Archive for the ‘Good to Know’ Category

There are many alternate grains which need to be explored and used.  They are gluten free, tasty, loaded with nutritional value, and far healthier than wheat.  Some of them aren’t grains at all, but are grasses, seeds or flowers.  They are actually super foods which we can process into wonderfully delicious flours.  Let’s have a look–

Amaranth— (the Indian Rajgira)is loaded with iron, calcium, manganese plus other minerals, and is a good source of Vitamins A, B6, K and C.  It is high in amino acids such as lysine and is an excellent source of protein. It can be milled, toasted, even popped like corn.  It should always be cooked before eating, because like most edible seeds it contains compounds which inhibit the proper absorption of some nutrients.  In fact all seeds must be cooked to destroy any toxicity which they may have, and to ensure good assimilation by the body.  The word ‘amaranth comes from the Latin—and Sanskrit—root word, ‘amar’ which means immortal.  It can’t make us immortal, but it can definitely give us great nutrition to promote good health and longevity.

Arrowroot—Ancient Mayans used it as an antidote to poison arrows, and for other medicinal purposes, especially to soothe the stomach and prevent diarrhea. It is obtained from certain plants which are rhizomes (same family as ginger and turmeric).  Arrowroot flour is basically an easily digestible and nutritious starch which is used in cooking as a thickener for soups, sauces and confections. You can use it in gluten free foods instead of cornstarch, but the consistency doesn’t hold for as long as it holds with other starches.  A sauce like preparation, slightly sweetened, is good invalid food and is often used to control diarrhea.  Arrowroot biscuits/ cookies are safe to eat for babies too, but read the labels carefully to make sure that no wheat has been added.

Buckwheat –-also called soba in Japanese, is basically a fruit related to rhubarb.  The seed contains a pale kernel known as groat, and groats have been in use for centuries.  The name confuses people, but it is not even remotely related to wheat and is gluten free.  It is high in lysine and other amino acids.  In fact it has eight essential amino acids which the body doesn’t make, but needs, to keep on functioning.  It is close to being a complete protein, is high in B Vitamins as well as many minerals.  It is also a  good source of linoleic acid which is an essential fatty acid.  It is widely used in making pancakes, biscuits and muffins, but again it is important to make sure that no wheat has been added. We have to be careful while using soba noodles also, and ensure that we buy the gluten free ones.

In India buckwheat is grown mainly in the hilly regions of the north and the Hindi name for it is ‘KUTTU”.  It is hardly used in other regions.

Corn—also called Maize, is a staple in many parts of the world. It was first domesticated by the people of southern Mexico.  Corn provides the necessary calories for daily metabolism and is a rich source of Vitamins A, B and E as well as certain minerals. It plays a role in the prevention of digestive ailments because of its high fiber content.  Corn is  also rich in antioxidants as well as phytochemicals.Corn meal is ground from dried maize but is not as fine as wheat flour. The Indian ‘makki ki roti” is made with corn meal. However,many corn meal preparations have wheat added for elasticity, so be careful when you buy corn tortillas or corn bread. You have to make sure that they are wheat and gluten free.Corn starch is the starch derived from corn grain,  Since it is finely processed it is depleted of nutrients but is a good thickener for soups and sauces.  Excellent to use for so many recipes that are otherwise thickened by wheat flour. It works very well for white sauce.

Millet—has been a staple food in Africa and India for thousands of years.  Commonly known as Bajra in India, pearl millet is one of the oldest food grains.  It is actually a grass with small round kernels, though it is loosely called a grain.  It is packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  It is high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium and is loaded with fiber, protein as well as B complex vitamins including niacin, thiamine and riboflavin.  Millet is more alkaline than many other grains and easy to digest.  It is a low glycemic index food and good for diabetics to include in their diets. Millet flour makes good tortilla / chapati like flat breads, and can be added to other gluten free flours to create healthy, nutritious flour mixes.


Quinoais a super food, often described as “the most nearly perfect source of protein from the vegetable kingdom.”  With nine essential amino acids, it is a complete protein.  It is also high in phosphorus, calcium, iron, Vitamin E, the B Vitamins as well as fiber.  Incas called it the “mother grain”, easy for babies to digest.  It is one more flour that you can add to a gluten free flour mix—I add it—to enhance and enrich it. Quinoa grains can be cooked and used in place of couscous or bulgur in salads and can be cooked like rice as a staple, comfort food, which can add significant nutrition to an allergy free diet.  Because uncooked quinoa grains are coated with ‘saponins’…sticky, bitter tasting stuff that acts like an insect repellant it needs to be washed thoroughly before cooking.  Quinoa flour can also be used by itself to make great tasting cookies and cakes.

Sorghum (Jowar)—A very important and one of the oldest grains has been a major source of nutrition in Africa and India for centuries.  Now also grown in the US it is gaining recognition as a gluten free insoluble fiber. It has a somewhat neutral flavour and light colour, which doesn’t significantly alter the taste of foods when used in place of wheat flour.  It is made into tasty flatbreads in India and can be similarly used anywhere to go along with any kind of meat and vegetable preparations. Sorghum flatbread could replace pita bread in a gluten free diet.

It is high in iron, calcium and potassium.  Because the starch and protein content in sorghum is more slowly digested than that of other cereals, it is said to be beneficial to diabetics.  The glycemic index of sorghum is lower than that of most grains.

Raagi—is a type of finger millet grown in southern India and parts of Africa.  It is one more super food, packed with calcium, Vitamin D and certain essential amino acids.  It is also rich in iron.  Raagi is often directly ground into flour, or else sprouted and then ground.  Sprouted raagi is easy to digest, and can be cooked with milk or water to form a custard like breakfast food. When raagi is allowed to sprout, its Vitamin C levels tend to increase thereby creating easier absorption of its iron content.  For the lactose intolerant, raagi cooked in water with a dollop of ghee is a delicious dessert as well.  Gluten free raagi flakes are good snacks or breakfast staples.

Teff—is yet another nutritional powerhouse.  It has been a staple of Ethiopia for over 5000 years and is now making an appearance in the US market.  It packs a protein content of nearly 12% and is five times richer in calcium, iron and potassium than any other grain.  It has a sweet, nutty flavour.  You can cook the whole grain as a breakfast cereal or add teff flour to any gluten free flour mix to enhance nutrition.

And Lastly—Most of these gluten free grains are Whole Grains, with the exception of the readily available forms of corn and arrowroot. Some types of cornmeal is ground from whole grains but yellow cornmeal which is common in the US, mostly has the husk and germ removed.

A grain has three parts:

Germ—This is the part that a new plant sprouts from.  It is high in nutrients such as niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, Vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Also it contains some fat and protein.

Endosperm—or the jernel is the bulk of the seed.  Because the seed stores its energy in the endosperm, it contains most of the protein and carbohyrates, as well as some vitamins and minerals.

Bran—is the outer layer which also contains a lot of nutrients. It is again a rich source of niacin, thiamin and riboflavin plus magnesium, phosphorus and iron.  Bran contains most of the fiber.

Refined grains have been stripped of their bran and germ layers during processing, so only the endosperm is left.  Hence refined grain is not as rich in nutrients as whole grain.


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Variety and the Spices of life

Spices are the best protective foods that Nature has given us.  In a broad sense, the word ‘spices’ encompasses a wide spectrum of herbs, roots, dried seeds, buds, tubers, rhizomes, barks and all sorts of other plant products.

Since ancient times, spices have been valued for their healing properties, and are of immense preservative value. Traders have braved the oceans to buy spices from the exotic lands of the East. Queen Isabella of Spain sent Christopher Columbus to find a newer, safer sea route to India to facilitate the trade of spices, among other goods.

Spices have great antioxidant properties, and are rich in vitamins and minerals.  They help to cleanse the blood, build tissues, prevent disease and aid in digestion.  The valuable micronutrients that spices have in them are also easily assimilated in the body.

Spices like garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme and 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 of garlic powder, he found that it had 90% fewer pathogens that meat cooked without spices.

Kids with food allergies and sensitivities could react to artificial preservatives and flavor enhancers.  What can be better that using nature’s flavorful preservatives, which are beneficial in so many ways.  Food thus enriched hardly needs the high sodium and high fat condiments as accompaniments.  Just cook the healthy way and Spice it Up!

Watch for my write ups on different spices which are commonly used.

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Ghee is a super food!  Good fats are integral to our health—almost 30% of total calories in our diet must come from fat. Ghee contains vital, essential fatty acids, the Omega 3s.  In a zero- size aspiring culture, fat has become synonymous with”bad for us”.  Ghee, when it is a by product of organic milk (milk from grass fed cows, raised without hormones or antibiotics), is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.

Traditionally made ghee lubricates joints and tissues, cleanses intestines and arteries.  It improves hormonal function and digestion.  It boosts the immunity and the Omega 3 fatty acids in it have a calming influence on an over active immune system.  Ghee also contributes to creating a better ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol, and helps control triglycerides.

Ghee which is made traditionally (recipe follows), with organic butter, is often included in the diet of dairy allergic people.  As always, introduce with caution. For an absolutely ‘yum’ taste, use a small dollop of ghee to enhance flavors when making dairy free dishes which have to be cooked in water/rice milk/soy milk.  Try it with rice and tapioca puddings, Indian sweets such as carrot and other halvas, and even use it as a much healthier alternative to margarine in baked goods.  It is healthier than butter and tastes great in Western / American style cooking.

Ghee,like other fats helps to lower the glycemic index of sugar  In other words, it helps to metabolize sugar slowly and prevents a ‘sugar high’ in the system.  (An oatmeal cookie actually has a lower glycemic index than a bowlful of breakfast oatmeal)  Add a level teaspoon of ghee to oatmeal when cooking it with water, sprinkle a little cinnamon powder and serve—just delicious!

Ghee made the traditional way, at home, is most beneficial to health.  Grandma added yogurt culture to milk fat, churned it into butter, then boiled the butter to make ghee.  She also added a big helping of loving care along the way.  The only shortcut to home made butter is store available organic, unsalted white butter.  There is a big difference between homemade ghee, and the so called ‘pure ghee’ available on store shelves.  Most of the time, commercially made ghee consists of hydrogenated vegetable oil and heated milk fat without the use of active cultures.

Making ghee is actually quite easy.  Here is a simple recipe–



Home made ghee served in traditional silver tableware


Melt 2 cups home made or store bought unsalted, white organic butter in a saucepan.  Once melted, allow butter to simmer gently.  After 5 minutes or so, foam will rise to the surface.  Do not remove or stir the foam.  Let butter cook till foam thickens and settles at the base of the pan.  There will be a continuous crackling sound as the butter boils. Once the foam caramelizes and turns into a brown sediment, butter has turned into ghee.

You will find that the liquid is a golden color and is now boiling silently, with  just a trace of air bubbles on the surface.  Remove from heat.  When a little cool, pour the liquid, using a strainer, into a clean, dry container.  The strainer ensures that no trace of sediment enters the final product.

Although ghee lovers like to add sugar or jaggery to the caramelized sediment and eat it like a rich snack, it is not meant for the dairy allergic.

Once you taste home made ghee, you will never be able to settle for any thing else! 

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Books, websites, articles from reputed magazines and newspapers are great sources of information.  Here are some that have given me useful and invaluable information about allergy and nutrition.

Andrew Weil         “Eating Well For Optimum Health”

                          “Natural Health, Natural Medicine”

Marion Nestle       “What to Eat”

Jonathan Brostoff, Linda Gamlin    “ The Complete Guide to Food

                                                   Allergy and Intolerance”

Paul Saltman, Joel Gurin, Ira Mothner    “The University of California

                                                         San Diego, Nutrition Book

Danna Korn         “ Living Gluten Free For Dummies”

William E. Walsh  “ Food Allergies,  Complete Guide”

Michael F. Roizen, Mehmet C. Oz      “You on a Diet”


Complete Idiot’s Guide   Total Nutrition

American Dietetics Association   Complete Food and Nutrition Guide


Articles by well known nutritionists from different parts of the world also help to increase knowledge and understanding.

Websites are too many to enumerate.  There are several Allergy related websites, and guidelines put out by USDA, NIH, and ADA which have good and reliable information.

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Imagine meals with meats and no potatoes—no mashed or baked potatoes on the side, and no French fries at all! What on earth did people do before the potato was discovered?

According to some sources, the potato was introduced to England in the latter half of the 1500s, even though the known history of potato cultivation probably began nearly 2000 years ago in South America.

The popularity of the potato has grown over the years. It is so nutrient dense that some call it a near perfect food. The USDA tells us that a diet of whole milk and potatoes would supply all the elements necessary for the maintenance of the human body. The potato is high in nutrition and low in calories, and with its high water content, makes a filling bulk food.

Nutritionists claim that

  1. The average baked potato provides the recommended daily requirement of Riboflavin and Niacin, both B group vitamins..
  2. It is rich in iron and Vitamin C.
  3. It contains more potassium than a banana.
  4. A medium sized baked potato has as many calories as an average sized apple.
  5. It has 2 ½ times fewer calories than a similar quantity of bread. (88 calories in a medium 4 oz. potato). By itself, the potato is not fattening. High fat toppings add to the calories.
  6. Most cereals contain more starch than potatoes
  7. Most important of all, it is one of the least allergenic of all foods and can substitute for grain / cereal accompaniments at the dinner table.

Potato ‘Points to Remember

  • When buying potatoes it is important to choose firm, dry potatoes with unbroken skins.
  • Potatoes should be free from sprouts and green patches. Uneven surfaces or eyes do not cause harm.
  • Always store potatoes unwashed in a cool, dry place. Potatoes should never be stored with onions which can speed their spoilage.
  • New potatoes do not keep as well, and should be bought in small quantities.
  • Potatoes should not be refrigerated. Only new potatoes can be kept in the fridge.

Cooking Tips

  • Cooking potatoes with skins helps to retain most nutrients. We discard nutrients when we discard skins. The water that potatoes are boiled in can be used in soups, casseroles, and in any other cooking
  • Pressure cooking is an excellent way of retaining nutrients. It requires the use of minimal water which can easily be used up.
  • Cooking in the microwave oven is yet another good method of maximizing on the nutrients. It is best to undercook, test for doneness, then cook further if necessary.

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Yogurt is the best probiotic that we can include in our daily diet.  When derived from active cultures, yogurt maintains and improves the balance of different kinds of bacteria in the intestines.  Apart from improving overall digestion, these friendly bacteria help to synthesize  some of the B group vitamins and Vitamin K.

Antibiotics and painkillers can destroy friendly bacteria, and it is especially important to repopulate the gut flora with these, by ingesting plenty of yogurt.  Lactobacillus is the most important component of friendly bacteria.

Yogurt converts lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, thus making digestion easier.  Lactose intolerant people can usually have yogurt without any problem.  Well known nutritionist Marion Nestle recommends trying hard cheese and yogurt, as “the friendly bacteria used to making these foods have already digested most of the lactose they contain.  However, caution is the key word here.

Studies tell us that not only are the proteins in yogurt more easily digestible, but also its micro components such as calcium and phosphorus are more widely and immediately available to our bodies.  Research shows that our bodies absorb twice the amount of calcium from yogurt than from milk.

Studies also show that–

-yogurt helps to stop dysentery caused by bacteria and unbalanced diets,

-plays a role in the suppression of cancer cells,

-regenerates intestinal flora upset by medication,

-helps in healing skin infection and eczema

-soothes chronic constipation,

-boosts the immune system.

The “Complete Food and Nutrition Guide” brought out by the American Dietetics Association (ADA), states that yogurt is one food that is a must for children, the elderly and for people recovering from illnesses. and that it can even prevent allergy symptoms.

Some yogurt facts written in the ADA Guide–

Regular yogurt supplies considerably more calcium than frozen yogurt.

No federal standards exist for frozen yogurt.

Very low temperatures in frozen yogurt slow down the action of any live cultures.

It is best to have yogurt as a snack rather than at the end of a meal.

Never leave fresh fruit in yogurt  for longer than half an hour.  Add cooked fruit to yogurt if you wish to make fruit yogurt.


Did You Know

That Ancient Egyptians preserved milk in containers made from animal skins, while in Mesopotamia milk containers were made out of dried gourds.  In India, the earthen pot is considered as the best to use for yogurt.

That yogurt is made everyday at home in many cultures.  In India people make yogurt by adding a small quantity of the previous day’s yogurt to warm milk, and keeping it in a warmer corner of the kitchen for about 4 hours, till it is set and ready to eat.  Yogurt culture can now be bought in stores, but where and how the first few spoons of yogurt were obtained centuries ago is a story that is lost in the mists of history.

That when bought from stores, we need to ensure that yogurt is made from live cultures certified by the National Yogurt Association.

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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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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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When You Begin

  • Make sure that kitchen counters are clean and clear of all allergy producing foods.
  • Create allergen free areas by designating separate shelves in larders, and keeping specific counter spaces.
  • If possible use a separate set of cooking implements such as knives, cutting boards, griddles, pans, woks, containers etc.
  • Place all allergy free foods in containers with lids, and set them aside before handling other food.
  • Label all allergy free food containers, and write dates, especially before freezing.
  • When using any store bought ingredient, read label very carefully ( eg. dried fruits may be treated with sulphur dioxide, sausages / meats could contain nitrates and nitrites, seasonings and starches may contain wheat)
  • Make sure that ‘wheat free is also gluten free’.
  • Remember that it is best to prepare allergy free dishes earlier, so that they can be covered, set aside and protected from cross contamination.  Cook extra portions of allergen free meals, so some portions can be frozen for later use.
  • It is important to use utmost caution before introducing a new food.  Some doctors suggest smearing the child’s cheek with the new preparation and leaving it on the skin for a while to check if it creates any redness, rash, itchiness or any other irritation.  This is a good preliminary test.  In any case, a new food item should be given in a very, very small quantity to begin with.  A few hours observation is necessary before serving a larger portion.

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