Sunday, July 29, 2012


With world population surging ahead ruthlessly, the quest for food to meet the food needs of millions of new denizens is becoming a relentless effort in many countries, developed, developing as well as  the impoverished ones. The fact is that condition of most of the populations in poor African, Asian and South American countries is a matter of concern because the very existence of such poverty ridden human beings pricks the conscience of the whole world and can be a source of unrest and violence affecting the lives of every body in this planet. For long it has been realized that unless well to do nations show a spirit of sacrifice in helping those with hungry bellies, eternal peace will continue to elude humanity. It is not that such help is not forthcoming as billions of dollars worth foods are donated each year by the industrialized world to needy people in these poor countries but the pertinent question that begs for an answer is whether this humanitarian help is sufficient to make any meaningful impact on the hunger front. Will this world ever be able to solve this food problem through financial resources, technological means, skill upgrading of local population, land reclamation, water conservation and economic improvement of the people in these unfortunate countries?. 

What is alarming indeed is the mindless and unethical diversion of human foods to cattle and for non food purpose in most developed countries while almost one third of the global population is literally starving. Two typical examples are enormous diversion of corn to alcohol production and ever increasing use of Palm oil as a sustainable source of fuel for automobiles in the US and Europe. Take the case of corn which is a rich source of starch carbohydrate which is processed into alcohol through hydrolysis into glucose and anaerobic yeast fermentation.  In Brazil where there is a strong alcohol industry based on sugar cane, vast rain forests are being destroyed for expanding sugar cane cultivation to meet the inexhaustible demand for alcohol from the automobile industry. One can understand that sugar is not a staple and therefore Brazil's efforts can at best be condemned from the ecological point of view but "corn-for-alcohol" program defies logic and ethics. Look at the US which is diverting almost a third of its corn production for making alcohol because of the mandate from the government to blend fossil fuel based gasoline with 10-15% alcohol over a period of time. While Brazil can opt for a policy to cut down on sugarcane cultivation and replace with staples like corn, in the US the bumper corn production harvested year after year can save millions of lives, especially in Africa where it is a staple crop. Paradoxically there are amble technological capability to use alternate sources of carbon like green mass materials, other wise wasted, for alcohol production. All it requires is a conscience and the necessary resolve to help fellow denizens in other continents.

Palm oil presents a different case and shows how far a food material can be mindlessly usurped for deriving pleasure and comfort by those who are well to do. Malaysia and Indonesia happen to be the top producers of Palm Oil and India leads the list of importers of this vital commodity. Shortage of edible oils in India is a well known "secret" during the last two decades with the local government having no clue regarding ways and means to overcome this perennial shortage. Imagine the cascading effect of increased diversion of Palm Oil to Europe on a typical family budget in India when the domestic oil prices start shooting up once demand starts climbing from the automobile sector! Paradoxically there is sustained campaign going on among the Western countries against Palm Oil, blaming the producing countries for global warming by reckless deforestation and it is suspected that such insinuations are made by lobbies trying to protect the interests of oils from corn, soy and rapeseed. History is replete with examples of trade manipulation by many countries to export their surplus commodities and protect their farmers. Wheat was once the instrument of influence for countries like the US, Europe and Australia and it is a fact of history as to how many Asian countries have switched over to wheat dominated diets in the aftermath of some of the wars fought in the Asian theater with Americans dominating them

The most recent example of diversion of food materials to non-food purpose comes from India which is the top most country in the world in guar bean production. Guar bean is not a component of the staple diet in the country but the cluster beans constitute a significant vegetable in the diets of people in some areas in the country while the dried beans are consumed in the sate of Rajasthan as a regular food. It may not be totally correct to say that guar bean was used only for food purpose because its viscosity modifying properties made its processed versions a useful component in many food products. More over its nutritional value is limited to the dietary fiber it contains in abundance. A hardy crop, Guar bean is grown in the arid regions of Rajastan which accounts for more than 82% of production in India. High levels of Galactomannan, a polysaccharide component in Guar makes it a valuable additive in dairy products including ice cream, cheese, puddings, cold meat products, besides being an important substance for the paper and textile industry, ore flotation process, explosive materials and fossil fuel extraction. With 85% of the seed made up of dietary fiber, it is considered an important source of pro-biotics that facilitate growth of beneficial gut microorganisms. Partially hydrolyzed guar gum better known as PHGG when ingested causes fermentation in the large intestine generating valuable volatile acids of great significance to good health.    

With the end of fossil fuel gluttony in sight, the fuel industry, looking for expanding the available fuel supply through many alternate options, seems to have struck rich when enormous gas reserves were discovered under hard rocky terrains in countries such as the US. Sheer logistics of extracting this valuable energy source posed problems which have now been overcome by the so called fracking technology involving release of this gas reserve by cracking the rock surface and using guar gum based liquid medium to flush out the gas. The requirement of the fracking industry is gigantic and due to this demand pull the prices of guar bean derived products are sky rocketing literally creating a bonanza for the poor farmers of Rajasthan. While this is a good sign which will see modernization of guar mills that convert the seed into a fine powder, food industry is likely to suffer as high prices are going to be a great barrier in continuing to use this additive in food formulations. A closer inspection of milling facilities will reveal the primitive conditions under which the seed is processed and the health dangers faced by the workers employed by the industry. What is disturbing is the push for explosive expansion of guar cultivation by the organized sector that has the potential to displace many established staple crops, eroding the food supply further in the coming years.    

Monday, July 23, 2012


Which Indian does not like the curd that has been an integral part of cuisine in the country for ages? Whether it is in the form of Lassi, Chaas or plain curd a substantial part of milk production in India goes for making these fermented dairy products. It is a paradox that modern generation, in pursuit of new and exciting culinary experience is shunning healthy products like curd, also known as Yogurt with its high probiotic and prebiotic ingredients. On the flip side the western world is discovering new virtues in yogurt with thousands of studies bringing out the ability of yogurt to prevent development of many modern diseases. While every one understands what yogurt is, emergence of products like frozen yogurt, refrigerated yogurt, flavored yogurt, Greek yogurt etc tends to confuse the consumer regarding the linkage between old fashioned cultured yogurt and modern day yogurt preparations. 

According to dictionary meaning "yogurt is a product which is slightly acidic, semi solid, curdled milk preparation from either whole milk or skimmed milk solids by fermentation with organisms from the genus Lactobacillus. It is rich in B complex vitamins, a good source of protein. It also provides a medium in GI tract that retards the growth of harmful bacteria, aids mineral absorption". As its history dates back to 5400 years, continuous changes are taking place regarding the preparation mode, type of cultures used and products derived from it. As acidity is raised due to conversion of lactose in the milk to lactic acid during fermentation, before the advent of modern refrigeration in a big way, yogurt was required to be consumed within 48-72 hours of its making. Subsequently addition of sugar and flavor became an accepted practice, especially for those not liking the sour taste characteristic of yogurt. But invariably yogurts were consumed without any heat processing which can cause protein separation, an ungainly sight not considered desirable. Modern day yogurt products do not have much of a resemblance to the good old traditional products prevalent earlier, most of them being practically not sour but also sweetened and flavored.

Compulsions of modern day life has made it imperative to come up with technology to pack and preserve yogurt that can keep well for two-three weeks al least, if not more. Temperatures below 4C can prolong the life for a couple of weeks and if frozen to -4 to -6C yogurt will keep well for a few weeks though its typical texture is likely to be adversely affected. In a remarkable development in India, packed curd manufactured by the cooperative dairy sector has made curd practically a commodity, distributed through the same milk distribution net work through out the country. Packed in poly pillow pouches, the product keeps in good condition for at least a week in the refrigerator with slight increase in acidity as at these low temperatures the fermentation is only retarded but not arrested altogether. With millions of nuclear families with both parents working having limited ability to make curd at home, packed curd has become a boon to them. Otherwise Indian urban middle class would be raising a whole generation with limited exposure to fermented milk products with such high nutritive value. 

Interestingly the term frozen yogurt as is being used to day is not targeted at traditional yogurt consumers but deployed as an alternate option for consumers of ice cream looking for products containing lesser fat. According to the Association of Yogurt Manufacturers, the term frozen yogurt can be used only when there are at least 10 million active cells per gm of the Lactic acid bacteria while refrigerated yogurt must have 100 million live cells per gm. According to present practices, the Association provides its seal of certification only to products as per the specification given above. it is beyond any body's comprehension as to how a yogurt, even if it is sweetened, can be a substitute or alternative to ice cream. Probably this practice may be attributed to the strict standards for butter fat in ice cream which is not less than 16% while most frozen yogurts contain less than 10% fat. Also possible is the desire of the industry to exploit the health associated attributes of prebiotics like yogurt in evolving this distinct class of desserts. Frozen yogurts are mostly proprietary products with no standards of identity in any statute books and there fore it is left to the food standards agencies to regulate their manufacture and sale based on label filing before them.

Another interesting question that ought to be answered by the yogurt industry, especially in industrialized countries is whether the products made by them can be rightfully claimed the advantages of a prebiotic or/and probiotic as being done now. Since most products do not undergo proper lactic fermentation during the manufacturing process, it is doubtful whether any significant production of typical nutrients associated with bacterial growth really takes place. Also of some concern is how far the live cultures added during the packing will survive the passage through the highly acidic stomach medium without destruction. Why is that therapeutic doses of lyophilized lactic cultures recommended after an antibiotic therapy is encapsulated by the industry? Mainly for protecting the bacterial cells from the acidic conditions that prevail in the stomach. Therefore there is a case for reviewing the current practices and standards for yogurt to benefit the consumers.  


Friday, July 20, 2012


At a time when governments world over are trying to wean away their citizens from health damaging foods through persuasion and policy orchestration, food industry seems to be moving in the opposite direction seducing the consumers with more and more unhealthy products to enrich themselves. A few restraining policies such as limiting the sale of large volume beverages or taxing high sugared products do not seem to be working as anticipated and world is at its wits end regarding viable options to curtail consumption of such foods and protect the denizens. Though Americans are considered the most visible practitioners of junk food eating which has made their country the Obesity capital of the world, other countries are also fast "catching up" in this mindless rush towards morbidity. Well, one may ask what connection Olympic games has to to do with food and health? There is a connection which is manifested in the recent meeting of the London Assembly which called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to shun sponsorship money from two of the biggest financial supporters of Olympic events because of the latter's identification with unhealthy foods world wide.

The oft repeated question regarding the health quality of foods catered by the processing industry and the food caterers is whether they are really responsible for all the diseases related to food consumption and till to date there is no conclusive evidence to support such an accusation. It is very true that during the last 6-7 decades the healthiness of industry processed foods has declined dramatically and what the ancestors of the present generation ate 100 years ago has no resemblance to what is eaten to day. The nutrient density of a food depends very much on the extent of good ingredients like fruits, vegetables, coarse grains, herbs and spices, type of sugar, type of fat etc that go in the making of a consumer product. If consumers are blaming the food industry for less than satisfactory quality products being churned out, there may be a grain of truth and the tendency on the part of the industry to expand its portfolio of "bad" foods because of higher profitability considerations may eventually attract a backlash from the consumers as well as the government agencies. The day is not far off when the industry is going to be shackled by regulatory policies to restrain it from flooding the market with foods which are rich in bad sugars, bad fats and bad salt.

The personal freedom guaranteed by constitutional rights in many democratic countries gives a fairly liberal leeway in doing many things which would be punished under despotic regimes but such freedom is not unlimited. Reasonable restrictions are necessary to curtail freedom for the benefit of the society as a whole. Therefore when voluntary restraints fail, mandatory restrictions are imperative. This is how various measures being considered to bring a modicum of discipline to the food sector must be considered. If tobacco consumption leading to cancer can be curtailed through regulations and if alcohol consumption is taxed heavily in the interest of a healthy society, why not adopt similar measures that can slow down the consumption of calorie dense foods also? A valid question with lot of logic behind it and people at large must encourage their governments to put in place such restrictive policies without  seriously affecting the bottom line of the investors who deploy their capital in food ventures. It is in this context that the recent directive by the London authorities to the IOC to exclude two of the biggest junk food peddlers in the world from sponsorship denying them the much sought after visibility that is so essential as a part of their big blitz marketing strategy.

Where ever people gather there is always the opportunity for vendors to make money by selling what ever the participants want. It is too common that most festivals and carnivals all over the world provide an apt platform for selling merchandise in a massive way by the manufacturers of consumer products. This short duration but high intensity selling spree is very profitable and food vending is no exception to this truth. Food is an integral part of any gathering and bigger the size of the crowd better will be the business for the vendors. Invariably catering and vending rights at such organized events are restricted to a select few based on the highest bids. Whether it is a theater, sports meet, ball game like foot ball, base ball, basket ball or cricket, temple festivals or carnivals, substantial crowd is guaranteed and the organizers do not allow any food to be brought into the area of activity, giving monopolistic power to a chosen few only, with no control on quality, price or safety of foods offered. Look at the forthcoming Olympics in London scheduled for July 22 to august 12 this year organized by the IOC when about 10000 athletes from more than 100 countries are expected to participate with millions of spectators and billions of TV viewers on the sidelines as audience. The visibility one can get by associating with such an event is mind boggling and no cost is considered too high to have such an audience. Here is where the big fish of food industry are playing their strategy game to influence the eyes, minds, brains and the body of the massive audience to further their pursuit of high returns by selling their much maligned wares-the junk foods!         

The paradox in this development is that London won for the third time the right to hold the Olympiad on the promise of delivering a "legacy of more active, healthier children across the world" and there for it will be ironical if this event is going to be dominated from the sidelines by those who are notorious for their past record of enticing kids to patently unhealthy foods across the world. IOC has long term sponsorship relationship with one of the two food giants under the scanner since 1928 while the other started coddling up to IOC since 1976 and snapping such a connection now may have logistical and ethical connotations. Typically Olympic games are organized based on definitive budget and more than 40% of the money comes, amounting to almost a billion dollars, from industries who sponsor or support the games. Though these food giants are putting out all types of promises to cater only healthy foods, it may be too far fetched to depend on such assurances looking back at past their track records. A pertinent question is whether the IOC has the courage to stipulate that foods served within the games venues should have certain features like imposing upper limits for salt, sugar and fat besides conforming to all safety specifications of UK food safety authorities? If this happens the event will be remembered as the healthiest Olympic games ever organized on this planet.   


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Food industry has been at the receiving end during the last two decades attracting a slew of criticism, holding it responsible for all the ills that afflict the modern society in terms of various health disorders. Three distinct lines of study being pursued by different groups independently are opening up new possibilities that the human system per se will have to take some blame for the uncontrolled weight gains experienced by many people in spite of following diet regimes considered helpful in maintaining the body weight and BMI within the limits recommended. This does not mean that food industry has to go over board absolving itself of any role in this transformation that has made two thirds of all Americans either over weight or obese. The three studies involved unraveling of the peculiar way genes are working to by pass the brain in deciding what to eat and when to eat, the unsuspecting impact of obesogens in obesity development and the part played by the thyroid gland in changing the body weight, throw some light on the dynamics  of body weight.

No doubt the food environment in affluent countries does not lend itself to any meaningful control on the part of the consumer to exercise any self discipline in selecting right type of foods as there are fantastic choices with tempting organoleptic credentials but very low nutrient density. It has to be admitted that foods containing high sugar, high salt and high fat dominate the market while healthy foods are too few in number. Besides healthy foods are invariably too expensive to be affordable to many economically not-well to do consumers, making them occasional foods while internationally recognized norms entail almost 50% of daily diet to be made of fruits and vegetables, the ultimate in human nutrition. Why the food industry persists with this practice of turning out almost 90% of its products with more sugar, salt and fat is to be seen in the context of the desire to improve its bottom line and it will be difficult to regiment the industry into a health provider under policing without considering genuine apprehension about its economic sustainability. 

Coming to the role of genes it has been pointed out that there is a gluttony gene evolved out of the Bdnf gene which is responsible for over eating because of its influence on the signalling system between the brain and the appetite center. Leptin and Insulin are the two hormones associated with satiety and hunger and through their communication with the brain appetite or satiety signals are sent. After ingestion of a meal the chemicals released by these hormones send signals to activate the neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain which triggers satiety and due to the action of the modified Bdnf gene, the satiety signal fails to reach the appetite control center resulting in more and more eating. Discovery of the role of FTO gene in obesity development is another significant development indicating that exercising control over eating is more difficult for those having any modification in this particular gene. It is reported that more than two thirds of the population have mutated versions of FTO gene making them susceptible to craving for foods high in sugar and fat. 

Recently some studies have focused on the role of some chemicals being spewed into the environment and the food system which, besides being harmful to the body, also triggers increased fat synthesis leading to accumulation of fat. Increase in the number of fatty cells as well as enlarged size of fat cells, both result in bloating of the body, upsetting the BMI and leading eventually to obesity. A classical example is bis-Phenol A, a leachant getting into the food from poly carbonate packaging and bottling material and can lining compounds at ppm levels, not considered too dangerous till recently. But its influence on lipogenesis even when present in ppb levels in foods is receiving increased attention from scientists though conclusive evidence is still not on the table to demand for its total ban, though food and beverage industry by and large has voluntarily stopped their use, a couple of years ago. There are many Endocrine Disruptors, found among pesticide chemicals, antidepressant medications, perfluorooctanoic (PFOA) acid containing coating materials in non-stick cookwares, which also have obesogenic properties. The fact that 98% of Americans have PFOA in their blood is indeed some thing that must worry the safety experts.

Thyroid hormone is an important component of the human endocrine system with many functions attributed to its optimal activity. Too much of Thyroxine or too less of it can have many adverse consequences on a variety of body functions. Recent studies have brought out the close relationship between hypothyroidism and unnatural weight gain. As the Thyroid gland fails to produce sufficient Thyroxine needed by the body to ensure normal metabolism, food ingested invariably contribute to fat accumulation in the body. Iodine deficiency and impaired Thyroid gland performance can contribute to this situation. While iodine deficiency is not very common due to wide use of iodized salt these days, because of tireless campaign by health activists and governments in some countries, salt intake is coming down significantly with a potential to reduce iodine intake also. Iodine deficiency can be more conspicuous among consumers not used to sea foods which is a major source of this micro nutrient. Unfortunately hypothyroidism is not easily diagnosed as the symptoms associated with it like fatigue, cold, constipation, dry skin and hair, sore muscles, slowed down thinking, memory loss, mood swings etc are too common to be alarmed about and probably many people may not be even aware of such deficiency condition.

Confounding the confusion further, sporadic reports linking Vitamin D deficiency to obesity need to be taken seriously in countries farther away from equator where inadequate exposure to Sun can slow down the synthesis of this vitamin among the population there. Though recommended daily intake is pegged at 200-600 IU depending on the age of an individual, recent studies indicate that a more appropriate optimal figure would be double this level considering that a significant segment of the population are over weight with their Vitamin D conversion rate to Calcitriol, the active hormonal form, being insufficient. Vitamin D deficiency also contributes to Calcium deficiency which in turn increases the production of Synthase enzyme that is involved in conversion of calories into fat. The Vitamin D -Obesity relationship is more reflected by decreased absorption of this vitamin in obese individuals and whether Obesity creates Vitamin D deficiency or vice-versa is still not clear.

All considered the enemy that is manifested in the form of obesity seems to be within the individual and unless the parameters mentioned above are addressed properly, blaming others for this distortion in human health landscape is not going to serve any purpose. Under the prevailing conditions in different countries, addressing the problem of gluttony and over weight will have to take into consideration the basic health parameters of each individual vulnerable to weight gain and then make attempts to over come them. Whether it is the genetic factor or hypothyroidism or obesogen exposure or Vitamin D deficiency that make people fatty, appropriate measures need to be taken to correct the diets, evolve exercise regimes and create market conditions to reduce exposure to so called junk foods. It is not proper that the food industry alone is hammered for a situation caused by diverse factors illustrated above and in stead the world as a whole must look for effective and collective solutions to obviate the problem.          

Thursday, July 12, 2012


A troubling question that haunt the world to day is whether man has the capacity to feed himself, say 20, 30, 40 or 50 years from now, taking into consideration the present level of technology, land resources, increased need of inputs and water availability. There is no unanimity in coming to a conclusion on this issue though many pundits feel that with greater efficiency and more intensive efforts sufficient food can be raised to feed the population growing at the current rate. What price one has to pay to achieve higher production is another matter. Intensive industrial culture has literally destroyed the soil health, polluted the environment and disturbed the eco system seriously. Mindless deforestation, over exploitation of ground water and mono culture cultivation practices can derail attempts to achieve quantum jump in food production in future years. Serious reservation on the part of the consumer about the safety of foods due to application of pesticides and increased use of GM technology further hamper any concerted effort to continue with the present practices any longer. 

Consumers are banding together to resist attempts to force them to accept foods that are not considered appropriate from their perception and it is against such a back ground, new consumer movements for changing the present system, to usher in alternatives that can satisfy their needs are emerging. Organic foods to day present one of the most accepted alternatives to the consumers for insulating themselves from the perceived dangers of products churned out by present day industrial agriculture with more emphasis on productivity and profitability ignoring the their genuine fears. If organics food industry is growing at a frenetic pace world over, the reason for this shift is not far to seek. Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and dangerous pesticidal chemicals invariably leave residues on the food crops which are considered as poisons capable of wreaking havoc on the health of the consumers. Similarly Locavore movement, Farmers' Markets and similar anti-establishment alternatives have emerged precisely because of the above reasons. 

Many novel approaches have been proposed to augment agricultural production and enhance food availability as far as possible. Week end farming in and near city suburbs, growing food in vacant city lands, railway track sides and even roof tops are possibilities that are being explored seriously. Vertical farming now being propounded calls for multi storied green house systems which can turn out fruits and vegetables year round for supply to the city residents continuously. Recently a new concept has been tested called farm shops where consumers can pick up their needs of some foods in fresh condition from gardens behind the shops maintained by the grocery shop owner! One of the great advantages of these new approaches is that the present system of food being shipped from long distances can be circumvented by making available the same from points nearby through urban gardening. This not only saves precious fossil fuels required for transportation but also reduces the carbon emission besides serving fresher foods to the consumers. 

Urban agriculture is based on the concept that the city dwellers, generally living far away from the centers of food production, can also contribute their might to food production through their labor and other locally garnered inputs. Generally land for cultivation is the constraint in translating this concept into practice. However due to migration of many families from urban centers into country side during last 30-40 years, abandoning their properties, large tracts of land have been lying vacant with no benefit to any body. Same is true with lands by the side of disused railway tracks near many cities with potential to put them to use for agriculture. In some cities cooperative farming in the suburbs is undertaken with contract labor providing the manual input for managing the operations. Many large buildings in metropolitan regions having substantial terrace area, are also potential sites for gardening which can provide the requirements of greens and fruits in the vicinity of these buildings. According to one estimate urban agriculture can significantly augment food supply to urban consumers, cut down carbon emissions to a great extent and provide better quality produce to the consumers, making them self sufficient without depending on foods from outside their area. 

While on paper the concept sounds very tantalizing, there is a need to generate adequate logistical support to new ventures entering this sector. Big time research efforts are called for to standardize conditions for cultivation of different crops and evolve practices that can ensure success with minimum risks. Recent attempts by Michigan State University at Detroit to envisage a developmental project for studying the potential of urban agriculture are welcome initiatives and if the same materializes considerable boost can be expected to be given to accelerating the pace of expansion of the already proven potential of urban agriculture. The project in its embryonic stage may evolve into a world wide research research effort, with investments over $ 100 million, spanning over 100 acres of land and may involve countries like South Africa, China, Kenya, South America as a collaborative research and innovation engine for spreading the concept world wide. Research and development program may encompass evolving most efficient practices for growing food inside multi story buildings, innovative ways to produce energy, conserve water in food production, vertical agriculture etc. Compared to other countries the US is fairly well advanced in this area of endeavor and the Detroit project will ensure it remains the leader with willingness to share the technological prowess with those wanting to explore and expand the potential of urban agriculture fully using their resources. 


Saturday, July 7, 2012


What is the purpose of eating food every day? Is it for satisfying the culinary needs of the human being or to maintain good health? Difficult questions indeed! Ideally a food should satisfy both but the million dollar question is whether such foods do exist and if so how easily they are available to the consumers? With the rampant epidemic of diabetes, CVD, cancer, blood pressure, kidney diseases, liver ailments etc affecting a sizable segment of population in almost all countries, humans are increasingly turning to medical sciences to save them from the impending catastrophe! It is least realized that the solution to the above situation lies in front of every body and what is required is to open the mind for practicing what is good eating! Tons of information is readily available and easily accessible to every denizen on this planet regarding foods which are bad, neutral and good. Both the education system and upbringing practices at home during early childhood have some thing to do with the wrong eating habits prevalent to day. Probably food industry is just catering to the needs of a society that wants more and more tastier and flavorful foods ignoring the fundamentals of good health and optimal nutrition needs.

It is scary to read the widespread prevalence of child hood obesity and diabetes Type I as well as Type II, among the kids in the United States of America where junk foods with very low nutrient density, wrong types of sugars, refined carbohydrates, high salt, high fat, low fiber are easily available at ridiculously low cost. An imponderable question is whether there is any relationship between wealth and diseases and if the US is taken as an example it may be a true assumption. But even in a country like India which is fast racing towards the top slot among the diabetics, the growing economy and higher individual incomes seem to be contributing to this undesirable and unhealthy situation. One of the questions frequently asked is whether there is any difference between a carrot that contributes 100 kC and a sugary beverage based on HFCS or white sugar that delivers same calories? It is difficult to make a common man understand that refined sugar is vastly more dangerous than those contained in natural foods embedded in the cell matrix. But the truth is so and sooner humans realize this "sweet" truth, better it will be for the world. 

Sugar is now being bracketed with stimulating substances like opium or tobacco which are addictive in nature and once hooked on there is no going back through out life. It is the brain which does this trick because of the action of refined sugar and its products on the brain cells, demanding more and more such foods whether biologically one needs it or not. More the calories ingested daily, higher will be the risk of developing the so called "life style diseases" mentioned earlier. What else one can expect when the families do not exercise their restraining power to keep sugary and fatty foods away from children during the early childhood. It is a calamity that the food industry trains its guns on this vulnerable segment of consumers by making their products sweeter, more colorful and flavorful as a part of the marketing strategy. What is intriguing is that food safety and health experts world over with their fingers on the power of influencing the industry, do precious little to counsel, cajole, persuade, or force the market to moderate their products quality with more emphasis on health rather than the palate. 

Having failed miserably to stem the rot that is spreading in the form of obesity and other food related health disorders, the focus seems to be shifting to use the medical route to address this Goliath of a problem. There are many quacks offering solution to obesity through concocted diets but no single diet has yet been proved to be satisfactory with controversies galore regarding their undesirable impact on body. Surgical intervention was always there but is generally considered as the last option for desperate people with advanced obesity syndrome. Now comes the news that pharmaceutical industry is toying with the idea of mass marketing of appetite suppressant drugs that can quench the craving for food. It is sad that humans are so stupid that ignoring the natural way of maintaining body weight through balanced diet and minimum exercise and indulge in binge eating ending up on a medicine regime to kill the appetite to save them from disaster

Will the safety authorities in any country approve a drug for weight reduction when proven alternate methods are known to be equally effective? If the present trend is any indication a time may come in the near future when over the counter drugs would be available for obese people to cut down on their body weight but the crucial question is whether such drugs even after their advent will provide a lasting solution to the health crisis that confronts many countries. It appears that such weight reducing pills work as long as they are taken and once the drug is withdrawn, weight re-gain happens in no time! What side effects these drugs will have on the body are still not known well and long term safety studies with humans only can bring out the facts. The health officials in the US where some drugs are being considered for weight reduction have done well so far in resisting the attempts of the industry to market them with incomplete safety data. The apprehension is that intense political pressure and strong lobbying power of the industry will eventually force the government to clear these drugs. A tragic event indeed!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The quality of food one eats and the way it is eaten are both important, if optimum health is to be maintained. There are many unsolicited advices that are offered to those who are perennially looking for good foods that can provide right nutrition to the body. The basic nutrient make up of a food as declared in the front of the pack label reveals a lot but there are many other aspects such labels cannot tell the consumer. That is why health pundits always hold the view that more diverse the diet is, using a variety of foods, better it will be for keeping one healthy. Similarly the way one eats also has a bearing on the health of the individual. Faster one eats the food, more vulnerable will be the person to some of the eating disorders found prevalent in to day's society. It is for nothing that Buddhists are being projected as ideal eaters because they really enjoy eating the food slowly and with lot of respect for the food. To day's consumer is a much harried human being pulled from all directions with tons of information, often contradictory and confusing, regarding the best way to eat and live. The million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether to day's market environment will allow even a saint to desist from over indulging in food leading to predictable health consequences.

According to those who promote the concept of "Food Justice", consumers per se do not know what is really good for him but are "pressurized" by the market environment to invariably choose bad foods ( say junk foods?).  The economic compulsions further push him into the arms of the "wily" food industry who have the "expertise" to seduce the consumer through mouth watering products with low nutrient density at low cost while protective foods are priced exorbitantly high putting them beyond the reach of consumers who really need them. Those propounding "Food Justice" further feel that the State must play a crucial role in creating right environment for eating right foods. Recent policy orchestration by New York authorities to ban serving of sugary beverages beyond the size of 16 ounces is being criticized by the industry as well as some human rights activists as bordering on violation of the consumer's right to eat "what he wants, when he wants and where he wants'. What is forgotten in this semantic and sterile argument is that past history is replete with instances when the State had to intervene as in the cases of alcoholic beverages and tobacco smoking! If the State does such things for the common good of the citizen and majority consent to them it is no body's business to question the intention behind the move. 

Interestingly the New York move raises a far more serious question regarding the industrial practices which are often criticized for their negative impact on the well being of the citizenry.  Look at the advertisement blitzkrieg unleashed by the beverage industry against the government for such a small initiative and one can imagine the ferocity of such attacks if there were to be a total ban of sales of sugary drinks in the state! Is it that the industry does not have even an iota of consideration towards the consumer and is so brutal that it will go to any extent to sabotage such healthy measures? Is it not true that such mildly coercive policies are considered only when industry indulges in semantics when asked to voluntarily take action to modify their products in tune with standard nutritional and health standards? Now it is the sugar products that is making news but there are other issues like salt content in processed foods, trans fats and saturated fats which are potential mine fields for conflict between the industry and the consumer driven government policies.

An important question that is being debated is whether restricting serving size has any thing to do with obesity related problems. According to psychologists, the human behavior vis-a-vis eating food can be conditioned by the environment where food service takes place. It is the historical human weakness that when a large portion of food placed before him the tendency is to finish it off without leaving any thing back and this weakness is being exploited by the industry to push the consumer to binging. Added to this, the product pricing strategy which makes large portion sizes comparatively cheaper per unit acts as a motivation to buy larger sizes without the consumer realizing the consequences of over eating on his health. In American market larger the pack size or greater the number of units purchased, lesser will be the effective price to the consumer! Probably New York authorities have this odd behavior of the consumer in mind when the ban order was being considered. The argument that consumer freedom of choice is being curtailed cannot gel because no body prevents the consumer from buying multiple units if he really wants, though the policy makers rely on the consumer's inertia in picking up the second unit for bringing about net reduction in consumption of such dangerous beverages.

Recent trend that is perceptible in the market indicates that industry is really reducing the pack sizes not out of love of the consumers but for its economic benefits since lower quantity delivered without cutting down prices is a strategy adopted for countering inflation and protecting the bottom line. This trend was visible long ago in countries like India where substantial segment of the population has limited buying power and therefore cannot aspire to buy large packs costing exorbitantly. Thus the pack size and the buying capacity have a correlation which comes into play when food marketing strategies are worked out. The current trend in the US where pack sizes are reduced because of the economic down turn is simply a response by the industry to protect their financial health. Also coming into play is the convenience factor which is persuading the industry to go small and single use packs and if this trend grows as being anticipated, can also contribute its might in reducing food consumption in the market place. Taking into consideration these complex situations, state intervention will become more and frequent in future to protect the lives of its citizens food mercenaries..