Tuesday, 31 January 2017

So Many Grains and so Many Ideas.

When it comes to grains, we are spoilt for choice. We believe a variety in our diet is good for us- Not only will it provide a range of nutrients but it will also help develop the gut biome. For years we have been eating idlis and sannas made of rice and fermented with either Black gram (Urad dal) or Toddy.

Today we made a change, we replaced the rice with Finger millet (Ragi) and Unhulled Buckwheat (50:50); both are nutritious cereals and rich in fibers and we fermented them for 14 hours with black gram and toddy.

So why do we need the black Gram or Toddy? Why not use yeast?

Most restaurants and homes today do use yeast and the fermentation when done by yeast results in alcohol as a byproduct (which evaporates when cooking)- These idlis then have a neutral to sweetish taste.
When using Black gram- It's the  Lactic acid bacteria that does the trick. So Idli makers who use Black gram use the same principle as bakers who use the sourdough technique for their bread. However in an Idli, one does not need a starter, since the Black gram acts like a magnet for all Lactic acid bacteria that are present in the air. These Lactic acid bacteria then aid the fermentation and their byproduct is- Yup, Lactic acid. Hence they have a sourish flavour. (Acids are sour !)

That is where the Toddy helps- Toddy is formed when the sap of the coconut flower is fermented by wild yeast. So toddy is a good source for yeast in fermentation and like I mentioned earlier, yeast fermentation leads a sweetish taste.
So our idea was to balance the acidic flavour with the sweetish one! Hence we used both Black gram and toddy and they did the tango really well.

The end result: Finger millet and Buckwheat are flavourful grains (unlike rice) add to this the subtle notes of fermentation, we have a lovely breakfast that goes great either with lentils or lightly flavoured chutneys.

Bon Appetite!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A very heartening story.

A couple of days ago, a friend shared with me a post from Quora (1) - Do click on the link to read and know more from the young man himself. The author, a youngster named Koushik MK shares his very heartening story.

His story here in brief - At the age of 10, Koushik noticed that he was losing hair and getting bald in patches. In order to avoid an embarrassing appearance, he begun tonsuring his head regularly. His bald head made him a butt of jokes from his peers at school.

Undaunted, Koushik took up football and from the photographs which he has shared, it seems that he has indeed done well in the game.

During this time, he also visited various doctors and even tried Ayurveda and Homeopathy. He was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata (AA) and underwent various treatments, many of them quite painful. But even after seven years of silent suffering, nothing seemed to work.

When Koushik visited Chennai, as part of his school football team, a spectator there suggested to Koushik that his diet perhaps was the culprit of his issues. This led to Koushik looking up the internet to learn more about the possibility of a diet alteration and, after days of research, he decided to go off Gluten.

Within two to three months of going off gluten, his hair started to grow again and he found an overall improvement in the way he felt..

Presently, he is pursuing engineering and his photographs reflect a happy youngster with a thick crop of hair!

So, did gluten cause all of this to Koushik? AA is an autoimmune disease, where the body's own immune system attacks the hair follicles causing hair loss. In a study published in the 'Indian Journal of Dermetology' in May 2014, 12 children diagnosed with AA were tested for Gluten Intolerance, of which, only 5 children tested positive for Celiac disease. However, all the children recovered when put on a gluten free diet. (2)

When I asked Koushik, if he had ever tested for Celiac disease, he said that he had. He underwent three tests and tested negeative in all of them.

Very often, it is heard that one should go off gluten only if tested positive - It makes me wonder - what about those like Koushik who test negative but still get better going off wheat! Couldn't their stories be our stories too?

Image source : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Allopecia_areata.JPG

1. Kousik's Story

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037977/

Friday, 27 January 2017

Kodo Millet Pulao

The modern day Biryani is an adaptation of the ancient Persian Pulao (pilaff) and this metamorphosis happened  in the kitchens of the Mughals. The cooks of Emperor Akbar, were apparently very creative and their creativity helped them recreate the Persian pilaff in their Indian kitchens. Lizzie Collingham, in her book 'Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors' very beautifully recreates the story of this evolution from the pilaff to the biryani.

After reading the book, we felt that, after 400 years, the pulao was ready for another evolutionary leap- this time not for nostalgic reasons but for the reasons of good health. So not from Akbar's kitchen, but from our galley, introducing with great fanfare- Kodo Millet, Palak Pulao. (I plan to call it 'Komi Papu').

For accompaniment we had a pro-biotic carrot pickle. So how is little millet (previous post ) different from Kodo millet?
Kodo is darker in colour and has more bran. It is more nutty in flavour and can mask subtle flavours hence requires a bit of thought from the cook. Little millet is mild to neutral in flavour and can go with any flavour- great millet to experiment on.  

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Sorghum Dosa

Injera, is a popular fermented flatbread made in Ethiopia from Sorghum. To most of us it may look like a dosa/ pancake. Ethiopia is one of the few countries where Sorghum is more popular than wheat. The sorghum is fermented for nearly three days before cooking. Ethiopians use refined Sorghum (without the bran) and the natural lactic acid fermentation gives it a sour taste. In Sudan a similar flatbread is made but they use whole Sorghum instead.

Inspired by these national delicacies, I did a version of my own. Sorghum dosa, using whole sorghum flour and fermented using coconut palm toddy. The overnight, 12 hour fermentation gives the batter a lovely aroma. The dosa's have a lovely unique flavour and go great with coconut chutney. This one is a keeper.

With the excess batter, I made a few Paddu's ( Kuzhi paniyaram) and it looks like we will stick to the rice versions until something better turns out.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Read this before you take your next bite of food.

Read this once- before you take your next bite of food.
I am not a Celiac, nor am I gluten intolerant - But I still avoid Wheat, Rye and Barley. If your gut instinct tells you that wheat is healthy, then it’s time we visit your gut - So here we go:

Our gut may not have instincts, but they all have a small intestine where a large portion of our food is digested and absorbed.
The lining of the small intestine acts like a permeable wall. The cells that make up the lining are joined to each other by something called "tight junctions". When the body is ready to absorb certain kind of nutrients, these tight junctions open up to create space between cells to let the good stuff in — but keep the bigger bad stuff, like toxins, out.

How do these tight junctions know how much to open up? Well, they have a comrade-in-arms named zonulin. Zonulin is a protein — its job is like that of a gatekeeper, opening the tight junctions just enough to let in the good stuff but keep out the bad stuff.

So, if you think Zonulin is a good thing, then so it is - however it comes with a catch - Gliadin, a component of Gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, which triggers the body to release excess Zonulin - in all humans and not just celiacs . The excess zonulin causes the junctions between cells in the small intestine to open far too much, and the next thing that happens, is an entry of all sorts of stuff into the bloodstream that shouldn’t have got in there to begin with — stuff like toxins and gluten fragments.

When such stuff leaks through the intestinal wall which in normal circumstances shouldn't have been possible, it results in a condition called leaky gut syndrome.

The excess of zonulin that was released because of ingestion of gluten through consumption of food items made from wheat, maida, rava like bread, rotis, biscuits, sheera, upma etc, the gluten fragments along with some other toxins and microbes, become both the uninvited and unwanted guests in one's bloodstream.

In people who are not gluten intolerant, the immune system deals with the unwanted matter quietly, and disposes them off. However, in those who suffer from Celiac disease and those who are Gluten intolerant, the immune system reacts to the presence of such unwanted matter by causing other ailments.

So what about those who are neither celiacs nor gluten intolerant - The immune system can get foxed too - sometimes our immune system can miss out on these toxins and microbes that entered into our blood stream which then can lead to various ailments starting from inflammation right upto cancer.
So when we eat gluten containing food - we are putting ourselves at great risk, much like driving in a manner that would cause damage to the breaks of one's car which one cannot replace!

Having said that, here are various nutritious grains and millets that can easily replace Wheat, Rye and Barley from our diet - the question is - Are we ready to make that change?
P.S. This post is a summary of an blog post I published a few days ago. If you need to know more, do read the post. It has an interesting story and citations to journals and research papers.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

How a research in cholera Vaccine, led to the discovery of the dangers of wheat.

There are many serendipitous discoveries that have happened in science. Today's post is one such story. This story is also the reason why I gave up eating wheat and I hope I have provided enough evidence for you to make an informed decision. So without much ado lets go.

Our small intestine is a place of bustling activity - the food that we eat is digested here and nutrients required for our functioning are absorbed. It is continuously supplied with blood, which in turn dissolves the nutrients that are absorbed by the intestinal wall from the food that is digested. It also has a huge flora of living microbes - some good and a few bad ones.

The intestinal wall serves two crucial functions. One, it acts as a barrier, preventing the entry of harmful substances such as foreign antigens, toxins and micro-organisms [1]. Two, it acts as a selective filter absorbing dietary nutrients, electrolytes, water and various other beneficial substances from our food (1).

These crucial functions are performed by a single layer of cells that line our intestinal wall and these cells are held together by material known as ‘Tight Junctions‘ (1).

Nutrients enter into our bloodstream either through these cells or via the closed spaces between these cells. But it is not easy for any kind of matter to pass through, in between these cells as they are sealed by “Tight Junctions” (TJ)

These tight junctions not only act as an important seal but also provides a selective transport mechanism for certain water soluble substances. While these junctions were previously believed to be static structures, new research shows that these tight junctions are dynamic which have the ability to both, control and change the size of the opening between cells! (2)

Dr. Alessio Fasano, a well renowned paediatric gastroenterologist, early in his career, was assigned the task of developing a vaccine against Cholera [an acute diarrheal disease]  at the ‘Centre for Vaccine development’ at the University of Maryland.
Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes Cholera, gains entry into our bodies when we consume contaminated water or food. During his research, Dr. Fassano discovered that the Cholera microbe secreted a toxin called zonula occludens toxin (ZOT) which could open up the tight junctions between the cells of the intestine and facilitate the drawing out of water from an infected person’s bloodstream (3).

Dr. Fassano and his team, hypothesised that the cholera bacteria was mimicking a natural process in the human body and kept on working to discover this then unknown process. A year later, in 2000, Dr. Fasano discovered a natural human protein called Zonulin, which uses the same receptors as ZOT and performs similar functions (4) (5). A receptor is like a lock, all that is required to open it is a key. The cholera microbe had acquired a copy of the key Zonulin was using, to open up the TJ’s and draw water from our body.

In 2006, they made yet another fascinating discovery - Bacteria and viruses, as well as, gliadin, a key component of gluten, triggered the release of Zonulin. Zonulin was shown to increase the permeability of the intestine and allow large molecules to quietly slip through into the human blood stream (6).

In 2011, Dr. Fassano wrote a comprehensive research paper based on his years of research, in which he implicated Zonulin, to be responsible for allowing toxic molecules slip into one’s blood stream which then, could eventually lead to Inflammation, Autoimmune diseases, and Cancer (7).

Thus, to summarise, Gluten triggers the release of Zonulin in our small intestine, Zonulin then opens up the ‘Tight Junctions’ between intestinal cells and allowing all kinds of matter to pass through - From nutrients to toxins and microbes. This also means, that the more the gluten in our diet, the more the Zonulin is released, and leakier becomes our intestine. Interestingly, this process takes place in every human body regardless the person suffers from gluten intolerance or not! (8)

The only difference between a Gluten intolerant person and one without gluten intolerance is the time period that the TJ’s remain open when triggered by Zonulin. It could range from a few minutes in some to a few hours in those with celiac disease. With increased intake of wheat or maida or rava in our diet - we permit the Tight Junctions of our intestine to remain open for longer periods of time – endangering our own lives and that of our loved ones!

When we consume gluten, which is so commonly present in most of the food that we eat in the form of cakes, biscuits, bread made from wheat, barley or rye, we put ourselves at risk of developing various diseases. Perhaps, we would still remain healthy or perhaps, a few among us, may not be that fortunate, we will never know, however, being informed and putting that knowledge to use will go a long way in doing our best to care for our own health and that of our children.

There are various nutritious grains and millets that can easily replace Wheat, Rye and Barley from our diets - the question that we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing to make that change?”

P.S. For his work, Dr. Fassano was awarded the 2013 Linus Pauling Functional Medicine Award.

Reference :

1. Intestinal Barrier Function: Molecular Regulation and Disease Pathogenesis By Katherine R. Groschwitz, and Simon P. Hogan, PhD*. Published in the ‘Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 
2. Shen L, Weber CR, Turner JR. The tight junction protein complex undergoes rapid and continuous molecular remodeling at steady state. J Cell Biol. 2008;181:683–695. 
3. “Expression of Vibrio cholerae zonula occludens toxin and analysis of its subcellular localization.”  (Dr. Fassano’s paper from 1999)
4.  Gut October 2001;  Dr. Fassaano.
5. Journal of Cell science   Human zonulin, a potential modulator of intestinal tight junctions.
6. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines.  
7. Zonulin and Its Regulation of Intestinal Barrier Function: The Biological Door to Inflammation, Autoimmunity, and Cancer. American Physiological society . 1 Jan 2011. 
8. Effect of Gliadin on Permeability of Intestinal Biopsy Explants from Celiac Disease Patients and Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Justin Hollon et.al Nutrients 2015. 

Diagram Sources

Friday, 20 January 2017

Gluten Free Museli

Had a sumptuous, breakfast today. Aarina made some gluten free museli, from the five whole grains featured below.  
The flakes (made from Red and Yellow Sorghum, Red rice, Amaranth and Finger Millet) are tossed with dry-fruits and go great with Soy milk, milk, yogurt or just plain water. 
No added sugar, just the flavours of grains and sweetness of dry fruits made this an wholesome breakfast. 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

An Embarrassing Problem which created a “Profitable Industry”.

If you have ever given your clothes to the laundry, one of the common services that you would have availed of is “starching”.  Ironed clothes which are starched look good, hold well and resist creasing. Have you ever wondered where did this starch come from?

Depending on the country, this starch could come from various sources, like In India, it is mostly extracted from maize, tapioca and rice, while in Australia and Europe, wheat remains the major source for starch manufacturing.

Starch being such a versatile product, it is used in various industries - food, paper manufacturing, textiles etc. In 1728, an Italian chemist, Jacopo Bartolomeo Beccari, discovered a process called “Washing-out” to extract starch from wheat (1). Any of us could replicate this process in our own kitchens, simply by taking wheat flour and washing it under running water. You will find that water dissolves away the starch leaving behind a gummy, stretchy residue called ‘gluten’ which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (not in a mood for a home based experiment, then you can simply watch this you-tube video to know what the process look like).

Extracting starch from wheat invariably led to huge amounts of gluten being produced as waste leaving the starch industry with an embarrassing problem - tons and tons of left over gluten which when disposed in municipal sewers and drains began clogging the sewage system! (2)

It did take some time, but soon the innovative industry came up with many uses for gluten - in animal feeds, it is used as a protein supplement, while in the food industry for humans, it is added not only as an additive to breads to make it fluffy and soft, but also in making artificial vegan meat substitute and the more expensive crab meat substitute (2).

In wheat, that already contains gluten, if more is added, why then should it cause a problem? What is the industry ignoring?  Well, humans don’t fully digest wheat. Unlike ruminating animals which have so called multiple stomachs, we humans have only one stomach — and one is just not enough to digest wheat. Cows have four stomachs (actually, four chambers within one stomach), the wheat goes from one stomach to another and another and — well, you get the picture. By the time, it reaches tummy number four, it is fully digested and the cow still remains fine.

Unlike bovine, we humans cannot digest gluten (3). It thus then becomes food which few (or can we say many?) of our body’s object to causing gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea — and even symptoms that don’t seem to be associated with the gastrointestinal tract, like headaches, fatigue, depression, joint pain, and respiratory distress. This is what happens to a lot of people who consume gluten rich products. Unfortunately, the usage of gluten is only increasing. Most of the commercial breads which do adhere to labelling procedures, will have gluten mentioned as one of the ingredients. Unfortunately, more and more bread manufacturers are adding gluten to their products to make it soft, springy and attractive.

Gluten simply remains an additive which provides us with zero nutrition. It’s only pain with no real gain.

1. Advances in Protein chemistry – Volume 2 – Page 385
2. Encyclopaedia of food Grains 2016- 2nd Edition. Volume 4, page (408-412
3. Wheat and Rice in Disease Prevention and Health: Benefits, risks and mechanisms of whole grains in health promotion Page 157-159

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

How a winter of starvation led to one of the biggest nutritional movement in the world.

I am in a mood for storytelling and I have an interesting one today.

Dr. Willem Karel Dicke, was a Dutch Paediatrician and specialized in paediatry at Juliana Children's Hospital in Hague. Dr. Dicke, was a bright doctor and in 1936 at the age of just 31 he was made the director of the hospital.

During the late 1930’s and early 1940’s Europe was in the midst of the Second World War. Bread and wheat was in short supply and people had to locally source their food and had to follow strict rationing measures. Tulip bulbs and other locally grown vegetables sustained the local population.  During these bleak times, Dr Dicke noticed that most of his young patients showed a remarkable improvement in their health. Dr. Dicke hypothesised that the lack of wheat in the diet of his young patients was improving their health and making them feel better.

Dr Dicke, in his time as director of Wilhelmia Hospital (Image source - Gut. 1993.)

Dicke's first report about the wheat free diet was published in Het Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde in 1941.  In his report, he said “…Therefore, I give a simple diet, which is helping these children at this time of rationing. The diet should not contain any bread or rusks. A hot meal twice a day is also well tolerated. The third meal can be sweet or sour porridge (without any wheat flour)….”

In the 1940’s and 1950’s Dicke went on to formally establish the gluten-free diet.  By 1952, Dicke had established that celiac disease was caused by the ingestion of wheat proteins and not carbohydrates.

It has been more than 60 years since Dr. Dicke helped his little patients lead a normal life, just by a change of diet.  Since the  infamous period of "The Winter of starvation" during which Dr. Dicke made his discovery a lot has changed in our understanding of gluten and today's gluten-free-ness is one of the fastest-growing nutritional movements in the world — and for a lot of good reasons. People everywhere are feeling healthier, more energetic, and finding relief from a range of illnesses and discomforts, like celiac disease and even menopausal symptoms.

In the coming posts we will share with you some more interesting stories and some latest cutting edge discoveries in Dietic and Food sciences that will change some things that we always cherished to be true. Most of the posts will be sourced from peer- reviewed journals and research papers. Do read the sources that will be cited at the  end of the post.

Note on source: Most of the sources for this post are from thee archives of the Journal Gut. Gut is an international peer-reviewed journal for health professionals and researchers in gastroenterology & hepatology . Archives can be sourced from here http://gut.bmj.com/content/by/year 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Gluten Free Cheese bites

How about some gluten free bites? Yes, Introducing cookies in five different flavours. The ones featured today are simply called cheese bites, but they are much more than that. Made from Water-chestnut, sorghum, rice, tapioca and yellow pea flours- they are enriched with nigella seeds, sesame seeds and pepper corns and flavoured with real cheese.

They are naturally so flavourful that they did not require any added sugar. Nutrition in every bite- Naturally.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Foxtail Millet : The worlds oldest grain

Foxtail millets are the oldest grains to be ever eaten by humans and the oldest granary dating back to 8000 years ago discovered in China- was found to have contained Foxtail millets. In India, the reference to Foxtail millet can be traced back to 2nd century BC 1, during the Sangama Period.
Unlike today, where noodles are made either of wheat or rice, the earliest discovered noodles were made from Foxtail millets.

Foxtail millet is a hardy crop- it needs very little water to grow and can be grown in poor soils. They can tolerate a wide range of climates, from equatorial to temperate and are not fussy at all. These millets once formed the backbone of our civilization and today unfortunately we are forgetting all about them.

Our country is today littered with dams and canals and large areas are bought under irrigation by building canals. Despite all these measures, we see a lot of farmers suffering when the rains fail them. How did our ancestors, who had no irrigation, survive the vagaries of the seasons? They grew foxtail millets. A farmer in ancient India sowed paddy in his field and whenever his crops failed due to bad monsoons, he just sowed foxtails millets that year. The crop would be ready within 60 days of sowing. The millets could grow in near drought conditions and sustained both humans are their cattle. They were hardy and were unaffected by disease. Over the years, the area under millet cultivation has slowly reduced and we are increasing the amount of water guzzlers we cultivate- Wheat and Sugarcane. Two crops that we can easily live without. (It takes 3000- 4000 liters of water to cultivate a kilo of wheat, while it takes 300 liters for a kilo of millets)

Today, most of us have forgotten how to use these millets and due to a low demand, farmers don’t bother growing it. Although growing millets makes ecological and economic sense, these millets are poorly promoted. In fact, once can make everything with foxtail millets, what they would have otherwise done with rice.

Due to their low Glycemic index and other inhibitory properties foxtail millets are best suited for diabetics. 2

In a study where people were given biscuits made of foxtails millets, it was observed that there was a significant reduction in glucose (23%), cholesterol (6%), LDL (20%) and GHb (16.5%), and a slight decrease in serum triglycerides and VLDL. HDL (popularly called good cholesterol) increased significantly by 23per cent.3

Foxtail millet is rich in iron, copper, manganese, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and B vitamins, antioxidants, flavonoids, certain amino acids and tryptophan.

It is time we promote this humble ancient grain- not just for our health but for the overall betterment of our ecosystem.

1. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/18/7367.full
2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814610010071

3. http://www.idb.hr/diabetologia/11no1-3.pdf

Friday, 6 January 2017

Is Gluten free food truly Nutritious?

We regularly come across a view that may sound familiar to you - gluten-free foods lacks nutrition. The view stems from the fact that most gluten free food found on store shelves comprise of starches, refined flours and, have added stabilizers, binders, flavours for easy manufacturing, shipping and storage. Adding flavouring agents become imperative as starches are flavourless. This perhaps is not just restricted to gluten free foods, but to nearly every other ready-made packaged food.

From the start, we chose to keep away from excessive usage of starches since, we felt, that just like us, there would be many who would prefer not eating those kinds of gluten free foods. Not adding stabilisers, chemicals, predisposes our food to the same kind of deterioration as one would encounter with home cooked foods. Hence, our gluten free wraps (flat breads or rotis) are made to order and, made from freshly ground grains in our gluten free home.

These gluten free, organic, Navrathan wraps (or flat bread), featured above, are made using a combination of nine organic grains and millets. Yellow Sorghum, Red Sorghum, Foxtail millet, Kodo millet, Red rice, Buckwheat, Amaranth, Pearl millet and Finger millet all carefully blended to make a flavourful meal.

So, how nutritious are these ? The chart below gives the nutritional profile for 3 wraps, which is what an average person's breakfast would consist of.
You will notice that just three wraps provides for nearly a quarter of your daily recommended intake (DV) of protein, thiamine (B1), niacin (B3), phosphorus, iron, fiber and half the RDA of manganese.

Ecologically too, these wraps are gentle on our natural resources. It takes about 3 to 4 tons (3000 to 4000 liters) of water to cultivate a kilogram of wheat. So 3 wheat chapati's, like these, would have taken 300 to 400 liters of water. On the other hand, millets and buckwheat, which constitute about 95% of these wraps, require just 300 liters of water for every kilogram of grain produced, which translates into 3 of these Navrathan wraps, requiring just 30 liters of water for cultivation and, nothing in terms of chemical manure or pesticide since millets are hardy, no fuss grains.

Isn't it a smart choice to make then? Not just for one's health but for mother earth as a whole.