Thursday, June 3, 2010


From time immemorial food had a single dimension and that was taste. If a food is good to taste it must be good for the body, so goes the old thinking, till the basic contours of human nutrition emerged during early part of last century. If industry, aiming to get as high returns as possible on their investments on food processing operations, tries to cater to the sensory "weakness" of human beings, it is a natural phenomenon. But to day with massive nutrition data available it becomes the primary responsibility of the manufacturers to ensure that their products do not cause any harm to the consuming public. Ignorance can be condoned at the first instance of a violation of this principle, but deliberately attracting consumers through rich tasting but nutritionally junk foods is nothing short of a crime deserving highest form of punishment possible.

Flavor is a composite term that signifies the cumulative effect of color, aroma, taste and texture. With many artificial and synthetic colorants banned during the last two decades, only a very few are left with that can be used and large scale shift from synthetic to natural colorants is perceptible to day amongst the processors. Of course natural colorants are costlier to use and have much less tintorial power than their synthetic counter parts. One of the earliest cases of banning synthetic colorants was in tomato ketchup and it is a tribute to the industry that suitable varieties with intense red color were developed soon. To day no manufacturer uses external color in ketchup. Though consumers do have a weakness for bright colored food products which are associated with quality, once the health risks involved are known they can be weaned away by sincere industry efforts. When it comes to children attraction to color generally develops after the age of 12-18 months and why industry wants to make products for them with bright color is not clear. Probably the mothers may be the target as they are the ones making buying decisions! But there must emerge a consensus that no artificial or natural external colors must be used in the manufacture of foods for children below the age of 3 years.

As for aroma, it is doubtful whether children can distinguish between various smell but aroma may become crucial if nutritionally good food smells bad for some reason. Here again there is the danger that some of the aromatic substances can be allergic to them unless proved otherwise. There is a theory that aromatic substances like vanilla or some of the essential oils can be helpful in making the food designed with balanced nutrition acceptable and relishing. Before arguing out such a rationale, one must remember how children were fed before the advent of externally added aroma notes and a disciplined parent should be able to feed their kids foods as natural as possible.

Coming to texture children will be able to chew only after the development of their molar teeth and until such time they have to be fed with mashed or strained foods with a few microns sized particles for them to swallow and chew. Texture probably will play a role after the age of 3 years and crisp products with quick yielding texture are enjoyed by them. If products like potato chips, extruded snacks, biscuits etc are popular with the kids it is because of the crunchy texture. Chocolate confectionery are much sought after not because of their texture but the high degree of sweetness experienced in the oral cavity.

Taste is the most critical sensory trait that can influences the response of a child to any food and it is here parents must exercise maximum precaution. It may be easier to feed a child if the food is sweetened but continuous feeding of sugar sweetened foods can be habit forming especially during early childhood. Same is true with salt and fat. Highly salted and fat-rich products, introduced during early childhood can have far reaching impact on the food habits of children when they grow up and therefore must be moderated. Taking a liberal stance vis-à-vis providing unbalanced foods for the sake of convenience of feeding problem children can end up in disaster with the children becoming right candidates for all the food induced health disorders seen to day.

It is a tragedy of epic proportion to see some of the manufacturers of toddler formula resorting to use of natural and artificial flavors targeted at children in the age group 12-36 months, Their logic seems to be that such flavor addition "enables" parents to make the food easily acceptable to their kids who get the required nutrition through such flavored foods. Dispassionate observers see in such attempts a clear strategy viz hooking the children to processed foods at very early stage in life and thus become their permanent clientele for the life time. Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG), once considered innocuous has been forbidden for use in children's foods because of its debilitating effect on brain development. No one is sure whether some of the processing aids like colors and flavoring agents incorporated in toddler's formula could have dangerous consequences in future as they grow.

If WHO is promoting breast feeding, even up to 2 years, assuring that the child can get most of its nutritional requirements from milk, where is the necessity for specially flavored infant and toddler's food for normal growth and development. It is time that a universal consensus is evolved not to meddle with foods that are targeted to children under the age of 3 years and necessary guidelines are evolved for the industry to make only natural and balanced foods keeping in view the nutritional needs of children of different ages.


1 comment:

Combined Cycle Operation said...

Despite my fervently pro-science stance, much of what I nearly read in that article causes me great concern. As a small farmer (4'9") struggling to compete in the cutthroat world of agriculture, I am very concerned.