Monday, 3 August 2015

Healthy eating on a budget – student life in London!

Right now I’m so tempted to buy myself some cheesy fries! It’s been a long day at work and now I’m about to start working on my paper due next week. All the job interviews and post study applications are pending and my phone just notified me about the 60 unread emails, I have to read through ASAP. Do I really have the time to cook? Do I really have the energy to cook? Do I really want to cook?


I have asked myself this question over and over, sometimes giving up on the lazy days, sometimes just not having the patience or time. There have been months I have spent £100 on food and there have been months I have spent as little as £30.

I am a healthy eater most days! But I struggle with having to cook every day. London is an expensive city and groceries shopping if done wrong can be pricey.
So I’ve decided to give you a number of tips and ideas to save time, money and energy.

Tip 1.
Go to the cheaper supermarkets! A Greek friend introduced me to Lidl after I had shopped at Waitrose and cooperative for months.  Look for a Lidl or an Iceland locally. Maybe shop at supermarkets that have 2 for 3 discounts going on such as Asda, (got the 2 to 3 brown rice and it’s so worth it). Avoid the small shops and off licence shops, often overpriced.
image :

Tip 2.
Don’t avoid frozen veg! What most people think is fresh is good and frozen is unhealthy, mostly I agree but not when I live in London. London is majorly depended on imports for its food supply, the UK only produces 60 % of its food requirement, even though urban farming is a big deal in London it isn’t enough to provide for the 8 million inhabitants. London’s climate isn’t the best in terms of agricultural yield. Fresh isn’t really fresh, its packed before its maturity and put on transport having to travel days and possibly even over treated with pesticides to keep rodents away and  sometimes even been artificially ripped especially if you go looking for cheaper options. Fresh can also be easily perishable and as a student it’s really inconvenient to go food shopping every week. Therefore I suggest trying some frozen veg. fruits and veg are frozen soon after being harvested and mostly undergo simple non chemical processing such as blanching for example to preserve carrots. This keeps them fresh with all their nutrients intact. Don’t get confused with the fresh and frozen banter, read and research for yourself.

Tip 3.
Make a list and stick to it! Don’t go into a store unprepared, snap a picture of your open fridge and compile a quick list on the notes app on your phone when on the bus to the store. See it doesn’t have to take up your time!

Tip 4.
Pyjamas shopping is often a great idea. It’s after 9pm, I’m sleepy (never shop hungry you’ll buy everything, shopping after dinner is more of a practical option and helps you stick to the list) and the stores not crowded. All the soon to expire products are half price or less.

Tip 5.
Don’t over purchase, I know the temptations. Last week I craved strawberries and I obviously got myself some at the supermarket but what I didn’t realise was that I had got fresh strawberries, then strawberry yogurt and then some strawberries smoothie. I craved mango after eating strawberries for just two days :(( force feeding myself all that yogurt before it expired was terrible.


Tip 6.
Carry your own bags, I just use my airplane carry on and wheel it around as it’s so much more convenient than walking to the bus stop with all those bags weighing me down after all that shopping. Also more environment friendly and cheaper than the regular plastic bags.

Tip 7.
Grow your own! Not the major stuff only simple things. Such as herbs, the supermarkets sell them in pots for as little as £1 and a bunch of fresh herbs usually coast more than that. It saves money and having a small pant that needs to be watered every day is a way of learning to be responsible for another life. Families with young kids might like to instil such values in their little ones.

Tip 8.
Lentils are the best! Beans, peas, pulses are so very cheap and so nutritious. Great sources of protein and iron also low in fat. Avoid buying them in tins lined with Bisphenol A.  Bisphenol A is an obesogenic chemical most commonly used in the manufacturing on food containers.
Tip 9.

Don’t over indulge! Don’t fall for the bait, buy one get one free?
Usually in bright yellow labelled as super deals. Think before you buy, these products are misleading and generally promote things you might not need in two’s.  
image: My flatmates and I went food shopping,the first week at University !

Tip 10.
Portion control. Sometimes as students we find happiness and stress relief in food. Over indulging can be overlooked, don’t diet but keep a food diary or possibly just be more aware of your eating habits. Cooking for the week and eating it all in a day isn’t uncommon among students.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

"The weight of our nation : India" series part 12 - Obesity Prevention

“This is what people don’t understand: Obesity is a symptom of poverty. It is not a lifestyle choice where people are just eating and not exercising. It’s because kids- and this is the problem with school lunch right now – are getting sugar, fat, empty calories – lots of calories but no nutrition” Tom Colicchio.

The above has been very righty said, as truly obesity is a symptom of poverty and caused due to the consumption of empty calories hence instead of tackling childhood obesity when it is enlarged to a level where it becomes and epidemic it should be treated at its very roots by preventing before cure.

Adult obesity directly reflects on children. A prevention awareness programme wouldn't only be helpful to adults but also to children in the care of the adults. It is also important that this nutritional education is given at a very early level as early in fact at the kindergarten level. This would be the stage where the child begins to develop his lifestyle. Hence dietary modifications and involvement of physical activity would become a part of his future life. However this cannot be achieved without parental involvement.

Parents can begin an involvement by following providing healthier options. Food must never be used as a reward, the parent has to be a role model and hence the parent’s fitness is an important measure for the child to emulate.

Also a child needs to be praised for his efforts when he decides to opt for a better lifestyle letting go of the earlier one.

The WHO has developed the 2008 – 2013 action plan for the global strategy for prevention and control of non- communicable diseases to help the millions who have been coping with the same. A key fact by WHO and a highlight of my research has been when I discovered that obesity is preventable. 30 million overweight children are living in developing countries and only if these prevention strategies were to be applied this number would come down drastically.          
Obesity prevention strategies are being initiated by the National Indian Health Board which is a very good initiative. The obesity prevention network (OPN) was first organized by Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Physical Activity and Nutrition for the purpose of helping identify effective strategies for preventing preventing obesity.    
Hence attention needs to be paid to preventive methods which would certainly be less stressful than the cure later. Prevention should be the primary objective with a holistic approach with dietary modification, a lifestyle change, increase in physical activity and nutritional education.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Childhood Obesity and Genetic Variants

"The weight of our nation : India" series part 11 (Factors Affecting Obesity)

 of the series in

 "The weight of our nation:


A study conducted in 2012 “(Common variants of FTO are associated with childhood obesity in a cross-sectional study of 3,126 urban Indian children.)”  States the association of FTO variants with obesity, this study was performed on 3,126 Indian children (aged 11-17 years) including 2,230 normal-weight and 896 over-weight/obese children. This study indicates that the FTO gene factor is more prominent to affect children rather than adults. 

There is a lot of research being done on obesity and its causes, however we normally look upon factors such as excess energy intake, reduced physical activity or lifestyles, there is another factor emerging as a major component in the rise of obesity. Genetics, Genetic variants play a key role in one’s body weight.  It has emerged that there are particular variants associated to obesity and overweight. One such gene is FTO, also known as alpha-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase FTO is an enzyme that in humans is encoded by the FTO gene located on chromosome 16.

People have two copies of the FTO gene - one from each parent - and each copy comes in a high and a low-risk form. Those with two-high risk copies of the FTO gene are thought to be 70% more likely to become obese than those with low-risk genes.        This mechanism works by affecting the ghrelin hormone.

Another hormone AMD1 is a genetic variant associated with childhood obesity.

A study conducted in 2012 (Genetic variant of AMD1 is associated with obesity in urban Indian children.) this study indicates that there is an association of AMD1 (adenosylmethionine decarboxylase 1) variant with obesity and plasma leptin levels in children. 

#  Common variants of FTO are associated with childhood obesity in a cross-sectional study of 3,126 urban Indian children.

Dwivedi OP, Tabassum R, Chauhan G, Ghosh S, Marwaha RK, Tandon N, Bharadwaj D. Source: Genomics and Molecular Medicine Unit, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi, India.

#  BMC Public Health. 2012 Oct 17;12:881. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-881.

Association of breakfast intake with obesity, dietary and physical activity behavior among urban school-aged adolescents in Delhi, India: results of a cross-sectional study.

Arora M, Nazar GP, Gupta VK, Perry CL, Reddy KS, Stigler MH. Source: Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth, Safdarjung Development Area, New Delhi 110016, India.

#  J Prev Med Public Health. 2013 Jul;46(4):192-200. doi: 10.3961/jpmph.2013.46.4.192. Epub 2013 Jul 31. Behavioural Determinants for Obesity: A Cross-sectional Study Among Urban Adolescents in India.                                                                                                      Rani MA, Sathiyasekaran BW. Source: Department of Community Medicine, Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai, India.

#  Bariatric surgery for obese children and adolescents: a review of the moral challenges
                Bjørn Hofmann

#  PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e33162. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033162. Epub 2012 Apr 9.                                                                                                        Genetic variant of AMD1 is associated with obesity in urban Indian children.
Tabassum R, Jaiswal A, Chauhan G, Dwivedi OP, Ghosh S, Marwaha RK, Tandon N, Bharadwaj D.                                                                                      Source: Genomics and Molecular Medicine Unit, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi, India.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Bisphenol A - BPA and Obesity - Childhood Obesity linked to bisphenol A

"The weight of our nation : India" series part 10 (Factors Affecting Obesity)

 of the series in

 "The weight of our nation:



Bisphenol A (BPA) is a man-made carbon-based synthetic compound with the chemical formula (CH3)2C(C6H4OH)2 belonging to the group of diphenylmethane derivatives and bisphenols.

BPA is generally found in materials made of plastic, such as water bottles, insides of food containers and a variety of commercial goods ( it is used as an antiseptic which helps food preservation, it gets passed on to food without even heating). BPA is being used commercially since 1957. Recent studies have indicated that there is a link between BPA and childhood obesity as it disturbs the delicate balance of estrogen and testosterone in our bodies. A mother’s interaction with this chemical can devastating as the effects may be passed on to even the offspring. The long term effects of BPA are still being studied. Ninety nine percent of BPA found in individuals is due to dietary exposure.

“Studies have implicated exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a commonly used chemical, in the development of obesity.” (1)

BPA is not only linked to Obesity but various disorders and diseases such as cancers, neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and infertility.
The US has recently banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and cups used for children but continue to allow the use of BPA in aluminum cans and other containers as they need further evidence for such banning actions.

“Consistent with other cross-sectional studies, higher urinary BPA concentrations at 9 years of age were associated with increased adiposity at 9 years. However, increasing BPA concentrations in mothers during pregnancy were associated with decreased BMI, body fat, and overweight/obesity among their daughters at 9 years of age.” (2)

Therefore our modern ways which involve plastic in every way have proved to be a contributing factor in obesity and hence the use of plastic is hazardous to our lives as it imitates estrogen, we mush as a result go back to our practices of eating in our traditional ways which involve use of metals, wood and large leaves. There was a time when Indians used to dine in gold and it reflected on their golden health. 


(1)  Urinary bisphenol A and obesity in U.S. children.

Bhandari R, Xiao J, Shankar A. Source: Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, West Virginia University, Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, 1 Medical Center Drive, P.O. Box 9190, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA.

(2)  Prenatal and postnatal bisphenol A exposure and body mass index in childhood in the CHAMACOS cohort.

Harley KG, Aguilar Schall R, Chevrier J, Tyler K, Aguirre H, Bradman A, Holland NT, Lustig RH, Calafat AM, Eskenazi B. Source: Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94704, USA.                                              

Thursday, 13 February 2014

"The weight of our nation : India" series part 9 (Factors Affecting Obesity)

 of the series in

 "The weight of our nation:



Urbanization has taken its toll on children in the cities where they are dropped to school by car or the school bus and brought back home the same way. Also there is not much of physical activity in the schools due to the load of subjects and a physical education class is only a once or twice in a week kind of activity which also gets restrained due to several factors like the teacher being absent or a rainy day. At home too, the story remains the same as the children are burdened with a lot of assignments or home-work which hardly leaves them any time for fun and games outdoor. The electronic media has captured the kids quite charmingly where even if and when they do get free time they prefer to play computer games or watch their favourite programmes on the television. All this directly affects the child’s BMI and BMR and gradually such a sedentary life style will eventually lead to obesity.


With a lot of processed foods available in the market today and their seductive advertisements the children have been targeted to consume energy dense, packaged, unbalanced and processed foods. Such highly unbalanced diets will not only affect the child’s weight but will also affect his/her growth, and lay the foundation for a future filled with diseases. The wholesome meal has been replaced by endorsed foods which are high in carbohydrates and fats containing less amount of protein with many additives and preservatives. Also if vegetables have been involved, they are usually dehydrated and processed losing their essence. The excessively high sugar intake leads to tooth decay and also to being over- weight and obesity, which in the future will lead to diseases and disorders as such an unhealthy life- style, has been rooted in children at such a young age. And the horror of horrors is that their life expectancy can be reduced to be even shorter than their 


The economic status of the people has a great hold on their dietary habits. Those who can afford tend to be lured towards the pull of highly advertised foods. Unfortunately these foods are processed and package. However, the excess consumption of such foods leads to a dietary imbalance which leads to overweight.                                                        
The class of the society which is unable to afford a balanced meal tends to consume empty calories like they make a meal out of a vada-pav. Although the food is energy dense it is not a balanced meal and hence they suffer from many deficiencies and a regular consumption of foods that are only rich in energy and fat and lack protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals take a toll on their metabolism and this again eventually leads to being overweight.             
So both the extremes of eating to live and living to eat will never lead to a healthy lifestyle; and that is why good health depends on balance, variety and moderation.


In a culture that glorifies being underweight it may come as a surprise to you that there are cultures which glorify obesity and consider it a sign of good health.                                                       
 It has been found that there are certain cultures which find obesity appealing. One such example is Kuwait where 52% of women over the age of 15 are dying of cardio-vascular diseases. As Kuwait is a nomadic desert and in the past has faced scarcity of food, the people there have come to believe that over weight is a sign of health and wealth. This is a completely wrong approach as over weight is in no way a sign of good health but a sign of deterioration of health. Another example is Jamaica where 65% of women are obese. The emphasis on a curvy body has been taken to extremes. Beauty is reflected in generous hips. And this leads to the desire of women to not only voluptuous but also over weight. In Samoa in South Pacific, food shortages have in the past the people since the good old days have genetically evolved in a way where their bodies store excess fat. So once again heavy women are to be found commonly and considered to be beautiful. Few other developing countries where obesity is prevalent are Afghanistan, South Africa, Mauritania and Tahiti. In Tahiti, a windward island obesity is celebrated and it is considered as a sign of beauty and fertility. (16)
Now that we know that the women are encouraged to be obese, they tend to continue with similar feeding practices for their children too; the result being that the children in such an environment develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a number of disorders related to obesity. Such cultures must therefore understand and be educated about the health hazards of being overweight.

“It is a known fact that about 40 per cent of the infertility in women is contributed by polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS and the problem is rampant in Kerala. Several preliminary studies done in adolescent girls and young women show that over 10 per cent of the general population in Kerala have PCOS, which also explains the increasing spectrum of infertility issues here,” says Sheila Balakrishnan, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who also heads the fertility clinic at SAT Hospital.



There is a direct association between stress and obesity. It has been generally observed that people who are stressed tend to over eat. This is because of the hormones, Serotonin which is a feel good hormone and excess of carbohydrates and sugars raise this Serotonin level. Also Cortisol which is released by the body under extreme stress and excess Cortisol increases appetite. Due to such increase in appetite there is obviously a tendency to eat more which leads to an increase in weight. This tendency of stress leading to over eating and over eating once again leading to psychological stress tends to become a vicious cycle. One must therefore learn to break this cycle by trying to relieve stress by exercising and in case of children involving oneself in activities which one likes such as drawing, swimming, playing and so on.


The Journal of American Dietetic Association published a study called ‘Fast Eaters Eat More’ in 2008. According to the paper, the rate at which a person eats affects how many calories he ingests. There is a play of hormones in our bodies which lead us to a feeling of hunger or satiety. The hormones are PYY, GLP-1 and Ghrelin. The journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism by Kokkinos et al has found that levels PYY and GLP-1 increase when a person is eating slowly. This causes a person to feel full. The research also states that Ghrelin levels were higher after 2 hours of eating for those people who ate too quickly as Ghrelin causes a feeling of hunger.
The time at which a person eats also plays an important role in digestion of food. A study done by Georgios Paschos PhD who was involved in the research at the university of Pennsylvania, analysed the link between eating late at night and obesity. The study was done on mice and the observation was that when there is consumption of food in a period which is generally used for resting, the body favours energy storage which leads to obesity. The eating clock therefore matters and can disrupt metabolism and cause weight gain.


From the above observations we can come to the conclusion that care must be taken regarding what the children eat, when they eat and how they eat. The initiative that the Education Minister has taken is praise worthy as he has incorporated Nutritional Education in School Syllabuses. Our children must know that obesity does not only result in being cute and cuddly but also in many unwanted problems and health risks