Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fat is no more a dirty word for health conscious consumers? Another twist to "fat saga"!

Every American child from its early development stage has been fed on a food myth that butter and cheese are not good for their health and the food industry in western countries found an opportunity to cash on this understanding of the consumers, churning out thousands of food products with no fat or low fat. Saturated fat was a still dirtier word because of the repeated claims by many studies that they contribute to heart disease by raising bad cholesterol level in the blood. Healthy plant oils like Palmolein and Coconut oil became a permanent item in the"no buy" list of most families since they are rich in saturated fats! What a paradox? To day both these oils are becoming popular for the very opposite reason that they are healthy! It is true that all animal fats do contain cholesterol but that is no reason to shun them indiscriminately without realizing their good qualities. It is a good development that at least some scientists of modern generation are asking hard questions as to whether dietary guidelines formulated a generation ago were authenticated by exacting scientific studies that to day are mandatory before arriving at such far reaching conclusions. 

Imagine the population of the US at 220 million in 1983 when the above dietary guidelines were imposed and that in the UK at 56 million, started the shift from normal diet to low fat diet believing the norms as absolute truth. These guidelines restricted consumption of fat to 30% of the total dietary calories and that from saturated fat to 10% of daily calorie intake. Unfortunately there was no improvement in the general health status of the people consequent to the new paradigm introduced in these countries. On the contrary there was dramatic decline of health when measured in terms of CVD, obesity, diabetes and other diseases! This is not to argue that new dietary guidelines caused this slump but it has something to do with the changes in the diet of consumers, who replaced the fat with carbohydrates from refined grain flours and sugar-rich products to meet their overall calorie needs!. It is now more or less agreed that white sugar, fructose sugars and high gycemic index (GI) carbohydrates of refined grain flours are the real culprits in damaging the health of millions of Americans, Europeans and populations in other wealthy countries.

A curious fact brought out recently by a group of scientists from the US and Scotland is that because of taking a premature decision on fat consumption then, world is facing the present health crisis. Butter is a very common food adjunct used world over for centuries and by casting aspersion on its health credentials, a whole generation of population has been shunning it ever since the guidelines were issued in 1977. Same is true with cheese and other dairy products also. Even to day there is a sustained attack on milk consumption in the US and the dairy industry in that country is struggling with declining demand, with the per capita consumption continuously falling during the last few years, from 78 liters per person in the year 2000 to less than 70 liters in 2009 and further anticipated to decline by 3% in 2020!. What was the result of this presumed mistake? The obesity epidemic, heart disease, blood pressure, kidney ailments, cancer cases have devastated the people with no hope of coming out of this crisis. Possibly consumers, in order to meet their energy requirements started depending more and more on carbohydrates in stead of fat. Added to this another folly was committed by consuming carbohydrate foods mostly based on refined floors, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)! Further damage was done by decreasing consumption of fruits and vegetables which are considered the most health friendly foods in this planet! Is this not a right recipe for disaster?

It is too often forgotten that food cannot be considered in a fragmented format in terms of fat, carbohydrate, protein, fiber and other nutrients but should be looked at holistically through the every day diet people consume. If this is an accepted fact, then man will be well off if a mixed diet containing whole grains, healthy fats, proteins from lean meats or legumes, milk, fruits and vegetables are consumed regularly without over eating. There is a feeling now among scientists that the food market of to day is dangerously weighted against healthy foods and the consumers are not realizing the bitter truth that tastier the food more unhealthy it can be! This ground reality is being exploited by the industry in making market place foods highly tasty and mouth watering! Probably this situation may continue unless concrete action is thought of, to improve the "food environment" in the market place with more choices of healthy foods being made available while shrinking the portfolio of unhealthy foods! How this can be achieved is some thing the stakeholders in this triangle viz industry, government and the consumers, must sit together and take appropriate decisions.


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