Sunday, March 11, 2012


The current state of knowledge regarding food technology and relation between food and health cannot be considered complete with many fundamental questions still remaining unanswered. That a human being needs 2000-2500 kC a day to cover the basal metabolism and the energy needed to carry out day to day physical activities is the global standard on which every body swears. Even here doubts are being raised if this theory holds good universally with all population because there are many instances where communities are known to flourish with lesser calorie intake. Also true is the fact that life duration is extendable by restricting the diet to contain only about 1200 kC. There are many nutrients considered essential for survival like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals but whether the current recommendations regarding their optimum requirements for healthy living, are the gospel truth may be debatable.

What can be construed as too much or too less? This is a question no body will be able to answer convincingly. There are millions of people in different parts of the world surviving with low quantum of foods, often considered low quality by to day's standards and according to pundits these populations must have disappeared long ago because of gross deficiency of every nutrient man knows! How about the people engaged in physical labor for at least 8 hours a day, 6 days a week with food which will be considered as subsistence? The ground reality is that not only they are surviving but many of them are more robust than their urban cousins! In India, the ancestors of to day's generation had very simple eating habits and deficiency diseases and physical disability was practically unknown. This Blogger's grandfather lived 100 years in a remote village in Karnataka with no known ailment though his diet was basically made of greens and rice. Most villages do not have access to milk by which modern health pundits swear for good health if a vegetarian.  From a simple citizen's view can there be more to life than numbers in terms of nutrients considered essential to live? This is some thing worth pondering about.

Despite the gap in knowledge and ever expanding scientific information on food, often contradictory in nature, it is understandable that world has to adopt a median guideline applicable to most human beings. So far the experience has been more or less satisfactory though there are variations found in many cases. One of the offshoots of increased knowledge is its exploitation by the health industry for making money at the expense of the consumer. To day's multi billion dollar well being and health peddling industry is offering hundreds of products to the gullible consumers based on information generated in Universities by academic scholars and these are again data derived from limited animal studies. In many countries strict regulatory controls are in place for allowing health claims and it is increasingly being realized that health claims need to be confirmed by clinical trials under actual living conditions. One of the curious facts about health foods is that those who make claims generally get away with just a rap on their knuckle while the consumer suffers significant economic loss in buying and trying out these products.

As the debate about obesity rages every where it is the usual fashion for many, knowledgeable as well as others to repeat ad libitum that ideally consumers must shun all refined foods and opt for unrefined and coarse foods. Top on the list are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains like oats, barley, quinoa etc because they contain more fiber, lower carbohydrates and small levels of fat. Added to this they boast of lower Glycemic Index that is considered good for reducing the chances of developing diseases like Diabetes, CVD, Blood Pressure, Kidney Diseases, Cancer etc. The euphoria about Fruit and vegetables reached its peak when USDA recommended 50% of daily meal plate should be made of fruits and vegetables without bothering to understand the difficulty of the consumer to gorge such large quantities. After all food is consumed not only to meet the nutritional needs of the body but also derive oral and mental satisfaction and no standard recipe, however nutritive it may be, can be forced down the throat of a consumer!

While it is conceded that obesity is the result of consuming foods which are not balanced what is not realized is that even the so called junk foods would not be that bad if consumed in moderate quantities. Basically the body has no alternative but to convert the food calories consumed in excess of its needs to fat which is manifested in the form of bloated body. The cardinal principle of eating food is that under the dynamic metabolic system of human body, input calories need to be in harmony with the out put in the form of basal metabolism and physical work. If this harmony is disturbed the consequences can be either losing weight if input calorie is less or weight gain if the same is more. There appears to be a mistaken belief that "good" foods can be consumed ad libitum while restrictions on food is intended only for "bad" foods.

Nutrition and health experts with good intention suggest that diet should be rich in healthy ingredients but it is rarely stated how much can be consumed without any adverse consequences. In a country like the US the food industry as well as the regulators seem to be ignoring the unjustifiable practice of using serving sizes too large, giving an impression to the consumer that it is safe to consume the amount. Similarly playing with the pricing of the product which favors large packs or serving sizes while smaller sizes are priced disproportionately high, is very common. It is slowly being realized that label declarations about nutrients must be expressed on smaller serving sizes and single serve pack sizes need to be scaled down significantly to make consumers accept them more readily. After all all food products contain either one or more of all bulk nutrients like carbohydrate, fat and proteins. Just because whole grains contain high fiber and other beneficial components, over-consumption can still lead to gaining weight. Same is true with nuts like Almonds, Walnuts, Pecan, Cashew nut etc which contain good quality fats but uncontrolled consumption can still be dangerous. Whether it is a fruit or a vegetable rich in carbohydrate or legumes rich in proteins, consumption beyond a limit can be harmful. This basic message must percolate down to the masses for a better diet and a more disciplined eating.


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