Food is a controversial subject being blamed for diseases caused by under eating as well as over eating. Hardly a day passes without any report blaming lack of food or imbalanced food for the under development of millions of people in the poverty ridden continents of Asia, Africa and South America. On the other hand same food is being implicated in causing a variety of modern day diseases among people in affluent countries, obviously due to over eating or consuming nutrition deficient diets. It is most unfortunate that food that sustains life on this planet is a cause for such a situation. It is not realized that food is like a weapon with multidimensional implications. If used wisely it can be a friend of human beings and if misused it can be a real threat to the lives of those who do not respect its virtues. Is it not a paradox that while some people struggle to get even the barest minimum of foods to survive there are others who indulge in gluttony and also waste foods unconscionably without a though for the poor? Is it not an irony that more money is spent to day across the world to fight health disorders and diseases caused by too much foods consumed than to eliminate the scourge of infection, malnutrition and under nutrition?
We all grow up with this basic assumption dinned into our years that man needs a minimum of 2000 kC, 50 g of proteins, 50 g of fat and some micro nutrients essential which are not made in the body. Since last 3 decades dietary fiber and essential fatty acids were added as essential components of our diet. Interestingly these paradigm of health and nutrition remained almost static during the last hundred years except for some minor modifications. Has man changed much during this period? Of course the life styles of people who lived healthily hundred years ago were drastically different from the situation obtaining to day. The proportion of hard working people to the total population has been dramatically reduced during this period and the so called sedentary living is a rule to day than an exception! Why is that our great fore fathers produced children prolifically while to day two children family is the norm? Because they needed hands to help them to look after their avocation, be it agriculture or business. To day a farmer's son is unlikely to stay back in the farmland to carry on his father's tradition and culture and is more likely to end up in the urban ghettos that sprawl across hundreds of towns and cities across the country. Probably they want to earn fast and have no patience which is the most important trait of a farmer who has to fight with nature's aberrations and other uncertainties inherent in agriculture.
If we look at the disease density in the urban areas and rural areas, though dependable statistics are hard to come by, many impartial observers agree that occurrence and prevalence of diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension in our rural hinterlands are relatively low. They are more vulnerable to water borne, air borne and food borne diseases due to acute safe water scarcity, utter lack of hygiene and less than healthy living environment. Ultimately it boils down to inadequate purchasing power and dilapidated infrastructure they suffer since decades with government not doing much to improve their lot. It may not be correct to blame the government alone for not doing many things which are within their ambit of action because lack of education and exposure to basic knowledge about good living also contributed to this Catch 22 situation. Hopefully this could change over the next few years if education facilities are expanded and employment opportunities are created.
Why this talk about older generation and the present generation vis-a-vis food and health? During the last two decades thousands of studies have been undertaken to find solutions to modern day problems of health and invariably these studies focused on evolving methods and techniques to deal with diseases caused by over eating and wrong eating. Billions of dollars have been spent by several countries to deal with their citizens who have no control on the foods they eat and suffer from life style health disorders.While diseases like diabetes or blood pressure or heart disease are not curable easily but only to be managed through a plethora of drugs on which the pharma industry are making trillion of dollars churning out such drugs. There are two vital differences in the life styles of older generation population and the new generation in terms of physical work and quality of foods consumed. Good old foods mostly unprocessed food grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, raw edible oils etc of yesteryears have yielded way to "unnatural foods" made by the food industry devoid of most of the nutrients including health protecting phytochemicals. As for physical work to day's generation has a living style not based on physical work but on intellectual work operating computers and mechanized gadgets in practically every walk of life. What is the necessity for such a person to have same calories, proteins and fats if they are not spent doing physical work? Naturally the excess energy accumulates in the body contributing to bloated bodies with expanded waistlines and consequent health related disorders.
The restricted calorie diets and their favorable impact on life span has been brought out by a few studies pointing out why there is a need to cut down on calorie consumption, especially for those who lead a life with minimum body movement or exercise. To day's rush to develop remedies for the consequences of wrong eating or over eating is some what misplaced though as they may serve the limited purpose of medically dealing with those crossing the Rubicon knowingly endangering their lives. How ridiculous it is for perfectly normal people to pop in pills after leading an undisciplined eating regime to get relief for the ill effects of their indiscretion! Bariatric surgery and similar surgical intervention cannot be a routine procedure while many weight reducing medications should not have been there at all!
Look at the latest "research" in this area where some over enthusiastic scientists have come out with a modified chemical substance made from inulin, a natural oligofructosan found in Chicory, Jerusalem artichokes etc which is claimed to "kill" the appetite in human beings to a significant extent. On one side, highly attractive and tasty foods are created for the consumers to "enjoy" eating and then new chemicals are invented to curb their consumption! What a paradox! Both the food industry and the well being industry make money in this convenient alliance! Dietary discipline is what is needed to maintain the health and that is why dietary guidelines are formulated from time to time for the benefit of the consumers. Recent development of Inulin propionate esters (IPE), prepared from in the laboratory by reacting Inulin with propionic acid anhydride is being touted as a solution to curb the tendency for uncontrolled ingestion of food. .
In the case of IPE there is some rationale because Inulin is a soluble dietary fiber that does not contribute to any calorie, passing through the upper GI tract into the large intestine undigested. Obviously human body has no means of digesting this fiber but the microbiome inhabiting the gut feast on them producing short chain fatty acids considered beneficial to the health in many ways. What is so special about IPE? IPE is a combination of two naturally occurring substances inulin and propionic acid and therefore cannot be considered as a new chemical synthesized by scientists. Short chain fatty acids, (SCFA) which are organic acids with 1-6 carbons in their molecules have been known to exert influence on the metabolic system in the human body and among the most important ones are acetic acid, propionic acid and butyric acid which together make up 95%of the SCFAs in the gut. Propionates just make up about 25% while acetic acid happens to be the major SCFA. As propionates were found to exert a significant influence on excretion of gut hormones involved in satiety, it is often considered as a substance of therapeutic value. If so, is it possible to increase its concentration in the gut to a level that can exert significant influence on quantity of food eaten? This is where IPE comes into picture.
SCFAs are produced in the gut by microorganisms that reside there using residual food components not digested in the GI tract till they pass down to the large intestine. These include resistant starches, dietary fibers, sugar alcohols, undigested proteins etc but the concentration produced is not enough to exert any significant influence on satiety. If propionic acid levels in the large intestine can be increased, it can exert influence on gut hormone excretion that can achieve satiety fast. IPE can be made with different levels of esterification involving the hydroxy moieties in the fructose molecules of inulin. Higher the extent of esterification more effect it will have on satiety. IPE when ingested goes through the GI tract all the way to large intestine where microbes deesterify it to release propionic acid at levels that are effective in creating satiety and stop gluttony. If these findings are confirmed by other studies, IPE may become the darling of the well being industry and thousands of products incorporating IPE are likely to flood the market in the coming years.
The question mark that why man is hurting himself through the food gluttony widely seen to day, may never be answered and no matter what remedies scientists come up with, the immediate provocation and seduction by good foods can never be resisted. As long as this continues, like cigarette and alcohol, food will cause lot of damage for those with fickle mind and irresistible cravings for junk foods! Sadly modern food industry, well being industry and pharma industry will be reaping the benefits from man's "Himalayan" folly!