Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why #SodaFree #OnlyWholeWheat restaurants

Happy Valentines Day to everyone ! This day of universal love and compassion inspires us to do what we are doing with the same vigor and determination. It was Feb 16th 2015 when we made switch to #OnlyWholeWheat restaurant. Last year we shared 7 steps to #EatRight. This year we decided that 7 steps are too many, how about just 2 now.


Last week we have had a 2-star Yelp review about how Nirmal cafe in Ypsilanti, MI don’t have a Soda fountain and the water filter looks so awkward. She had other complaints too though not sure how much role the absence of soda fountain played in 2-star.  I don’t blame her because we may be the only #SodaFree restaurant in Michigan or even in the US. So when we transformed ourselves into Nirmal in 2013, a self-service cafe practicing ‘Disruptive Eating’ from a full service full Bar restaurant, first thing we did was to call Coke and asked to dismantle the soda fountain. But we continued to serve soda cans for the next 4-5 months as we wanted to go for smooth transition.


Before I dwell on why Soda free was our first agenda, I hereby mention that the lady with review admitted to our public response that she understands and appreciates our fight against obesity and how being #SodaFree makes sense. Only I wish she could have done it publicly.


Soda is bad for our health, period. Is there an adult anywhere who does not know? Kids know better than us but I am not including them here. I see big fight here for #SodaTax and how Philadelphia became the first big city to impose it in June 2016, only second city in the US after Berkley, CA. Does that surprise you? Me not. Like I come across people all the time who do not eat even potato, are not going to touch soda with a barge-pole. Then who drinks it? The low income populace or non-college educated ? The obesity and overweight prevalence is highest among the low income populace. Do you see a correlation?


In India too, there was a big fight against Cola companies and it was led by Baba Ramdev, who is credited with bringing Yoga to 200 millions or more people. Before him, Yoga was an elite thing almost same as in the US, he took it to all sections of society. He commands considerable political influence too in India. So he persuaded top Bollywood stars to not endorse Colas. Let me share one link below which and other similar links would give you an idea of anti-cola feeling in India.




Is the #SodaTax big enough to dent the cola companies here, NO? I don’t know how many of us would notice 10 cents rise in 2-liter Cola price. In Mexico, they are doing it for last 2-3 years with very little impact. One thing for sure, the Soda tax won’t do much to the damage what soda is inflicting on hapless people.


Let me share my take. Most of people know Soda is a sugary drink and we should avoid sugar or minimize its consumption. So Cola companies are smart and they offered Diet. But I don’t see mention of Soda being most acidic drink with pH of 2.5, no kidding. See the link below.




For us, discarding Soda was easy if you see our 2nd 75:25 rule - eat 75% alkaline and 25% acidic food. If you see the chart of alkaline vs acidic foods, you would find it no-brainer. These are the food items which take us to ‘Prevention is better than Cure’ mode.




But the majority of soda is still sugary with high glycemic index (GI) of 90-95. So when we see something sugary, we can’t control ourselves as it gives our blood sugar high spikes and instant satisfaction. Its another matter you feel again hungry in 2-3 hours and end up eating more junk foods in the form of chips and soda again.


So when we talk of ‘Disruptive Eating’ and how Indian Curry makes it easier and tastier as we eat more whole grain - whole wheat bread or Parboiled rice, lentils are our staple food, all these items have GI in the range of 25-50 which we should aim for. Zero GI of meat items is equally dangerous as it makes you fill your stomach physically not with blood sugar spikes and you end up eating far more specially meat.


So when people enter Nirmal cafe in Ypsilanti, MI, they don’t see a soda fountain, the first jolt. Then they see our menu, still soda is missing. But then they see plenty of other Indian drinks from Chai tea to Lassi (yogurt drink) to Cumin drink to fresh lemon water, you won’t find all these even at other Indian restaurants. Like lemon water would be the most alkaline drink to contrast with soda.But what we have done extra is to offer all these drinks including juices, 2% milk in 8 Oz for $1, same as soda drinks. Again may be few restaurant have such options. So if you don’t drink soda, you end up coughing up $2 for smoothies or other drinks. In our earlier fine dining avatar, we used to have 16 Oz mango lassi for $2.


But yes soda drinks may account for 10-15% of a restaurant’ sales and it has high margin of 80% as compared to 35-40% for food. Or other drinks may have 50% margin at most. So why restaurant owners would go for #SodaFree. 2-3 reasons I can think of.


  1. First, as a restaurant owner, we are serving the same community in which we live. We don’t get customers from Ohio or Grand rapids, MI at Nirmal. So if we know by serving soda, we are harming the innocents, that could be the major influencer.
  2. The City can do its own part. How about subsidizing the license fee for #SodaFree restaurants or the Utility providers like DTE giving 15%-20% off in their monthly bills or the local banks coming up with interest free loan to cushion the initial revenue loss.


#OnlyWholeWheat restaurant is equally important and it is easier to achieve. It does not entail any revenue loss on the part of restaurant. I do mention all the time in my blog posts why we should go for Whole wheat. The heart disease is No1 killer in the US and just switching to whole wheat reduces the heart disease risk by 20% as per the research of University of Washington and Harvard’s on the similar lines.


One more thing if you don’t know. Sugar or the white breads are used to calculate the Glycemic index (GI). Yes the white breads are that bad. We struggled a lot to discard the Naan white bread at Nirmal and it took us almost a year. Naan may be the most popular item in Indian cuisine and it is made in special oven called Tandoor. See our earlier post ‘Why whole wheat.’


Once majority of restaurants start serving only ‘whole wheat bread’, its price would go down. Or restaurants may keep option of white breads if someone asks. Because the whole wheat breads does not have much processing, hence it should be cheaper than the white breads which goes through whole lot of processing. But because majority of us don’t care about it, we pay more for healthy eating - whole wheat bread.  


Healthy people make a city great, not only jobs and businesses. We have long taken refuge in #FreedomOfPersonalChoice and the small governments. If 5% of world population would continue eating 52% of world medicines as we do here, basically we are letting more government in our life in the form of subsidy in the health insurance, or food stamps as our health does not permit a stable job or kids losing the school hours often resulting in the school closures here in Michigan.


All of us can do our part - ask your cities to promote such cafes and restaurants and you do it by discarding Soda and white breads at all costs. We owe this to our community, country, the planet and our future generations.

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