Saturday, January 31, 2009


Readers must be wondering what the above topic has to do in a food technology blog like this one. Motivation to do some thing unusual has to come either from the brain in the case of normal human beings or is forced through coercion. While human motivation is not generally food connected, for animals, coercion through food or punishment is the normal practice. There are some interesting things one can discern by looking at this very ordinary subject about which very few think about, under normal circumstances.The dictionary meaning of an award is 'some thing given to some body as a prize'. While the noun is used mostly with a positive connotation, as a verb even death sentence given to an indicted person can be indicated as 'awarded'. In contrast 'reward' is a recompense for work, merit or services and has always associated with some thing positive. Thus there is a fine distinction between these two liberally used words. Awards can be bestowed on some individual or a group of individuals with exemplary accomplishments in different fields by the society, organizations, governments and industry mostly on an annual basis . Rewards are linked to economic compensation given for extra work out put beyond the call of duty. The bonus paid to workers is really a reward for their performance though the trade unions politicize this as a deferred compensation.

What about the 'carrot and stick' idiom used very commonly by all and sundry? Carrot is a good vegetable but how come it is associated with rewards? Till recently eating raw carrot was not a common practice but the advent of salads makes eating raw carrot slices or pieces nutritionally attractive. Other wise raw carrots form one of the vegetables fed to non-carnivorous animals in many zoological gardens. According to the dictionary, usage of the word carrot became common to signal rewards for persuading some one to do a job. "Carrot and stick" idiom signifies 'the hope of reward and the threat of punishment as a means of making some body try harder' and thus has nothing to do with the literary meaning of the words used.

How far the society has deviated from the true meaning of the above words to day! Awards are sought, lobbied for, coaxed, forcefully taken by threats, politically manipulated, distorted and neither the giver nor the receiver has any qualms about the perversion that has taken place before our very own eyes! A skeptic society has hardly any confidence on the process of conferring awards and hold poor opinions about the caliber of most of the recipients.

Hectic canvassing by over-ambitious or greedy persons to 'get' the awards at 'any cost' and lack of transparency in the process of 'awarding', make many truly great people shun most of the awards, let alone apply for them. How inappropriate the system can be gauged from a recent news report of an Indian professional organization conferring some life time achievement award in food technology to an American citizen working for a multinational soft drink company who is not known to be a student of food technology any time in her life. Obviously this is a unique case where an award was thrust on some body who did not consider much about the organization or about the value of the award. Probably the award route was chosen for some one in the organization to develop personal 'net working' at the expense of the organization. This is indeed a sad reflection on the moral and ethical values prevalent in to day's world and the "chalta hai" attitude of the hapless common man who has to tolerate such spectacles with a grin!

If awards and rewards system is being grossly abused in the country, what alternate option is there for use as a tool to mantain and boost productivity in all sectors of the society? Carrot and the stick? It is time for introspection.

Friday, January 30, 2009


There was a time when every American kid symbolized three food products-Potato Chips, Cola Drink and Peanut Butter and they had dominated the markets all over the world as consumer crazy commercial products. Both cola drinks and chips faced enormous odds in the market now and then, being castigated as unhealthy and it is tribute to the sagacity, marketing muscle and technological prowess on the part of the manufacturers to weather the storms as when they blew across their turf. Now it is the turn of Peanut Butter which is facing the flak from the very consumers who courted them as one of their favorite snack items, who are raising a big hue and cry about the safety of this material for their children. What a turn around in a brief span of a decade? Currently peanut butter is banned in many schools and peanut free zones are being created in some other schools in that country. Even thorough hand washing is being enforced to prevent allergy molecules from peanut causing problems to others! 25% of parents do believe that their children are peanut allergic though statistically only 4% of school going kids are vulnerable to this syndrome. Probably the scientific correlation between peanut allergy and other allergies like asthma makes parents nervous about use of peanut products in general.

An adverse immune response to a food protein is responsible for allergy. Millions of people are affected by food allergies of various types, USA alone accounting for 12 million cases. About 1 in 15 children suffers from some form of allergy while 1 in 25 adults has the same affliction. Since most of the allergy cases are reported from western countries where hospital facilities are excellent, only 100-200 deaths occur each year. Other important allergic foods include shell fish,tree nuts,fish, eggs, soybean and wheat. The symptoms manifesting as angioedema, appears within a few seconds to one hour in the form of soft tissue swelling in areas near eyes, face, lips,tongue, larynx, trachea causing difficulties in breathing. Itching of mouth, throat, eyes and the skin, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, nasal congestion, wheezing are other symptoms of allergy.

An allergic reaction to food involves the various components of the immune system. One component is a type of protein, an anti body called immunoglobulin (IgE) which circulates through the blood. Another component is the mast cells, a specialized cell that is found in all tissues in the body. These cells are common in nose, throat, lungs, skin and GI tract which are typical sites of allergic reactions. The allergen stimulates lymphocytes to produce IgE anti body that is specific to the allergen. This IgE attaches itself to the surface of the mast cells in different tissues of the body. When ever the food containing the allergen is eaten, it provokes the mast cells to release of chemicals like histamine and the consequent reaction.

Is the peanut allergy so serious as to warrant its total elimination from the diets in whole of the world? The present label warning system ensures that foods processed in machines commonly used for peanuts is declared on the label and separate cautionary warning is included for foods containing peanut as an ingredient for the benefits of allergic consumers. The health benefits of peanuts for a vast majority of the population far outweigh the relatively few allergy risks for some sensitive people. It is well known that consumption of a handful of peanuts twice a week halves the risk of heart attacks. Being a food product with very low glycemic index, peanut is strongly recommended for people vulnerable to sugar compromised conditions like diabetes. With high proteins in the kernel, peanut is an excellent wholesome food material for both children and adults. Breast feeding of children at least for the first four months is believed to be capable of preventing or delaying onset of peanut allergy. Indians are fortunate in that very few cases of peanut allergy are reported officially though possibility of many others going unreported cannot be ruled out. The nutrition monitoring bureau of the Ministry of Health must include data collection on food allergies also if, as a nation, we have to prevent epidemic forms of allergic manifestations in future. Unless reliable data base is established, no worthwhile national contingency strategy can be formulated for counter acting such incidences as and when they become a serious health challenge in the country.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009


According to the current food standard protocols, in India blended oil formulations shall not contain more than two individual oils. That too the proportion has to be such that the individual oils used must not be less than 20%. Nature of the individual oils used must be declared on the label. In contrast the same statute book allows a number of oils in the manufacture of vanaspati type of products. How such a dichotomy has crept into the PFA is not clear and probably this must have been thought of in the mistaken belief that it could be easier for the chemists to detect willful adulteration by unscrupulous traders. Industry however seems to have ignored the provision for marketing blended oils because such blends are difficult to be promoted in India where there are strong loyalties to pure oils of different types in different regions. But use of more than two oils in evolving a single cooking medium may be attractive and it is time for clearing such innovative oil blends based on technology and nutrition.

The blended oil concept has been given a respectability by the recent development of a couple of products in India based on scientific investigations and nutritional considerations. These recipes make use of oils such as rice bran oil, groundnut oil and other vegetable oils and proportion of the individual components is determined by their triglyceride profiles and nutritional chemicals present such as oryzanol, tocopherols, tocotrienols and phytosterols. As all these oils have good thermal stability, the blends also inherit this important quality. Recipe development is relatively simple once the chemical composition of each oil is known, with optimal fatty acid ratio of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids being arrived at by using computer soft ware programs commonly used by the animal feed industry. What is needed more importantly is the process that can make use of relatively cheap oils like palm oil, soybean oil and palm kernel oil. The critical requirement is to keep the blended oil in liquid condition at temperatures of 4C-10C, normally encountered during winter in most parts of northern India. The process for making blended formulations, developed by one of the R & D Labs under CSIR, is unfortunately patented denying access to large number of small scale oil millers and depriving the country of the nutritional benefits that would have protected millions of malnourished population. Even if the recipes are published, house wives can make their own blends at home for daily use.

Palm oil is going to be the most important vegetable oil in India for years to come as it is relatively cheaper and any efforts to popularize blended oils will have to be mounted around this particular oil. But as it is solid at normal room temperatures, user convenience is minimal compared to liquid oils like peanut oil, mustard oil, sesame oil etc. This is where food technologists have to play a role in lowering the melting point through use of high end technology involving physical chemistry. Further, blends of more than two oils must be permitted so that the nutritional quality of different oil components will supplement each other offering a wide variety of products to the consumer. Added to this is the bonanza of natural flavor concentrates characteristic of each of the vegetable oil now available to give distinct personality to each of the blends evolved. With modern electronic instruments available to chemists, precise analysis is a matter of routine and does not pose any major problem to the enforcement agencies. Powerful brand images, to be created for multi oil blends by edible oil industry, will make them acceptable to the Indian public, especially if the cost is attractive.



Man has to survive on this earth for which food is vital. So are the other fellow creatures which share the Planet's food resources. Evolution has bestowed on man the superior brain power that helped him to establish supremacy over other species. In the process many weaker species became food material for man besides the plant foods. Many believe that there is adequate food to go around for all without any need for over exploitation and pushing many species into extinction. The indiscriminate lust for food seems to have caused temporary blindness to the destruction being caused and the threat posed in the long term to the very existence of this planet. Only lately some realization is dawning on man that he must learn to co-exist with other creatures without endangering finely balanced Eco system that was inherited from his predecessors.

Here is an example of the mindless obsession with food that is causing irreparable damage to the environment besides obliterating a whole species from the face of this planet. An 'appeal" from the 'Global Frog Association' reproduced below, is self explanatory:

" We belong to the amphibian species and number over 6000 types. Though we may not be as beautiful as the aquarium fishes, man admires and covets our 'legs' like exciting women which makes us run for cover to escape from their evil thinking. They say our hind legs which give us our springiness and hoping ability are excellent food material, even better than our other helpless brethren, chickens and nutritionally our legs provide 16% proteins, 3% good fat with 16.7% linoleic acid, 100 kC and only small quantity of cholesterol. While we are prepared to sacrifice some of us to satisfy the lust of human beings for food as we are naturally defenseless against such a powerful predator as man, we hate to be hunted out of this earth to permanent extinction. We have been totally eliminated from USA, Australia, Bangladesh and Costa Rica and are destined to disappear for ever from countries like India, Pakistan, Mexico, Cuba and others, hell-bent on capturing us, removing our legs and selling them to satisfy the greed for food in affluent countries like USA, Japan and Europe who tempt them with their Dollars, Yen, Pounds and Francs. What sins we have committed against human race to deserve this fate? Is it a crime to feed on the mosquitoes, the carriers of many diseases, and help humanity to save themselves from the travails of fatal diseases? Why should a country like Bangladesh finishes us off and then import 10 times more pesticides to fight mosquito menace. To our small brain it does not make any sense! "

"We understand that to make us part with our legs willingly, the processors put us alive in 10% salt water containing 250 ppm chlorine with the presumption that we do not feel the pain! But we know that they are doing this to make us sterile and free from germs so that they can eat our legs without any danger from germs like Salmonella! God only knows what we feel under such traumatic conditions we are exposed to. It is a small consolation that many processors do not let us out alive with hind legs removed that would have been unthinkable for creatures like us depending solely on our hind legs for mobility. Even in death we remain as a friend of man, since our remaining body serves as a feed material containing 65% proteins, 17% fat and 13.2% minerals, useful in raising more food materials. One third of our species already face imminent extinction and if adequate measures are not taken all of us will have to say good bye to our dear Mother Earth soon. While 69 fish species have been given the tag of endangered species, we continue to be neglected by the world fraternity, leaving us to our cursed fate. This is our last appeal to "save us" from extinction".
One of the reasons for this situation could be the difficulties being faced in breeding frogs under captivity though some suppliers claim they can offer such frogs. Unless and until scientific breeding under captivity becomes commercially feasible, international trade in frog legs must be banned and sooner it is done better it will be for the fragile environment in many countries facing ecological disaster because of the mass genocide of this helpless but man-friendly creature.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Sodium Benzoate (E-211) is a well recognized class II preservative used extensively in many low pH foods and beverages to protect against bacteria and fungus. Generally their level in most of the products in which it is permitted, is restricted to 0.1% or less. Credit must go to this wonder chemical for saving billions of rupees worth foods during the last several decades through its preservative action. Now new information emerging from food scientists across the world is showing E-211 as a potential threat to consumers in presence of ascorbic acid when the carcinogenic Benzene is generated under ambient conditions.

As of now there is global limit of 10 parts per billion (PPB) of Benzene under WHO, which is allowed to be in potable water though in EU countries it is as low as 1 ppb. No definite standards have been set so far regarding Benzene limits in food materials. It was in December 1990 that first reports about occurrence of Benzene was reported in two brands of soft drinks and investigations revealed that it was generated in situ from Benzoic Acid in presence of ascorbic acid and the mechanism of action involves the hydroxy radical of ascorbic acid attacking the Benzoic acid, removing CO2 and leaving Benzene in the wake. More disturbing is the fact that exposing the products to heat and light for short periods dramatically increases the benzene concentration. Temperature beyond 30C and exposure to U V lights for several hours can also raise the Benzene levels in such products.

Industry has not covered itself with glory by its attempts to defend presence of Benzene in soft drinks and during early nineties there was voluntary commitment that it would overcome the problem through internal voluntary corrective measures. The defensive stand of soft drink giants like Coca Cola by claiming that even people walking on the side walk can imbibe more Benzene from automobile exhaust fumes does not speak well of their commitment to consumer safety. Further arguing that Benzene limits in potable water is not relevant to foods is also some what far fetched. In UK 230 brands of drinks exceeded the safe limit for Benzene and 4 brands were recalled because they contained benzene several times more than the safe limit (11-28 ppb). Situation is more alarming considering that there are more than 1500 brands of soft drinks containing benzoic acid and ascorbic acid combinations.

Human beings can smell Benzene in the air if the concentration is in the range of 1.5 to 4.7 ppm and in water if it is 0.5-4.5 ppm. Tobacco smoke, automobile emissions, automobile service stations, gas stations and industrial emissions contain Benzene to varying extent. Gasoline contains Benzene 0.7 to 2.06% and evaporated gasoline carries with it Benzene also. A chain smoker is presumed to be imbibing about 1.8 mg of Benzene a day, a high level for causing cancer. In the air, the concentration can be between 0.02 and 34 ppb. The absorbed Benzene reaches bone marrow and body fat and can cause acute myeloid leukamia(AML) in the long term.

Is the Indian consumer also vulnerable to the 'Benzene" risk? Unfortunately reliable data regarding Benzene levels in the air, water or the foods do not seem to be existing to come to any meaningful conclusion. Considering the primitive way the soft drinks are handled, distributed, stored, show cased at the retail level, Indian consumer is much more vulnerable than his western counter part, though all manufacturers may not be using ascorbic acid in their formulations. A comforting thought is that average consumption of soft drinks in India is a fraction of what is consumed in other countries. Benzene can be avoided or reduced considerably by adjusting the level of benzoic acid and ascorbic acid and including EDTA in the recipe. Let us hope that soft drink industry will take timely and adequate steps now itself before being caught unaware and branded as a villain again after the unfortunate pesticide controversy of nineties.


Sunday, January 25, 2009


Intellectual property rights or more commonly known as patent rights are recognized rights of every citizen in the world but the pre-requisites for granting a patent are supposed to be tedious and time consuming. But with GOI becoming a member of WTO and after opening up of the economy in early nineties, patent activities have received a new boost and hundreds of patents are being applied for, in all areas of science, technology and engineering within the country as well as in other countries. Conceived originally to protect the economic returns that can be expected from commercialization of patents, lately the system has been subverted for enriching the bio-data of a few people with least consideration for their commercial potential. In other words patents are becoming synonymous with literary publications and the quantity has taken precedence over quality. There is a feeling that many patents are prepared not based on scientific work but concocted, sitting before a computer and if this is true it only reflects on the failure of the system of patenting in this country. In the field of food technology if a dispassionate analysis of the patents filed during the last one decade are made, one will find it difficult to identify even a single one that has been successfully exploited by any major industry!

Here is an example of a fictitious patent that can be drafted sitting before a computer for some time:

Title-Discovery of food products that can delay diseases in human beings

Author- Dr Vishwa Kiran with hundreds of patents already in pocket, about to enter into Guinness World Records, Limca Book of Records and other record keeping organizations, member of 'many' national, notional and 'some' international organizations, 'widely' decorated, quoted and photographed, specialist in inauguration speeches, special lectures, key note addresses, presidential thoughts, guest appearances in public platforms, specialist in 'getting' awards where ever available at 'any cost' through any means, special ability to survive personal set backs more than that of a cat which has only 9 lives, superb quality of reaching the perch in organizations through high PR techniques, single minded devotion in pursuing and demolishing opposition and extra ordinary capacity to be on the right side of any one with political power. No hesitation in advocating in public forums that " patents should be aimed at society's welfare" and set an example "single handed" through various patents filed in the past, that can be a proud possession of any museum.

The product-Foods made from a plant called Fraudulis vipranam discovered recently ( patent pending )

The invention in brief- The above species of plant discovered by the same author, growing abundantly at elevations of 3000 ft above sea level has parts like roots, stem, leaves, flowers and the fruits having phytochemical constituents (identified and patented separately) which are processed by separate processes into RTE products ( process patents pending) that can be consumed to delay on-set of various diseases in human beings. It is claimed that:

-the product made from roots increase synthesis of cyclic AMP which in turn peps up the metabolism and delays the disease psoriasis by several days
-the product made from the leaves has several phytochemicals including salicylic acid and delays development of high blood pressure conditions in people above the age of 60 years by several weeks
-the product made from the stem is excellent for delaying cancer by a few months if taken three times a day at the dosage level standardized
-the flowers are processed into a dry powder which delays the disease diverticular disease by two years in people below 40 years when consumed at 50 g level every day before going to bed.
-the bright yellow fruits about 5 mm in size are processed into a jam like product which if consumed every day will delay the onset of diabetes in population above seventy years

The author of this patent has filed a dozen separate applications for patents for growing the plant under different conditions and another dozen patents for new plants developed through cell culture, tissue culture, recombinant DNA technique and conventional hybridization process which have higher potency and longer effect.

In all probability the above material can be converted into a convincing patent application with the help of an expert patent lawyer. It is very difficult for any patent examiner to verify the technical contents and determine the innovative aspects of a patent application filed like the above one and with practically no one interested in filing objections to the claims, it gets a number which will adorn the bio-data of the author. Interestingly some patent holders publish the material in respected journals after a couple of years getting a double advantage! There are many good scientists who spend their life time in doing high quality research and go for patents based on their work to provide technology to the industry, unlike the example illustrated above. Proof of a good patent is when entrepreneurs see commercial potential in it and buys the same at reasonable cost. It is not the intention here to tar the entire scientific community for patent frauds but a few who commit such heinous crime must be ostracized for their activities.

The issue regarding patenting food products and processes was not properly considered before India accepted the WTO protocols and to add to the misery of Indian entrepreneurs, Ministry of Science and Technology encouraged large scale patenting activities in all areas. With no guidelines for pricing of patents it was left to the patent rights holders to decide on selling them which invariably resulted in over pricing, denying a large segment of the food industry, the ultimate users, the benefits of public funded R & D. Those who could muster enough resources to purchase the patents were left in the lurch as wide disparities appeared between the claims and the performance.

India must stop the practice of patents in public funded institutions unless it involves national security and unjust exploitation of Indian resources by foreign companies. The patents on turmeric and other native spices and Basmati are examples of protecting the country's unique heritage foods. While domestic entrepreneurs are provided free access to the patents, foreign companies can be charged for accessing to the technology covered by food patents. The recent nation wide IPO awareness campaign is a classic example of our dichotomy in preaching but not practicing what is preached! The organizers of this program must ask themselves some questions as to whether any one of them had bought any Indian Patent in food products and processing technology during the last 15-20 years, if so whether the products have been put in the market and how much royalty they had paid to the scientists, while preaching about the virtues of patenting!


Saturday, January 24, 2009


All microbiologists will agree that sneezing, spitting, coughing and burping in public places with no consideration for fellow citizens can have consequences unforeseen by those with the compulsive habit of doing it. Human body is a store house of hundreds of microorganisms, some harmless and others pathogenic. The pathogenesis of body excretions depends on individuals and if one is carrying an infectious disease the damage to the environment can be very serious. 500 to 1000 bacterial species live in human body and the oral cavity itself can be home to not less than 25 different species. Therefore response to such urges, especially in public places, must be such that those nearby are not affected and inconvenienced in any way.

Sneezing can be triggered by sudden exposure to bright light, full stomach, unexpected climatic changes like temperature and humidity, allergic exposures like dust and smoke. It is also called sternulation which is semi autonomous convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs, most probably caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa. During sneezing aerosol droplets 0.5-5 microns in size are shot like a rocket at high speeds, 42 meter per second (150 km/hour) into the atmosphere within 5 ft of the person committing this act. It is estimated that about 40000 such particles are thrown out per sneeze and in a closed space like that in a bus or a train, about 150 people can be infected besides others getting exposed to the germs from the walls, roofs, floors,windows, doors and other surfaces nearby. On an average, a person may sneeze about 200 times an year, almost once in two days and it could be more if the environmental conditions and personal health are not normal. How can one avoid sneezing in the public when there is an uncontrollable urge to do so?. It is believed that the urge can be inhibited by applying strong pressure to the region immediately below the nose using the index finger. If sneezing cannot be avoided at all, using a kerchief or a paper towel or one's sari end can be helpful to cover the mouth or one can sneeze into the elbow which will restrict the escape of the fluid particles into the open atmosphere. Using hands is not recommended because hands do not absorb mucus and germs can be transferred when hands are used for any purpose.

Spitting or expectoration in the public is another habit getting ingrained amongst Indians and even youngsters are not immune to this shameful act that is polluting our roads and public places indiscriminately. These days walking in crowded streets requires great alertness to escape from some one walking ahead spitting for no obvious reason or a mouthful of sputum landing on you from a speeding bus. About 10-25 ml of saliva spit from a person contains many bacteria, virus and other undesirable substances and it is estimated that just one ml of saliva can contain as high as 40 million bacteria! If the saliva originates from a sick person the magnitude of damage can be much higher to the public. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are spread through the saliva and it is in the national interest that this public nuisance is eliminated at any cost. Providing spittoons does not solve the problem since they can pose much more danger if not maintained properly. It is beyond comprehension as to why one has to spit at all, that too in public and why cannot it be swallowed. Whether our food habits have some thing to do with this urge to spit frequently and where ever one feels like doing it can be a fit subject for some scientific studies. The excuse that in India the public comfort stations where one can satisfy the natural urges are far and few leading to this 'epidemic' is not acceptable to honest and decent citizens of this country who have every right to seek a clean environment to live without being affected by the unacceptable behavior of fellow citizens.

We also have public display of 'burping', 'yawning', 'coughing', forceful 'exhalation' from the nose, all being witnessed in our every day life and many helpless citizens take them in their stride having no alternative but to bear them. However such behavior cannot be condoned under any excuse and lot of responsibility is vested with the parents and the schools to mold the behavior of children to become normal citizens of tomorrow. Unless this undesirable habit is curbed through a national program of high priority, this country will achieve the dubious distinction of being the greatest 'spitters' on earth!



Weight watchers are often confused as to the best course available to them to reduce or maintain their Body Mass Index (BMI) as every one knows about the disastrous consequences of BMI beyond 25. Any BMI beyond 30 is a distinct threat and warning for the onset of the much dreaded Obesity development and the consequent increased chance of morbidity. There are two distinct issues in this much discussed area of concern to people all over the world. Whether weight can be controlled by exercise alone or dieting is absolutely necessary or not. What does the science say?

It is simple logic that when input is more than out put the excess needs to be stored and same logic applies for weight gain also. Man needs about 2000 kC of energy for day to day maintenance and incremental growth and depending on the physical work, the energy need will increase proportionately. Olympian Mark Spitz, the unchallenged swimming ace is reported to be consuming a 10000 kC diet but as one can see he is a slim figure as most of the energy is burned during his work out. Nutritionally the food consumed directly goes for performing day to day work and if the stored body fat is to be eliminated to achieve weight reduction one must undertake rigorous physical activity to draw body fat as the energy source.

Imagine the energy expenditure for a 1000 meter walk which is less than 100 kC and if 5 kg body fat needs to be shed, one may have to walk at least 50 km without increasing the energy intake. But walking 50 km with a restricted diet requires determination and perseverance which very few people have. Therefore dieting with reduced calorie intake and moderate exercise only can succeed in weight reduction. The issue gets more complicated when the calorie expenditure in many individuals is much less than the ideal 2000 kC because of their sedentary life styles with minimum physical exertion. The basal metabolism to maintain the vital body functions requires 1200 kC and the actual daily calorie needs in many cases will lie between 1200 and 2000 kC. Therefore even a 2000 kc diet may be converting excess calories into body fat for storage in many people and consequent increased body weight gradually. The mistaken belief that exercise can reduce weight irrespective of what is consumed must be removed from the minds of weight watchers. It has been scientifically established that physical exercise has many benefits like strengthening of bones and muscles, lowering of blood pressure, improvements in mood and mental health, lowering of cholesterol levels, reducing risks associated with CVD, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer but expecting to reduce weight might not be realistic from normal exercise regimen.


Friday, January 23, 2009


Establishment of Food Plazas have become a star project of the Railway Board and lot of expectations are riding on this program. Only time will tell whether this is a correct approach to improve railway travels and the comforts of the traveling public. A plaza in Spanish language means either an open square or market place and in the US it is more a shopping center. Food plazas are intended to cater to the food needs of the public but what is not clear is in what way it is different from a food court or a food complex which already exists in many places serving a variety of foods to the customers who visit these facilities, just like any restaurant. Probably it differs from a restaurant because of the multi cuisine option and difference in ambiance.

There is an excellent case for establishing eateries in many towns and cities in the country supported by the civic authorities so that the run away inflationary trend in the prices of commonly consumed prepared food items does not deny low income group of population the small luxury of eating out, at least once in a way. Of course there are hundreds of way side eateries, road vendors, dhabhas, food kiosks, darshini type of self service food outlets in every urban area, frequenting them often poses enormous logistical and safety risks. Beside how can a civilized country allow its roads and pavements to be cluttered with eating places with practically no road to walk or drive for honest citizens. Feeble attempts periodically in shedding tears for these vendors do not carry conviction and the situation has not changed much during the last 3-4 decades. No doubt these micro enterprises do serve an admirable purpose in meeting the demands from a sizable segment of the urban population. With relatively lax overseeing of these establishments by the civic bodies, they can compromise on quality and safety putting the health of their customers to jeopardy. The solution to this civic problem is not regularization of these eating slums but find alternative option without sacrificing the interests of the consumers and the hawkers.

The once a week night markets in some of the south Asian countries like Malaysia, popularly called in the local language 'Pasar Malam', are organized in different parts of the city, blocking the roads for vehicular traffic, for the benefit of people residing there. This is a good concept but serves food only during 6 pm to 12 pm and the civic workers promptly clean up the place same night so that the roads are clear by next day morning. While this can be a workable option, what is required in the urban areas is self contained food complexes of a permanent nature with land mark features and recognizable brand equity for visitors as well as the locals to approach these places easily for good food at reasonable cost. Is this concept feasible in India? Why not?

Each city with a population of more than 5 lakh should have at least 4 food complexes in four corners of the city and each complex should be of the size with a minimum of a dozen eateries specialized in different cuisines. The facility to be designed by catering experts and civic authorities must have scientifically worked out facilities for cooking, serving, sitting, washing, WC, parking and short time entertainment. Some of them can be common facilities for which expenditure must be shared by the participating entrepreneurs. One can even think of providing limited residential facilities to the operators as well as visitors. Civic authorities must post a health officer in each of these food complexes to ensure customer confidence on the quality and safety of the foods served there. Initial investments will have to come from the State governments and /or the MFPI, New Delhi while upkeep, maintenance and innovation will the responsibility of the individual caterers who get the lease based on their experience and skill to make tasty foods. There must be price control and with public stakes in such ventures there may not be wild increases in the food costs as being seen in restaurants and hotels across the country. This project can even be dovetailed into a rehabilitation scheme for street vendors in the towns and cities.

With ring roads, inner and outer, becoming standard features in many urban areas, providing a peripheral road situated away from the town centers, conceiving and setting up such food complexes on strategic locations, are right steps to be considered by the Urban Development Ministries in the states as well as at the center and the common man will ever be grateful if they have access to good foods at affordable prices at these places.


Thursday, January 22, 2009


A disturbing question that keeps haunting many grand parents is why their grand children are different in their attitudes and behavior from their own off springs when they were children. Of course psychologists may have a ready answer which often may sound too scientific to understand. It is well known that parents, the home environment and the food do influence the personality of a child in several ways and one quick answer would be that the grand parents, their house holds and the food they gave to their children were much different from what they are to day. That is begging the question! The old saying 'spare the cane and spoil the child' is still remembered by many old people and according to them the precise reason for all the ills seen to day can be attributed to the dramatic changes taking place in the society at large. How many will take this for an answer? Probably very few.

Modern education pundits and child psychologists will pooh pooh the old style thinking, holding the view that child must be handled with care, not causing any mental stress during the growing phase. A keen observer cannot miss the dramatic differences in the behavior of a toddler in the creche and at home. The working parents who bring the child home in the evening invariably have a horrendous time in keeping pace with the frenetic activities of the child till hitting the bed at the night. The child does not rest even for a minute and the eating behavior is totally erratic with frequent tantrums. Same child is a model in the creche with absolute obedience and meticulous behavior. Probably the environment in the creche may be some what restrictive for this child to indulge in activities it wants to pursue and only at home it has the freedom to vent out its bottled up energy. Could this be the effect of the hectic pace of life in urban centers which a child is forced to follow, leading to a dichotomy in its behavior? Or could it be due to the shrinking sizes of dwelling units in urban areas with very little space available to the child to move around freely? What is going in the little brain of the child is difficult to gauge. What can be the solution? More attention to the child at home? Not sending the child to a creche? Going back to the old system of joint family living? These are difficult questions for which ready answers are yet to emerge!

In the food front, what shapes the attitude of the above child to different foods to which it is exposed? Some clues are available from a Danish study of children's behavior vis-a-vis food during their development. There was subtle difference in food preferences between male and female children. Boys needed 10% more sourness and 20% more sweetness compared to girls. As the taste buds of boys were less sensitive, they preferred super sweet versions of beverages, more extreme flavors, sweet and sourish foods. The inference is that girls' brains process information from the tongue differently than boys' brain do. As children grow the taste perception changes noticeably and the ability to recognize different tastes increases with age, peaking at 13-14 years. Generally love for sour foods increases while that for sweet foods diminishes.

Given this situation parents should be able to approach the issue of deciding on the nature of foods to be made at home with more understanding rather than forcing the child to take what ever is cooked for adults. It may also help to nutritionally tailor make the food incorporating the flavors and tastes preferred by the child, male or female. This is where the real problem lies. Lot of patience, efforts and time are required to understand the child and few young parents seem to have these traits because of their hectic life styles forced upon them by the compulsions of financial security and career development. Probably many companies realize this and are offering flexi timings for their women employs to work from home, some times even paying extra salary for the same and insisting only on delivering results rather than keeping account of the number of hours spent on the work. More such progressive measures by others also, can be expected to alleviate the situation significantly.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It is well known that the Bayer Pharmaceuticals made enormous fortune selling Aspirin for decades, being the prime mover in the market. The role of Aspirin, also known as acetyl salicylic acid or 2-(2-acetyloxyphenyl) carboxylic acid in preventing heart attacks, reducing inflammation and relieving pain is well documented. No one will believe that the beneficial effect of chewing the bark of Willow tree in easing aches and pains, discovered in 5th century BC is the basis for the modern wonder drug, Aspirin. More recent discovery, in early 19th century AD that the active ingredient responsible for the effect was Salicylic and subsequent efforts to improve upon the efficiency of Salicylic acid resulted in the successful synthesis of Acetyl salicylic acid or Aspirin later. Acute digestive problem resulting from consumption of Salicylic acid as a pain reliever was the motivating factor to look for less problematic derivatives from this chemical.

The two basic functions of Aspirin are: (1) inhibition of Cyclooxiginase-2 enzyme ( Cox-2) at the cellular level which is responsible for production of Prostoglandins, the pain messenger to the brain and production of this messenger is reduced by Aspirin when pain is caused due to injury and consequent inflammation due to fluid excretion (2) reduced synthesis of prostaglandins and thromboxane involved in blood clotting on consumption of aspirin, also prevents aggregation of platelets responsible for arterial blocks. These twin advantages make regular consumption of Aspiring a daily routine for millions of people across the world.

Salicylic acid is present in varying amounts in many natural foods such as radish, green pepper, tomato, broccoli, cucumber, squash, raisins, apricots, cantaloupe, black berries, blue berries, guava, dates, orange, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, turmeric, mustard, fenugreek, almonds, peanuts, coconuts and a few others. Salicylic acid is effective only in relieving pain and does not have the properties to prevent platelet aggregation like Aspirin. It may be too presumptuous to assume that consumption of plenty of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of Cardio vascular disease or colorectal cancer solely because of Salicylic acid though its ability of reducing inflammation of the cells in general can be a contributing factor.

Human body is also capable of converting benzoic acid to salicylic acid and some preserved foods provide the source for benzoic acid. Sodium benzoate is a safe preservative approved for use in many low pH foods in almost all countries at 0.1% level. How ever a few countries like Korea does not allow benzoates in foods and the precise reason is not known. There are conflicting views regarding the role of benzoates in damaging a vital part of DNA in the chromosomes and evolution of Benzene, a potential carcinogen when Ascorbic acid is present in the same product. EU countries are considering phasing out benzoates eventually due to such controversies. Cranberries, prunes, cinnamon, apples and a few other foods contain benzoates in small concentrations.

The million dollar question is whether eating large quantities of fruits and vegetables can be a substitute to taking low doses of Aspirin every day. Obviously no, because of the ineffectiveness of naturally occurring salicylic acid to prevent blood clotting in arteries and consequent blocks leading to myocardial infarction (MI). One may have to live with the known side effects of taking Aspirin, viz slow bleeding in GI tract and consequent lowering of hemoglobin content in the blood, if preemptive action is needed against MI, especially amongst vulnerable population. The fact still remains that many other benefits that can accrue on liberal intake of fruits and vegetables more than justify their consumption daily.


Monday, January 19, 2009


Reproduced below is a contribution from Dr Ramesh V Bhat, an internationally eminent food safety expert which dwells upon the safety issues that confront the food industry because of the application of emerging nanotechnology processes and products. He is Hyderabad based and can be contacted through this blog.

V H Potty
Maintaining a safe and nutritious food supply is an essential pre-requisite to achieve food security, nutrition and safeguard the general health of the population. Though food is the most regulated commodity in the world, rapid advances in food technology in the globalized era are posing newer challenges to food safety.

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are new approaches to research and development that concern the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale. Applications for the use of nanotechnology in food products, dietary supplements and their packaging offer tremendous potential. The potential health and environmental risks of nanoscale materials need to be assessed before they are introduced into food. At present there is insufficient data publicly available to reach meaningful conclusions on the potential toxicity of food or color additives incorporating nanomaterials. Nanoparticles may be handled differently in the body than their previously approved, macro counterparts. Information on the bioaccumulation and potential toxic effects of inhalation and/or ingestion of free engineered nanoparticles and their long-term implications for public health is needed. Nanoscale materials may also present new challenges in relation to exposure assessment, including measurement of nanoparticles in the body and in complex food matrices.

Nano-sized particles were found to traverse through heart, lung, transported along nerves, pass through blood brain, blood retinal and blood placental barriers etc. opening the area of nano-toxicology. Potential toxicity could include, generation of reactive oxygen species with concurrent inflammatory response, mitochondrial perturbation producing inner membrane damage, Uptake by reticuloendothelial cells in various organs producing asymptomatic enlargement and potential dysfunction, Protein denaturation and degradation, Uptake in neuronal tissue and DNA damage.

In the past, approval systems for food additives have not generally taken into consideration the particle size of the additive. For nanoparticles, this is obviously an important aspect Future food regulations may therefore need to be more specific in relation to such issues. In 2007, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) affirmed that neither the specifications nor the ADIs for food additives that have been evaluated in other forms are intended to apply to nanoparticulate materials. Recently WHO had provided more information on the safety of Nanoparticles in food.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued a draft opinion that there are broad uncertainties over the safe use of nanotechnology for foodstuffs, and more research is recommended. According to it only a limited number of oral toxicity studies using Engineered Nano Materials (ENM) have been published. Potential intracellular targets of ENM toxicity are e.g. plasma membranes, mitochondria and nucleus. The general mechanisms of injury have been shown to include e.g. lipid peroxidation, ion channel blockage, pore formation, physical disruption, oxidative stress; protein aggregation and DNA damage There are preliminary indications of association of GI disorders with absorption of ENM. There are reports of increased uptake of ENM during GI inflammation, findings of particles in colon tissue in subjects suffering from ulcerative colitis and speculations that ENM exposure might be associated with Crohn’s disease.

Several studies report oral toxicity of 20-60 nm selenium nanoparticles (Se-NP) in rats. With single gavage dosing, sodium-selenite ions were more toxic than the Se-NP . This was confirmed when the Se-NP were administered in feed to rats (2-5 mg/kg; appearance in the feed not defined) for 13 weeks. Single gavage administration to mice of copper nanoparticles (Cu-NP) with average size 23.5 nm was compared to microparticle (MP)-Cu (17 μm) and Cu ions .The doses were high (up to 1,080 mg/kg bw), which caused agglomeration of particles, with intestinal obstruction.. Dose-dependent pathology occurred in kidney, liver, spleen and blood (but not lung, heart, brain, testes or ovaries) in animals exposed to nanoparticles (but not in those exposed to microparticles). After single gavage administration of high doses (5 g/kg bw) of zinc as nanoparticles (58 nm) and MP (1.08 μm) to mice there was GI inflammation in both groups, in spite of attempts to avoid particle agglomeration The toxicity patterns were not consistent: in some aspects, the nanoparticles were more toxic (anemia, kidneys, heart) than the MP, which seemed to be more hepatotoxic. In a later single-dose oral toxicity study of ZnO (1-5 g/kg bw) in mice, two sizes of ENM (20 and 120 nm) were compared to conventional macroscale material. The sizes of the ENM were checked in the gavage, and were found to average 44.8 and 187.5 nm, respectively. Again, the toxicity pattern was complex: the 120 nm ENM were most toxic in stomach, liver, heart, spleen, kidneys and blood, while the 20 nm ENM were similar to the toxicity of the macroscale material (except in pancreas, where they were the most toxic). However, no dose-dependency was observed.

Titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles (25, 80 and 155 nm) administered as single high-dose 682 gavage (5 g/kg bw) to mice resulted in frequent oesophagus rupture. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles (25, 80 and 155 nm) administered as single high-dose gavage (5 g/kg bw) to mice resulted in frequent oesophagus rupture. The 80 nm particles accumulated predominantly in the liver, the 25 and 155 nm ones accumulated primarily in spleen. Kidney, liver and heart damage was observed with all sizes, with 80 and 155 nm particles producing the most pronounced effects, while blood effects (e.g. increased serum lactate dehydrogenase and alpha-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase levels) were most pronounced for the 25 nm particles.

The presence of ENM in food might affect normal food components or contaminants. Lectins used for coatings of nano encapsulates can be cytotoxic or induce inflammatory responses carbon nanotubes with similar characteristics to asbestos, in terms of fibre length, rigidity and persistence, were shown to induce "asbestos-like" granulomatous inflammation after intraperitoneal administration in a mouse model which indicates that the morphology of the ENM affects toxicity. Numerous in vitro studies have shown that some ENM induce oxidative stress at high concentrations. There are some data to indicate possible genotoxic and inflammatory responses in vitro.

A recent intraperitoneal study indicates that fibrous shape of some ENM might be important in determining toxicity. A common finding in the in vitro assays, independent of the ENM studied, seems to be the generation of reactive oxygen species A major consequence of oxidative stress is damage to nucleic acid bases, membrane lipids and proteins. Immune and inflammatory effects can be triggered by oxidative stress and/or production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the lungs, liver, heart and brain Effects of inhaled ENM on the cardiovascular system include heart rate changes, pro-thrombosis and acute myocardial infarction.

It is prudent to conclude, after taking into account the above observations of the EFSA that more food safety studies and risk analysis carried out before accepting use of nanotechnology for food and beverage.

Dr Ramesh V Bhat


During the last 6 months world economy has been battered by the financial turmoils originating from USA and no country or no sector was able to insulate itself from the shock waves and chain effects of this mega happenings. The GDP growth is predicted to slump drastically and in many countries negative growth is anticipated. Food sector world over is no exception to this economic melt down. In a country like USA the adverse effect is on a wider scale because the proportion of processed foods consumption is much more than what one can see in less affluent countries like India.

Many factors have contributed to the growth of food manufacturing sector during the last 10 years. These include increased number of twin income earning families, lesser time at home for cooking, shrinking kitchen size in new homes, more take home purchases, increased frequency of eating out practices and availability of exciting range of ready to 'serve or/and eat' food items on the super market shelves. With loss of millions of jobs due to recession many families have lost fully or partially their earlier buying power calling for readjustments in the monthly budget. The net effect is lesser demand for processed foods which are considered more expensive and preference for basic foods over premium ones. This has affected the manufacturing sector's ability to sustain the market, necessitating cut backs on jobs, delaying expansion and diversification plans and postponing investments on new technology, equipment and machinery. Further there will be large scale reduction in promotional investments which, in turn, will have depressing effect on already shrinking demand The effect is expected to be more drastic in small scale industry with practically no cushion for such a contingency.

Unbearable increase in the cost of fuels has manifested in higher cost of inputs to the industry and this in turn had a cascading effect on the consumer price. Every increase in consumer price tends to decrease the demand, adding to the woes of the industry. Though GOI figures on inflation says one story, the ground realities are totally different. The single biggest reason for lower inflation figure is the tumbling of the price of petroleum crude from a peak of $147 a barrel in June 2008 to less than $50 a barrel to day but the cost of raw materials to the industry, which had risen sky high, has not come down dramatically as expected. The reckless increase of salaries to its ministers, legislative members, government personnel, public sector employees cannot be justified if the figures for inflation are to be believed. Just because IT sector personnel get disproportionately high salaries, mostly in foreign companies and foreign dependent Indian entities, it does not justify making these aberrations applicable to other sectors. On industry's part an introspection is necessary as to whether their existing pricing models can really foster growth or depress the demand in the coming months. It does not make any sense how one can justify a product like corn flakes being priced at Rs Rs 300 a kg when the basic raw material, maize costs only about Rs 15 a kg! Consumer is bewildered as to whether this is value addition or profit inflation!. There are many anomalies like this which need to be rectified and prices brought down significantly to stimulate demand for processed foods in the country.

The phenomenal rise in small size packs in India during the last one decade, to some extent, will provide a cushion to the food industry, especially those having their products in the price range Rs 1-5 per pack as consumers will increasingly opt out for them to reduce the economic burden to some extent. Probably more players may enter the fray through this proven route to sustain existing level of production, let alone expanding it. Logically high priced branded products like break fast cereals, chocolate confectionery, branded snacks, RTE foods etc are likely to suffer major set backs as these products are not considered essential to the survival of a family and sacrificing them, at least for some time, will make it eminently logical. However, in the long run the government employees and government 'dependent' population, public sector industries, IT sector with huge salary earnings, may still save the processed food industry from any knock down punch!. After all food purchase constitutes less than 10-20% of their take home pay. If food vector maintains some discipline in the price front, they may be able to, probably, weather this storm and come out unscathed.

Restaurant sector is already feeling the pinch as customers who use to flock their outlets are shying away due to their decreased ability to pay the sky high prices any more. When there was as boom time, the customers became price insensitive and did not mind spending, in exchange for some convenience and relaxation, unjustifiable amounts for good food and ambiance. The fast rising income made even the caterers feel buoyant and led them to believe that they can get away with such irrational increases in the prices of their items on the menu. The price of a cup of coffee soaring to Rs 35 a cup in many restaurants is nothing but scandalous. Same is true with all items of foods offered, the prices demanded being 200-300 % of the input cost! Average meal cost rose by 100% in less than 2 years which has no rationality. As is said, whatever goes up too high and too fast has to come down at the same pace and this applies to the current costs of restaurant foods. There must be a sane and rational pricing formula which the hoteliers must impose on themselves voluntarily instead of any price control policy, government may be forced to put in place. One must not forget that consumer is the King and pushing him too much can be at one's own peril!


Saturday, January 17, 2009


Increasingly restaurants world over are switching over to the buffet format of service which, from the management angle, has many advantages. It requires less space, less servers, less time, entails less wastage and probably is more profitable. Traditionally Indians are used to being served whether it is in the restaurants or in their own dining rooms. In most festivals, ceremonies and celebrations serving individually by a battery of servers is the standard norm. It is only now that the buffet format is receiving attention because of cost factors, logistics and shortage of serving personnel, especially in urban centers. Is buffet system better than the formal serving system where clients are seated?. Does this shift from formal dinners to buffet dinners have any repercussions on the health of those who partake in such events frequently?. Obviously there seems to be some implications worth considering.

Formal serving can be on a frugal level or a royal scale depending on the occasion and the sponsor. The number of courses can vary from a working meal of 3-5 items or a lavish meal with 25-35 courses served by a bevy of serving personnel. While in the South, plantain leaves are commonly used for serving the meals, plastic, Chinaware and steel plates or stitched dry leaves are used by others. Serving is either squatting on the floor or on more formal occasions on tables. Buffet service involves arranging the items on one or more tables without any provision to keep the food hot when the number is small or using specially designed cheffing dishes, heated below for keeping the food hot during the entire period of serving. It is true that buffet arrangement is lot easier to manage and entails less wastage. There are caterers who can organize buffet service for large gatherings as big as 25000 at a single venue. From the consumer angle buffet provides a panoramic view of items available and choose only those liked by each individual. Even if a few items are exhausted, major items of foods will still be available keeping every one happy. Infrastructure requirement for buffet is significantly less and in urban societies buffet format is increasingly being adopted these days.

Social scientists believe that buffet meals can be a reason for over eating by many unintended participants and this factor needs to be kept in mind while discussing about the current obesity epidemic seen in many countries. Buffet format draws people with tendencies of over eating who do not exercise any caution while selecting food items 'paraded' before them and try to binge on every thing offered. Others first survey the entire range of items before them before deciding on only those which they like using their discretion. Another observation is that many diners unconsciously sit close to the buffet tables making them reach for more foods without realizing the harm such eating frenzy can cause. Good caterers position their own expert servers who do not give opportunity for the diners to transfer foods from the cheffing dishes thus trying to moderate the serving sizes unintentionally. How ever many obsessive eaters serve themselves unlimited portions as it is their right under the buffet system. Is it possible to redesign the buffet system to discourage people from eating more than what they really need? How about keeping the distance between the buffet tables and the eating place such that there is distinct disincentive in the form of walking some distance before accessing the food? Or reducing the size of the serving laddles/spoons which will prevent massive transfer from the cheffing dish to the plate more cumbersome? Or why not deliver the food in preformed trays with limited quantities of the items and diners will have to come to the food table if more is needed? The catering pundits, food scientists, social scientists and nutritionists will have sit together to tackle this global problem


Friday, January 16, 2009


Information dissemination is a vital need for any area of endeavor that mankind pursues and an informed public always is a strength with which new innovations and developments can become people-friendly. As some one said 5000 new words are published every second and keeping in touch with them is next to impossible. But people will be eager to follow developments in their own area of interest and it is here the fourth estate plays a vital role. Media like print, electronic and Internet are the three important conduits for flow of information from sources to the users. In the field of food processing in India news about developments are disseminated through news papers, magazines, television channels and specialized journals. News papers and magazines are mostly dominated by sensational news having country wide relevance with specialized areas like food getting occasional treatment. What is of concern is the veracity of these technical write ups prepared by their dedicated reporters and lack of clarity due to insufficient understanding of the subject. Not being technically sound the reporters suffer from distorted understanding either unknowingly or otherwise to snub or praise certain developments depending on their news sources.

Techno-commercial magazines in food related areas are far and few and those carrying on this line of activity are doing excellent work considering scarcity of reliable statistics on Indian situation. Indian Food Industry, Food and Beverage News, Indian Food Packer, Processed Food Industry, Times Food Processing Journal, Processed Foods and Beverages Journal, Journal of Food Engineering and a few others are some of the leading periodicals doing a marvelous job of wide spread dissemination of developmental news amongst industry, R & D scientists, students, policy makers and the consumers. Salute, we must for their nation building efforts, many of them depending on the support they receive from the Industry. The technical articles appearing in some of the above periodicals are peer reviewed though the yardsticks for assessment may be some what less rigorous because of paucity of willing writers on topics of readers' interest. Those involved in compiling such type of publications know the tough logistics, tight finances and difficulties in bringing out the publications in time. Some falter some time but make up later with increased efforts. What is disappointing is the inability, for whatever reasons, of these publishers to orient their publications to capture the vast number of casual readers who regularly buy periodicals of general interest and topical news value. Financial support from GOI and State agencies could have made their task easier but invariably these sources are tight fisted though flush with tax payers' money for wasting on silly projects of doubtful benefit to common man.

Indian Food Industry (IFI), run by AFST(I), a thoroughbred food scientists organization is a star on its own category with articles of high technical content as all the contributing articles undergo strict peer review, the rejection rate being 15-20% and attracts contributions from scientists, technologists and engineers speialied in food area. But their Achilles heel is lack of commercial orientation. This is compounded by its dependence on voluntary workers having no executive editor to provide continuity and focus. On the other hand other periodicals are commercially well run with lot of advertisement support and larger circulation. Advertisements are not purely a financial function but they provide valuable information to the readers about the avaibility of the products offered by the sponsors and contact information for further inter action as and when necessary. Ideally a publication should be commercially viable, have large circulation amongst general public as well as the professionals with the contents highly informative, must come out in time and properly archived for future cross references. Probably none of the present crop of journals fits into this frame, calling for some efforts to forge strategic alliance amongst the existing publishers to mutually complement their respective strengths.

Some time back IFI did make a propsal to GOI MoFPI to financially support its publication offering in return its pages for promoting the good schemes of the ministry and disseminating useful information about food, nutrition and industry amongst the public. It could have been a forum for providing technicl advice to small and micro enterprises in food processing as AFST(I) is the most concentrated technical bank with 3000 technicaly accomplished members, ever willing to share their knowledge and experience. As is the misfortune in this country, good things take time to take root and one can only hope that such an awakening will hapen sooner that later. As often said, "better late than ever" is the only hope that this will happen one day


Thursday, January 15, 2009


Addiction is a phenomenon that is encountered with many opiates like alcohol, psychedelic drugs, smoking etc but one never hears about food addiction which is now being blamed for abnormal BMI (over weight) and obesity. It is well known that some foods containing easily utilizable carbohydrates like sugar, starch in refined flours used for making hundreds of products like bread, biscuits, pastry etc, build up glucose in the blood very fast and normally in sound and healthy person this may not be a cause for worry as it is metabolized in the cells depleting the levels of glucose to safe limits within 90-120 minutes. But this is applicable only up to a limit beyond which the elevated glucose concentration in the blood will cause undesirable consequences. Complex carbohydrates that contain fiber and other constituents that retard glucose release are relatively safe because of steady absorption without creating high and abnormal peaks in glucose levels. The Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load ( GL) concepts tell it all. Generally low GI foods have values less than 55 while a GL of less than 10 per serving is considered low and desirable. Some of the low GI foods include Urad (20) with a GL of 5, Bengal gram 10 (GI) and 3 (GL), Green gram 22 and 4, Soybean 15 and 1, Almond 0 and 0 Cashew 22 and 3, Corn meal 68 and 9, Skimmed milk 35 and 3, Dry Peas 22 and 2, Broad beans 80 and 9, Dhokla 35 and 6 and Green peas 80 and 3. As one can see more than GI, GL gives the real sugar load on the body by each serving of about 150 gm in most of the cases.

High GL foods consumed in high quantities lead to formation of body fat leading eventually to obesity. What is more disturbing is the report that such high GI foods initiate a vicious cycle of more yearning for more such foods and more consumption causing more harm to the individual. Processed foods like white bread, sweets, confectionery, soft drinks, flavored syrups, etc are potential initiators of the habit of binging with out control and making such consumers perpetual food addicts. According to some scientists the high sugar in the blood stimulates the same areas of brain that are associated with addiction to nicotine (smoking) and habit forming drugs, a scary thought indeed. Brain has 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connectors for memory alone. Out of the 50 neuro transmitters discovered so far in the brain, half a dozen are associated with addictions by causing euphoria. Invariably the level of Dopamine, considered the master molecule of addiction, is elevated during the euphoria. Addictive substances cause the body to become dependent on an unnatural substance for homeostatic balance. Removal will cause withdrawal symptoms and the addict suffers from the pain of readjustment demanding the missing substance. In a desperate attempt to maintain homeostasis the body cries for the very substance that caused the imbalance in the first instance!

World to day is spending billions of dollars to fight addictions to alcohol, smoking and harmful opiates and a time is not too far when attention needs to be focused on the increasing trend of food addiction due to affluence and industry's tendency to produce more refined foods with empty calories. Is it possible to make an attempt to restrict availability of foods with empty calories through policy orchestration at the government level and save humanity from massive addiction to sugar and sugar based foods and its terrible consequences? Food technologists and nutritionists have great responsibility in guiding the government through this mine field.



Global pursuit by food scientists for identifying natural foods with special ability to fight some of the modern diseases throws up interesting revelations regarding Nature's own way of fighting diseases. In the last one year there have been many such developments which can help mankind to modify the diet for getting the benefits from these natural food materials. Though hundreds of freak reports emanate from research organizations and Universities in different parts of the world, very few can be of relevance to the day to day life of people.

Extra virgin olive oil which is raw expeller oil from olive fruits contains some unique constituents, capable of triggering death and destruction of cancer cells thus preventing spread of the disease. Association between olive oil and cancer emerged when it was discovered that Mediterranean population were relatively immune to certain cancers affecting mammalian glands, ovaries and colon. On further investigation it came out that their diets were rich in olive oil and this oil might contain some constituents with the property of fighting cancer. Researchers have now established that raw olive oil without undergoing treatment with heat or chemicals as being done during refining contains a few poly phenols, lignans and secoiridoids, hydroxy tyrosol and squalene and consumption of about 25 ml every day in the diet can confer the capability to fight cancers. Besides it is also surmised that the oleic acid present in olive oil suppresses a gene HER2, causing breast cancer. However oleic acid is a constituent of many edible oils and probably it must be working in tandem with other beneficial phytochemicals present in Olive oil. The larger question in such claims is how virgin the oil has to be and what about the lipase action in raw oil during storage at ambient conditions, which can increase the FFA and consequently affect the properties adversely. What about our own varieties of oils available ingenuously? Can some of them extent the same benefit? Indian nutritionists will have find the answer.

Diets rich in nuts, beans and lentils were found to be effective in lowering blood sugar level in Type 2 diabetic people as these crops have low glycemic index (GI) and consequently low glucose load (GL). This is confirmation of what has been suspected that low GI foods reduce the risks associated with both diabetes and cardio vascular diseases. Such low GI foods include beans, peas, lentils (legumes), nuts, pasta, minimally cooked rice, low GI breads, breakfast cereals etc. Those who are ignorant of the complex factors that interplay in the manifestation of diabetes during middle age and later due to many reasons must understand that low GI and GL foods offer the best solution for controlling the ill effects of this disorder. Consuming these foods regularly ensures that the critical HbA1c values, which reflect the dietary control and which are determined once in 3 months, are around 6 or less. Probably daily or 3-4 times daily monitoring of glucose in the blood necessitating frequent pin pricks may not be needed in the case of Type 2 diabetics if HbA1c values are checked regularly every quarter.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, if consumed regularly are excellent insurance against breast cancer in women. This form of cancer is the second leading cause of death in women. In many cases these vegetables also confer protection against lung cancer and other types of cancers. Kale, turnips, collards, radish, brussel sprouts and water cress are other vegetables with same properties. Phenyl isothiocyanate, benzyl isothiocyanate and 3-phenyl ethyl isothiocyanate are glucosinolates, considered precursors of isothiocyanate the active chemical with the protective properties against cancer. It is hypothesized that during cutting and chewing of the vegetables, the glucosinolates are hydrolyzed by natural enzymes present in the tissues into the active principle which then gets absorbed before exerting its beneficial effect at the cellular level in the body. The mode of action is through inhibition of cytochrome P450 enzyme which oxidizes compounds such as benzo pyrenes into carcinogenic artifacts within the cell. While the scientific findings are indeed breath taking, under the Indian cooking practices how far glucosinolase will be active to exert the protective effect is a critical question as we do not have the habit of consuming raw cruciferous vegetables in salad preparations.

Isolated scientific reports like the above, often observed in experimental animals like mice, will confuse the consumers and only organized and well coordinated field studies with human volunteers can prove these claims. What is sure is that consumption of these vegetables, will not do any harm and in fact one can derive other confirmed benefits associated with eating vegetables regularly.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The original purpose of school feeding programs in the country was to expand literacy by attracting children to the school with the bait of food. Universal literacy calls for compulsory enrollment of children in primary schools where the fundamentals of speaking, reading, writing and arithmetic are imbibed by the child. There are divergent views regarding this approach and many reviews have thrown up disturbing questions regarding the efficacy of the programs since the rate of absenteeism has not come drown drastically. Difference also exists regarding what type of foods should be served in the schools during the lunch time. Rightly or wrongly, authorities concerned seem to have come to the conclusion that serving 'hot' foods, prepared within the premises, is the best option since they felt, genuinely or otherwise, that students are 'happier' with fresh foods than processed food products.

Credit goes to Tamil Nadu where during MGR regime, hot meal scheme was introduced to attract children to the schools but way back in 1930 Pondicherry under French rule started the practice of feeding children attending the school as a welfare scheme. Other states followed this novel approach with GOI financial assistance with varying success. Under the CARE program sponsored by the US, corn-soy-milk powder was made available to various states to be converted into readily consumable products in the schools. The reputation of the school feeding program took a beating with gross inefficiency, shoddy distribution, large pilferage and other systemic failures. It took many years for the program to breathe life again, that too after the intervention of Supreme Court which ordered the implementation of midday meal scheme for children in the age bracket 5-10 years and GOI provided a budgetary support to the extent of Rs 3800 crore in 2006-07, Rs 5000 crore in 2007-08 and Rs 7300 crore in 2008-09. The scheme is supposed to cover 105 million children though actually only 58.1 million are covered now.

Does it really serve the purpose for which it is being promoted? Or is it just another populist scheme under the garb of social equity? Does it make any sense that a child who comes to the school for the food will show any interest in learning? Views differ. There are statistics, being doled out, to to justify the scheme and according to them the school attendance improvement was 15% to 35%, though it is not clear how reliable these figures are. Why should a program like this cover the entire school? Why not only for those children coming from economically weaker families? Is the PDS history being repeated? There was a time when even very well to do people were having ration cards and drawing wheat, rice and sugar at subsidized rates. It took more than 3 decades for the authorities to modify the PDS to make it relevant to millions of poor families. If such a distinction can be made for PDS why not same be done in midday school feeding program also?

The Energy Food program initiated in eighties in Karnataka and other states, which offered a shelf-stable, highly balanced and nutritious food with 16% proteins and 350 kC energy, was unceremoniously dumped in favor of 'hot' meals scheme, promoted by many vested interests in the country. There is a nexus amongst private suppliers, government bureaucrats, education department officials and the teaching staff to perpetuate this myth that children like only hot meals, ignoring the consequences of opting for such a large logistical nightmare in putting into practice the concept country-wide. The intrinsic dangers like inadequate infrastructure, primitive conditions that exist in almost all schools, lack of commitment on the part of the teachers, lax overseeing, enormous variations in quality, safety, and nutritional value etc are conveniently ignored with frequent food poisoning cases reported from these schools. Why it is not possible to evolve a dozen variations of processed foods suitable for consumption by the school children and provide varieties by rotation every day? It is time for the Supreme Court to intervene again to direct the government to ban cooking of foods in school premises and run the scheme only on processed foods. The charade that goes on in the name of the children and extensive pilferage and corruption which is an inevitable part of the present program must be stopped immediately.

If the schools and the education departments are dead against processed foods, why not dole out money directly to the children's families if the attendance is more than 70% in a month? Government must understand that in a country like India micro management of every family is neither desirable nor feasible. It will be some thing like the old age pension scheme and this can be called "Child Development Assistance". Let us not vitiate the learning atmosphere in a school room with food cooking, littering and spread of diseases!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Nanotechnology based on highly reactive particles of sizes less than 100 nano meter is predicted to be central to developing and using new electronics and energy technologies during the present century. Properties of nano particles are not governed by the same physical laws as larger particles but by quantum mechanics. Their physical and chemical properties such as color, solubility, strengths, chemical reactivity and toxicity can be quite different. Engineered nano particles are used in hundreds of commercial products that are marketed to day which include transparent sun screens, light diffracting cosmetics, penetration enhanced moisturizers, stain and odor repellent fabrics, dirt repellent coatings, long lasting paints & varnishes and many others.

A nano meter (nm) sized particle measures one billionth of a meter and one can imagine how small it is when a human hair measures 80,000 nm! A DNA strand is 2.5 nm wide while a protein chain is 5 nm in diameter. Nano technology has already made inroads into food industry and it is claimed that more than 300 foods have already been developed with this technology. The market value for nano foods is estimated to increase to more than $ 20 billion by 2010 and it is predicted that more than 40% of food products will be nano technology based by the year 2015. Nano technology can confer unique advantages on processed foods in many ways. Programmable foods, considered the ultimate dream of the consumer will have designer food features built into it and a consumer can make a product of desired color, flavor and nutrition using specially programmed microwave ovens. The trick is to formulate the food at the manufacturer's end with millions of nano particles of different colors, flavors and nutrients and under the program in the oven set by the consumer based on his preferences, only selective particles are activated while others stay inert, giving the desired product profile. Nano based polymers with silica based nano particles sandwiched can enhance the properties of pressure sensitive adhesive labels and create biodegradable properties in them. Enhanced solubility, improved bio-availability, facilitating controlled release and protecting the stability of micro nutrients in food products are other virtues of nano technology. According to MFPI Minister, GOI is setting up a National Nano Science and Technology Institute to develop nano foods by using nano technology during cultivation, processing and packaging of food but it is not clear whether the declaration has any backing of the GOI or whether any serious planning has really gone into the proposal.

How about a butter with low fat but tasting and feeling like natural butter? Nano technology bluffs believe it is possible in future using this powerful technique. Similarly one can make milk taste like cola beverage so that youngsters will have less inhibition in consuming nutritious milk. Foods can be enriched with fruits and vegetables through nano technology to deliver higher nutrient density in such foods. Nano scale food components can be encapsulated and mixed with other foods in novel combinations. This technology is also seems to be useful in dissolving additives like vitamins, minerals, anti oxidants, phytochemicals, nutritious oils which are not normally soluble. Nano particles can make many products clear which other wise are opaque or translucent. Nano adhesive properties can bind to harmful matters in the GI tract and remove them without any harm. Pure silver colloid liquid, reduced to one nano meter size with atomic particles is highly bactericidal, capable of achieving 99.9% kill against 650 species of microorganisms within 6 minutes while a normal antibiotic is effective only against 5-6 species. There are containers being offered with coatings of nano silver particles which can be used for storage of foods safely without spoilage. Use of nano technology as a sensor to detect food spoilage within a packet of processed food is fraught with great significance in our fight against pathogenic microorganisms.

While consumer will be thrilled at the enormous range of exciting food products emerging by application of nano technology, like any other new technologies, serious questions about safety will be an issue requiring attention by the industry as well as the policy makers. The GRAS list of additives universally accepted will have to be reexamined when used at nano scale level. Rats breathing nano particles showed a tendency to collect them in the brain and the lungs increasing the bio markers for inflammation and stress response. Toxicity is one issue which will be upper most in the minds of the consumer and since nano particles are more reactive, more mobile and likely to be more toxic, this concern must be addressed. There is strong possibility that nano particles in the body can result in increased oxidative stress which, in turn, can generate free radicals leading to DNA mutation, cancer and possible fatality. If irradiation technology has taken more than 5 decades of research and safety assessment before becoming acceptable in a limited way, nano technology also can wait till all safety issues are resolved.


Monday, January 12, 2009


The typical Western macho is always portrayed, masticating with a chewing gum and this product cannot be considered a modern one since it is very ancient in its conception and use. Chewing gum is a combination of water insoluble phase, the gum base and a water soluble phase of sweeteners, flavorings and colors presented in a solid format with chewable characteristics. Since the gum base is highly sticky it is difficult to swallow even after chewing for hours together. The product serves as a carrier for flavors which are trapped inside the gum matrix to be released slowly on chewing.

The gum base on which the product was built, the chicle, is a latex tapped from trees like Manakara chicle, Mimusops globosa, Chicozapote, etc and has more than 5000 years of history behind it. It was extensively used during ancient Maya civilization, though for what precise purpose, is still a matter of conjecture. World owes it to William Wrigley Jr who is considered as the pioneer in starting the Chewing gum industry in 1860s due to an accident of history. Chicle was imported to North America as a substitute to rubber since latter could not be grown under the prevailing conditions but it did not click as an acceptable material, looking for other uses. The industry grew at a slower pace though Wrigley tried to promote it even in India as an alternative to chewing of betel leaves, arecanut and tobacco. Of course chewing gum did contribute in the anti nicotine campaign through products that provided alternative satisfaction to smokers. No wonder Wrigleys went on to become the leading manufacturers of chewing gums world over with the fourth generation descendants carrying on the business and the family name has become synonymous with chewing gum.

Chicle, produced by tapping the latex of the trees mentioned above and heated to reduce the water content to about 33% provided a highly elastic foundation material for further compounding and molding to desired shape and size. During World Wars I and II chewing gum was a part of army rations to invigorate the tired personnel. However the natural chicle met with sudden demise during 1940s on the advent of styrene butadiene rubbers, made synthetically which was much cheaper and more easily available to the industry. Still some markets like that in Japan prefer natural chicle and limited quantities are still being made now.

Nutritionally chewing gum is almost 80% sugar, rest being gum base and other ingredients. Replacement of sugars with synthetic sweeteners seems to have expanded the market as it does not cause dental caries besides being low in calories. The fact still remains that chewing gum concept provides a carrier for administering medicine and micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals. To this extent the product has a utility value. But being high in sugar it is also addictive, especially with children. The disposal of the chewed gum residue is a tricky issue and to prevent them becoming a social nuisance as a pollutant, some countries have banned chewing gum sales making them cognizable offense. Use of synthetic rubber which is the most favored gum base by the industry, the question of safety is also an aspect that causes anxiety to the consumers. Though the material is not swallowed and there are specifications laid down for food grade butadiene rubber, the presence of polyethylene and poly vinyl chloride and some artifacts in the final product which may be leached out while chewing, is a compelling reason for the revival of natural chicle once again. Such a come back of natural chicle is on the cards and Mexico is renewing its efforts to find export market for its chicle, To distinguish natural chicle based chewing gum confections from their synthetic counterparts, new variants are being promoted as organic products. Natural chicle is a biodegradable material and cannot be expected to pose any environmental hazard. Sapota fruit plantations which are lately declining in India may see a turn around if that happens.

It may be necessary to develop newer versions of chewing gum that can be swallowed at the end without choking and it can be a source of dietery fiber required by human body. This will avoid the residue problem posing any serious threat as a civic nuisance. What effect continuous chewing of the product on the salivary system also needs some consideration for evolving guidelines for any restriction on its consumption if necessary.