Monday, July 13, 2015

The rabid"Fatophobia"-Consequences of past practices now being felt!

There has been a frenetic pace in the criticism of fats present in the diet during the last 3 decades, attributing practically every ailments at the doors of this food component present in all foods in varying quantities. The food industry world over has been castigated for manufacturing high fat containing and tasty foods that attract the consumers and dietary guidelines have been telling the consumers to shun foods rich in fat. It is true that fats, especially saturated versions, that too present in animal derived foods do cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc when consumed in excessive quantities though precise data were never generated as to how much is too much! American consumers and their counterparts in many affluent countries were told that fat consumption through the daily foods should not be more than 30% of the total calorie needs of the body. This did create a perception all around that fat is a "dirty" component in a healthy food to be shunned as much as possible. Even a school going child "knows" fat rich foods are not good for health! What are the consequences of such a great fat phobia? They are there to see in a country like the US where industry started pandering to this trend developing thousands of products with the so called "low fat" claims! 

How far we have been right in taking the fat phobia to such great heights? It now emerges that such commonly perceived beliefs were highly misplaced as reflected by the failure of such low fat foods to prevent the increase of obesity and other related diseases in these countries during the last 3 decades. It now emerges that the recommendation to cap fat calories at 30% of total calories was wrong and in stead of reducing the incidence of obesity, such a policy created the opposite effect! Why? Because the place of fat in the diet was taken over by carbohydrates which seem to have contributed to health afflictions. Of course the emphasis on unsaturated fats and plant derived fats was correct as they are relatively less harmful compared to saturated fats. Even blaming carbohydrates may not be wholly justified becauser the quality of carbohydrates consumed makes a big difference in deciding the healthiness of a diet. Food technology may have some thing to do with decreasing the carbohydrate quality progressively during the last 5 decades by developing newer technologies to "refine" food which effectively means removing healthy components during the processing.  

Fortunately a spate of recent research studies have been able to establish the futility of focusing too much on low-fat foods. Many recent scientific observations do confirm the above reality. Studies using large randomized trials involving thousands of subjects between 2006 and 2013 brought out the stark reality that a low-fat diet had no significant benefits in ameliorating incidences of heart disease, cerebral stroke, diabetes or cancer risks. In contrast a high-fat, Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts or extra-virgin olive oil providing more than 40 percent of calories in total fat was able to significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes and long-term weight gain. There are also other similar studies which have shown that high-fat diets can have same effect or better than, low-fat diets for short-term weight loss. The types of foods, rather than fat content, relate to long-term weight gain. It is not proper to rule out completely the perception that high-fat diets are not healthy  or low-fat diets are less harmful. A universal principle that should be borne in mind is that too much focus on a particular food component in the diets can be misleading and food has to be viewed in a holistic way. Focus on total fat or other abstract numbers printed on the labels of packed foods will have to be replaced with right emphasis on eating more minimally processed fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, fish, yogurt, vegetable oils and whole grains in stead of highly refined white grain flours, white potatoes, added sugars in what ever form and processed meats. 

Quantity of food eaten must be related to what we eat: As commonly believed cutting calories in the diet without improving food quality cannot be expected to cause long-term weight loss. It is this belated realization that has prompted health and food experts to modify the dietary guidelines, after singing the "song of 30% calories cap" for decades for consideration by the government without any upper limit on total fat. In addition, reduced-fat foods were specifically not recommended for obesity prevention. Instead, they want to encourage consumption according to healthful food-based diet patterns. The limit on total fat is an outdated concept, an obstacle to sensible change that promotes harmful low-fat foods, undermines efforts to limit refined grains and added sugars, and discourages the food industry from developing products higher in healthy fats. Fortunately, the people behind the Dietary Guidelines understand that but whether policy makers and the food industry take notice of this sane advice remains to be seen.

This discussion cannot be complete unless a mention is made about the life styles followed by the people to day,  especially with respect to their sedentary way of living with practically no exercise or any physical activity. The right way to lead a healthy life is to eat a balanced diet with adequate nutrition derived from whole grains, fruits, vegetables etc as mentioned above and do enough physical activity in any format that will burn the calories and achieve a dynamic metabolic activity in the body that can ensure sound health and mind.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

American consumer, the law makers and the Science-A big cauldron waiting to boil over!

Though genetically modified foods are predominantly produced and marketed in the United States, most consumers are either unaware of it or are helpless to do any thing to stem this trend of overwhelming GMO containing foods. The safety or otherwise of GMO foods is still a matter that divides humanity into opposing camps, one section finding no fault with them while the others vehemently loathing them. The gravity of the problem can be realized from the fact that even among scientists there is no consensus on this issue and how can one blame the consumer to take a stand on this burning issue. Whatever it is, in the US of to day consumers have no choice but to accept foods made from GMO raw materials and ingredients unless one has the wherewithal to spend a fortune to switch over to 100% organic foods. The fight that is going on to day in that country centers around the so called constitutional right of the citizen to know what he is eating and for that what they are asking is to just declare on the label of products whether GMO ingredients are there or not in the food packet. A well reasoned demand though the industry, politicians and bureaucrats do not think so, obviously because of pecuniary considerations.

Look at the stand taken by the safety watch dogs in that country viz Food and Drug Administration and US Dept of Agriculture both of which considers genetically altered foods "practically" same as their natural counterparts and therefore felt there is no need to specifically mention about their presence in any food on the label. One is left with the impression that the US wants to be a unique country in swimming against international views on almost all issues, probably because of the arrogance of power, being the only super power left in the global landscape after the demise of erstwhile Soviet Union. Other wise it is difficult to explain why it is cocking a snook at 64 other countries which have made label declaration about GMO foods mandatory! Why is this happening in a country which is supposed to be the beacon for all democracies in the world? Obvious answer is the nexus among politicians, bureaucrats and industry lobbyists to deny the consumer his right and make unholy money for their own welfare!

A peep into the American situation will reveal this paradox. According to recent reports a fierce food fight is going on in the Congress over the labeling of genetically engineered foods.with a substantial section of the law makers trying to block any move to enforce mandatory labeling of GMO foods in any part of the country. Is it not a paradox that in a federal system of governance, where states enjoy high degree of freedom to legislate, their right is being usurped by the federal government through an insidious bill that will block the power of states to enact any law that will mandate compulsory labeling of GMO foods! Who are these law makers trying to help? Of course the GMO industry giants who have a stranglehold on the American economy through their close nexus with politicians. This attempt comes in the wake of three states already putting on the statute book law that requires labeling of foods marketed in their area. Attempts in the past by some big states like California to legislate on similar lines were frustrated by saturated misleading campaign by the GMO lobby pumping millions of dollars to brain wash the voters. 
The attempt to pass a law called "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" if passed asks for setting up a voluntary nationwide labeling system overseen by the federal government. This bill, popularly renamed by the consumer activist groups as "DARK Act", acronym for Deny All the Right to Know" Act! Protagonists of GMO foods invariably argue that about 90 percent of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered, meaning that the crops have been artificially altered to use less water or resist pests and no calamity has befallen in the country. Also other supporters cite the clearance given by The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization all of them who have deemed all GMOs on the market as safe. 
However a major chunk of the consumer community is not convinced fully about the safety of such foods because of the common perception that industry does not have the well being of the citizens in their mind, relentlessly pursuing efforts to increase their profits and the scandals surrounding presence of unsafe chemicals hormones, steroids, transfats,etc further reinforce their distrust about the products churned out by the manufacturers. 

At present there are no government-approved labels to let consumers in the U.S. know which foods are derived from GMOs.It is funny that the US Government wants to leave to individual manufacturers to make any label declaration to indicate that their products are free from GMO ingredients without taking any responsibility to verify such claims! That has prompted many companies to advertise their food as "Non-GMO" by taking the services of existing Non-GMO Project which is a private nonprofit outfit floated by retailers. The group is claimed to be testing food products and do product segregation practices to verify that products with its butterfly seal contain less than 1 percent GMO ingredients. Can it be a long term solution when millions of consumers expect their government to come to their rescue by overseeing such label claims to infuse confidence in such products? If mandatory labeling is anathema to the political class which runs the country, least they can do is to set up a dedicated authority to verify claims of manufacturers that their products are free from GMO substances.Will this happen?  Depends on the intensity of struggle by the consumers on the government to sensitize them on this critical issue.