Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Food adulteration for economic gain is as old as the food business and doing some thing to increase the profit margin is a tempting tendency very few human beings can resist. While innocuous adulteration may not pose much health risk to the consumers, a food adulterator becomes progressively greedier with each success and becomes bold enough to cross the line between economic adulteration and harmful adulteration that can cause grievous injury to the population. The field of adulteration is so vast it has place for individual traders, unorganized industries and reputed branded product industry. It can happen in an affluent country like the US or Europe or in an authoritarian regime like that in China or in a poor democratic nation like India. Universalization of food adulteration cannot be an excuse for condoning the same in our country.

Some of the rampant cases of adulteration of our every day foods include coffee with moglad coffee or other charred materials like roasted ground peas, wheat etc, cocoa powder with shells, sweet wines with diethylene glycol, butter with lard, ghee with vanaspati, rapeseed oil with other lesser priced oils, better looking flours by adding alum chemical, artificial colors based on copper, zinc, indigo etc, Sudan yellow and red in chilli powder, lead chromate in turmeric coloring, using starch in sausage, milk containing urea, melamine and other non protein sources to boost protein values, cinnamon powder with beechnut husk and other bark materials, honey with sugar syrup, liquid foods with formaldehyde for preservation and many such innovative frauds on the consumers. Our country seems to be well advanced in trader-friendly adulteration technology while consumer-friendly achievements in R & D in food technology is not worth crowing about. Misbranding, wrong labeling, misinformation and wrong and misleading advertisements are frequently noticed amounting to virtual fraud on the consumer. The present policies, strategies, infrastructure and personnel seem to be totally inadequate to tackle the menace of food adulteration. Is there no way out from this Catch-24 situation for the hapless consumer of this country?

There are two suggestions worth considering by GOI without any prejudice in the interest of the consumer. First GOI must take into confidence country's professional talents and there is no better way to it than involving professional associations like AFST and various others specialized in packaging, engineering, fish processing, dairy products, edible oils, nutrition etc can have a partnership in monitoring the food markets across the country. Under such a partnership, the members of these groups can be given a status to enable them to assess the quality and safety of market products by visual examination and report those suspected, to their associations which in turn will notify FSSAI for further action. An active vigilance system with FSSIA can unearth those traders who have the prolific tendency to defraud the consumers through food adulteration based on these reports. Imagine the availability of a gigantic voluntary work force of knowledgeable and experienced people for helping the GOI to improve the quality and safety of products from food industry and its potential impact on consumer welfare. Second, the good facilities for food analyzes established in many Universities across the country and research and training personnel willing to work for the govt at least for 15-25% of their time for undertaking the analytical job for a small honorarium reflect the real strength of the country which must be tapped in a constructive way.

While making suggestions like the one above, we must be aware of the consequences of involving volunteers in a function considered exclusively to be in the domain of the govt. There will definitely be some dilution of the 'importance' and the 'authority' of employees on the pay roll of the govt and it is not going to be easy to get such a radical suggestion accepted by those in power. Professional associations can work like technical NGOs which exist in this country in thousands, flourishing under govt patronage. Breaking the nexus between enforcement personnel and the violators of food laws is not easy to achieve in this country since prevalent system has been in place for decades. Changing PFA to FSSA, which took 53 years and hundreds of representations to the govt for this small change, does not mean any thing to the consumers because the very same people are going to run the new system also with no change in attitude and work ethics. Change we must, for the sake of our future generations!


Monday, June 29, 2009


Water is one of the most critical requirements for the successful running of a food industry and its abundant availability often decides the location of the processing facility. The Plachimeda experience of Coca Cola in Kerala where it was forced to close down the bottling operations because of grave allegations by the local people that the water resources in that area were being over exploited by the company, will be a forerunner of similar implosions in future. Both the government and the industry are equally to be blamed for this unfortunate incidence. The government while considering giving license did not bother to foresee the water problem, where as the Coca Cola used the under water resources without caring the consequences such action could have on the people settled around their facility. Most important lesson to be learned from this unfortunate episode is that water management by the industry can have far reaching repercussions beyond the walls of the factory and maximum care must be taken to minimize water consumption through better technology.

Though in India we do not have any reliable data regarding use of water by food processing industry, some of the norms established in western countries give some indications of the water intensive operations involved in manufacturing finished products from field sourced raw materials. For example, processing of beans is supposed to be highly water consuming with 45 to 65 thousand liters per ton of product, peaches and pears require 13.5 to 16 thousand liters, fruits and vegetables in general 3-32 thousand liters, beer 9-14 thousand liters, bread 1.8 to 3.7 thousand liters, meat processing 13.5-18 thousand liters and dairy 9-18 thousand liters of water. Water is required as an ingredient, for cleaning of raw materials and the facilities, as feed stock for the boiler, for cooling purposes, personnel hygiene, etc. Use of less water has many advantages which include reduced cost, better image in the society, cleaner environment, lesser pollution and slower depletion of water sources.

Some of the measures recommended by experts to save water by food industry include, installation of high pressure, low volume nozzles on spray washers, use of fogging nozzles to cool products, adjusting pump cooling and flushing water to minimum required, handling of waste materials in dry state wherever possible, use of pneumatic conveying system if possible, use of flumes with parabolic cross sections in stead of flat bottom troughs, optimizing depth of product on conveyors to maximize water efficiency, use of steam for water blanching, using evaporative cooling in place of hydro cooling, use of reclaimed water for flushing gutters and drains, use of solenoid valves to stop water flow whenever there is production stoppage, discontinuing use of water to wash side walks, drive ways, loading areas, parking areas etc. How far these measures can be implemented depends on the worker sensitivity to the value of water and management alertness.

As far as the actual processing operations are concerned, as an ingredient in the final product, there is little scope for reducing water usage. But there are other operations where water splurging can be avoided. One of the most critical operations in fruit processing is lye peeling and removal of lye and the peel for which enormous quantity of water is used. There have been reports that almost three fourth of the water usage could be cut down by using a mixture of water and air in stead of water alone without compromising on the peeling efficiency. Same technique may be applicable for cleaning of the raw materials, machinery and shop floor facilities. For each of the operation there has to be an optimum water to air ratio, working pressure and delivery mode which will have to be standardized. Necessary mechanized system to process large volume of raw materials also needs to be designed. There appears to be excellent scope in developing this concept further in a water starved country like India and food technologist and engineers would be doing a great service to the industry as well as the society if such a technology for water economy is evolved on a priority.



The famous James Bond novel, "live and let live', if modified to "let us live and you live well"can very well apply to the probiotic microorganisms which are considered man's true friends. In the microbial world there are thousands of species of organisms known to man and while some are beneficial in one way or the other, many are pathogenic in nature causing a plethora of diseases and toxicity which can be even fatal at times. Of course a large number of them are benign with no known harm to mankind. It is the beneficial organisms man wants to exploit for a variety of purpose. Bacteria, fungi and yeast are sources from which more than 80% of the industrial enzymes are manufactured and these enzymes are the driving engine for to day's biotechnology dependent world. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can be rightly hailed as man's best friend in protecting his health and their consumption in active form is a desired goal pursued by the food industry. L.acidophilus, L.rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, B.bifidum. L.palatarium etc are some examples.

Probiotcs are living organisms which upon ingestion in certain numbers exert health benefits beyond inherent basic nutrition. They can produce metabolites that are essential to maintain intestinal health, reduce or eliminate ailments like colon irritation, constipation and diarrhea, inhibit pathogenic bacteria, synthesize B-complex vitamins, lower blood ammonia levels, reduce cholesterol inhibition and inhibit tumor formation. While a normally healthy person consuming foods rich in probiotic bacteria may not require supplementary foods rich in them or capsules containing stabilized organisms, modern day eating habits have practically eliminated dairy products rich in probiotics depriving the consumers of the benefits associated with them. World over there is a disturbing trend of younger generation consumers chucking the habit of milk consumption and probiotic organisms cannot flourish in a medium containing no lactose, an inherent component of milk. In India consumption of products like curd, butter milk, lassi, mistidohi, srikand etc containing active cells of probiotic organisms is still common though growing fast food culture is luring younger population away from these health-friendly dairy products.

Probiotic organisms are vulnerable to low pH conditions, pepsin enzyme, bile salts, pancreatic enzymes in the GI tract and significant reduction of viable cells can happen by the time they pass through the digestive system. Food products that can augment the population of probiotics in the intestine must contain a minimum of 1 million live cells per gm at the point of consumption and it should deliver at least 1 billion viable cells per serving. Even such products cannot guarantee full benefit because of possible destruction during passage through the stomach. Here comes the role of technology which can ensure safe passage for the probiotic cells through the hostile environment of the digestive system. Pharmaceutical industry employs encapsulation technique to seal freeze dried preparations inside capsules which ensures no contact with stomach contents but releases the contents after crossing the stomach by degradation of the capsule material. Smelly food materials like fish oil, garlic extract etc are also made odorless through encapsulation process.

Food industry has been depending on micro encapsulation technology (MET) for a number of years to deliver temperature sensitive flavors for incorporation into foods which can keep well for long periods. MET is a process in which tiny particles or droplets are surrounded by a coating to give small capsules with useful properties. A micro capsule is a small sphere( core, internal phase or fill) with a uniform wall (shell. coating or membrane) around it. MET can be based on Pan Coating, Air-suspension in water, centrifugal extrusion, vibration nozzle, spray drying, inter facial polymerization, in-situ polymerization, matrix polymerization etc. Probiotic cells grown under controlled conditions are harvested and incorporated as core in micro capsules. Membrane of micro capsule permits the entry of small molecules such as nutrients and electrolytes while allowing exit of toxic metabolites, hormones and other small bio active compounds. Antibodies and T-cells are excluded thus protecting the encapsulated cells. Chitosan, polyacrylates, alginates, poly amino acids, poly amides are some of the coating materials used in MET. Some of the products developed with probiotics, coated by MET, include yogurt coated raisins, nutrient bars, dietary supplements, infant formulas, yogurt products, soups and cereals. It is time food industry in India wakes up to the potential for exploiting this technology and develop indigenous processed foods with local flavor preferences for making them popular amongst younger generation consumers


Sunday, June 28, 2009


Under the right to know what is in a packet of food, industry is forced to list some of the nutrients as percentage of DV (Daily Value), based on RDI or RDA recognized internationally in order to keep consumers informed about the nutrition status of the product. RDA is supposed to give information regarding the recommended dietary allowance and RDI, recommended dietary intake. DV per serving is derived based on RDA or RDI. RDI values reflect the adequacy of nutrient intake sufficient to meet the needs of 97-98% of healthy individuals. RDI is calculated based on certain assumptions which include (a) fat based calories constitute 30% of total calorie needs of 2000 kC (b) calories from saturated fat is 10% of total calories (c) carbohydrates contribute 60% of the energy (d) protein calories make up of 10% of total energy in the daily diet and (e) dietary fiber is 11.5 gm per 1000 calories consumed. RDA system started in 1941 in the US and the standards were being revised every 5-10 years. In fifties of the last millennium, the concept of nutrients per serving was implemented for better consumer understanding of the packed foods.

It was in 1997 that new standards were evolved and Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) became the accepted norm. Four types of DRI values were evolved which included EAR ( Estimated Average Requirement), RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), AI (Adequate Intake) and UL ( Tolerable Upper Limit). As far as consumers are concerned, DRI may not be of much relevance as it is meant for nutritionists and dietitians for menu planning programs. RDI values now being commonly used for calculating DV are more or less same as the RDA values which were the norms till 1968. Besides these confusing terminologies, there is also SONA values (Suggested Optimum Nutritional Allowance), which happened to be the most comprehensive data on nutrients evolved over many years of studies with thousands of healthy people. SONA values are some time 20 times that of RDI because it takes into consideration the positive benefits of nutrient intake while RDI values are for minimum nutrition below which there can be deficiency symptoms.

One of the critical factors that can cause enormous variations in the requirements of nutrients for individuals is the efficiency of digestion and absorption which can vary considerably amongst people. On an average most people can only absorb 10% of the nutrients ingested and it is estimated that only 1-3 % of the total population with high absorption efficiency must be getting sufficient nutrition if one goes by only RDI in stead of SONA. The ideal diet concept emerged only because empirically eating certain foods in certain quantities can keep humans healthy but this information cannot be translated into nutrients consumed directly because of the bio-efficiency of natural foods in terms of better utilization of different nutrients. Human body is very vulnerable because of its inability to make on its own some of the nutrients vital for life which include 23 vitamins and minerals, 8 essential amino acids and 2 essential oils. They must be supplied from the diet.

In the above context, what purpose the nutritional labeling serves is a debatable point. If a manufacturer declares that his product contains 20% of DV of a particular nutrient, it does not guarantee that body can get the declared quantity by consuming the product as per the serving size. There are other imponderable factors like gycemic index, protein efficiency ration, type of fat in the diet, type of fiber etc which determine the ultimate quality of the product. Unless these factors are integrated into nutritional value of processed products, the present labeling system can, at best be, an approximation. In spite of the existence of RDI since 1941 and introduction of mandatory labeling for better consumer discretion in choosing healthy foods by the US, that country is facing the biggest health crisis world has known in the form of Obesity, CVD, Diabetes, Hypertension, Cancer of various types and Alzheimer's disease.

In India can we think in a different way? In stead of the US style of nutritional labeling, is it not better if only the proximate composition of the product is declared for the consumers to have an idea of the food he is buying? Probably any negative aspect associated with that type of product could also be highlighted including allergy, cholesterol, transfats, etc for which there are no upper limits prescribed. It is also a good idea to put on each label the composition of an ideal food as a part of nutritional education of the consumers.


Saturday, June 27, 2009


Food industry world over strives to create appetite amongst the consumers hoping to attract them to their products and the science of sensory 'tickling' is often used to attenuate a feeling of desire for the brands by invoking visual and olfactory sensation. Technological developments and high pressure marketing strategies have been instrumental in capturing consumer imagination and many of to day's health problems in western countries are being attributed to processed products created with least attention to their nutritional implications. Products with 'empty' calories in which nutrient density is very low compared to any natural food, dominate the market and their fantastic sensory qualities attract the consumers in droves. Consumer awareness programs to forewarn them against mindless consumption of such products and their consequences do not seem to be reaching the target as is experienced by anti-tobacco programs. Can there be a strategy where industry and the consumer could both be winners? Probably yes.

Clue to such a possibility comes from the industry itself. Chewing gum industry is facing flaks from many quarters for the social and civic nuisance it is creating by the indiscriminate disposal of the sticky 'chewed' residue by the consumers. This has led many countries to ban chewing gum products and already some countries have precisely done this. Though chewing gum can be a suitable medium for delivery of health-helpful ingredients like vitamins, minerals and health supplements, its ban can damage its prospects besides raising a question regarding its very survival. Modifying chewing gum recipes to create feeling of satiety and use biodegradable gum base are being tried out to create new market and save the industry. Most recent example is introduction in the market of a product containing konjac powder in the formula which swells 200 times once ingested and generates a feeling of fullness in the consumer. Inclusion of some special dietary fiber ingredients with same properties also is being attempted. Satiety inducing products, similar to products that reduce cravings for tobacco, already in the market may still save the chewing gum industry from extinction.

Chicle based chewing gum survived for more than 9000 years and has seen many developments in its checkered history. Replacement of natural chicle with synthetic polymers was a turning point as artificial ingredients became more and more unacceptable to the consumers. Sugar free products, constituting almost 80% of production to day, revived its fortunes some what and the current world output of 1 lakh tons per year may go down further if the industry does not innovate to meet the changing environment. It is recognized that chewing gum can cut down dental caries and other oral problems because of its ability to remove bad bacteria like Streptococcus mutans besides increasing saliva production ten fold. Saliva is a source of alkali and hydrogen carbonates that can neutralize the acidity produced by harmful bacteria. Besides saliva also contains calcium and fluoride, both part of enamel coating of the teeth. Chewing gum stimulates part of the brain, hypothalamus which releases hormones that keep people alert and focused. Probiotics enriched chewing gum products may find increasing acceptance amongst health conscious consumers.

The biggest hurdle for the industry to grow is the tendency of the discarded residue to cause civic problems as removal of the sticky material is a difficult task. In UK alone about 150 million pounds expenditure is incurred in removing the sticky residue from public places. Manual scrapping is the best way to remove the material which is expensive. Machines to remove spent chicle gum from public places will cost about Rs 30-35 lakh as an investment and annual recurring expenditure. Use of the protein, zein from corn which is a by-product of corn processing industry, has been found to be environment friendly as it hardens and gets degraded in 2 weeks. There are special gums being developed which are hydrophilic in nature and therefore can be easily washed off. Low adhesion and non-sticky synthetic gum bases are also being tried which can be easily removed with least problem. Special gum bases under development have the unique ability to remove pathogenic bacteria responsible for tooth decay by selectively adhering to them. Probably modern world is just realizing the potential of chewing gum type of products as a carrier for many materials that can create the feeling of well being and innovations are likely to take place at a faster pace in the coming years.



The pre-election promise by UPA to give wheat or rice to all BPL card holders at Rs 3 per kg was not taken seriously by many as such declarations are often forgotten once the election was over. But mentioning this program as a priority area of the GOI by the President in her address to the parliament and proposing enacting a "National Food Security Act" (NFSA) raises many questions regarding the propriety of such a move at the expense of the tax payer. This comes on the heels of the massive loan waiver scheme worth Rs 60000 crore last year announced on the eve of the election. While poor must be treated compassionately from every angle, giving away food practically free is fraught with grave implications for future. The economic contours of the "Rs 3 per kg scheme" are yet to emerge but it certainly would be a serious drain on the exchequer. The July budget of GOI is reported to be making a provision of Rs 50000 crore for this scheme. Already some states have announced such schemes offering food grains at Re 1 or Rs 2 per kg and how far these schemes will be practical and beneficial remains to be seen.

It is true that suicide by farmers is on the increase because of unbearable debt burden caused by frequent crop failures and unemployment is supposed to be very high in spite of dramatic rise in the GDP during the last 5 years. However the wages are looking up with daily income for unskilled workers crossing Rs 100. Still dearth of workers is felt in many regions reflecting significant rise in personal income and incidence of unemployment practically non-existent, though there could be considerable under employment. NREGA assures 100 days work for those not finding gainful employment and this works out to more than Rs 10000 an year or Rs 850 a month or Rs 28 Rs a day. By international standards this may be low but in India this amount can buy adequate foods sufficient to stave off starvation. Giving away food grains at such low prices is bound to divert the earnings for other undesirable purposes. If the principle, that one need not work to earn a livelihood under a dispensation where loans are written off and food grains are given practically free, gets established what type of future is awaiting this country remains to be seen. Are we making a significant segment of our population zombies without any initiative or zest for working as government dole will take care of their lives?

Implementing such populist programs is fraught with practical problems because of the propensity of the people to be dishonest while declaring their income to derive government benefits for which they are not really entitled. It is already well known that not even 15 paise of a rupee earmarked for developmental projects reach the real beneficiaries in a system rigged to siphon off public funds by those vested with the responsibility of executing them. It was reported in 2003-04 that of the 14.07 million tons (mt) of subsidized food grains supplied to PDS, only 5.93 mt reached the poor beneficiaries, 8.14 mt being siphoned off! Imagine the fate of the "Rs 3 per kg" extravaganza being proposed under the NFSA! According to GOI statistics there are 2.5 crore Anthyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme under which each AAY card holder gets 35 kg of grains, rice @ Rs 3/kg and wheat @ 2/kg. Similarly there are 4 crore BPL card holders getting 35 kg grains, rice @ Rs 5.65/kg and wheat @ 4.15 /kg. If such schemes are already in force, what purpose the new proposal serves, is not clear. Is it the proverbial "old wine in new bottle" trick being played for the galleries?

If the logic of NFSA is accepted, probably similar splurging of resources on other populist schemes to provide housing security and clothing security may not be far off. What about the fuel needed for cooking the food grains given away under NSFA? A scheme can also be thought off providing fire wood at subsidized prices to those receiving subsidized grains?. If all these schemes are taken up, there may not be any necessity to do any work and any personal income earned can be used for non-productive purposes like drinking, gambling etc. What will be the consequences arising out of such intervention programs by government? Who is going to work in the productive sectors like agriculture, industry and services? Is there a real threat to the economy of the country with production declining progressively, exports dwindling and the assets eroding rapidly under such a situation? Only time will tell.


Friday, June 26, 2009


There was a time when parents were too much obsessed with the performance of their 'sons' in the school but with girls proving to be as much intelligent and carrier oriented as boys, the distinction between the gender is fast disappearing. Some of the high performing women in the global landscape are inspirational models for girls for achieving fame and glory in their life time. What factors decide, when a child is born, about its academic brilliance or otherwise? Is there any way one can foresee the future of that child? Probably to day's knowledge is inadequate to predict the future development of a child with any degree of accuracy. It is another matter that many parents rush to an astrologer to cast the horoscope of the child and get to know the its future based on planetary positions at the time of birth.

Mother's milk is known to be advantageous for babies especially to protect it from infections. Innumerable benefits of breast feeding can form a long list but it needs mention here when the subject is discussed. These include higher visual acuity, fewer episodes of year infections, less orthodontic problems, lesser instances of tonsillectomies, no upper respiratory infections, low cholesterol build up, fewer GI infections, reduced food allergies, less stress on kidneys, no appendicitis risk, lesser chances of kidney infections, lesser possibilities of development of arthritis, no eczema problem, no obesity and freedom from constipation. Thousands of scientific studies have confirmed the above attributes to the practice of breast feeding.

Through out history, mammals have practiced feeding of their off springs from their mammalian glands till the babies are weaned away. During thousands of years of human history, breast feeding was practiced till the child grows up to 7-8 years. Till the discovery of fire and domesticated production of food grains. many primates fed their babies till the eruption of the first molar tooth around the age of 5.5-6 years. To day this has come down to 6-9 months because of the pressures of modern living. Even to day Australian aborigines feed their off springs for 2-3 years, Greenlanders 3-4 years, Hawaiians 5 years and Inuits 7 years. Average interval between feeding is 24 to 80 minutes and WHO recommends 8-12 nursing over a period of 24 hours.

During feeding, first few mouthful of milk baby sucks, has less fat which increases towards the final stage of feeding. If nursing is cut short, baby does not get the best quality milk containing higher fat that is critical for many growth and development functions. Cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone secreted in the breast milk during sucking, induces sleep in the baby as well as the mother, considered essential for the well being of both. It reaches it peak at the end of the feeding first and then again peaks 30-60 minutes after feeding. CCK is involved in fat absorption in the intestine and baby gets the full benefits of the milk fat when its level is high. According to experts a feeding period of 2.5 years is ideal to get maximum benefit of breast feeding. Milk supply problem starts after 3 months when milk producing prolactin hormone level goes down and postpartum autocrine takes over in controlling supply. Prolactin receptors can be developed to higher levels by frequent feeding during the first few months.

During the first two years of a child's 'life, the brain grows rapidly and its every day's experience shapes the brain development. Brain cells, the neurons multiply and connect with each other until the brain circuitry resembles a mass of tangled wires. More frequent ingestion of milk and its faster digestion properties facilitate faster and more extensive connections amongst neurons. Probably this explains why breast fed children as they grow possess greater IQ as compared to bottle fed counterparts to the extent 7-10 on the IQ scale. Such children, almost 90% of them get higher grades in the schools and they are likely to climb the social ladder better. Breast milk is rich in Taurine, an amino acid, important in development of brain and eyes. Omega-3 fatty acids and galactose derived from lactose in the milk are also important for brain development. Docosahexanoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid is present at high levels in children fed on breast milk while the cholesterol present in the milk has critical role in building nerve tissues in the brain.

As an epilog it can be said that those mothers, who missed the pleasure and satisfaction of breast-feeding of their children to make them better performers, can think of making their daughters adopt the practice of breast feeding, post partem, for 2 years or more or at least for 9 months,to make their grand children healthy and super performers. We, at least, owe this to the future generation!



Array of processed foods, available to the modern day consumer, make it difficult to choose a diet that is considered healthy. In spite of universally accepted guidelines on daily diet for a healthy life available, lack of awareness and ease of convenience invariably drive the consumer to go for foods that suits his palates and satisfy his sensory desires. Progressive decline in consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, is a consequence of the growing influence of food processing industry which strives to add value to food raw materials through application of modern technologies. Classical examples are white rice devoid of the goodness of the bran, refined wheat flour sans the bran and the germ, peeled and dressed fruits and vegetables, refined edible oils, etc

Arthritis is a painful disorder which can make life miserable for those affected by it. Though the causative factors that precipitate the symptoms are not well understood, all treatment regimes are based on lessening the pain and allowing the patients to lead an almost normal life. Hip and knees, most affected can be surgically repaired for eliminating the problems associated with arthritis. Genetics, age, weight, previous injury, occupational hazards, some sports activities, illnesses and infections can cause symptoms of arthritis, the severity varying from person to person. The disease affects the musculoskeleton system, specifically the joints. Cartilage in the joints covers the bone surfaces to stop the ends of the bones rubbing directly against each other and prevent attrition causing wear and tear. Some of the direct causative factors include wearing out of the cartilage, lack of synovial fluid, autoimmunity, infection etc singly or in combination. According to medical science there are over 100 types of arthritis and treatment regime depends on precise diagnosis of the symptoms manifested in the affected persons. While rheumatic arthritis affect people between ages 20 and 45 yeas, osteoarthritis is more seen amongst old age population.

Different perceptions exist regarding the type of food one should avoid to pre-empt or reduce the impact and what can be consumed to ameliorate the symptoms of this disease. Sugar and fatty foods, red meat, cream, cheese, dairy products, caffeine containing beverages, tomato, peppers, chocolates, salt, etc are considered undesirable for arthritis affected persons. In gout arthritis alcohol and purine rich foods like meat worsens the misery. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acid containing foods also are known to lessen the effect of arthritis in many people. Drinking one glass of freshly squeezed orange juice every day is supposed to cut the risk of developing inflammatory form of arthritis significantly. Not to be left behind, a group of scientists claim that, UCII, an undenatured type II collagen, extracted from chicken sternum cartilage, decreases arthritis pain by 33%, though exact mechanism is not still understood.

Dietary carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin are reported to be effective in lowering the risk of developing arthritis while lutein and lycopene do not show any positive effect. Yellow and orange colored fruits, invariably are rich sources of cryptoxanthin and they include yellow apples, apricots, cantaloupes, yellow figs, grape fruit, orange, pineapple, pumpkin, yellow squash and sweet corn. Peppers contain 16876 microgram (ug) of this phytochemical per 200 kC serving while pumpkin has 16506 ug, winter squash 15583 ug, tangerine 2719 ug, papaya 3901 ug and persimmon 4135 ug. In general there is a belief that regular consumption of foods like corn, wheat, cow's milk, pork, oats, rye,eggs, beef, malt, cheese, tomato, peanuts and soybean. can precipitate arthritis in vulnerable people predisposed to this disease. Solanin present in tomato is a possible triggering agent for joint pains while potato, egg plant and pepper belonging to the solanum family can also exert same effect.

The classical studies in John Hopkins University have shown how phytochemicals derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli can control inflammation of the joints due to arthritis. Cells that line the blood vessels are stressed by liquid moving along their surface, called shear stress and it is found to be harmful to the joints as it causes increased COX-2 enzyme manifestation triggering inflammation and pain. Phase-2 enzyme activity is consequently suppressed causing death of chondrocytic cells. Healthy chondrcytes are responsible for smooth functioning of joints. When these cells die, the result is arthritis. The beneficial effect of vegetables and fruits is no more a conjecture and faster one switches over to a diet rich in assorted types of these health protecting natural foods, better will be the chances for survival against such deadly diseases like arthritis, asthma, cancer, CVD, viral diseases, GI related afflictions and other risks in day to day life. We can ignore this message at our own peril!


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Widely publicized efforts to persuade the residents of the City of Venice in Italy to drink tap water in stead of bottled water reflect the genuine concern of at least some people regarding the mindless indulgence of western countries in a habit, not considered either logical or justified, of depending entirely on packed water for regular drinking. This is in spite of the guaranteed safety of water that flows through the public supply net work involving regular scientific monitoring of the quality of processed and sanitized water.

It is interesting as to how awareness about the wasteful practice of buying packed water started dawning on the people. Venice has poor road infrastructure and trash collection became cost prohibitive because of cost of manpower inputs necessary for the task becoming enormous without recourse to mechanical handling. More than 10 tons of plastic waste generated every day need to be collected, sorted and recycled calling for high energy consumption and increased CO2 emission. The civic promotional program envisaged branding the tap water and highlighting the safety and quality of tap water for daily consumption. They branded their piped water with a fancy name "aqua verita" to compete with famous brands of packed water! Italians are known to consume more than 200 liters of bottled water in an year and in the process, generating a trash of about 5 kg of plastics! Persistence and incentives from the authorities reduced use of packed water by 10% in less than an year. The experience of Venice offers an abject lesson to other western countries in taking up similar programs for cutting down on plastics use and convince their citizens about the advantages of consuming water from the public water lines, considered completely safe.

In India such a situation may not arise in the near future because there is no guarantee about the quality and safety of water supply infrastructure established in most of the urban settlements. While quality is wholly suspect, even the minimum quantity needed by a citizen is not assured. According to WHO about 7 lakh deaths occur in India due to water borne diseases caused by consumption of contaminated water. Water supply service by any organized public body must ensure continuous and uninterrupted supply, quality and safety as stipulated by WHO and adequate water pressure to perform various house hold activities. Any protected water supply system must have sufficient facilities to treat the sourced water to remove suspended solids, bring down dissolved solids to less than the permitted levels, sanitize it with chlorine or UV rays to kill pathogens and bring down total microbial load to safe levels.

None of the 35 urban entities with more than 1 million population in India enjoy 24 hours water supply with Chandigarh boasting of maximum duration of 12 hours a day. Average duration of supply is 4.3 hours in a day with Rajkot in Gujarat reportedly getting water only for 0.3 hour a day! Water quality is no body's business in this country with BIS dabbling with it for some time and then FSSAI coming into the picture. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act) 1974 and Environmental Pollution Act 1986 both coming under ' the 'authority' of Central Pollution Control Board are supposed to lay down parameters for water safety which are yet to be finalized. It is painful to read reports that in the 100% literate state of Kerala, 99% of tap water supplied by the government is polluted or has bacterial level greater than that laid down by WHO!. History tells us about out-breaks of water borne illnesses beginning 1854 involving cholera, hepatitis A, cryptosporidiosis, fluoride toxicity, campylobacteriosis, gastroenteritis, giardiasis etc and still this country seems to be oblivious to all these dangers!. The only ray of hope is the newly launched grandiose scheme under "JNURM" for urban renewal where water supply has been given some priority and one can only wait and watch, probably with a prayer on the lips, to see such miracles still happening under the domestic tap.



Every responsible government has the bounden duty to evolve workable and equitable institutional frame work to protect the consumer from unjustified exploitation in the market place. The scientific labeling regulations make it mandatory for the manufacturing industry to give truthful information on the label on the container regarding the nature of contents inside and its quality and quantity. With millions of packs coming into the market, 100%monitoring of them for violations is next to impossible and many culprits get away in spite of infringement of varying degrees. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 1986 was enacted to provide the consumer with a redressal mechanism which would be effective, hassle-free and fast. The provisions of the Act came into force on 15.4.1987 and it was hoped that this Act would deter the traders and manufacturers from adopting deliberate unethical practices harming the interests of the consumers. On paper India has the best infrastructure to ensure fair trade practices as the CPA is modeled after the UN principles of consumer protection but how far this has helped the consumer is a big question mark.

There is a Central Consumer Protection Council and a National Commission at the central level, 34 State Commissions and Councils, 571 District Fora to deal with complaints of varying economic dimension. Up to 5.9.2008 (21 years after enacting the CPA) a total of 25.6 lakh cases were handled by the system out of which 2.33 lakh were disposed off (to the satisfaction of the complainants or not, unknown). Though there is provision for imprisonment for those indicted and disobeying the order under CPA, no conviction has ever been reported. One of the puzzles that confront the country is why consumer complaints are only a trickle, about 1.2 lakh per year on an average in a country with a population of 1.1 billion. In spite of the time limit imposed to dispose off the cases within 90 days of filing, consumers do not seem to have confidence that they can get justice under the system because of many practical constraints. One of the important pre-requisites for filing a complaint is that it must furnish a receipt as a proof of purchase. How many traders give receipts or purchase of food items and how any one can approach the District Forum for justice without a valid receipt?

It is practically impossible to prove any malafide action on the part of a manufacturer of packed foods because the consumer will come to know about the indifferent quality of the product or deficiencies in the product only after opening the pack and with contents susceptible to spoilage once opened, the seller will always get away scot free, even if a complaint is filed. Therefore CPA is totally irrelevant as far as food sales are concerned. Besides food comes under PFA and no forum will be in a position to determine the quality of the product refereed to it by a consumer. Probably a consumer can get some relief if the complaint pertains to deficiency in weight, false claims etc which can be looked into, without opening the packet. Unless there is voluntary action on the part of the retailers to accept even opened packs when returned for unsatisfactory quality, as it exists in many western countries, Indian consumer will be left to the mercy of the retailers to get foods with assured quality and safety. Manufacturers and retailers must jointly evolve a system of product accountability and learn to respect the honesty of a consumer who comes all the way with the deficient product to get a replacement. Of course a small percentage of such complainants could be non-genuine but this has to be factored in pricing the products. Consumers will not grudge a marginal increase in price to cover for the materials returned.

It is with good intention that a provision was made to include on the label the contact telephone number or e-mail ID of the designated person of the manufacturer, vested with the job of receiving consumer complaints, so that there is a communication channel for the consumer to air his grievances. Those with real desire to get redressal under this provision seem to be discouraged by lukewarm response from the manufacturers who consider this as a minor nuisance and only very few respond positively. Some take the easy route to mollify the consumer by replacement of the product, if it is sent to them and logistical problems involved in returning the defective product to the manufacturer directly are too cumbersome for the complainant to try this route.

National Consumer Welfare Helpline of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and FICCI Alliance for Consumer Care set up with good intentions are not helpful to the consumers when it comes to consumer dissatisfaction with food purchase. German Agency for International Technical Cooperation (GTZ) is reported to be in discussion with GOI to modify the CPA, to build into it a mediation provision that hopefully can resolve disputes quickly to the satisfaction of both the parties in such cases. How far it will help the consumers with complaints on food products against the retailers and the manufacturers remains to be seen. Unless the consumer gets the respect due to him from the sellers and voluntarily come forward to redress his complaint at the point of purchase, no legal mechanism can provide socour to him under Indian conditions where "every one is honest untill proven guily beyond a shadow of doubt", a 'no-win' situation!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The graphic pictures of the First Lady in the US harvesting vegetables planted in the White House along with school children have sent a powerful message across the world viz, "act now and do not regret later" as the time is running out for this planet to save itself from depredations and destruction due to negligence and mismanagement. It is more than 5 decades since man realized that,while bulk foods such as cereals provide taste, flavor, pleasure, energy and satiety, it is the much neglected vegetables that can keep him healthy and free from diseases. Ever since that there have been thousands of studies which confirmed the inevitability of courting vegetables in a big way for a truly healthy living because of the presence hundreds of phytochemicals, high levels of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and hormone like chemicals in most of the vegetables consumed by man, all with beneficial effects..

Preaching and practicing are two entirely different avocations and invariably there is a disconnect between these two traits in reality. India is blessed with a variety of vegetables, grown and eaten from time immemorial and most of the rural families do vegetable raising along with their main crops. Organized vegetable growing in farms provide the needs of the urban families and 'subji mandis' are omnipotent by their presence in all urban settlements, big and small. The government intervention programs over the years have considerably reduced exploitation by unscrupulous traders and middle men by setting up agricultural marketing yards for transparent deals between the sellers and the buyers. Amul type of cooperatives do operate in some places with the assistance of NDDB which helped to set up scientific collection mechanism, central processing facilities and distribution net works for ensuring equitability to the farmers as well as the consumers. Unfortunately this approach has not transformed the vegetable marketing as expected and the consumer is faced with hard choices when it comes to source their daily vegetable needs.

Looking at vegetable prices that rule during a span of 12 months in any year, the variations can be any where from 100% to more than 1000%! The consumers can buy tomato for Rs 2 a kilo when there is a glut but pay as high as Rs 50 a kilo at other times! Same is true with all vegetables, Even gold prices do not show such variations and consumer is helpless under such a situation, especially when GOI tells him that inflation is minus 1.5%!. National Horticulture Board (NHB) set up to stimulate the horticulture sector is handicapped by many factors and has become more or less a GOI arm with practically no relevance as far as consumer is concerned. Lack of cold room and low temperature transport infrastructure is often blamed for this sorry state of affairs in the country. Who is the real culprit responsible for this no-win situation? Ourselves, of course, who are good in preaching but poor in practicing!

It is time we take a leaf out of Americans who seem to be taking seriously the role of safe vegetables to protect their lives and the local produce movement and the recent sky garden strategy may still change their quality of life if translated into massive action plans. The tax incentives being offered by cities like New York to encourage roof gardens to grow vegetables for at least self consumption are beginning to show positive results and may be a fore runner of viable vegetable growing schemes in hundreds of other metropolitan regions where high rise buildings are prevalent. The innovative micro gardening technology provides the where withal for setting up such gardens with investments, between $1000 and $ 6000 depending on the size of the garden. Imagine a city like Mumbai having such gardens on their roof top which will ensure cooler houses below while meeting, at least, a part of the vegetable requirement of the owners of the apartments.

The inefficient water supply, low quality roof construction, lack of local expertise and reluctance for offering incentives by the authorities may be stumbling blocks for such an initiative. There are many Self Help Groups promoted by Banks which can step into this area while NHB can evolve workable garden models with assured seed supply and scientific growing practices. Ready boxes containing the required mulch, sand and nutrients need to be designed and supplied in urban areas at affordable cost for growing different vegetables and all the owners of apartments have to do is sowing and watering. True, foods will not drop from the sky by just looking at the heaven but the 'will to do' and hard work can make it happen.



Edible oils are triglycerides with 3 moieties of fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule through esterification. While glycerol is common in all oils, the type of fatty acids attached to it can vary in molecular weight, chain length and degree of unsaturation. As a general rule oils tend to be solids with higher melting point if the fatty acids are saturated in nature while higher the degree of unsaturation greater will be the fluidity. With Omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids gaining importance because of their critical biochemical role in humans, liquid oils are invariably promoted while solid fats have many desirable functional qualities desired by the food processing industry. Even amongst oils with unsaturated fatty acids in their molecules, only cis type of isomers are biologically active while trans forms are detested because of their potential for contributing to many disorders some of which can be very serious. The tendency of cis isomer to change into trans isomer during hydrogenation process and under some other processing conditions, has alerted the nutritionists regarding presence of trans fats in processed foods and compulsory declaration of extent of trans fats on the label of the package, is becoming mandatory in many countries.

There are two unique oils of commercial importance which have less of long chain fatty acids and are rich in short and medium chain length fatty acids. They are generally referred to as Lauric oils as they contain higher proportion of the lauric triglyceride compared to most other vegetable oils. Palm kernel oil and coconut oil represent most popular lauric oils which have both food and non-food uses. Coconut oil has less of oleic acid (C 18:1) and more of caprylic (C 8:0) and capric(10) acid glycerides as compared to palm kernel oil. Both contain about 45-50% lauric acid esters conferring on them some extraordinary properties which are now recognized. Process technologies like hydrogenation, fractionation, interesterification, emulsification and others have diversified the use of lauric oils to make hundreds of products of superior organoleptic quality and health attributes.

One of the striking differences between lauric oils and other edible oils is the lower calorie density in the former, about 6 kC per gm as against 9 kC per gm in the latter because of the overwhelming content of short and medium fatty acids. Lauric oils are digested by the saliva in the mouth and lipase system in the GI tract to generate fatty acids with low molecular weights which are burned by the liver for energy. They are not deposited in adipose tissues unlike the long chain fatty acids. Medium chain fats like lauric triglycerides, probably in the form of monolaurate, are believed to go to the surface cells in the skin, sinuses, digestive tract etc creating an extremely potent defensive barrier against microbial infections. It is also claimed that consumption of lauric oils increases the rate at which stored body fat is burned. Caprylic acid has the potency to kill fungus, yeasts and intestine parasites. Other beneficial properties attributed to lauric oils include their ability to increase 20% thyroid production, hasten metabolism, inactivate lipid coated viruses like HIV, Herpes, Cytomegalovirus, to kill bacteria like Listeria, Monocytogenes, Helicibacter pylori and others and to disable protozoa such as Giardia lamblia.

Compared to other major edible oils, production of lauric oils has not made any dramatic increase and it in only because of explosive growth of palm based oils that palm kernel oil was able to register a 20-25% jump in production during the last 5 years, the global out put being at 4.4 million tons(mt) with Malaysia and Indonesia leading the pack. In contrast coconut oil production slumped by 10% during the same period. India is one of the major consumers of coconut oil though it accounts for less than 15% of global production of 2.89 mt in 2007, others being Philippines and Indonesia. Importance of lauric oils has been sidelined since 1980 by the powerful lobbies representing Soybean, Raper seed, Palm oil and Sunflower seed which constitute 70% of the 110 mt world edible oil production to day. The fact that lauric oils have many beneficial properties is amply borne out by the efforts in Canada to genetically modify their canola oil production to raise the level of short and medium chain fatty acids to 40%, probably to preempt reemergence of natural lauric oils and claim their rightful place!

The strong antibiotic functions of lauric oils, confirmed by many scientific studies, make them a natural health protecting ingredient worth incorporating in many processed foods. Synthetic antibiotics that have become omnipotent in fighting infections under the allopathic system of medicine, are turning out to be ineffective against many vectors of disease and there is a case for formulating alternate therapy to fight these diseases using lauric oils. It is time old prejudices are set aside and efforts made to increase their production significantly in the coming years in preference to others with long chain saturated fats which are responsible for most of the ills mankind faces to day.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


No country would be proud of being told that its higher education system is a " mask of phantom" as pronounced by no less an authority than the Supreme Court while considering the rot that has set in because of neglect by the successive governments. The provocation was the rabid commercialization of higher education by the private sector education mafias, many with high political connections. Is there no way this country can get out of the quagmire that is slowly devouring the very moral fiber of our society? It would have been an opportunity for the new government with a lawyer minister in charge of HRD to go for an introspection to understand what has gone wrong so far and what can be done to rectify the situation. But it may be too much to expect any thing dramatic in the immediate future as the priorities of GOI seem to be else where. There is speculation that GOI might scrap the ineffectual overseeing bodies like University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Committee for Technical Education (AICTE) and create another "Authority" in the hope that things will improve.

It is unthinkable how any educational institution can charge a capitation fee of Rs 5 million for a "seat" in their college when there is a structured fee regime approved by the GOI which is meant to be followed by all. The same Supreme Court had directed all private technical colleges not to levy any fee beyond what is laid down by the government. That many private players blatantly violate this rule must be due to their political and financial clout and helplessness of the student community. Imagine the mindset of a doctor physician coming out of such a college and probably he might justify unethical practices while serving innocent patients since he has to recover the 'investment' made on his education! Wide prevalence of mal practices by the medical profession in India, as reflected by many reports in the media, probably can be attributed to this 'cancer' in our education system.

UGC and AICTE have been blamed for granting recognition to new universities and technical institutions without proper scrutiny of their credentials under political pressure and those who set up educational organizations without prior permission are allowed to get away scotfree under the pretext that the future of students already enrolled would be in jeopardy if recognition is not granted. On the other hand good and reputed universities, which are far and few, are hamstrung by lack of academic freedom and too much centralized power vested on the overseeing bodies at Delhi. There does not appear to be any quality check on the teaching community and promotions are decided more on seniority than the intrinsic merit or academic achievements of the faculty. It is time an institutional mechanism is put in place like the Public Service Commission to evaluate the credentials of teaching fraternity for promotion into different grades of professors.

What is true with UGC and AICTE applies to scientific establishments also where corruption, red tapism, plagiarism, false and bloated claims and favoritism are eating into the vitals of the system. Borrowing a leaf from the bureaucrats, scientists are also becoming class conscious and the hierarchical ladder put in place for career improvement, is too alluring before them to climb at any cost to reach the top without really deserving it. Except for a few scientists in ISRO, DRDO and BARC, others have not exactly covered themselves with glory, measured by any yardstick. Patent system has been distorted to such an extent that they have become just numbers decorating the biodata of the so called inventors. The recent announcement by one of the ministers in GOI that the country has lost opportunities to file 2000 patents due to negligence by the scientists goes to show our mindset, viz 'get a patent at any cost'! As for academic research, less said better it will be. Policy makers must ask themselves the question as to why in the post-independent India, no scientist has been able to get the coveted Nobel price even once, in spite of the existence of one of the largest scientific communities in the world! It is time for introspection indeed.



Have you ever heard of a food that is capable of enhancing beauty in a person? If you want to believe, the new sensation in the market is a range of processed foods that claim precisely this virtue under the category, 'beauty foods' and in the absence of credible evidence either for or against such claims, the manufacturers are hoping to get the benefit of doubt in their favor when consumers stand before their products in the super market. The marketing strategy is based on the universal perception that women go out more for shopping and they are more concerned about youthful appearance than men, opening up large opportunities for beauty foods. First major player to venture into this virgin field is the French food giant, Danone who introduced their beauty yogurt containing probiotics in a stable form based on the purported properties of lactic acid bacteria to improve skin quality. Is there a rationality in this approach and will the consumer repose any confidence on such products in absence of clear scientific evidence? Looking at the volume of business generated during the last 2-3 years, answer seems to be a conditional yes.

Fancy terms like skinceuticals, nutricosmetics, cosmeceuticals etc are frequently used to promote these products since health claims are very expensive, stringent and time consuming to be established under international protocols. Globally the cosmeceutical market is placed at $ 60 billion and the product range includes food preparations as well as products for external application. Danone which expected to net a business turn over of $100 million for its 'Essensis Yogurt', targeted at skin conscious consumers, could not succeed to cross even $ 50 million mark in 3 years, finally abandoning the product. Japan leads the world in beauty foods and the market there is estimated at $ 300 million per year. Ingredients like probiotic cultures, lycopene, lutein, aloe vera, antioxidants, plant sterols, flax lignans, grape seed extract, omega-3 and 6 oils, vitamins, minerals, hyaluronic acid, soy flavones,collagen, green tea, ginseng, kiwi fruit extract, cocoa etc are some of the most sought after ones by the the beauty food industry for designing such foods as there are scattered reports published supporting some of the claims of health improvement.

If there is really a group of foods that can be called beauty foods, can there be another category which are 'ugly' foods? This is a relevant question because all normal persons who are beautiful or handsome by birth will not be adversely affected by regular consumption of normal foods. There are hundreds of ordinary natural foods which have properties to protect skin, face, nails, color, glow, shapely body, smooth mobility and all other virtues and one need not depend on processing industry to make specialty products for the purpose. Foods like nuts, avocado, most of the fruits and vegetables, especially asparagus, raisins, salmon and tuna fish and many others have constituents that have a role in maintaining and enhancing the inherent beauty!

According to WHO, Probiotics are living organisms which upon ingestion in certain minimum numbers exert health benefits beyond their inherent basic nutrition. These microbes, considered natural and safe, produce many metabolites that are essential to maintain intestinal health and reduce or eliminate ailments like colon irritation, constipation, diarrhea and population of pathogenic bacteria, synthesize B-vitamins, lower blood ammonia level and cholesterol absorption and inhibit tumor development. A minimum of one million live cells per gm must be present in such preparations while the industry standard is one billion live cells per serving and food technologists have been able to develop excellent process technology like microencapsulation, to preserve the live cells till they reach the intestinal system to exert their beneficial action, without any significant damage.

Big players like L'Oreal, Nestle, Danone, Coca Cola and many others seem to be keen to exploit the concept of "beauty from within" and are engaged in diversifying their portfolio into the emerging cosmeceutical food segment. Reported development in Sweden of a product called Tricutan based on Chinese, Indian and Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, macadamia nut oil, turmeric and the medicinal herb Centella Asiatic points to the heightened interest in this area world wide. Tricutan has properties to increase neurotransmitter activities for facilitating facial muscle contraction, causing shortening and tightening of the muscles. 'Circu' from the chocolate giant Mars is reported to contain plant flavonoids considered good for enhancing beauty through their action at multi levels in the body. Major focus of most of the big players is on skin, nails, hair and general appearance. Probably a synergy of cosmetic, food and medical industry sectors only can conclusively establish the credibility of such products amongst the consumers. Food industry can definitely be a tool to provide "beauty without cruelty" to those yearning to enhance their appearance.


Monday, June 22, 2009


Specially designed sports drinks are intended to help athletes and games professionals to recoup the fluid loss and achieve fast recovery of the fatigued muscles. They are supposed to replenish the electrolytes, carbohydrates and other nutrients lost through sweating the body during exercise. Electrolyte replacement promotes proper re-hydration, critical to delay the onset of fatigue and carbohydrates are important in enhancing performance. There are isotonic, hyper tonic and hypo tonic types of sports drinks, though most athletes prefer isotonic drinks as they are similar to body fluids in terms of tonicity, containing about 13-19 gm sugar per an 8 oz serving. Many soft drinks can serve as sports drink as they are also more or less isotonic but without some of the special nutrients added to the latter during manufacture.

Why sports drinks? Why not water? Many may be wondering if water can do the job for people in tropical climates for quenching their thirst, why athletes cannot take water to compensate for water loss through perspiration. Some believe that taking 4-6 oz of water for every 15-20 minutes exercise should be adequate for making up water loss. But along with water, body also loses electrolytes like chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium which if not compensated can be harmful. Electrolytes control osmosis of water between the body compartments and maintain acid-base balance. Sodium and potassium will reduce urine output, enable fluid to empty quickly from the stomach, promote absorption from GI tract and encourage fluid retention. Generally sports drinks do not hydrate better than what just plain water does but presence of flavor and good taste makes one drink more. During exercise there is increased uptake of blood glucose by muscles which is compensated by the liver which provides glucose from glycogen and lactate.

Energy drinks and sports drinks are relatively new to India but their market is estimated to be of the order of Rs 500 crore and knowledgeable pundits feel it could double in the next 2 years. Whether this will turn out to be true remains to be seen in this country dominated by 'nimbu pani' and an assortment of traditional thirst quenchers. The recent emphatic claims that chocolate flavored milk can be as effective as, if not better than, most expensive sports drinks in the market are bound to damage the prospects of this particular industry which is in its nascent stage in the country. According to a few scientific studies, those drinking chocolate milk were found to have significantly lower levels of creatinine kinase which is an indicator of muscle damage. Added to this, cocoa and milk have a plethora of nutrients not found in sports drinks. Mix of high quality protein and carbohydrate in milk is believed to be ideal in refueling exhausted muscles after a rigorous workout. Milk also provides minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium that, both recreational exercisers and elite athletes, need to replace after strenuous activity. Many studies involving athletes, cyclists, foot ballers and others have confirmed the effectiveness of milk to combat muscle fatigue after their physical activity. Sports drinks are also affected by the adverse publicity linking their consumption to tooth erosion.

Ultimate choice vis-a-vis consuming post-exercise drinks will depend on the consumer. It is felt that a lean person, not vulnerable to put on weight, can opt for flavored milk which gives 226 kC and 32 gm of sugar per serving of 8 oz (whole milk) or 158 kC and 24 gm of sugar (skimmed milk). In contrast a sports drink contributes to only 50 kC and 13-15 gm of sugar and heavily built consumers may be better off with these products to guard against putting on unwanted weight. For normal people going through light impact activities like short run, walking, garden work, swimming etc, of less than 60 minutes duration, consumption of plain water is considered good enough for re-hydration. Choice is yours!


Sunday, June 21, 2009


English is a wonderful language with excellent expressive power, though it can be non-sensical in terms of spelling and pronunciations. Its ability to assimilate words and ideas from other cultures and languages has made it still more expressive and loved by people in all the continents. No wonder parents rush to English medium schools to get their children admitted and this desire is widespread even amongst low income groups. Probably their preference for such schools is more driven by the hope that higher quality education is imparted only in such schools with a better chance for a better quality of life for their children after growing up. Vernacular fanatics are forgetting that if the country and its people have to be benefited from knowledge developments around the world, familiarity in English is a prerequisite while proficiency in native languages can go side by side.

The word 'author' refers to one who is a writer of an article or book but it can also apply to a person who creates or begins an idea or a plan. Either way an author has to be a creative person with brains, experience and vision. An 'authority', on the other hand, need not be an author though reverse could be true some times. The power to give orders confers on a person the authority and these orders are meant to be obeyed. Delegated responsibilities for specific function to specific people also come under the expression 'authority'. Authority can also mean a learned person with special knowledge gained over years of learning and experience and at times of doubts and indecision, people generally turn to wiser peers who can be the 'authority' on the subject. It is a different matter that so called 'authority' misuses the power some time for considerations other than what is intended for.

'Authoritarian' is an adjective word used to persons who demand absolute obedience to his orders or commands. In the common parlor it is also used to reflect the good intention of a well meaning parent or a teacher who has the well being of those ordered about while being authoritarian. Of course authoritarian streak is anathema in a democracy where decisions are made by the majority, not by one person or a coterie of persons. In contrast 'authoritative' persons derive their strength from the power enjoyed by them by virtue of their strength in skills or knowledge. A person can also be designated as an authoritative spokesman by a body or group of persons vested with authority.

Indians seem to be fond of the expression 'authority' which is often a prerogative of the government which rules the country. The power of an authority can be executive, financial, judicial or management. All government 'babus' have power in one form or the other that enables them to have extra ordinary influence on the citizens as their decisions can affect their lives to varying extent. Power in any form can be the drive engine for corruption as is being witnessed in the country and more the power, higher will be the temptation to be corrupt. It is said that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Country's bureaucratic system is so structured that, with power and pelm distributed amongst the 'babus' beginning at the bottom to the top with few exceptions, corruption is in-built and probably nothing can come in the way of the ever growing corruption faced by the citizens whose daily lives are intertwined with the actions (or non-actions?) of the administrative lords of the country.

It is not a coincidence that government culture in India, inherited from the Britishers, continues to use the word 'Authority' to designate administrative bodies affixing the word after the functions assigned to them. We have "Authority" set ups, for food safety and standards (FSSTA), food exports (APEDA) and marine products exports (MPEDA) in the food area but there are several such bodies conferred with the coveted affix 'authority', We have separate 'authority' for airports, high ways, steel. inland waterways, gas, insurance regulation, sports, zoo development, urban development, telecom regulation, electricity, coastal aquaculture etc most of them with umbilical chords to the government at Delhi. While UK has practically replaced these authorities with boards, directorates, agencies, commissions etc, India revels in creating more authorities, many of them toothless tigers with very little independence from the government ministries, lorded over by politicians and bureaucrats. Citizens of this country are, by now, familiar with the 'authority' syndrome and probably have taken them as another aberration in our democratic society.


Saturday, June 20, 2009


As 70% of the population in India live in the country side, they form the back bone of our agriculture and food security. The contribution of agricultural sector to the GDP of the country has been sliding down ever since our independence due to massive expansion of education and increasing pace of industrialization. Migration of labor from rural areas to urban centers in large numbers also affects the agricultural front, fraught with dangerous implications. The well thought out National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is precisely designed to address this problem by providing some income to the rural labor during times of drought and agricultural off seasons. Since agricultural wages, fixed by the States are relatively high, there has been a marked preference for rural labor to attend to agricultural operations rather than projects under NREGA. Farm workers get a minimum wage from Rs 65/day in several states to Rs 141 /day in Haryana. In Chandigarh it is Rs 140, in Kerala Rs125, in a few states Rs 100 while in 22 states the minimum daily wage is less than Rs 100 a day.

According GOI, the very purpose of NREGA is to put in place a job guarantee scheme that will provide gainful employment to laborers during the lean period and keep the momentum of rural economic activities with a proviso that it should be implemented during non-farming days. GOI has already spent Rs 40000 crore under NREGA since February 2006 when the scheme started with Rs 26000 crore going towards wages alone. As the scheme is operated by the States, there appears to be lot of flexibility in its implementation. Since wages paid under NREGA are much less than the minimum agricultural wages, there is always a preference for employment in the farms. There is a clamor for increasing the wages under NREGA, under the pretext that cost of living has gone up significantly during the last 2 years but before taking any action the repercussions of such an action must be clearly understood. Pull from NREGA because of higher remuneration should not create a situation where farm activities are adversely affected. The demarcation between season and off season is blurred with irrigation infrastructure steadily expanding making it possible to take two or three crops an year in many regions of the country. There needs to be a serious policy review at the central level to harmonize the wages under NREGA with farm wages which should always be higher to desist massive desertion of farms by agricultural workers due to lure of higher income. It is a pity that one of the senior ministers in the GOI is preaching a policy of fast industrialization to entice rural folks to cities to give them good quality life, forgetting for a moment the disastrous consequences it will have on the food front!

Take the case of USA where 2% of its population are engaged in farming operations, producing the entire food required by the country. This is possible because of large tracts of land owned by the farmers, the advanced technologies deployed by them and availability of migrant labor population from across the border from Mexico, Brazil and other south American countries. Improved seeds, high tech fertilization, efficient pesticides, mechanized tools for cultivation, large stretches of land in contiguity, precise weather prediction system, massive government subsidy for keeping crop prices at remunerative levels, all contributed to make their farming system more entrepreneur friendly. But to assume that an average western farmer gets a high share from the consumer money is a fallacy if what they get for offering their products to marketing giants is critically examined. According to information available, a farmer receives less than 70 cents from $ 4.50 paid by a consumer for a pound of boneless beef ( about 15.5%), 6 cents out of $ 3.0 for a packet of potato chips (2%) and 8 cents out of $ 2.5 for a pound of bread(3.2%). In contrast in India the cooperative sector dairies pay more than 70% to the milk producer and manage procurement, processing and distribution of pasteurized milk with less than Rs 5 per liter. Thus, in spite of the high degree of consumerism prevalent in western societies and their high disposable income, big money is made not by the producer but by the processing and marketing sectors in the name of "value addition".

Indian farmer, a truly innovative creature, suffers not from lack of returns from agriculture as a percentage of the sale proceeds received by him but his problem is the extremely small size of his holdings which does not lend itself to the needs of modern production technology. Big margin does not mean much if quantum of return is small due to the above factor. While NREGA may still maintain the remuneration gap between its schemes and the agricultural activities. the land problem is going to persist unless massive land reforms are undertaken immediately for consolidation, productivity per farmer is significantly increased and rural industrialization is taken up on a contingency footing. It is aptly said what India needs is not urban migration and enlargement of urban areas but urbanization of the rural areas to meet with the aspirations of the rural population in terms of good life similar to their urban brethren.



Who is not fond of the story in the Disney Film, Jungle Book where the orphaned Mowgli grows amongst wild animals? Food scientists seem to have found a clue to tackle the obesity disease in the saga of Mowgly. The character depicted as Baloo is a bear who loves to eat the fruit 'prickly pear', probably without realizing its ability to reduce body weight as being claimed now. The scientific explanation behind this property of the fruit is that one of the active principles present in it has the capacity to bind fat in the GI tract and to make the bound fat unavailable for absorption into the blood. How far this will be acceptable to health experts remains to be seen though there are some supporting evidence to go along with the findings.

One of the chosen routes in tackling weight gain in human beings is to retard absorption of dietary fat in the GI tract that will effectively reduce net calories generated in the body. Ability of stable oil in water emulsions prepared using Tween 60 in slowing down fat digestion and provide the feeling of satiety was reported in this Blog earlier. Chitosan, a by-product of shrimp industry, extracted from inedible portion of shrimp was one of the earliest fat binders reported in food science, It is more a physical binding and an intake of 1500 mg of chitosan was claimed to achieve significant reduction in fat intake in the GI tract, though this claim is still inconclusive. The approach to slow down fat absorption or prevent a part of the dietary fat from getting into the blood stream is an attractive option being pursued by a number of scientific groups across the world.

The prickly pear or Indian fig as it is known is a fruit from the cactus family Opuntia, popularly used in Mexico and other South American regions as a medicine as well as food for a number of beneficial effects it is supposed to have when consumed. Amusingly it is neither a pear nor a fig though many refer to this fruit using this terminology. It is remarkable that from an obscure status, prickly pear is being touted as one of the most nutritious fruits in the world, finding its place in many modern markets in the US and Europe under the fresh produce category. It is rich in many flavonoids like Kaempferol, Puercitin, Kaempferol-3-Methyl Ether, Quercitin-3-Methyl Ether, Narcessin, Dihydrokaempferol, dihydroquercitin and Eriodictyol. These flavonoids make prickly pear a power house of healthy chemicals capable of protecting human immune system, prevent oxidative stress by fighting oxyradicals, preventing muscle soreness after exercise and controlling levels of blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Peeled fruit contains 9% carbohydrate, 5 % fiber, no fat and 175 kJ of energy. According to those who promote consumption of prickly pear for weight control, the fiber present in the fruit is responsible for binding the fat making it unavailable to the lipase system for splitting the fat and further absorption across the intestine and the fiber-fat complex is excreted through the faeces. As an evidence a 27% increase in faecal excretion of fat by those consuming the fruit after a meal has been cited. Two of the commercial brands of pills developed with prickly pear already available in the market have been allowed to claim that they could reduce fat consumption by 28%, suppress appetite and food cravings, cut calories by 150 kC per meal, lower serum cholesterol and increase joint flexibility. Probably Baloo,the bear (or Walt Disney Productions?) realized the ability of this particular fruit, while picking on it, to check the shape of his cuddly body and prevent obesity, though there were many other more delicious fruits available in the forest!

With unheard of food materials like Acai berry, Prickly Pear, Kiwi Fruit and others, not known to the modern world till recently, becoming celebrities, one cannot but feel that there may be numerous such natural products in India that require "reinvention" through serious scientific attempts by the indigenous scientists. It is time we look into the treasure house of information available in our ancient scriptures, bring to surface their immense health protecting potential and enable the world to be benefited by the wisdom of ancient India.


Friday, June 19, 2009


People suffering from respiratory problems like asthma can find some relief by generating more Vitamin D within the body as one of its analogs, calcitriol was found to slow down airway modification that causes breathing difficulties. Similarly caffeine consumption in moderate amounts is claimed to reduce discomforts associated with asthma. These two distinctly different chemical moieties act in different ways in bringing relief to asthmatics but can be brought to gether in a single delivery system convenient to the consumer.

Calcitriol is a form of Vitamin D3 synthesized in the body and is involved in some critical functions like increased calcium absorption, stimulation of osteoclastic resorption from bone, facilitation of the effect of para thyroid hormone( PTH) on bone resorption and increase of renal tubular absorption of calcium. Cells of the proximate tubule of the nephron in the kidney are stimulated by hypocalcemia, hypophosphatemia and PTH for production of calcitriol. Recent finding that calcitriol has good anti-inflammatory property and is involved in inhibition of smooth muscle cell proliferation has made this vitamin more useful to tackle inflammation related ailments. Calcitriol is the preferred therapy against psoriasis and it could be effective therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also as it reduces pro-inflammatory cytokinin secretions in COPD. Many studies have been able to bring out the inverse relationship between Vit D content in the blood and severity of asthma symptoms indicating the role of this vitamin in manifestation of asthma. Lower the level of Vit D, more severe will be the asthmatic symptoms.

Calcitriol, which is available in synthetic form, has been found to slow down the progressive decline in the lung function of asthmatics and their ability to breathe as a result of human airway smooth muscle (HASM) proliferation. In vitro studies have demonstrated the ability of calcitriol to reduce the growth factor induced HASM proliferation in cells isolated from persons suffering from this ailment. Airway remodeling takes place as a result of asthma which causes reduced lung function progressively. Vit D therapy can slow down such remodeling of the airway and consequently arrest the decline in breathing ability avoiding dangerous asthmatic attacks.

Caffeine which is often derided as a villain for many unsubstantiated health problems appears as a savior for asthmatics since it was found to exert beneficial influence on asthma symptoms. In fact caffeine was as effective as the commonly used medication, albuterol inhaler. Caffeine at levels of 3-9 mg per kg body weight significantly reduced wheezing, coughing and other symptoms of some forms of asthma. Some believe that due to similarity in structure between caffeine and theophylline used by asthma patients, the mode of action could be same. Caffeine is known to decrease bronchoconstriction and the relief due to its consumption could be on account of this property. Two cups of strong coffee or hot cocoa or 2 chocolate bars can be expected to be helpful in getting short term relief from asthma symptoms. How ever this cannot be a substitute to doctor-recommended medication.

Industry should be looking for appropriate product formulations that contain calcitriol and caffeine targeted at those consumers vulnerable to asthma symptoms regularly. Consumption of such products can give relief up to 4 hours after ingestion. Regular consumption of fresh food materials like citrus fruits, broccoli, squash, brussel sprouts, wheat germ, raw onion, salmon, Brazil nuts, spinach containing Vit C, Beta carotene and/or omega-3 fatty acids also provide good relief to lung diseases like asthma. More attention to food by those vulnerable to breathing difficulties due to lung related problems can bring rich rewards in terms of alleviation of the undesirable symptoms.