Tuesday, November 15, 2011


For a healthy life man must have certain minimum requirements of energy and nutrients which are provided by carbohydrates, proteins, fats, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Though there is no uniformity of norms, qualitative and quantitative, diets are recommended based on a consensus in each country. Food requirements vary among people and they are governed by factors like environment, life style, physical activities and personal likes and dislikes. The science of nutrition is still not well defined with gaps of information evident in some areas and this is compounded by inadequate research on many traditional food preparations popular in different regions of the world. It is rather paradoxical that man seems to be knowing more about the negative aspects of food than the positive factors that boost health. Thus ill effects of saturated fats, trans fats, refined cereals, too much carbohydrates and fats, deficiencies vis-a-vis many nutrients, over consumption of sugar and salt are well known. But what is best to maintain robust health or boost the health is still controversial areas with business interests exploiting limited data on this score.

The US Food Pyramid System for recommended good diet was a bible for every dietitian and nutritionist till recently when it was replaced by the MyPlate System, both of them laying emphasis on the role of fruits and vegetables for good health. However both these systems seem to have ignored the cardinal principle that all carbohydrates cannot be considered good. Modern living style has seen a progressive shift from unrefined carbohydrates to refined ones, probably due to the compulsions of processing industry to achieve value addition ( or profit addition?) and to get high sensory quality foods satisfying to the palates of new generation of people. Thus whole wheat flour yielded to refined white flour, raw sugar and jaggery have been replaced with ultra white crystalline sugar, ghanny pressed and expeller oils losing their market after the arrival of crystal clear super refined oils, snow white rice pushing more nutritious red rice to the background and many other similar distortions with disastrous consequences. The result is for every one to see with half the world population already sick with a plethora of diseases, spending trillions of dollars for medical intervention for ameliorating the deteriorating health status.

The debate about the "chicken or egg first" will always continue as long as humanity exists on the planet and such a debate is also thriving in the food area ever since food processing started taking hold of the human weakness for convenient and tasty foods in preference to healthy products. If to day's life style in many affluent countries depend too much on so called junk foods or calorie rich and nutrient light products, blame has to be apportioned to both the consumer and the industry. Where does the government come into the picture is a valid question. Is it not the responsibility of a government to create conditions that will ensure optimum health to its citizens? Can any serious governing system ignore this aspect and promote business interests that deal a body blow to the health standards of the population? It is a bitter truth that "money" is the ultimate tool for influencing any decision by public institutions and this has been amply demonstrated in India where there are innumerate financial scams which have become the landmark of the current governance! It is an indisputable fact that GM foods, created and nurtured  by a handful of business monopolists have overwhelmingly captured the American food market only through their money power for influencing government decisions in their favor!

There are hints now emerging that the new dietary guideline being promoted now under the "MyPlate' icon is also driven by business, especially when it comes to carbohydrate component in the plate. Qualitatively there is a big difference in the nutritional value between whole cereals and refined cereal flours and whether the omission to indicate the quality of carbohydrate, is deliberate or not is an issue meriting consideration. The Glycemic index values (GI) of different carbohydrate ingredients give a clear picture regarding their health promoting capacity and probably the carbohydrate components could have been further split into low GI and high GI factions to help the consumers to evolve their own diets. The allegation that failure to mention this important aspect in the Food Pyramid system has some thing to do with the influence of processing industry which manufactures more than 80% of its products from refined carbohydrate components with high GI values, may have some substance. Also this negligence must have had a role in the obesity epidemic America is facing to day.  The GI value is the only scientific measure of how fast and how high a carbohydrate containing food raises blood sugar when consumed and the lower and slower the better. Refined grains and processed carbohydrates, are known to rank high on the GI scale because they are easily digested, causing a rapid and significant rise of blood sugar and insulin levels. In contrast, low-GI foods, have been shown to be more healthy after clinical validation. They have a much more gradual and healthy effect on blood sugar, raising it more slowly which is considered to be better for managing weight, sustaining energy and disease prevention.


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