  Fat in poultry is external to muscle and can be trimmed.  The skin which is rich in fat can be removed.  Poultry fat has a healthier composition than the fat in most other meats.  In the case of pork too, most of the fat can be cut off from the edges—a piece of lean pork is about the same as a piece of chicken in terms of calories.

The USDA has give some very useful guidelines for cooking and handling meat.  Harmful bacteria like E.coli and salmonella are often present in raw meat.  Raw meat and poultry must not come into contact with other foods like salads and vegetables on cutting boards and kitchen surfaces.  It is best to use separate boards and knives for meat and poultry and wash them thoroughly after use.

Cooking destroys the bacteria in meat and poultry once we follow safe cooking practices.  The USDA suggests using a cooking thermometer to ensure that–

1.  Steaks and roasts are cooked to at least 145 degrees F.

2.  All cuts of pork are cooked to 160 degrees F.

3.  All poultry is cooked to 165 degrees F.

4.  All ground beef, veal or lamb is cooked to 160 degrees F.

Ground meat, especially, needs to be well cooked because of its porous nature.  Living bacteria can make their way into the center of a patty, but not that of a steak.  The USDA considers steak to be an intact meat, where bacteria are on the surface and are easily killed by heat.

Leftovers must be immediately refrigerated.  When removed from the fridge for consumption, leftovers must be heated through and through before serving.

Commonly used ingredients/ herbs and spices, with meat and poultry

Garlic, onion, ginger, and spices like turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, thyme, basil can kill bacteria. 

Scientists claim that over 75% bacteria in food are killed by spices.  When a Kansas State University microbiologist cooked a pound of hamburger with 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, he found that it had 90% fewer pathogens than meat cooked without spices.

Garlic is the most protective of all root vegetables and is particularly known for its healing properties.  It is a powerful immune system booster, and is an anti oxidant , which has the rare mineral, selenium.

Onions are great antioxidants, and have anti allergy, anti viral and anti histamine properties.  The sulphur compounds in onions help to detoxify the body, clear congestion and reduce excess mucus.

Ginger has great digestive, anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  It helps to clear coughs and colds and is a mild natural alternative to antihistamines.

Spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, pepper, thyme, basil and others have great antioxidant, anti bacterial and anti inflammatory properties.  They are rich in vitamins and minerals. They help to cleanse the blood, build tissues, prevent disease, and aid in digestion.  They contain valuable micro nutrients which are easily assimilated in the body.

Kids with food allergies and sensitivities could react to artificial preservatives and flavor enhancers. What can be better than using herbs and spices, nature’s fantastically flavorful preservatives, which are beneficial in so many ways? 

When cooking with meat and poultry, remember to Spice It Up! .

Note I will add much more on herbs and spices in the GOOD TO KNOW section of this blog—soon!   


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Vegetables and fruits should be washed thoroughly BEFORE cutting.  Some vitamins, such as the B group vitamins and Vitamin C are water soluble and will get washed away along with some other nutrients.  Nutrition loss occurs also by buying precut veggies, or from storing them for too long in the fridge

Nutrition is enhanced by leaving edible skins on vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, zucchini etc.  Minerals are found in the outer leaves, skin, and just below the skin.  Peels are natural barriers that help protect nutritional loss.

Veggies should be cooked in just enough water.  The water has nutrients too and should not be thrown away.  If you must “drain” cooking liquid, freeze it and store it for later use.  Alternately, add it to soups, sauces and gravies.

Vegetables should not be overcooked.  High heat over longer cooking time destroys vitamins and nutrients.

A good way of cooking veggies is to steam them.  Steam kills the enzymes on the exposed surface of food, but the moisture seals and preserves many of the enzymes deep inside where intense surface temperature does not reach.  This also enhances taste.  A wok with a high domed lid is good for retaining steam in the cooking process.

Microwave ovens help to keep vitamin loss to a minimum.

Salt should be added at the end—not only will you add less this way, but vitamins are better preserved

Cooking the right way makes food more digestible.  Cooking makes certain nutrients, particularly carbs and proteins more accessible to the enzymes that break them down into smaller molecules, which can be transported from the digestive tract to the blood stream.  It is important to cook veggies, especially those that have stiff cellulose walls which are difficult for enzymes to penetrate,  Heat and water cause these cells to burst open.

The Chinese ‘stir fry’ method preserves nutrients very well.  The cooking temperature is high, but cooking time is brief.  This prevents evaporation and loss of vital juices and seals the enzymes inside the vegetable.

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Vegetable Broth

Call it broth or stock, the difference is minimal.  What is important is that you create a flavor enhancer to add to soups, stews, casserole dishes, and any other recipes that you want to add further taste to, in place of just water.

Since the vegetables used are cooked over a longer period, some nutrients are lost, but the basic broth does have some nutritional benefits in the form of micronutrients.

Its great for the vegetarian palate as a substitute for chicken or meat broth in a recipe, and thickened with a little corn-starch/tapioca starch can also be used in place of dairy.


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic (use double the quantity if garlic cloves are very small)
  • 2 leeks, thoroughly washed, white and light green parts only, chopped (use 2 medium onions, chopped, if leeks are not easy to obtain)
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 small bunch of parsley stems (use cilantro stems if parsley is not available)
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
  • 10 cups water.
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt.


In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.

  1. Add garlic cloves.
  2. When garlic is slightly browned, add bay leaf and peppercorns
  3. Add leeks / onions.
  4. If using leeks, stir fry to coat with oil, then add carrots, sauté for less than a minute.
  5. When using onions, sauté for a minute or so, or till onions are soft and somewhat golden, then add carrots and sauté a little
  6. Add celery and parsley.
  7. Add cold water and bring to a boil.
  8. Add dried thyme, lower heat and allow broth to simmer for at least half an hour.
  9. Let water reduce to about 7-8 cups. (simmer a little more if required).
  10. When cool, strain and use.

Pour extra broth into ice cube trays and freeze as directed in introductory write up in “Soups” section.

Make into a soup, by adding finely cut vegetables of your choice, along with rice or any other gluten free pasta and boiling till veggies and pasta are cooked.

Thicken with corn starch or tapioca starch as desired.

Add salt and pepper if required.

Variation:  Add a 1/4 cup quinoa to 2 cups broth.

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