Desi Visitor To The US – Part 3

Hello there ,

I’ve been waiting to tell you this ..!

After I last spoke with you, I had some shopping to get done before the upcoming weekend and off we went. Now, this is a warehouse store where you get to shop when you are a paid member with them. One thing about these places is that you get giant quantities at bargain prices. (And you’ll end up eating more than you want to, just because you bought it. Well .. that’s a topic for another day!) But like I said,  the best of us can go down a rabbit hole if we don’t watch out. And this time it was ME!

Here’s what happened.

I needed two items – Basmati Rice and a big bag of baby organic greens like Spinach or Kale. So, I pulled the cart and husband showed the id card and we were in. Right by the entrance was a sampling booth handing out Trail Mix – it’s a mixture of dried fruit and nuts. So, I accepted and Venky said a terse ‘no’. I dismissed it as his grouchiness that comes up when we go shopping! Earlier it was worse, now it shows up only now and then 🙂

Well, I was walking as I was still chomping this, when the next sampling lady was offering some Lemon Tea. It got me curious and I stopped to see that it was a new brand, Uhmm. The lady said how she loves it when she carries it in the car for long drives. I tasted it and moved on. As I was coming out from the produce section and going towards the Rice aisle, there was a big line to taste some Ice cream samples. This wasn’t my thing and I was wanting to get done with shopping and so, took a detour around two other aisles to get to where the Rice was.

Now, here was another sampling booth with almost no takers, w-a-y in the back. And the sample lady was breaking slabs of chocolate and filling them in tiny paper cups. It had specks of green and red and looked very pretty even from far.  Before I knew, I was chatting her up and eating that absolutely beautiful, inviting, divine chocolate! And asking her which aisle it was in!! It felt soo good upon  finding it and then picked up the Rice. My husband was wearing a full blown grouchy expression by this time. I gingerly asked him why – he gave me that look and said “I thought we came here to buy exactly TWO things!!”

So, add this to your shopping smarts list as the #6:

Shop like men – go exactly to where your required item is, in the shop, and refuse samples entirely if you don’t want to be lured in. Two reasons why –

a. It is not rude to refuse it. b. You’ll not miss what you don’t try.

If you’re curious what I fell for, here it is –

It helps to know, sample stations are strategically placed and samples are handed out – not because the stores love you – but to sell it to you in a way you don’t even realize it! We both ate some of that damn chocolate and now he’s hidden it in a safe place. So all’s well 🙂

Ready for label gyan?

There are two important pieces of information on the back of a package.

1. The Nutrition Facts – a nutrition table

2. Ingredients – the list of ingredients in the decreasing order of weight, which sits right below the nutrition table. I tend to start with the ingredient list.

1.Make sure it reads like a list of foodie things which a seven year old can read. Such as this one here:

You absolutely do not want something that feels like it was put together in a chemistry laboratory. Check this one out:

2.Since the ingredients are listed out in the decreasing order of weight in which they’re present, You do NOT want sugar, salt or oil to be your top ingredients.

Now, this is easier said than done. Because often, sugar is not written as plain sugar. They may call it fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate and so on. Apparently, there are close to sixty or so different names for sugar alone!

Fats similarly, comes in many guises. Oils of any kind, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, are ALL fats. Laughably, even when the front of the package says zero-fat or low-fat, the reality is often the exact opposite of that description.

Salt goes by names such as table salt, sodium, sodium nitrite, sodium benzoate, disodium and so on.

3. It would be great to have the word ‘whole’ before as many ingredients as possible, as this would mean that fiber content is intact. If you spotted the word ‘sprouted’ that would be a huge plus too, as sprouting enriches the nutrient density big time.

Moving on, let’s read the Nutrition Facts, the table you’ll find above the ingredient list. If we used my favorite tortilla example here

1. First look for Calories. This one has, 120 Calories.

2. Make sure that calories coming from Fat is always less than 20% of the total calories. So, 20% of 120 would be 24, and we want it to be less than 24. Now, let’s check! Wonderful, it’s only 15.

3. Then, make sure the Sodium content is the same number (or less) as Calories. This one totally rocks it – it’s Sodium number is 10!

So what this means is, for every serving size mentioned, you’ll get 120 calories. Out of this 15 comes from Fat. This amount of serving will also give you 10 mg of Sodium. ( 2 tortillas is the serving size mentioned on the label)

Next, you know what? Ignore every other number! They just don’t matter.

Let’s see how you do it on your own.

Would you buy this? Why or why not?

Waiting for your answer,


Desi Visitor To The US – Part 2

Hope you are doing fabulously 🙂

The strange thing my aunt noticed and pointed out about the US is how every gas station doubles up as a mini food shop. Soon, she changed her stand and said how e-v-e-r-y kind of shop carries food items here in this country – hardware shops, home improvement shops, even the laundromats! She says she got tired fighting her temptation for chocolates, my dear aunt.

Food scientists have pointed out that there is a food ad every five minutes or so in the television at any given time. And needless to say, they are NOT advertising the goodness of eating veggies! So, it is important to realize that you will be bombarded with food cues to the point that it will wear your resistance down and push you towards making some choices that may not be typical of you. So, please be aware.

Second point to observe about the food scene here is the size. A regular cookie in a coffee shop will look like the size of homemade poori. A coffee or tea bought outside is given black and you are free to take as much milk or cream as you desire. Less said the better, about the cold beverages – they come mostly in super large bottles and smaller ones actually cost you disproportionately more in price. The desserts such as cakes and pastries are just frosting more than two thirds of the way. Single serve portions of anything are huge for one person.

Then, you will also find that foods tend to err on the sweeter side, actually cloyingly so. Even the supposedly savory ones like ketchup or salsa. Some call out to you as “health foods” and especially the convenience of it all can be tempting. For example, Granola and yogurt which is very popular or even the granola bars. With misleading names and deceptive descriptions like ‘all natural’, ‘honest goodness’, the best of us can fall hook line and sinker for these things.

Please also keep an eye for the sneaky salt in foods where you least expect to see in such ridiculous amounts. The breads, pizza bases, dinner rolls, ready to eat soups, even soda has it! Also look for it the sauces, ketchup, canned rajma, chana and other cooked beans.

All these above factors can cause you to gain weight if you are not watchful. Did you say “enough already, this is depressing?” Oh, nooo – I only meant to alert you, that’s all. When I see my own relatives when they visit here, I find them erring on the extremes of too much trust or too wary. But knowing these things can help you navigate much more confidently.

So, what do you do differently? Number one thing to do is,

1. Do not shop or even step out to these stores when hungry.

2. Make sure to carry a little food in your bag all the time. This way you’re never at the mercy of a poorly stocked shop for food, ever.

3. In a Departmental Store, all the safe foods are in the periphery, usually near the entrance – colorful fruit, veggies and so on. The aisles are where the junk is.

4.  This one is the most important – if you have to go to aisle and buy packaged food, DO NOT pay any attention to what the front of the package says.

5. Always turn it around to read the ingredient list and the nutrition label.

I will stop at this and we’ll go into detail about these two things – the ingredient list and the nutrition label, in the next post.


Desi Visitor To The US – Part 1

The coming summer months in the US bring a lot of Desi visitors – both at home and business alike.

There is a definite concern to stay healthy through their stay and make the most of their travel. So all this month, I’ll stick with this theme and share some important tips to eat healthy while in the US. This could be of interest to you right away if you or your dear ones are planning to visit here soon. So feel free to forward the mail to whoever needs it.

This part is all about shopping for vegetables and fruits while in the US.

The most prominent question I get is whether to buy organic or the regular produce and the ‘why’ behind it.

If parents are visiting their children here in the US, first responsibility they take upon themselves is the kitchen department 🙂
Cooking, grocery shopping the whole nine yards! The place where I live, we see a lot of business visitors as well – round the year, but spiked around this time when they tend to combine family holiday with work. All these situations involve some produce-shopping instances. And if you have a standard mantra that’s like “buy what _looks_ good AND reasonably priced”, it’s likely gonna be disappointing to you often. My relatives often grumble about veggies being tasteless here!

Well, until they went shopping with me!!

Personally I shop for organic everything, as much as I can. This is because organic way of farming works  towards preserving long-term soil fertility, preserving genetic diversity and reducing all forms of pollution. This is IN complete alignment with my values, so I don’t think twice about my preference for organic. Besides, the taste is just bursting with flavor when it’s grown with care.

But I like to remind my people that a mere organic tag does not make ALL food choices healthy! For example, potato chips made from organic potatoes and fried in organic sunflower oil!!

So, here we go – Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are your two important lists.

Dirty Dozen is a set of twelve produce items that are best bought organic. These were found to be the most pesticide-laden of all when they are non-organic.

Clean Fifteen are the ones that are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides.

This list is put together by EWG which stands for Environmental Public Group. They are a non-profit organisation with a mission to “empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.”

I feel compelled to educate you, my dear Desi reader, about these things that you may not know, as a visitor.. I want you to have a whale of a time here!

Dirty Dozen – Strawberries, Spinach, Nectarines, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries, Grapes, Celery, Tomatoes, Sweet Bell Peppers (Capsicum), Potatoes.

Clean Fifteen – Sweet Corn, Avocados, Pineapples, Cabbage, Onion, Sweet Peas, Papaya, Asparagus, Mangoes, Eggplant(Brinjal), Honeydew melon (a variety of Kharbuj with a smooth light-green or light-yellow outer skin), Kiwi, Cantaloupe (a variety of Kharbuj with a wrinkled dull yellow skin), Cauliflower and Grapefruit.

Big part of visiting a new place is getting to shop and eat for local produce and specialties. Here is a link for you to locate a Farmers Market near you and check out the offerings. What you’ll find at these markets is way superior compared to a big box store, given that everything here is very fresh.

My next part in this series, I will address a hot-pain question .. “last time I came to the US and gained all the weight in the world!how do I eat smart this time?”. So be on the look out for that as it’s all about smart shopping.

Ask away any food questions you may have about your US visit, in the comments section.