Thursday, July 30, 2009


Water and dietary fiber( DF) are two components in any healthy diet and both of them are considered non-nutrients from conventional considerations. While water is absorbed by the body since it is the medium for all metabolic reactions, DF is not digested by the GI enzymes, contributing neither calorie nor any other major nutrient. Still both of them need to be present in food for normal health. From a relatively obscure position in the proximate composition tables, food fibers have captured center stage attention within a matter of two decades because of their sterling role in protecting human health. Most of the DF are non-starch polysaccharides(NSP) and are part of plant kingdom. Humans do not possess the necessary enzyme system to break them into sugar and therefore they pass through the GI tract without much change except for microbial action. If they do not have any metabolic role in human body why are they considered essential for good health?

By definition a fiber is a class of materials which are continuous filaments or indiscreet elongated pieces. Natural fibers hold tissues together in plants and animals. There can be vegetable fibers based on an arrangement of cellulose and lignin like cotton, hemp, jute, flax, sisal etc. Wood fibers are from tree sources which are delignified to make paper. Animal fibers include silk, wool and furs which are proteinacious in nature. Mineral fibers like asbestos, fiber glass etc are of industrial importance. Man made fibers are based on petrochemicals like polymers or cellulose based like rayon. Though the plant based fibers that are edible go through the GI tract without digestion, they can be acted upon by the gut microbes through fermentation, often producing nutrients like short chain fatty acids. DF with low fermentability include cellulose, hemicellulose, lignan, waxes and resistant starches. On the other hand beta glucans, pectin, natural gums, inulin, oligosaccharides and resistant dextrins are of high fermentability in the gut.

Potential advantages of DF include production of health promoting components during fermentation of soluble fibers and the property of of insoluble fibers to increase bulk, soften stool and shorten fecal transit time in the GI tract. A daily intake of 25 gm of DF is recommended for an adult consuming a 2000 kC diet. DF does not bind minerals or vitamins, as is assumed by many; on the other hand increased absorption of minerals has been reported when fermentable fibers are consumed. Probably phytates, not considered as a real DF do interfere with mineral absorption to some extent. Whole grains, bran from wheat and corn, nuts and seeds, lignans and vegetables are important sources of insoluble fiber while legumes like peas, soybeans, beans and others, oats ans rye, some fruits, some vegetables like broccoli, jerusalem artichokes and carrot, root vegetables like potato, plant gums like guar gum and acacia gum and psyllum seed husk contain significant levels of soluble fiber. High fiber containing foods include legumes (15-19 gm per serving), wheat bran (17gm per serving), prunes (12 gm per serving) Asian peas (10gm per serving). The exotic palmberry Acai is reported to be the richest source of DF, about 25-44% in its freeze dried version.

Importance of DF in human health has spawned a multibillion dollar industry and there are hundreds of products claiming to be rich in this 'non-nutritious' nutrient. Generally foods claiming to be high in DF must contain not less tha 5 gm per serving, between 2.5 and 4.9 gm qualifying for the 'good source' tag and at least 2.5 gm fiber to be incorporated during processing from external sources for claiming as 'more added fiber'. Such products are used to treat many disorders like hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, crohn's disease irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal discomforts etc. Proactive consumers take DF preparations to lower cholesterol levels in blood, reduce risks associated with cancers, lose weight and ensure regular bowel movement. Though modern food technology provides processing solutions for removing fiber from raw foods, it is only wise on the part of the consumer to shun regular consumption of such refined foods in the interest of his own health.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Rapid strides made in electronic field during the last one decade, evolution of computer as an indispensable tool of modern economic drive engine and ever expanding role of world-wide web, have increased the human productivity in virtually every sphere of activity. Activities like e-mailing, e-ticketing, e-filing, e-banking, e-management, e-administration, e-communication, e-entertainment, e-business, all have become accepted as part of modern society at large, constantly trying to improve the quality of life. The recent launch of a product by the name 'e-cigarette' (e-cig)supposed to be an alternative to tobacco based conventional cigarettes is an indication as to how far electronic gadgetry can intrude into the life of the citizens.

The new trend of e-smoking is reported to be gaining some popularity and the e-cigarette that is being sold, is a battery powered device for inhaling measured doses of nicotine which delivers a vaporized propylene glycol nicotine solution. Besides the achieving controlled delivery of nicotine, the vapor generated also provides a flavor and physical sensation similar to that experienced during smoking of a real tobacco based cigarette. An e-cig is designed so as to look like a cigarette or a cigar or a pipe and even carries LED light at the other end to simulate the typical cigarette glow. When air is inhaled through the device, it is detected by a sensor which activates the heating element that vaporizes the nicotine solution stored in the mouth piece and the process is being referred to as 'vaping' instead of smoking. Nicotine solution strength can be 0.1% to 6% to cater to different demands and it can be flavored with half a dozen aromas like mint, chocolate, fruit etc. Though they are touted as an alternate to regular cigarettes, use of nicotine in the cartridge can be habit forming and due to recent detection of diethylene glycol, a carcinogenic chemical in such devices, many countries are banning them for use in their countries. One wonders how many customers will be hooked on to this new gadget at the prevailing price tag of $ 70 to $ 200 per piece with the cartridge of 5 costing $ 5 to $ 7.50. Probably in India when it is introduced, cost can be as high as Rs 6000 for a janata model and Rs 12-50 thousand for a high end piece made in silver or gold. Probably it may go well with a Rayban cooling glass!.

No product under the e-food category has yet emerged in the market but there is an American company by that name which, however does not offer any specific foods that can be called a e-food. They are supposed to be specialized in supplying customers fresh meat and poultry products, bakery and dairy foods and other food items using an IT enabled program via their local accredited suppliers through out the country. They claim to offer their clients a single point of contact and coordinated services from a centralized office, all with an on-line synchronization for customers that include restaurants, hotels, pub groups, hospitals, nursing homes, contract caterers etc.

If the concept of e-cig can be applied in the food area, there is a possibility of using the device with cartridges containing food aromas that can either stimulate hunger or create a feeling of satiety. Many bakeries and eateries use their air conditioning systems to introduce pleasant aroma that attract more customers and generate better business. Similarly appetite can be increased by using permitted aromatic substances which when 'vaped' may create the necessary stimulus for eating more or less depending on what is used in the device. The 'vaping' device provides a delivery system for food associated appetite stimulants or suppressants that may have influence on the eating behavior of the consumers. Automatic electronic perfume emitting devices, now available in the country, offer another delivery system to sensitize humans for attracting them to, or keeping them away, from foods. The e-food route, at best, is a short term choice to train people for adopting a food regime that is good for them and cannot be a life term solution.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The ruling elites in this country seem to be convinced that government has the answer to every problem citizens face and in turn people, conditioned as they are to the benevolence of the government look upon it to solve all their problems! It is understandable that a responsible government must be sensitive to the difficulties faced by its citizens and bring socour to them through the financial and policy tools but entering into business for helping them, whatever be the justification, cannot be practical. There are hundreds of examples that can be drawn from recent history of this country, especially between 1947 and 1990, to prove that "doing business is not government's business" as its administrative mindset is not synonymous with entrepreneurship and eventually these public enterprises become 'millstones' around its neck. Besides bringing practically no returns on the massive investments in the public sector, most of them become a drain on the exchequer to keep them afloat. According to the latest estimates all public sector industries put to gether have incurred a mammoth loss of Rs 93000 crore compared to Rs 65000 crore the previous year! If this is the case, why not the governments, both at the state and the central levels, desist from starting new 'white elephants' in the name of the hapless citizens?

The provocation for this issue of the blog is the reported news emanating from Kerala, a state touted all over the world as "God's Own Country", that the 'enlightened' government there is contemplating setting up 'fair price hotels' all over the state for the benefit of the common man. The premise is that hotels which are operating presently are fleecing the people by charging exorbitantly for their service and poor man is denied the 'pleasure' of eating hotel foods as rich people do. Such a brain wave coming from a government identified with poor people may appear logical. But consider for a moment how such a quixotic proposal can be implemented in a state where per capita income is one of the highest in the country, inflow of foreign money from expatriates is substantial, the literacy rate is highest, the wages rule very high and a reasonably good PDS system ensures availability of food at subsidized rates for almost the entire population. Besides Kerala, unlike its neighbors Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh, does not have adequate decent eateries, probably on account of the 'low eating out' habit amongst its population. How a government can do better than the private sector in the catering area is beyond one's comprehension.

Many states have Tourism Development Corporations (TDCs) set up to attract tourists from far and wide and generally restaurants are part of the hotels under them. Except for a few, most TDCs are not functioning well and exist only because of the low tariff for their lodging facilities compared to their private sector counterparts. The quality of food served in their restaurants, at best, can be termed tolerable, reflecting the ground reality that exists to day. If this is so why does the government want to venture into so called fair price hotels? What is a fair price for a decent meal? Who decides the real cost of preparing the meal? How is the costing to be done, considering that any government operation will always carry a heavy over head cost that has to be passed on to the consumer? According to scanty information available, probably government wants catering entrepreneurs to approach it for setting up eateries in urban and semi urban areas and raw materials would be offered to them at subsidized prices through the state controlled Civil Supplies Corporation. Such a model if it works and if there are takers, could be more viable than setting up governmental hotels in the name of controlling prices. Of course there still will be many constraints in putting such precepts into practice. With real estate rates galloping day by day in a state starved of land, how any entrepreneur can get a decent place to start hotel business, all from the scratch? Will government offer the required facilities like building, water, electricity, drainage, waste disposal, toilet facilities etc that are essential for hotel business? Most important, how can government ensure that the so called fair price hotels will really offer safe and quality foods at fair price and will not divert the subsidized inputs to the open market?

It is understandable that government can intervene in such areas considered essential like medicines and basic food supply at affordable cost and probably Kerala is doing well in these areas with their fair price shops for food grains, sugar, edible oil etc, fuels like kerosene, and perishables vegetables and fruits, truly reflecting its credentials as a welfare state. But by entering into sectors like catering or vending liquor may be disastrous in the long run as both these areas cannot be considered critical to the survival of its citizens. If such a philosophy is extended, government may have to intervene in almost all sectors like entertainment, housing, many service sectors, air travel and almost all industrial operations in the name of helping out the citizens. Is it feasible, practical or logistically right? Government must give good governance, instead of imposing itself on the population what it 'feels' right without really knowing what people want!


Monday, July 27, 2009


Will any one believe that on an average men cry once in every month while women shed tears 5 times a month? What about a chef who cuts onion every day as a part of his daily routine? Probably it must be a 24X7 situation, all around the year. According to scientists and psychologists, there are three types of tears which include 'basal' tears, 'reflex' tears and 'emotional' or 'psychic' tears. Basal tears are more or less continuous to keep cornea wet and nourished, besides cleaning it free of dust. It contains water, mucin, lipids, lysozome, lactoferrin, lipocatin, lacretrin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium and potassium. Some of these substances are responsible for fighting bacterial infection that may affect the eyes. In a 24 hour period humans secrete about 0.75 to 1.1 gm of tears.

Reflex crying is not in response to any normal state and is caused by some irritation due to foreign particles or presence of irritant substances like vapors generated during cutting of onion, or tear gas or pepper spray near the eyes. Bright light can also make eyes shed tears. Hot or peppery stimulii to the tongue and mouth can cause secretion of tears. Capsaicin in chilli, piperine in black pepper and gingerols and shogaols in ginger create such stimulii when taken in high concentrations. When onion is cut the volatile sulfur chemicals generated by enzyme action, react with the water in the tears to form acidic compounds which irritate the eyes causing tears to flow through the cheeks. There is an amusing report that 'tearless' onion varieties have been developed by suppressing the RNAi gene responsible for generating volatile tear-causing chemicals when it is cut but whether it is acceptable to the consumer remains to be seen.

Emotional tears result from strong emotional stress, suffering and physical pain and such crying is some times accompanied by reddening of the face, sobbing, coughing and convulsive breathing. Emotional tears have different composition, being richer in prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone and leucine enkaphalin. A neuronal connection between the tear duct and brain is known to exist and emotional tears are produced on a signal from the brain in response to emotional stresses. One always feels better after crying because of elimination of stress hormones. Increased mucal excretion occurs during crying giving a feeling of being light afterwards. In many cases an underlying experience of helplessness is manifested in crying. Good news invariably evokes crying because of helplessness in influencing what is happening.

Crying ability can be compromised by some disorders like Bell's Palsy due to faulty facial nerves or Familial Dysautonomia due to lack of overflowing tears or pathological laughing and crying disorder. 'Crocodile tear syndrome' is manifested by shedding tears during eating due to problems with the facial nerve. The expression 'Crocodile tears' in colloquial use refers to insincere display of grief or dishonest remorse by people. Do animals cry? Some believe that elephants, gorillas and camels do cry due to emotions but one is never sure. Lachrymators are volatile chemical substances that provoke tears and include compounds containing CS, CR, bromoacetone, phenacyl bromide, xylyl bromide etc. The famous 'tear gas', used world wide for crowd control by law enforcement agencies is 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile which stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause profuse tears and a burning sensation, without causing any permanent damage.

One of the most studied "crying phenomena" is that encountered in babies. There are many reasons for a baby to cry which include acid reflux, food allergies like cow's milk, overactive let down (OALD) caused by too much milk flow causing even choking, teething trouble, pyloric stenosis, colic problem etc and pediatricians usually have difficulties in finding out the exact cause in many cases. One wonders whether there is any truth in the old saying that "crying baby only will get the milk"! What about the common saying, 'crying over split-milk',to stop thinking about the past? Then we have the expression, crocodile tears which has nothing to do with the ferocious amphibian creature. Probably one can only cry when faced with a complex phenomenon as crying!


Sunday, July 26, 2009


Global warming is often attributed to more generation of green house gases like CO2, Nitrous Oxide, Methane and depletion of ozone in the stratosphere. Green house gases, each containing a minimum of 3 component atoms, absorb infrared radiation from earth's surface, vibrate and re-emit the radiation absorbed by them. This absorption-emission-absorption cycle in the lower atmosphere is supposed to keep heat near the surface of the earth and insulate against the cold of the space. Ozone is formed high in the atmosphere when intense light from the sun, especially ultra violet-B light with wave length of 280-315 nm, causes oxygen to break into constituent atoms and reform as ozone molecules which shield people, trees, crops, property and microbes from the harmful effects of UV light from the sun. Green house effect ensures earth's temperature is maintained at comfortable levels but too much of these emissions can heat up the surface of this planet to unbearable levels which is not desirable. A 2C rise in earth's temperature is considered to be lethal to 30% of the living creatures on this planet

Green house effect of gases and vapors vary considerably with water vapor being the most efficient one with 36-72% while CO2 contributes to 9-26%, Methane 4-9% and ozone 3-7%. During the last one and a half century the concentration of these gases has increased dramatically mostly due to human activity. CO2 level recorded an increase from 280 ppm to 387 ppm, Methane 700 ppb to 1745 ppb, NO 270 ppb to 314 ppb and Chlorofluoro Carbon from zero to 533 ppt. CO2 emission increase is mostly due to burning of fossil fuels for a variety of tasks in the modern world including energy generation, automobile running, industrial operations etc. Massive deforestation taking place around the world reduces the 'sink' effect trees have, by converting CO2 into carbohydrates through photosynthesis, allowing the gas to stay for long time in the atmosphere causing increased heat radiation. Though the temperature rise was only 1 C during the last one century, its effect on life has been phenomenal. Further rise of 2 C during this century is predicted which can have disastrous consequences if not checked in time,

Ozone, besides its role as a protectant against UV radiation reaching earth's surface, is also a green house gas. Ozone layer in the stratosphere, 10-50 km above earth's surface, acts as a shield and is considered good and beneficial. This layer absorbs 93-99 % of sun's high frequency UV light and the ozone content here is around 2-8 ppm. Any drastic reduction of ozone can cause increased radiation hazard to the population and hence to be avoided. Free radical catalysts like NO, hydroxyls, atomic bromine and chlorine generated by human activity can destroy ozone significantly. Chlorine and Bromine atoms are liberated by the action of UV light on man made chemicals like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) or Bromofluorocarbons and each radical has the potential to destroy 100,000 molecules of ozone. The present depletion rate is about 4% a decade and international community is taking action to phase out the use of these halogenated gases over a period of time. Other industrial gases like Halon, Carbon Tetrachloride, Methyl Chloroform etc extensively used in consumer products and industrial applications are also under the scanner to phase them out eventually so that the 'good ozone" is protected.

Presence of ozone in earth's atmosphere is considered bad as they cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headache, nausea, throat and lung irritation. Here again the background ozone concentration formed by a series of atmospheric chemical reactions involving nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds (VOC), if kept at low levels, may not be dangerous. When ground level ozone levels go up, it can affect plant life as well as the human beings as it is a photochemical oxidant. VOCs are invariably generated by gasoline stations, motor vehicles, airplanes, trains, boats, petroleum tankers, oil refineries and higher their levels in the air more will be the formation of ozone. Ozone is a key component in the smog that reduces visibility during summer months. Strong sun light and hot weather conditions cause ground level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air.

There is natural generation of ozone due to some plants which produce biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOC)like mono terpenes and isoprenes in significant amounts that can react with ozone precursors to form ozone at ground level. This has posed a dilemma to policy makers regarding the negative aspects of urban forestry when high biogenic hydocarbon emitting trees are planted in urban areas as CO2 sink as well as for their cooling effect. High BVOC emitting trees include Casuarina, Eucalyptus, Poplar, Oak, Willow etc. However BVOC emission accounts for only about 10% of the total VOCs generated and urban forestry is still an attractive proposition from CO2, ozone and temperature angles and if low BVOC emitting plants are chosen ozone problem may not be that significant. Ozone formation due to reaction between NO and VOCs is temperature dependent and higher the temperature more will be the ozone generation. A mature tree on an average can absorb about 22-23 kg of CO2 in an year and a 10% increase in urban canopy can reduce ozone levels by 4 ppm besides reducing the temperature by 4-5C. Ground level ozone beyond 0.075 ppm is considered undesirable in many countries.


Saturday, July 25, 2009


Bread is a loosely used expression to describe a variety of preparations from wheat and some other grains using yeast or baking powder or without any raising agents. Wheat bead has its origin in the neolithic era and there are flat breads like roti, chapathi, parota and naan in India, lavashs, taboons and sangaks from Iran, tortilla from Mexico made from corn, Scottish oat cake, pita bread of middle east, injera of Ethiopia based on Teff cereal etc. The name pound bread derives its name from the approximate weight of a loaf of bread made by yeast leavening though variables in the recipe and making method may give less than a pound or 16 oz. There are of course 1 1/2 pound and 2 pound breads also made by few bakeries. Generally recipe for a loaf is considered on the basis of 100% flour and other ingredients are incorporated as a percentage of the flour. A typical white bread recipe will have 100 parts of flour, 65 parts water, 0.25-0.50 part yeast, 0.5 part malt, 2 parts salt, 6 parts sugar, 6 parts skim milk solids and 4 parts shortening. There is also a 'pound cake' which is based on equal proportion of four ingredients (1:1:1:1), wheat flour, butter, eggs and sugar.

Original process called straight dough method took several hours, especially for optimum yeast fermentation but advent of Chorleywood bread process in 1961 cut down the time dramatically and made it possible to make bread manufacture continuously instead of earlier batch type. Use of intensive mixing through mechanical equipment and bread improvers like L-cysteine, potassium bromate, ascorbic, phosphates, amylase, protease give bread with excellent sponginess and elasticity. Wheat with 11% to 18% gluten content decides the quality of the bread and higher the protein better will be the quality of the end product. Quick breads and soda breads are made using baking powder and usually muffins, pancakes, sweet breads and banana breads are prepared using this process.

With India switching over to metric system, unlike Americans, pound bread became '400 gm bread', chopping off a neat 53 gm from the loaf. Progressively the loaf started becoming leaner and leaner and thousands of small bakeries to day offer to the consumer loaves weighing 250-280 gm per piece while in the organized sector packed breads still make 300 gm and 400 gm loaves with label declaration. Most of the consumers take it for granted that they are getting a pound loaf without realizing that they are short changed in the process. As there are no strict regulations to force the industry to make a 16 oz bread to be eligible to be called a pound loaf, the concept of pound bread has become a part of history. It is funny that most small bakeries do not pack their product in the strict sense though paper and polythene wrapping is common in front of the buyer, thus obviating the need for any label declaration or transparency.

Bread making machines are usually designed to give a pound loaf as determined by the recipe and volume of the bread making chamber. Home baking is practically non-existent in India and therefore many people have no idea about a pound loaf, satisfied with what they are getting from the street corner bakery. If consumer interest is to be protected, there must be some standardization regarding the weight of bread and unorganized sector needs to be disciplined with regard to their obligation to deliver a definite quantity of bread for the price charged by them. If organized bakery industry can sell 400 gm of bread at Rs 11-14 why should the small baker should charge same price or more for less than 70% of what the former is offering? A vexing question in a country which has got into the 'free market' band wagon in search of growth and development and price control by force is an anathema. Probably in the interest of the consumer, government can at least make it mandatory for the small bakers to declare the weight and the price on each loaf of bread before delivey or make them declare the same boldly through bill boards at a prominent place inside their shops.


Friday, July 24, 2009


The slogan"Health is Wealth" is very apt because the list of diseases to which man is vulnerable is growing every day and quality of life depends very much on freedom from some of the dreaded ailments like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, etc. No matter how wealthy one is, disease-free life can be enjoyed only if there is discipline, whether in food consumption or other activities. The science of nutrition, human physiology, biochemical functions of food and health sciences give adequate clue to maintain good quality life. Man also desires to live long and no one likes to be reminded that life is not eternal. Enough knowledge has not come to the surface regarding precise factors that influence aging and longevity. Living well and living long are the major objectives which every human being strives to achieve.

Diets needed to live well are well known with necessary calories, proteins, fats, fibers and micro nutrients. It is the gross indiscipline in eating habits that has tilted the scale against man, in spite of the enormous wealth of information available on every aspect of food. How can one define quality of life? It means different things to different people depending on their priorities in life. There is the 'quality of life index' (QLI) scale which measures the relative position of countries based on several parameters that influence life. QLI integrates data on subjective life satisfaction surveys with objective determinants of quality of life of people across the countries. It uses 9 quality of life factors to determine each country's score on a scale of 1-10. These include health and life, family life including divorce rate, community life, material well being linked to GDP at PPP, political stability and security, climate and geography, job security, political freedom and gender equality. India is supposed to have a score of 5.759 and a world ranking of 73 amongst 111 countries surveyed, with Ireland on top and Zimbabwe at the bottom. Physical quality of life index (PQLI) is another yardstick measured by literacy rate, infant mortality and life expectancy and developed into 1-100 scale. India ranks 68 as against France's top ranking of 88 and Iraq's bottom ranking of 31.

Food is undoubtedly the primary instrument for maintaining and improving our health. We know to day that key to good health is consuming more high nutrient density foods and avoiding or less frequent intake of calorie dense foods. Many foods are sources of good nutrients, helping to keep healthy, as well as bad nutrients that adversely affect the health in the long run. Wrong foods can increase the risk of diseases several fold and need to be avoided. Beyond food, there are factors which affect the well being of human body such as diseases, infectious as well as metabolic types, caused by the environment and genetic inheritance of each individual. Overall Nutritional Quality Index(ONQI), being used by some food manufacturers provide a comparative scale to the consumers regarding the impact of foods on them. ONQI uses 30 nutrients including vitamins, minerals and phytochemical nutrients, considered favorable for health and others like saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, sugar and cholesterol considered unhealthy, to assess various food materials. On a scale of 1-100, healthy foods are supposed to score high while unhealthy foods will have low scores based on which consumer can make an informed choice.

Advocates of Calorie Restriction diets stress the fact that those regularly consuming 30% less calorie based foods can live longer but living long has no meaning if the quality of life is not worth crowing about. Living well and living long too, must be the center piece of one's life


Thursday, July 23, 2009


Of all the inconveniences put up by a house wife while doing her daily chores in the kitchen, most persistent one is that caused by the mighty cockroaches. There are about 4000 species of roaches spread all over the world, of which only 30 are associated with human habitats. A large roach can weigh up to 50 gm though majority of them come in the range of 5-10 gm. Smallest one is about 4 mm long while the biggest species can have a wing span of almost 18 cm! They are historical with their ancestors dating back to 350 million years during the carboniferous period. One of the most sturdy living creatures man has encountered, roaches can withstand radiation of the order of 67000 rem, a dose 100 times more than what humans can tolerate. A small dose of 800 rem is supposed to be lethal to human being. German roaches can even tolerate higher doses up to 105000 rem. A decapitated roach can be alive for almost a week reflecting its perseverance and persistence! Which terrestrial creature can hold breath for 40 minutes under water? A roach can!

Since they can live in all climates roaches infest all houses unless preventive measures are taken. Their preference is for tropical humid climates and Indian climate suits them well. No house hold can be immune to the presence of roaches in spite of all preventive measures taken since such measures can only control their population, not eliminate them totally. Generally they live for 3 months and some times for more than 6 months under favorable conditions. They can survive without food for a month as one night's feast is sufficient for living in a hibernated condition. But without water they can only live for a week. They lay their eggs in hard sacs known as ootheca containing several of the eggs, carrying with them for two days before depositing in safe places. A pair of cockroaches can produce more than a lack of descendants in an year reflecting their enormous procreative ability causing population explosion.

Roaches can penetrate crevices of size less than 0.5 mm. Their nocturnal activities are restricted to about 4 hours after the lights are off in the kitchen and 75% of the time they rest hidden from human eyes. They feed on any thing which includes milk, sweets, starchy foods, over ripe fruits, etc. In a normal house hold 50% of the roach population will be in the kitchen as it is the source of food and they know about it. In some houses the roach population can be as high as 1000 at any given time. Left over food materials, food liters on and around the dining tables, unkempt stores, below the kitchen stove where food splattering and spill overs are not cleaned regularly and storage shelves with crevices, attract them for accessing their food needs and for resting and reproduction.

Why do man detests cockroaches? Probably because they are associated with filth. In reality not even a single food poisoning episode in human history has been attributed to this house hold pest though they do carry with them pathogens on their body. One aspect on which roaches are to be viewed with seriousness is their suspected role in inducing Asthma which is thought to be due to secretion of Tropomyosin, a confirmed allergen. Since they do not have the ability to detect foods from a distance, they run over whatever food they come across during their "night out" causing obnoxious smell through their droppings. However there is one place under the sun where roaches are welcome, Texas, USA where farmers discovered their ability to destroy cotton bollworms, considered a pest that affect cotton production in the region.

Boric acid powder, hydramethylnon, deltamethrin, pyrethrin and some pesticides are toxic to roaches. Aerosol sprays containing the pesticide formula with thin delivery tube attached at 45 degree can effectively reach hard to access points to eliminate them. Hydramethynon, belonging to the class of chemicals known as trifluoromethyl aminohydrazone is a metabolic inhibitor highly poisonous to roaches and is extensively used for baiting. Sulfuryl chloride fumigation is effective in controlling their population and periodic fumigation of sewer lines, both inward and outward, is needed to avoid large scale migration into the house. The fact that they cannot travel more than 300 feet makes them create colonies through 'breed and expand' strategy, their travel route being the covered underground sewage lines in the urban areas. Unless and until home owners understand the life style of cock roaches and take precautions to discourage their breeding within their premises, theses uninvited 'guests' are bound to become 'permanent residents', co-existing with the real owners of the house! .


Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Honesty and sincerity form the basis of the character in a person and sacrificing these traits for limited immediate gains will be foolhardy in the long run. A person is remembered after his life time for his good deeds and actions, not for the amount of wealth amassed as many seem to think. Psychologists and sociologists always stress on 'character building" amongst children before they become full grown adults. It is not that character development does not continue during adolescence but what is achievable is incremental improvements. If proper parenting and schooling benefits are denied to children at their impressionable year, it is more likely that they may fail to become honest citizens later.

In the ladder of corruption India has the enviable position some where at the mid-point and one often wonders why this nation got itself into this sorry pass, in spite of the glorious history behind it and superior intelligence and capabilities which can be the envy of any country. There may be many excuses but fundamentally it is due to disintegration of the old joint family system yielding to nuclear families where neither the parents nor the education system could replace the wisdom and restraining hands of the elders in large families. With both the parents working and the education system we have currently in shambles, the chances of the children imbibing all wrong values are very high. It is good to hear the new HRD Minister at Delhi talking about overhauling the system to make it more transparent and value-based. According to Transparency International, India occupies 72 nd position while top 3 countries with least corruption include New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden. Bottom 3 positions are held by Somalia, Myanmar and Iraq. It is no consolation that there are more than 100 countries more corrupt than us in the corruption scale!

Indonesia, which scores 143 in the corruption scale is notorious for its wide spread bribery and corruption, seems to have realized the need for setting their house in order for the sake of the security of their future generation and is reported to be trying to reverse the trend through voluntary efforts. Since students are the future citizens destined to shoulder responsibility to hold the country's flag high, the government there is trying out a novel approach involving them. A series of "Honesty Cafes" have been conceived where students and other customers are expected to pay for the food service voluntarily and more than 10000 such establishments in private and public sectors are expected to be established through out the country by the end of this year. This is a 'managerless' system with high degree of transparency and the hope is that participants will feel the pleasure of being honest, to begin with in these cafes and later practice the same in their lives. Their experience so far in its 6 months of operation, indicates that these honesty cafes are doing very well in locations like schools while some resistance was discerned in other places. Though it is too early to predict the outcome of this venture, if found effective can be a model for other countries to try out.

In India, it is doubtful whether such experiments will succeed though there is nothing wrong to try it out in some of the metros. More effective will be to evolve teaching techniques at the kindergarten and primary school levels that will reward children for being truthful and honest. There could even be honesty courses, to be compulsory for all, in order to pass out to the next class. Moral lessons should be part of the curriculum of every school though pessimists may baulk at such schemes as sheer waste. The idiom "catch them young" is highly relevant when it comes to inculcating honesty amongst youngsters.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It is the cherished goal of every country under the WTO regime to attain high value addition to their raw materials, the assumption being that such a policy will generate employment and increase GDP. In the process the interest of the vast consumer community seems to have been short circuited. Value addition (VA) does generate an array of economic activities considered to be desirable from a national perspective but uncontrolled escalation of prices of consumer goods can backfire as is happening in India. While GOI 'figures' claim that inflation is on the negative mode, the prices of practically every consumer good, except probably electronic industry products, have risen sharply. In some cases the MRP values have been raised by as much as 50%. Food materials that provide life substance to the billion plus population in the country are no exception to this price spurt. Can this be true value addition or consumer exploitation?

According to classical definition, 'value added' refers to difference between the cost of raw material inputs procured by the processor plus the cost of labor to make the product and the price at which the end product is sold. In pharmaceutical industry GOI used to compute the production cost of some of the vital drugs for arriving at a selling price under the price control policy and if food industry can adopt a transparent policy regarding costing, consumers may not cringe paying a higher price to ensure decent profit for the entrepreneurial efforts of the industry. Vast sums spent on commercial promotion of the products, the final price to the consumer reaches some time 2000% of the cost of raw material used which makes the product exorbitantly costly.

In a free market economy price control is not generally done trusting the industry to exercise moderation in product pricing. Whether industry behaves responsibly is another matter. While price manipulation by the traders is rampant in the country, GOI attempts to restrain them through policy measures, though commendable, are not effective as can be seen by the recent spurt in prices of sugar, rice, wheat, pulses, etc. The import liberalization of edible oils helped in checking their prices to some extent. The tragedy is that not even a fraction of the rise in consumer prices goes to the real 'hero' in this picture-the grower or the producer, the full beneficiary being the intermediaries like whole salers and retail traders. When Amul created history by organizing the milk producers into viable cooperatives, leading to the white revolution, there was hope that farmers of this country have found a route to prosperity by getting decent returns to their produce. Unfortunately this success eluded the producers of other items like fruits and vegetables, cereals, pulses and oil seeds. Politicization of cooperative movement is best manifested in the sugar sector which has to bear some responsibility for the 100% rise in price of this commodity.

As for value addition by the processing industry, the vast difference between raw material price and the MRP defies any logic and reasoning. Take the case of potato chips. There are thousands of 'hot chips' units in the informal sector which sell the product around Rs 100 per kg but the so called organized sector offers the same product at more than Rs 300 per kg. True, the branded product has some extra attributes like attractive packing, marginally better eating qualities and slightly longer shelf life but does it justify the exorbitant MRP demanded? Same is true about many products manufactured and marketed by the organized sector of food industry, be it corn flakes, chocolates, sugar candies, fruit juices, soft drinks or any other consumer foods. In advanced countries the buying power of the consumer is substantial and such loading on the final price could be borne by them. But in a poor country like India, consumer price must be reasonable if the benefit of technology has to percolate down.

According to the MFPI, GOI, current level of value addition in the food processing sector is about 20% which is targeted to increase to 35% in 5 years. Qualitatively the target is reasonable but the quantitative addition is some thing on which neither the governments nor the consumers have any control. In a free economy this is supposed to be controlled by the marketing forces and the ground reality is that market forces are greatly influenced by large Indian and multinational companies dealing with potato chips, soft drinks, break fast cereals, infant foods, weaning foods, bakery products, chocolate products etc with the informal sector playing a minor role. Unless and until we go back to the proactive policy of encouraging and supporting micro enterprises and small scale processors, the consumer will continue to pay unreasonably high prices to buy packed foods which after all offers convenience and savings in time for hard pressed middle class families of this country. Let a billion such enterprises bloom and let the real and reasonable value addition zoom to 100% through their efforts!



Garlic is reputed to be one of the most beneficial spices/condiments, man has known because of its ability to reduce serum cholesterol, when consumed regularly. As many do not like the intense smell native to garlic, there is considerable resistance in adopting it as a regular component of the diet consumed every day. The lingering strong body odor that refuses to fade away from the body quickly makes the situation worse. Garlic derives its characteristic aroma from the break down products of the chemical Allicin which is considered to be beneficial for reducing cholesterol build up in the arteries and lessen the chances of risk of stroke and heart attack.

Now it turns out that garlic also happens to be one of the significant food components possessing powerful anti oxidant activity, though it does not boast of levels of traditionally well established anti oxidants like flavonoids that are known to be present in green tea, grapes and many other plant sources in abundance. Anti oxidant organic compounds when ingested are able to neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals generated at the tissue level and prevent cell damage. If some of the recent reports are to be believed, Allicin, derived from Alliin aminoacid by the action of Allinase enzyme during crushing of the garlic cloves is the active principle responsible for the anti oxidant activity, though the precise mechanism is not yet known. As Allicin is not very stable, it is presumed that some of the metabolic products of Allicin could be the real substances that trap the oxy radicals. On the other hand Allixin, a non-sulfur containing compound has been suggested as the active principle with significant anti-oxidant activity and therefore the ability of garlic to fight against cancer is attributed to this substance at least by some experts.

In spite of the divergence of opinion, Allicin has been shown to be active against stomach cancer by several studies. Use of pure Alliin and allicinase enzyme in conjunction with Rituxymab antibody has been demonstrated to be able to kill cancer cells confirming that Allicin can also be effective against some cancer forms. Sulfenic acids, break down products of Allicin have been found to be effective in trapping free radicals. Besides its anti cancer property, Allicin is also known to have other beneficial effects like reducing atherosclerosis, decreasing fat deposition in the body, normalizing lipoprotein balance, decreasing blood pressure and is anti thrombotic and anti inflammatory.

Allistatin I and II are bioflavonoids, present in garlic with antibiotic properties against many viral and bacterial infections. Their effectiveness against Sstaphylococcus and E.coli are well established and the activity exhibited by them is more powerfull than many antibiotic drugs used to fight infections in allopathy. In some countries garlic is an accepted remedy for whooping cough and influenza infections. Besides garlic also contains other bioflavonoids like quercitin and cyanidins with health promoting properties which cannot be ignored. The established credentials of garlic as a health protecting food adjunct have helped food technologists to evolve technologies for preparing biologically active products from this source. Tendency of Allicin to decompose in concentrated form has been overcome by suitable dilution and drying to get active powder preparations with its activity stabilized. Unless the tissue structure is disrupted Alliin and Allinase cannot react to gether to form Allicin and such a preprocessing step is a prerequisite for obtaining effective end products. While Allicin is responsible for the pungency in garlic, di allyl sulfide, a break down product from Allicin contributes to the strong aroma.

Hundreds of garlic based products being marketed with tall claims are not subjected to any statutory control and consumers are at their wits end to decide about their choice. One of the most prevalent types of misleading information is to use the term 'Allicin equivalent' on the label. Allicin is not readily present in garlic and not only it is unstable, its formation is dependent on enzyme Allinase which must be present in such products. The USP standards require garlic powder preparations to contain Alliin not less than 0.3% in dry weight basis. Expressing Allicin value in terms of 'Allicin releasing' potential is considered more useful and reliable for consumer guidance. Probably it is time now to evolve enforceable standards in India for different garlic products based on the levels of some of the active principles which may be easy to measure in analytical laboratories and to insist on mandatory labeling to make the products transparent in terms of the health attributes.


Monday, July 20, 2009


A recent study in UK has revealed how physicians take to the drug route to treat persons diagnosed with Type II diabetes based on blood sugar readings marginally higher than the upper limit considered as normal. While a glucose level of 100 mg per deciliter is considered normal for fasting, 150 mg per deciliter is taken as normal level for post-prandial sugar. Due to many reasons blood sugar levels tend go beyond these notional values and many a time normal levels are achieved without any treatment at all. Tendency in western countries is to treat diabetes symptoms aggressively, fearing serious damage to the body system if not brought under control. It is indisputable that persistent high levels of sugar can precipitate many collateral disorders like CVD, kidney damage, neuropathy etc and such patients must be under medical supervision with suitable medicines that are available under different brand names.
It is ridiculous to see the present paranoia of people diagnosed as marginal diabetics, obsessed with glucose monitoring half a dozen times every day using expensive enzyme strips and sophisticated measuring devices. In India each enzyme strip, with limited life, costs between Rs 15 and Rs 50 while the digital reader is being sold at around Rs 2000 per unit. Added to this the lancer pen and the lancers, used pricking the finger to raw blood through capillary action, cost another fortune. What about the painful pricks one has to endure each time testing is to be done. It is not realized that measurement of glycosylated hemoglobin once in 3 months can give a better picture about the sugar dynamics in the blood than frequent testing at home. Probably those with Type I diabetes may need to keep a strict vigil on their blood sugar levels, since they are insulin dependent, based on which they can design their diets and prevent episodes of hypoglycemia.
Unless you are an athlete or physically hard working person, there is no need to try for fast rise in glucose in the blood and 'evening out' sugar absorption from the intestine is considered a much better way of staying healthy. As for diabetes affected persons, the best course is to think of modifying the food habits to eat more of foods with low glycaemic index (GL) and low glycaemic load(GL) per serving, in stead of fast sugar releasing foods like sweets, refined flour based foods and high GI products. It has become a routine in India also to condemn people with marginally higher sugar levels in the blood as diabetics though mercifully they are branded Type II diabetics and put on allopathic medicines on a regular basis for their life time. Generally those leading some what sedentary life style are likely to cross the 'Random Blood Sugar' threshold of 150 mg between the age 50 and 60 years and if adequate diet adjustment is made, probably there may not be any need for medication to 'manage' blood glucose.
Why people do not have faith in foods as a means of tackling this mild metabolic aberration is some thing puzzling. As early as 1550 BC the famous Ebers Papyrus had advocated treating diabetic syndrome with high fiber wheat grain and not much has changed since then except we have a mulibillion pharma industry churning out hundreds of medicines to lower blood sugar amongst the population supposed to be affected. Plant foods must be the drugs of choice to deal with diabetics at its early stages and there are more than 400 plants identified, used and prescribed as diabetic remedies. Why low GI foods are prefered for healthy living? It increases body's sensitivity to insulin, reduces significantly the risk of CVD, controls blood sugar better in case of diabetics, reduces cholesterol levels and reduces the cravings for food. Diets dominated by oats, barley, whole grains bases foods, multigrain breads and rotis, pasta, nuts, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, raw onion, garlic, bitter gourd, bengal gram, yogurt, beans, apple and grapefruit, ground nut and soybean, in any permutation-combination can help to control glucose levels in the blood.
There is more or less unanimity that we must consume at least 30-35 gm dietary fiber daily. Also we must spread out the number of meals from 2-3 to 4-5 per day, avoid high fat bakery foods replacing them with cooked whole cereals, avoid eating carbohydrate meals 2 hours before bed time and consume daily at least 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables. It is advisable for an individual to adopt a low salt daily diet involving whole cereals, legumes, green beans and starchy vegetables as main energy source through 5-6 servings, variety of vegetables for supplying micro nutrients, health sustaining phytochemicals and some fiber via 3-5 servings, fruits another 2-3 servings, milk 2-3 servings, meat and allied foods 2-3 servings and fats and sweets 1/2 to 1 serving or less. The motto of modern society should be to go back to nature and less dependence on drugs and medicines for healthy life.


There is serious allegation that modern agriculture symbolized by massive deployment of energy and chemical intensive inputs has helped only to quantitatively increase the food supply while qualitatively bringing down the benefits to mankind. Green revolution in India was hailed once as a miraculous achievement because the country was able to raise food production through technologies developed ingenuously and adopted willingly by the farmers. GOI is talking about a second green revolution with MoFPI even announcing its future programs to usher in an 'evergreen' revolution, whatever that means. Degradation of farm lands, contaminated water bodies, tainted food supply and rural poverty are all now being attributed to the past wrong agricultural practices. How far this can be accepted, especially after honoring all who contributed to green revolution, in sixties and seventies is another dilemma. Are we becoming a thankless society condemning the very same people who were heroes till recently?

This blogger does not wish to enter into the controversy by blaming any person or organizations and leave it to those in charge of our agriculture to ponder over the criticisms based on facts and figures. But in a recent piece of introspection by Mr Devinder Sharma, a learned food and trade policy analyst , as published by Deccan Herald of July 9, 2009, came to the conclusion based on his analyzes, that growth of agricultural production, achieved by the country due to green revolution, entailed a high cost in terms of progressive decline in the levels of some critical nutrients. Out of the 12 nutrients evaluated there seems to be decline in case of 6, in crops harvested from high-yielding variety seeds. Similarly between 1950 and 1999, garden vegetables grown with input intensive production technologies, were found to have significantly reduced levels of six nutrients which include iron, calcium, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. Such a situation is indeed startling and on an average the drop in nutrients in food grains amounted to 15%-40%, with copper content declining as much as 80%. Whether the lower levels of copper and other nutrients in the staples has contributed to the widely prevalent modern day diseases like hypercholesterolemia needs to be probed scientifically.

Such alarming changes were reported vis-a-vis iron, calcium and phosphorus in pulses, rice and wheat. To day's pulses, the major source of proteins for poor vegetarians (who cannot afford to buy adequate quantity of milk), have some what reduced levels of this critical macro nutrient. Historically foods raised between 1845 and 1960 had uniformly same concentration of nutrients and the decline as seen to day started coinciding with the beginning of the high yielding era under green revolution. There appears to be a correlation between higher yield and nutrient content in the crops, probably because of depletion of many critical soil nutrients in the exhausted soil, as farmers, in their relentless pursuit of high yield from their limited land holdings, started replacing the traditional 'broad nutrients' rich natural organic manure with 'limited nutrients' containing synthetic fertilizers on a large scale. The increasing attraction to organic foods by many consumers may augur well for the future since chemical fertilizer use is ruled out in raising these crops.

Country needs such incisive and objective analysts like Mr Devinder Sharma to bring to surface many startling, though unpalatable, facts of vital concern to the citizens, which otherwise get burried in the avalanche of pedestrian information barrage articulated by the modern day media barons in the name of news coverage. India must wake up to the reality that input intensive agricultural technology cannot be the sole answer to the food problem and alternative 'farmer and consumer friendly' options must be explored for a better and more secure future. It is unfair to condemn down right the green revolution which after all served the purpose of avoiding large scale starvation in the country though at the cost of progressively declining health of the population unwittingly.


Thursday, July 16, 2009


In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Cloning are two technologies, emerging as potential solutions to get high quality foods from animals. But how far these foods are free from any future health problems is a matter of conjecture. The raging controversy regarding the safety of GM foods is an example of a modern technology caught in the web of uncertainties because of lack of unanimity amongst scientific communities in different countries regarding any likely long term health consequences by the consumption of foods produced by the new technology. What is not clearly understood by the vast majority of people concerned with the safety of IVF and cloned animals is that these technologies are too expensive to be used widely for producing commonly consumed animal based foods. The cloning cost for a cow is about $17000 while for pigs it is more than $ 4000. If this is true what is the issue about which people are concerned? It is all about the safety of the products from the off springs of the cloned mother.

Breeding and reproduction are the at the very core of animal derived food chain and quality and safety of these products depend very much on the parent stock and breeding technology. IVF was first used in rabbits in 1959 and later in 1968 first IVF lab mouse was created. First human baby was born in 1978, commonly referred to as test tube baby as the embryo was developed in the lab before implantation. First live calf through IVF arrived in 1981 and this technology is widely used for improving and expanding genetics. A genetically superior cow can be produced from an inferior one using IVF technology and subsequent generations are expected to inherit the vastly improved qualities of the former. Basically IVF is a procedure that involves retrieving eggs (oocytes) and sperm from the male and female and placing them together in a lab dish to facilitate fertilization. Fertilized eggs are then allowed to develop in vitro and after several days, transferred into females reproductive tract for further development of the embryo. The animals produced through IVF possess superior traits that are desirable and further propagation by normal process provides a better quality source for better products derived from them. IVF, thus, is a route to produce better performing animal generations by the breeders.

Reproductive cloning, an extension of the IVF technology, is based on the process of 'somatic cell nuclear transfer' (SCNT) that is part of the assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) currently used in agriculture. Many mistakenly believe that cloned animals are genetically modified which is not true. SCNT transfers genetic material from the nucleus of a donor adult cell to an egg whose nucleus has been removed. The reconstructed egg containing the DNA of the donor cell has to be treated with chemicals or electric current in order to stimulate cell division. Cloned embryos need to be transferred to the uterus of a female host to develop till birth. Clones from cattle, swines, sheep, goat and many animal species have been produced in significant numbers all over the world and safety authorities in USA, Canada, Japan and several other countries have cleared commercialization of the technology having found no risks in consuming products from the off springs of cloned parents. How ever cloning is beset with some logistical and practical problems like low rate of success compared to sexually derived products. Dolly, the first cloned sheep, was a result of 275 unsuccessful attempts and it lived for 6 years as against the normal life span of 12 years though it became mother of 6 off springs during its life time.

According to FAO almost one third of global meat trade is affected by one or the other animal diseases and it considers this a lost business to the tune of $ 10 billion out of $ 35 billion total world exports. USA and Canada account for more than 25% of world beef production and they have a heavy stake in cattle breeding free from diseases. For developing countries like India cloning provides a viable route to upgrade its population of buffaloes, cows, sheep and pigs, provided the safety issues are resolved to the satisfaction of our scientists, administrators and consumers. Better, higher and cheaper milk production can be one area of immense interest,more than the meat products, as a vast majority of people in the country depend on milk for their essential nutrition. Meat exports, which fetch good returns to the livestock sector, can also benefit by evolving disease-free animals which will have far lesser problems in meeting ever-stiffening global quality and safety standards.



Ever since man discovered fire, cooking is a ritual firmly ingrained in his culture. Heating any food before consumption is an instinctive behavior special to man because he wants the food to be safe from dangers associated with contamination and spoilage. It was only later that man learned how cooking enhances the sensory pleasure and many developments in cooking technology made it easy to create a variety of eating sensation through aroma, taste and texture. Cooking does destroy some nutrients naturally present in the food but also increases the nutritive value of many foods by inactivating undesirable enzymes and reducing levels of harmful constituents.

Domestic cooking till about 5 decades ago was centered around open hearths using fire wood, charcoal, dried cow dung, agricultural wastes and similar fuels easily available at close proximity. Advent of fossil fuels and organized generation of electricity reduced dependence on smoke-spewing open hearths and scientifically designed stoves using gas and/or electricity became the norm. Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) has become ubiquitous in to day's urban house holds with almost 100% coverage and it is percolating down to rural homes near towns, cities and semi urban areas. Electricity is losing its edge due to uncertainty of supply from the public grid, uncontrolled price escalation and inefficient heating mode. With international prices of crude oil fluctuating wildly, uncertainties associated with LPG supply and cost, its reliability is also under a cloud. Large scale oil exploration within India has raised hopes that the country may have comfortable sources of cooking gas which are being piped in some cities for delivery to users, in stead of the bottled version.

What about the most convenient and customer-friendly microwave cooking? It is doubtful whether this mode of cooking will ever be able to have a strangle hold on Indian house wives, as is the case in many industrialized countries. Microwave heating, ever since it was accidentally discovered in 1940 in the US, is based on non-ionizing microwave radiation at a frequency of 2.45 giga herz (GHz). When passed through the food the latter absorbs the energy, makes the molecules of water and other liquids which are bipolar in nature, rotate to align themselves with the electric field created and generating heat in the process of colliding amongst them selves. Fat or oil, though less polar than water, exhibits faster rate of heating due to its lower specific heat which is less than half that of water. Dissolved salts, being ionic in nature also generate heat in the electric field, due to theses ions colliding with each other. A typical MW oven has a rating of 1100 watts load but the out put is about 700 watts of microwave power but wastage of energy for heating the container is avoided making it as efficient as conventional heating

There are some misconceptions and apprehensions about microwave use (MW) for heating foods. Just like normal heating MW heating also heats up the surface first though many mistakenly believe that MW heats the core first before heating outer layers. True, MW has high penetrating power and in relatively dry foods, the surface does not get heated fast since MW penetrates into the center of the food heating it first and the heat conducted outward there after. MW is not related to ionizing radiation as with X-rays or irradiation and fear of cancer causing artifacts like dioxines, is totally misplaced. Nutritional damage to foods is much below that caused in conventional cooking, though blind opposition to MW makes at least some people believe this canard. MW ovens are designed to make them user friendly and accident proof by integrated electronic circuitry and most ovens do not leak radiation beyond 5 milli watts per square centimeter at 2 ft distance from the surface of the oven as per international specifications.

Containers used for MW heating pose much more danger if no proper attention is paid in their selection. Ceramics with safe glazes and glasses with no trapped micro-air bubbles are considered safe while plastic containers do raise some pertinent safety questions. Lack of awareness about the dangers of using non-food grade plastics for food contact applications is one of the risks using MW heating. Since temperature in MW oven can be as high as 100C, high melting plastics only are suitable for fabricating MW compatible containers and manufacturers have to declare this information on each of these containers. Use of brown papers, plastic grocery bags, aluminum foil, paper towels made with recycled fiber and dyes or chemicals, thin storage bags is not advisable. Explosive spurting of over heated water and bursting of closed containers without vents can also pose some danger to the users. Convection microwave ovens are designed to take care of higher temperature needs like baking. New designs incorporating high power halogen bulbs help to heat surfaces to get desirable browning or crust are emerging to lure more customers.

Why MW ovens may not catch up n India? In a country like the US 90% of the house holds have at least on MW oven where as in India the corresponding figure is an abysmally low, being less than 1%!. The annual sale of 1.2 million pieces of MW ovens, claimed to be growing at 25% per year, reflects the lack of universal acceptability of this system in the country. The severe limitations of container system, frequent power failures, high temperature cooking practices involving frequent stirring, non uniform heating, perceptional non-satisfaction with foods cooked with MW and mistaken association of MW with irradiation, all contribute to this situation. Probably MW oven may at best be an occasionally used kitchen appliance, just for heating foods before serving rather than as a gadget for cooking.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Advent of synthetic chemistry has led to the founding of a roaring business involving vitamins, minerals, biologically active nutrients and others. Modern industrial society is relying heavily on processed foods which are often fortified with many micro and macro nutrients. Food technology strives to protect foods from the ravages of vectors and extent the supply during all seasons besides providing variety and convenient foods to the the consumers of today. But in that process many natural foods lose part of their nutrient content and depletes its health value. Enrichment and fortification technologies attempt to compensate for such losses and some time making them more nutritive than their unprocessed counterparts.
According FAO-WHO Codex Alimetarius Commission definition, fortification is" the addition of one or more essential nutrients to a food, whether or not it is normally contained in the food for the purpose of preventing or correcting a demonstrated deficiency in the population or specific population groups". Global concern about chronic deficiency of some vitamins, iodine and iron has given an impetus to fortification efforts in many countries to protect their populations. Commonly it is understood that the term 'enrichment' refers to restoration of nutrients lost during processing while fortification involves addition of nutrient to a food which does not contain the particular nutrient in its original form. Industry resorts to nutrient addition as a part of the process to maintain uniformity in the final product. Most cases of fortification pertain to vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and proteins.
Nutrient supplementation of food finds mention since 400 BC when the Persian physician Melanpus advocated addition of iron filings to wines to increase the potency of soldiers to fight wars. In 1813 addition of iodine to salt was suggested in France. Ever since then, products like margarine (Vit A & D ), Milk ( Vit D), flours ( Vit B1, B2, Niacin and iron) are routinely enriched in many countries. To day a wide range of processed foods come, enriched or fortified with many nutrients as permitted by the food laws that exist in each country. These include iodine in salt, vit A & D in milk and margarine, Vit A in sugar, MSG and tea, iron in infant formulas and cookies, calcium in soy milk and orange juice, omega-3 acids in orange juice, vitamins and minerals in RTE cereals, diet beverages, enteral and parenteral solutions.
Three issues which create some concern amongst the consumers are the bioavailability of nutrients incorporated in the food, their stability during processing, storage and cooking at home and the level of addition of the nutrients. Vitamin C is not stable at pH levels above or below 7 while it is susceptible to air and oxygen besides resulting in 100% loss during cooking. Similarly folic acid is stable only above pH 7, unstable in presence of air and oxygen, heat labile losing 100% during cooking. Vitamin A is unstable at acidic conditions and cooking losses can be as high as 40%. Niacin is lost to the extent of 75% during cooking while Vit B12 is fairly stable with cooking losses being less than 10%. Minerals are generally stable during processing as well as cooking though ferrous compounds can be oxidized to ferric forms in presence of air and oxygen. In India, except for iodine fortification of salt no organized efforts are visible to incorporate nutrients in processed foods though some proprietary products are marketed containing many nutrients.
With a wide range of products fortified with vitamins and minerals, some stray reports highlight over consumption of some of these nutrients which benefits only the pharma industry manufacturing them. There are also apprehensions that some of the vitamins and minerals, when consumed at high levels can pose danger to consumer health. Some of the risks include nerve damage (pyridoxine, folic acid), kidney disorders ( Vit C, Calcium and magnesium), liver problems (Vit A ), heart problems (Vit D, magnesium), cancer (iron) and osteoporosis (Vit D and phosphate). While water soluble vitamins, when ingested in excess get flushed out limiting the risks of over dosing, fat soluble vitamins get concentrated in the body when consumed in excess posing some real danger. However overdosing through food route may not be wide spread though from the economic point of view they are considered sheer waste.
A national policy must be evolved on fortification of foods centered around the health and nutrition status of the population. Nutrients like iodine, iron , calcium and phosphorus, vitamins A,D and E, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids are some of the relevant ones deserving attention and food processing industry must take the lead to produce foods fortified with them. Restoring the nutrients lost during processing should also be made mandatory. Fortification as a general policy needs to be based on calorie concentration in each food so that when a consumer takes 2000 kc he is assured of receiving what is needed only and avoid excess consumption.


Research is nothing but pursuit of truth and vision and creativity and honesty are at the core of success of any research endeavor. Research followed by development is supposed to lead to innovations of practical significance. While basic research establishes new principles and theoretic foundations, applied research is the route to commercial development and industrial technologies. In India R & D activities are more or less confined to 8400 universities and a dozen GOI Departments. There are hundreds of universities spanning the country but very few have sufficient reputation to stand tall in the world of science while a large number of them are suffering from low quality infrastructure, manpower and grossly inadequate resources.GOI funded R & D in CSIR Labs, DBT institutions, BARC, ISRO, ICAR group, ICMR group, DRDO group and others are specific task oriented with links to end users. Private sector research is largely profit oriented ending up in the patent office for protection under intellectual property rights.

Since public funds for R & D are provided in GOI budgetary plans, the agencies, organizations, institutions and projects receiving financial support have to conform to the hierarchical and bureaucratic procedures being followed by GOI ministries with minor changes. The characteristic features of GOI working method are based on rigid bureaucracy and tight hierarchy amongst the administrative personnel. Each cog in the GOI wheel has definite designations, power and responsibility. Time is not the essence of working in GOI establishments. Unfortunately by adopting such a system by research agencies, most of them claiming to be autonomous (on paper?), creativity and innovation potential amongst scientists are severely curbed as governance is invariably based on the surmise that "every body is dishonest unless proved otherwise". Proving to be honest is like the proverbial chastity belt and to prevent misuse of government funds, elaborate rules and regulations have been put in place with a heavy administrative machinery vested with overseeing the spending by the scientists. As time is not as important to the administrative personnel as much as the procedure to be followed, stifling of the enthusiasm and initiatives amongst the scientific community lead to mediocre research of little significance.

Hear what Mr Ratan J Tata, the senior member of Tata family which founded the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at Bangalore 100 years ago and the living Titan in the industrial landscape of the country, has to say about the crisis in India vis-a-vis scientific research, spoken at the centenary celebrations of this premier scientific and training organization. According to him "the IISc must seek to cover new grounds instead of building a fortress around us. IISc has to change and the hierarchy has to be demolished. Money, quality life, opportunities and facilities including the freedom to work are the primary reasons for the brain drain. We need to equip our institutions in a way where all the facilities are available". Well said but is there any body in Delhi taking seriously what Mr Tata had to say? Unlikely!

The archaic procedures, cumbersome purchase mechanisms, delays in releasing funds for required expenditure, compelling scientists to bow before administrative and accounts staff, hierarchical power structure that gives very little power of spending to working scientists and exploitation of credits due to the less powerful working scientists by more powerful 'bosses' up in the hierarchy have made the S&T sector almost moribund during the last 2-3 decades. Paying high salaries to scientists without providing them with the tools and motivation to perform cannot be expected to enrich our scientific temper by any stretch of imagination.