Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Grown in many countries spread across all the continents, sugar cane is the main source of white sugar which has become an integral part of any diet. It is another thing that sugar, along with fat and salt are becoming synonymous with many diseases of the mankind we see to day. While Brazil is the largest producer of sugar cane with an annual production of 514 million tons (mt), accounting for almost one third of the world production, India ranks number two with a production of 356 mt and China is a distant third producing 106 mt. While a substantial portion of production in Brazil is routed for ethanol production for use as a biofuel, India makes products like white sugar, brown sugar, jaggery, molasses and ethyl alcohol. A unique product from sugar cane is its juice being made and sold fresh by small vendors in some countries like Hong Kong, Zanzibar, Pakistan, India,Vietnam, Brazil etc.

According to some scientific studies, sugar cane juice is a rich source of some unique phytochemicals which include policosanol a very long chain aliphatic alcohol and antioxidants like chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, umbelliferone kaempferol and sinapic acid. Its antioxidant activity as measured on ORAC scale, is very high, 1.26 to 2.61 million units per 100 gm dry weight, reflecting its property to protect health. Regular consumption is claimed to be effective in reducing LDL cholesterol and it is a useful antiinflammatory, antiviral, neuroprotective material. Traditionally it is used for treating sore throat, cold, flu, fever, jaundice, urinary tract problems and blood pressure, strengthening stomach, kidneys, heart, eyes and brain,combating prostate and breast cancers.

Many educated consumers shun sugar cane juice because of the unhygienic environment where it is made and served, uncertain health status of the vendor, doubts about the safety of sugar cane used to extract juice and the hygienic condition of the extraction equipment, utensils and serving glasses used by the vendor. Realizing the business opportunities, an organized attempt is being made in Bangalore to offer the consumer a high quality version of the product with assured safety and there are 19 outlets now in different localities in the city where it is available with flavors like mint, lime, ginger, salt & pepper and chaat masala. With an investment of Rs 8-20 lakh for each kiosk, these outlets use imported S S peeling and extraction equipment for making the juice fresh. More fascinating is the backward integration this entrepreneur was able to achieve for sourcing suitable quality cane by paying higher prices to the growers. This is a classic example of a visionary entrepreneur who sensing the need for such a wonderful product in the market, invested wisely with thorough knowledge about the dynamics of food processing and consumer expectations.

Success is bound to follow such entrepreneurs and if the future plans of the enterprise in Bangalore are any indication, it is a question of a few months before such kiosks start sprouting all over the country. Let this breed of small scale players with farsighted vision and commitment multiply manifold to make India the entrepreneurial capital of the world!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Milk is supposed to be a complete food providing almost all nutrients needed by the body and the very fact that a new born baby depends entirely on its mother's milk for growth and development is a standing testimony to the wholesomeness of milk. Of course mother's milk differs from cow's milk in some aspects but still latter is one of the most balanced and nutritive products known to man. If this is so why do we see in the super markets processed milk products like mineralized milk, Vitamin C milk, milk fortified with several vitamins and minerals, calcium fortified milk, omega-3 milk, milk fortified with vitamins A and D, etc vying for the attention of the consumers? Obviously the answer is "business"!

Pasteurized milk products containing added vitamins A and D are the most frequently encountered on the market shelves and addition of calcium and/or omega-3 fatty acid is a later development. A fortified food by definition refers to food with addition of essential nutrients to levels higher than those normally found in that food. In the case of milk, it is deficient only with regard to iron, copper, manganese and vitamin C and there may be some justification if their levels are brought up to make it a complete food. But for an adult why should milk contain all the essential nutrients? After all it is only a supplementary food and forms part of a diet containing cereals, pulses, oil seeds, meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables and spices which can provide the deficient nutrients. In order to get omega-3 acids equivalent to that present in 50 gm of salmon, one will have to gulp at least 2 liters of milk! A recent survey in the US brought out the ground reality that paying a higher price for a branded fortified milk product does not bring any additional benefit to the consumer as compared to generic milk.

Partly technology has to be blamed for enabling the industry to incorporate such difficult nutrients like iron, ascorbic acid, omega-3 acids. vitamin A and D into an aqueous emulsion like milk which is sensitive to pH changes affecting the protein stability. While addition of vitamins A and D to skimmed milk is understandable, full fat milk contains adequate quantities to serve as a supplementary food. Scientifically vitamin D fortification is acceptable because of the role it has in increasing absorption of calcium and phosphorus by the body, though vitamin D is synthesized in vivo from the precursors through exposure to sun light. Efforts to add iron were aimed at delivering this critical nutrient to rural masses, most of them being anemic due to poverty conditions, as a part of government intervention programs. Nestle, one of the dairy giants with global presence developed products like Nido, Ninho. Nespray, Klim, Bear brand and ideal which are milk powder preparations fortified with iron, zinc, vitamin A and some other micro nutrients for African population but how far these products are affordable to those who need them is a matter of conjecture.


Sunday, September 27, 2009


'Two leaves and the bud' that give us the cheering cup of tea, are universally liked, the world over, mainly for its refreshing and stimulating after effect. After water tea is the most widely consumed beverage, exceeding all others like coffee, soft drinks, juices etc. Beverages from tea leaves are made either before processing or after converting into black tea. Water extract of unfermented tea gives green tea which is liked by oriental people, especially in China and Japan. Brewed tea made from fermented and dried leaves yield dark colored extracts which are consumed as such or with milk. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea and black tea differ depending on whether the leaves have been wilted, bruised or crushed and oxidized. Flavored tea preparations using spices, aromatic substances, cocoa and herbs are popular products known for their soothing effect. 'Dip' tea packed in edible sachets with micropores is a convenient version that can be used to prepare extracts by immersing in hot water.

Tea leaves contain over 700 phytochemicals including flavonoids, amino acids, vitamins, caffeine, theobromine and polysaccharides. Though the caffeine content is higher in tea leaves than in coffee, due to smaller quantities used to prepare beverages from tea, effective caffeine intake per cup is more in case of coffee. Presence of the polyphenols like catechins in tea makes it an awesome protective food of very high health value. Almost 30% of dry tea is catechins, the most predominant being the widely studied Epigallo Catechin Gallate (EGCG). Green tea has 52 to 85 mg of catechins per gm on dry weight basis. Hundreds of animal studies have confirmed that catechin is a powerful antioxidant, 100 times more effective than Vitamin C and 25% better than Vitamin E. How ever if results of animal studies are to extrapolated on humans, ridiculously high dosage of catechin intake is necessary, making it unrealistic. On an average Indians take tea to the equivalence of 750 gm per capita per year, annual tea consumption in UK is almost 3-fold, about 2.31 kg per capita.

Tea is supposed to be anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-thrombogenic and lipid depressant. The antioxidant activity as measured on an ORAC scale is between 1128 for black tea and 1253 for green tea, implying that technology for making black tea does not reduce the antioxidant potential to any significant extent. Regular consumption of tea helps in boosting beneficial intestinal flora, providing immunity against GI disorders and protecting cell membranes against oxidative changes.

Catechin is some what unstable under non-acidic environment that exists in the intestine and the extent of absorption from GI is affected by this constraining factor. The recent finding that green tea beverage combined with ascorbic acid and sugar significantly raised catechin absorption offer technologists opportunity to develop products based on this combination. Lemon tea prepared with lemon juice and tea extract is already popular and a beverage designed accordingly can be a better option than soft drinks. In countries like Indonesia bottled lemon tea is already a popular drink available commercially like soft drinks. Whether synthetic ascorbic acid is equally effective like lemon juice is not clear while the role of sugar is still to be ascertained. Industry must take the clue and come out with tea based products, not necessarily beverages alone but also other products to cater to a wide section of the consuming community.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


A balanced diet right from child hood is a pre-requisite for preventing many of the modern day metabolic diseases. Realization about this truth invariably dawns on people during later stages of life when in spite of high purchasing power many 'good' foods have to be avoided to prevent life-threatening health diet planning, stress is invariably laid on main stream foods like cereals, pulses, diary products, edible oils, meat, fish and poultry products and fruit and vegetables. Daily requirement of calories, proteins, fiber and micro nutrients are derived from these food materials and national and international recommendations for ideal diets are widely disseminated for maintaining good health amongst different age groups and genders. Where do the spices come into picture when balanced diets are designed? It is true that spices are not considered as a source of any major nutrient and therefore do not find a place in the basket of foods considered for designing a diet, their main role being perceived as enriching the prepared foods with flavor only.

Spices and herbs are increasingly being recognized more for their unique properties in boosting health rather than as a part of food system and many are touted as pharmaceutics that confer different benefits to the consumers. All spices are characterized by their distinct aroma and taste and those which are strongly odoriferous and olfactory, are shunned by populations in the west. Major spices like black pepper, red chilli, ginger, cardamom and turmeric have established as an integral part of the diets in Asia, South America and Africa where their culinary aspects are more valued and any health benefits become incidental. The much maligned Indian curry preparations, though have strong flavors due to presence of spices like chilli, coriander, cumin, turmeric, asofoetida, etc, are increasingly gaining acceptance all across the world and they are bound to confer many health benefits if regularly consumed.

Chilli, a colorful and pungent spice liked in many tropical countries in Asia and South America has now been found to have a role other than its sensory effect. With a history of more than 5000 years, its use has been extensive in older civilizations which recognized its health value much before the modern man could perceive. Besides being rich in nutrients like carotenoids like beta carotene, lutein, violaxanthine and neoxanthine, it also has the red pigments of ketocarotenoid nature such as capsanthine, capsorubin and cryptocapsin and capsaicinoids like capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin. Hot peppers stimulate saliva and overcome loss of appetite.Regular consumption is known to reduce risk of thrombolism and lower liver and serum lipids in humans, a trait much valued to day. Recently its role in in improving control of insulin levels after eating and reducing blood sugar levels has been established and it is inferred that capsaicin may be responsible for this phenomenon. Capsaicin has been known to inhibit the growth of fat cells and prevent maturation of adipocytes resulting in decreased levels of fat in tissues and the blood. Capsaicin also has the ability to inhibit arthritis and pancreatic cancer, as reported by earlier studies. The demonstrable effect of chilli can be seen even at a low level of 33 mg of capsaicin per 30 gm of a preparation consumed for 3 weeks. Chilli meals probably result in lower c-peptide and insulin secretion and higher hepatic clearance of insulin. These unique properties may become important in future management of diabetes and obesity.

Though there are other phytochemicals in chilli, most studies are confined to the effect of capsaicin on humans. Commercially, products like oleoresin paprika, oleoresin capsicum and oleoresin red pepper are available from the spice extractive industry and it should be interesting to know which of these three extracts has maximum benefits if regularly consumed. Even the ambiguity regarding the relative effectiveness of green chilli, high capsaicin chilli and high color chilli needs to be resolved for evolving guidelines to the consumers. There is also the synthetic versions of capsaicin like N-Vanillyl nonamide available in the market and whether they also have the same effect as natural chilli, should be elucidated. It is time that Indian food scientists devote for more attention on these aspects on a priority to put chilli on a high pedestal, which it richly deserves.


Thursday, September 24, 2009


Stainless steel lends itself to convenience and hygiene for cooking and storing foods at the households as well as in the food processing operations. Its resistance to corrosion or staining when in contact with foods of different pH at ambient as well as high temperatures has literally transformed the kitchens of yesteryear predominated by earthen vessels and utensils made from copper, bronze and other alloys into a 'shiny' and easily manageable cooking place, loved by consumers all over the world. Steel vessels have also undergone some changes with copper clad bottom pieces to achieve better heat transfer. Silver plates, affordable to some were used mainly because of its amenability to cleaning and the oligodynamic properties that protect the food from microbial contamination.

Brass, bronze, iron and pewter were the main materials used for creating cookwares and utensils of different size and shape. The artisans of ancient time were adept in forging, casting and molding cookwares like kadai, degchi, handi, tawa, pauni, thali, katori, laddles, spoons, spatula etc which formed the basic tools of cooking. Ancient Hindus considered copper as a pure metal used extensively for the preparation of ritual containers and food utensils.. As pure copper is difficult to cast, most articles were made through laborious process of heating and hammering followed by chiseling, chafing or lathing. Because of undesirable chemical reactions between the acidic foods and the copper vessels, a coating with tin or nickel was practiced to provide an inert surface. Copper was alloyed with tin or arsenic to create bronze to get harder materials though arsenic use was discontinued because of its toxic nature. Bronze is an alloy of copper and zinc. Pewter is a combination of tin, about 90-95% and copper 1-4% and some time lead. Most of these alloys are better heat conductors, ideal for cooking many traditional foods besides being very sturdy.

Some of the utensils and appliances that are commonly used with brass and bronze include venkalapathram, chattukam, vengala thattu, ottu tumbler, pana, kodam, idli thattu, anda, monda, uruli, seva nazhi, chottu pathram, adukku pathram, cheena chatti, appa chatti, puttu kutti etc almost all of which are to day made with either aluminum or stainless steel. But many traditionalist do not relish foods prepared in utensils made from S S steel and are nostalgic about the traditional tools of cooking used by earlier generations. The art of making utensils from copper and bronze is fast disappearing and few of those still having the skill make a living by making statues, idols and artistic decorative pieces. Many of the traditional cookwares and kitchen articles inherited by the younger generation are adoring their living rooms as antiques!


Saturday, September 19, 2009


Yogurt is not considered a major product in the dairy industry with cheese hogging all the lime light, rightly or wrongly. But its probiotic credentials are increasingly being recognized and there are many yogurt based products flooding the market. Live cultures present in yogurt have protective effect on the Gastrointestinal tract, preventing many diseases. The product has a history as old as 4500 years and its value as a protective food comes mainly from proteins, calcium, riboflavin, pyridoxine and vitamin B12 present in optimally fermented yogurt. Microorganisms like Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bifidus are used in the production of yogurt by the dairy industry. Refrigerated yogurt must contain at least 100 million live cells per gm and frozen yogurt 10 million live cells per gm to be eligible for branding as a probiotic product.

Yogurt production and marketing pose great challenges to the food technologists because of the rapid changes in texture and taste that can occur if not properly processed. Especially in warm climates there are critical issues like lack of cold chain facility, frequent exposure to increased heat and unpredictable behavior of the cultures if not properly developed. If yogurt is to become a popular processed product for the consumers, newer approach is called for. Improved cultures to speed up fermentation without compromising on mildness and stability of acidity, improving viscosity and creaminess and stability under warm conditions are prerequisites for expanding yogurt production world wide. Developments on these lines are underway in Europe and special cultures are now available to produce yogurts that can resist organoleptic changes under the marketing conditions that prevail in Asia, the Middle East, South America and Eastern Europe where yogurt is increasingly becoming popular.

Global market for yogurt is currently placed at 20 million tons and the annual growth rate is estimated at 4-6%. In the US alone the per capita consumption of yogurt increased from 1.1 kg per year to 3.3 kg within a span of two decades. In India only 2% of the milk produced goes for yogurt, that too mostly at the house hold level, with the organized dairies having very little presence in the market. While world milk production exceeds 600 million tons, Indian share is more than 15% and considering the importance of yogurt as a health food, its growth can be expected to be dramatic in the coming years.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Though domestic tourism is supposed to be growing at a frenetic pace due to higher disposable incomes in the hands of middle class population, the necessary infrastructure to provide comforts and pleasure to those traveling across India is woefully short of even the minimum standards expected by the traveling public. Indians are considered as one of the most resilient amongst Asians, taking all shortcomings, discomforts, misery and insecurity in their strides. Whether it is the road transport or train travel or air travel, the hassles in reaching the destination are too many with many uncertainties. The big question is how long such short comings in the system will be tolerated by the citizens without reacting in a more forceful way.

Taking road travel first, most of the bus stations all over the country are is a chaotic state with no systematic consumer friendly operating environment. Wrong locations, faulty designs, disorderly schedules, unfriendly transport operators, garbled and unclear announcements in public address systems, lack of passenger convenient facilities, shortage of seating facilities, unsafe water and foods available, unruly 3 and 4-wheeler taxis all combine to make the life miserable for the travelers. Depending on the food vendors can be risky because of non-standard and unheard of brands only being offered by the 'licensed' shops in these bus terminals. Most foods, including packed foods are non-standard and it is doubtful whether they are safe. No food inspector of the locality ever visits or checks the quality and safety of foods available in the bust stations. No nationally or regionally popular packed foods are 'allowed' to be sold in the premises due to unholy nexus between the transport officials, the vendors and the food safety monitoring personnel. No product is available for less than Rs 10 a pack. There are hundreds of mini packs of foods manufactured by the food industry but these low cost packs varying in price from Re1 to Rs 5 per pack are rarely available in shops located within the premise of bus stations. Packed water is sub-standard, bottled drinks are non-standard, fried foods are of indifferent quality, sugar candy products are invariably spurious and bakery snacks are of dubious quality.

Same is true in many Railway stations across the country. Without the minimum consumer friendly features such as people movers, escalators, comfortable seats, easy entry into the trains in the limited time of halting, clean toilets, safe water, good foods at reasonable rates and baggage handling facilities, train travel can be an exhausting exercise, especially for senior citizens and mothers with young children. The licensed shops that sell water and food invariably stock non-standard and unreliable foods of doubtful safety. It is a tribute to the rugged health of the Indian traveler that no log term consequences of traveling in trains are ever reported. Probably Indian Railways must be feeling smug about its much touted food plaza program which has not made much of a difference to the traveling public though it has generated huge income to them.

As for the air ports, eating joints are mostly of 3 star or above categories, hardly affordable to the air travelers. The assumption is that those travel by air paying sizable amounts can afford to pay stiff prices for the food at the air-conditioned ambiance provided by the airport. But such an attitude should not blind the authorities to the needs of thousands of travelers who want to just eat clean foods without creating a big hole in their pocket! Why not provide some space at low cost to small shops who sell packed dry products and beverages at the MRP, without marring the environment, to those in need of consuming some thing while waiting for their flights?

If this trend continues, time is not too far away, when travelers will start carrying their own water, food and beverages, as was being done during olden days when they start on a long journey. Bus stations and Railway stations must raise the bar as far as licensing is concerned so that only standard brands are sold by these licensees. GOI and State governments must break the unholy nexus between the officials and the dishonest business mafia that seems to be controlling the food outlets in hundreds of stations across the country that makes the public suffer silently and tolerate the ignominy perpetrated on them.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Ever since pasteurization came to be established as one of the most widely adopted processing operations known to man for ensuring safety of many liquid foods. It saved millions of lives from dreaded diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms of high virulence. Even to day billions of liters of fluid milk are being pasteurized for consumption all over the world. Many innovations have taken place to improve the efficiency of the process by cutting down the time and for increasing the shelf life as much as possible. Sterilization which is aimed at complete destruction of all microbes in a system is accomplished by increased exposure to higher temperature to get extended shelf life. Modern process technologies have emerged which can sterilize semisolid foods with assured safety, though canning technology was being used for some semi solid foods which could stand high temperatures. Retort Pouch Technology, so widely used to day for many traditional Indian foods with high viscosity characteristics, is distinguished by specialized equipment system that can ensure faster heat transfer more evenly to achieve commercial sterilization and products can claim shelf lives as much as 12-18 months.

Surgical instruments and medical devices are sterilized using irradiation but this technology is not yet readily accepted by the consumers in many countries. Gamma radiation is still widely used to get rid of pathogens like Salmonella, especially in marine products and meat foods which does not raise the product temperature to any significant extent. For a product like egg which is involved in many food borne illnesses of serious nature, its pasteurization is being insisted on by food safety authorities in many countries. In fact even touching raw eggs is frowned upon because of its potential to spread infection and pasteurized eggs are increasingly becoming standard format for marketing eggs. It is only towards later part of last century that such eggs started appearing in the market. Technologically what are the challenges inherent in pasteurizing a product like egg?

Egg has two distinct components, egg white and egg yolk, both with different physical characteristics and are well separated in distinct compartments in side the shell. Shell has its own physical properties and any system that is intended to impart heat to achieve pasteurization will have to take into consideration this aspect. Egg albumin which makes up the white portion is highly heat susceptible changing its properties due to protein denaturation when heated beyond a certain temperature. Egg melange is a liquid at normal temperature and therefore can be subjected to flash pasteurization under controlled temperature as is being done during spray drying to get egg powder but the dispersibility and foaming properties of egg powder are invariably affected. As for egg in the shell, most of the microorganisms are on the surface and by controlled application of heat most of them can be killed.

Treating with hot water at 56C for 30 minutes followed by drying at controlled hot air can give a relatively safe product with practically no viable cells remaining on the product. How ever a sorting operation is a must to remove those eggs which develop cracks even at this low temperature exposure. Automated plants are now available that can handle as much as one million eggs a day and make them safer for the consumers. Use of Ozone, Hydrogen Peroxide and Microwave heat also are claimed to be effective in achieving pasteurization. While such eggs are accepted without reservation by the consumer for preparing many products at house hold level, processing industry feels that some of the physical properties of the egg are lost which can affect its quality as an ingredient in some formulated products. Almost 4 decades ago Indian food scientists had developed an egg washing powder and an egg coating oil formulation containing permitted bacteriostats and fungistats for sanitizing the egg and extending its shelf life to more than 6 months under low temperature conditions. Probably this development was much ahead of the time with no takers appreciating it. Time has come now to make it mandatory for poultry farms to process the raw eggs before releasing it to the market in the interests of the consumer.


Saturday, September 5, 2009


"Mother's milk is the best milk" is a slogan adopted by the international community realizing the enormous benefits it can confer on the new born baby. The unabashed promotion of infant food formula in the past by the organized food and dairy industry covertly as well as overtly has done enough damage to the society though stricter oversight by the health agencies and NGOs could curb the tendency to great extent. Greater awareness about the critical importance of breast milk in rearing a healthy baby has also helped to increase the breast feeding practices all over the world. According to WHO guidelines period of nursing a baby with breast milk should be a minimum of 6 months but can be as long as for 2 years if both the mother and the child can do it.

Benefits of breast feeding are immense that are carried into and after the toddlerhood. These include lower risk of 'Sudden Infant Death Syndrome' (SIDS), increased intelligence, lesser chances of middle ear infection, better protection against cold and flu bugs, lower risks of developing some cancers, childhood diabetes, asthma, eczema, dental problems,obesity and psychological disorders in later life. Breast milk is a rich source of antibodies, lymphocytes and hormones and these bioactive constituents confer on the baby the necessary protection against various infections. If this is so why are the mothers reluctant to continue feeding their babies with their own milk? Most important constraint is the practical logistics of feeding the baby once in 6 hours or more frequently as situation demands considering that many mothers have to go to works place within 6-12 weeks after child birth.

There are sanitary milk pumps which enable mothers to express milk, store and feed later through feeding bottles. At 25C, the milk does not stay beyond 6-8 hours, getting spoiled due to bacterial action. In insulated thermal bags it can stay for 24 hours, in domestic refrigerator (4C) for 5 days, in freezer chest of refrigerator for 2 weeks, in freezer unit of 2-door refrigerator for 3-6 months and in upright freezers for 6-12 months. Many mothers can save their milk when available in plenty for subsequent use if taken care of it properly and hygienically. Milk banks, a relatively new concept, started in the western countries and located invariably in hospitals or in their vicinities, scientifically process donated milks by mothers, to ensure its safety before distributing to potential recipients such as orphans, adopted babies and premature infants. Unlike the blood banks the condition of milk received in milk banks is some what uncertain and such donated milk is subjected to a pasteurization treatment at 56C for 30 minutes before freezing. Though at this temperature some enzymes are inactivated, most of the beneficial biological constituents remain active

There are about 25 milk banks in India mostly in Maharashtra and Gujarat, working on a relatively low key, most of them under the aegis of hospitals and there is no national or regional networks operating to distribute the product to needy places outside the metros. With Karnataka Government recently declaring its intention to set up such a bank at one of the city hospitals in Bangalore, the concept is bound to be translated eventually into a nation-wide network for meeting the needs of deserving infants across the country as and when needed. The biggest risk associated with such a venture is the safety of cross feeding and a standard national protocol must be in place to screen the donors as well as the milk donated before channeling into the supply line.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Conception and delivery are considered normal human activity but those undergoing the experience have anxiety regarding the health of the would be mother and the yet to be born child. Type of foods that need to be taken or those to be avoided can be very confusing with Allopathic practitioners mostly going by western recommendations while traditional system has its own way of dealing with them.

A pregnant woman's daily diet and the nutrition provided by it will have critical impact on the course of the pregnancy and normal fetal development of her unborn baby. The physiological and metabolic changes that take place during the period demand increased intake of food with some special requirements. This is to ensure satisfactory development of the fetus as well as growth, health and functioning of uterus, placenta and amniotic fluid. Additional energy to the extent of 150-250 kC, proteins 10 gm per day and increased intake of calcium,Iron and Folic acid are needed for the purpose. Good hygiene will ensure avoiding food poisoning, GI infection, toxoplasmosis, listeriosis etc. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and tobacco cuts down risks of fetal distress and other problems.

Neural tube defect (NTD) is one of the risks associated with pregnancy where the neural tube fails to close in the embryo on the 28th day of fertilization and such an anomaly occurs in 2.6 per 1000 births. Consumption of epilepsy drugs and others like methotrexate, conditions like obesity, maternal diabetes, mycotoxin poisoning, arsenic, hyperthermia etc also cause NTD. Folic acid deficiency which leads to hyper-homocysteinamia can also contribute to NTD. Recent findings that choline present in egg can prevent development of NTD and recommendations for consuming an egg every day by pregnant women have given new hope for averting this disorder which can occur even before pregnancy is confirmed by tests.

Egg is a rich source of choline but modern wisdom precluded its regular consumption because of the high cholesterol and saturated fat contained in it. On an average a chicken egg can contain as much as 200 mg of cholesterol but it is much less than that present in Duck egg (621 mg) or Goose egg (1266 mg). Increasing evidence about the nutrition of egg has brought out that egg consumption does not increase serum cholesterol levels in humans and on the contrary it increases the desirable HDL cholesterol levels to some extent. Egg, a villain till the other day, has become a protective food, at least for pregnant women for preempting development of the dreaded NTD syndrome in children during pregnancy. An egg a day keeps NTD away!