Saturday, January 3, 2009


After the recent splash of news regarding 'disease delaying foods' and 'disease preventing foods', some thing needs to be said about 'disease accelerating foods'! Do they really exist? Answer to this depends on what is a disease? Can obesity be called a disease? If yes, one can very easily give hundreds of examples of foods which will accelerate this disease. But applying another yardstick is whether an 'inevitable' food when consumed in moderate quantities can worsen a disease which already exists. Here again we know sugar will worsen diabetes and salt will attenuate blood pressure problems. But we also know that sugar and salt are not recommended for patients with these diseases and they will consciously shun these food ingredients to keep the diseases in check. The issue is about consuming a normal food without being aware of its potential for hastening any disease.

It appears there are some such foods that can cause grief to some consumers. Of course the information generated so far is based on animal model studies and may not be of imminent relevance. But it is an indication that potential does exist for such eventuality for which man must brace himself to face, if found true. Reference is to a Korean study which implicates inorganic phosphates in progression and development of lung cancer which is estimated to kill 1.2 million people every year. It turns out diets rich in inorganic phosphates affect a particular gene called Akt, responsible for lung cancer and activation of this gene accelerates lung cancer in persons vulnerable to the disease. Besides it was also found that inorganic phosphates suppress other genes that slow down the development of cancer.

Inorganic phosphates are necessary for human nutrition and enters human body through different routes. Enhancement of calcium and iron in processed foods is done through using additives that are chemical compounds containing inorganic phosphates. Cheese, some beverages, meat and bakery products contain inorganic phosphates at significant levels and high consumption of these products may pose some risks for some people. There are over 125 chemical compounds containing phosphates under GRAS list ( Generally Recognized As Safe) for use in foods and there are no upper limits prescribed for their presence in foods. Some of these include Ammonium Phosphate, Calcium Phosphate, Phosphoric Acid, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Ferric Phosphate, Sodium Tri Poly Phosphate, Modified Starch Phosphates,etc. They are used for preserving moisture, retaining the color, as emulsifiers, sequestrants, stabilizers in frozen foods, etc. Baking powder, carbonated cola drinks, bread, rolls, macaroni, fruit jellies and preserves, ice creams, many fast foods, luncheon meat, pizzas are some of the food products containing phosphates in one form or the other. The much maligned Cola drinks contribute about 200 mg of phosphoric acid per can (330 ml) and probably drinking these beverages too frequently can be a problem especially for heavy smokers.

It is estimated that in affluent countries where processed foods constitute a major portion of daily diet. average intake of phosphates exceeds 1000-1700 mg a day which is considered very high because WHO has favored a limit of 7 mg/kg/day as safe. True,1% of human body is made up of phosphates concentrated mostly in the bones and it is known that hypophosphatemia where phosphate intake is not sufficient to replace metabolized body phosphates can cause osteoporosis. But in the light of the findings by the Korean workers, a rethinking is necessary regarding high levels of phosphates being consumed in many countries. Probably the mystery regarding greater vulnerability of some people smoking regularly to lung cancer can be explained by their Akt genes getting activated through consumption of high phosphate containing foods. Industry on its part must curb its tendency to use more and more chemical additives to foods indiscriminately in the name of improving their quality but eventually compromising on their safety in the long run. Ministry of Health, GOI, instead of waiting for others to unearth food safety problems in other countries and then deliberating as to how such problems can be tackled in the country with out taking prompt action, must be pro-active to anticipate contingencies like this for launching prompt remedial actions. Is the newly anointed food safety and standards 'AUTHORITY' listening, in stead of dreaming with so many paper plans? Good luck to Indian consumers!


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