Focussing on scoring right nutrition and safe food is the only solution to combating the adulterations that have invaded our plates, writes KAvita Devgan, as she lists a five-point plan to staying healthy
Looking at the frequent outbreaks of stubborn virus and food-related allergies and illness, there is no doubt that an un-wellness pandemic is engulfing us. And the sad part is that while we see this happening — to us and to everyone around us — there really isn’t much that we can do about it, except worrying and cribbing about it, maybe!
Well, the good news is that a lot of this is preventable by a simple tool at our disposal — just changing what we plate. Focussing on scoring right nutrition and safe food is the only solution. All you need to is to follow a simple five-point plan to add health to your diet.
Focus on nutrition
My get healthy philosophy is clear and simple: if we focus on nutrition, rest everything will fall in place, automatically.
When our diet is loaded with empty foods, which are low on nutrition (that is, the basic vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes that our body needs) then sustenance does not happen. I define sustenance as not just filling of the stomach with the required calories, but with nutritional satiety. And without sustenance, there is no satisfaction, without which the urge to continue eating continues. It is that often familiar feeling of eating without being able to stop when we should, and the gnawing utterly uncontrollable avalanche of cravings that rule our food choices!
Secondly, unless we are nutritionally fit, we won’t function at our optimum — and that is a real deal breaker. For example, you may be at a risk for anaemia, one side effect of which is constant fatigue. And this will interfere with your ability to exercise, which will lead to weight gain.
Similarly if you are a fan of low or no carb diets and restrict cereals excessively in your diet, you may not get enough B vitamins, which are essential for fat metabolism in the body. Result: more fat deposition. Yes, that’s how diets that restrict carbs too much fall flat!
Make sense of science
It’s a sad fact that science, sometimes doesn’t discover knowledge, it “constructs” it, and then the marketers market it smartly. And we can’t just wish away this reality. Apparently, the sugar industry in the US paid three very influential scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat (SF) as the devil instead. Thankfully, sugar is back to being the devil and saturated fat is being exonerated.
Also, there is no way to making sense of the constant yo-yoing of what research says and then unsays. A theory that may appear right today may be debunked tomorrow. It happened with milk, eggs, coconut oil, ghee, to name a few, making all of us bonafide food schizos.
So what does one do? For one, we must understand that nutrition is an ever evolving science, and facts change at breakneck speed. So read the ‘breaking news’ but take it with a pinch of salt; use it only as a guiding light not gospel. Read all sensational headlines (like so and so extract will help you dodge Alzheimer's) objectively and apply the principle of common sense before following them. For example, a research says that wine is good for our heart, but that does not mean that you must begin downing a glass or two everyday! Maybe, it is the exercise that you are doing in the morning and the two fruits you are snacking on that are keeping your heart in the pink of health, and it doesn’t need any extra help.
Too much information can often do more harm than good. Listen to your gut feel, and the golden rule of moderation — no food is bad per se, it is only bad in excess — and you will be fine.
Cut down processed foods intake
There are enough red flags about processed foods to convince anyone who values his health to go off them. According to the World Health Organisation, processed foods are to blame for the spike in chronic disease around the world. Multiple studies have found correlation with higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes, depression and even early death with more intake of processed foods.
The reason is simple — they come packaged with a deadly cocktail of chemicals, and way too much of sugar and salt, all of which wreak havoc inside the body. They leave you short on fibre and antioxidants. Plus they are addictive as they are designed clearly to attack the reward centre of the brain (and not really to provide you nutrition) — and that is always a bad thing.
Plus, giving up processed “diet” food is a big part of this strategy to knock off weight successfully. I have seen people up their calories intake and yet lose weight just by going clean! The explanation is simple. When people eat minimally processed foods, they produce more of the hormone that suppresses appetite and less of the hormone that causes hunger. Translated in simple terms, this means that when you eat more processed foods, your body chemistry works in a manner that makes you eat more, even if you are trying not too. Result obviously is loss of control and yes, weight gain. And if you can put a lid on the consumption of junk and processed then your hormones can be tipped in the favour of weight loss.
Keep away from these baddies
In 2015, high lead concentration and traces of MSG were found in a batch of a brand of instant noodles in Uttar Pradesh. The regulatory authorities asked for a recall of that batch and a clamour for banning it began. A survey conducted by the Kolkata-based All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (under the Health Ministry) in 2016 had found presence of 5 toxins in the soft drinks packaged in PET (polyethylene tereph-thalate) bottles. These harmful metals — antimony, lead, chromium, cadmium and a compound DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) — apparently leech in from the PET bottles. Now think of all that we consume out of the PET bottles and the sheer number is enough to raise an alarm.
Why is it scary? you would ask. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), lead and cadmium are two of the top ten chemicals of “major public health concern” and can have serious consequences for our health, particularly children. Lead exposure affects the brain and central nervous system, causing mental retardation and behavioural disorders at high level of exposure. Cadmium attacks the kidney, skeletal system and the respiratory system and is a known carcino-gen.
The other three: chromium, antimony and DEHP can also be harmful. While, chromium is needed by the body in very small amounts, an overdose has been associated with lung, nasal, and sinus cancer. Antimony may lead to problems with the lungs, heart, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers, and DEHP (EU had banned and classified it as a reproductive toxicant a while back) is associated with adverse effects on the liver, kidneys and the reproductive system.
Even the humble bread, that many of us eat almost on a daily basis was in the eye of the storm because of the dangerous, cancerous additives (potassium bromate and potassium iodate) found in multiple brands. Plus, there is the omnipresent danger of consuming multiple toxins like acrylamide, BPA or bisphenol A and diacetyl (found in something as ubiquitous and considered healthy as pop corn) found in processed foods.
In India, right now we don’t have any laws banning anything, even known harmful additives. So the onus is upon us to steer clear of them. We can always try and replace PET bottles for storing (and selling) everything with time-tested and traditional alternatives such as glass or even earthen pots/bottles! Giving up may not be practical option for a lot of us, considering the way we all live today, rationing them in the diet is only the next best.
Eat safe meat
Meat is an important part of a balanced diet, there is no denying that. In fact, some nutrients and our body’s protein requirement often demands that we incorporate it in our diet. That said what one needs to be super careful about its overload.
Eating meat may be good for us, but too much of this can be bad too. Especially if you are consuming unsafe meat. The science is solid on the fact that there is a huge cost involved in eating cheap meat. “Overuse of antibiotics in animal farms endangers us all as it multiplies drug resistance in the environment,” explains author and CDDEP Director Ramanan Laxminarayan.
This, in fact, has been proven beyond doubt. Antibiotic use in animals can over time promote the development of hard-to-treat antibiotic-resistant superbugs that make people sick. So we are, slowly but steadily, becoming an antibiotics resistant race. The concerns over the use of antibiotics for more growth promotion (read higher production) in farm animals is serious and the threat to public health from the overuse of antibiotics in food animals is very real.
Source your meat and eggs carefully. To prevent antibiotic resistance, avoid antibiotic medications unless absolutely necessary; eat less meat (or give it up entirely) to help reduce demand and buy from small, organic farms which raise antibiotic-free animals. It’s not easy, but then catching (and being apart in spreading) a superbug and becoming antibiotics resistant is a far scarier prospect by any stretch.
Drink safe milk
You can thrive on good food, if it is safe. According to Ayurveda, the best kind is the milk that is absolutely fresh from the cow, still warm. But as that is not really an option any-more (unless there’s a cow in your backyard who you are feeding organic pasture), we need to cover other bases to ensure that the milk we drink is not adulterated.
This is important. The immediate effect of drinking adulterated milk can be gastroenteritis vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, but the long term effects are known to be far more serious. These adulterants are hazardous and can cause irreversible damage to the organs. Detergents in milk cause food poisoning and gastrointestinal complications. Other synthetic compounds cause impairments, heart problems, cancer and even death. The high alkaline level of milk can damage body tissue too. Caustic soda harms the mucosa of the food pipe, especially in kids.
So how does one check if milk is adulterated? The NDDB (National Dairy Development Board) website mentions that it has a kit with which you can do some simple tests at home. Check it out. Meanwhile some simple tests you can do on your own are:
To check for extra water in milk, place a drop on a shiny, polished slanting surface. Milk leaves no trail behind but if water is added to it you will find a white trail behind the drop.
For starch (wheat flour etc), add a drop of iodine solution (easily available in medical stores); formation of blue colour indicates adulteration. For detergent, just mix equal amounts of water and milk and shake for five minutes. Appearance of lather indicates presence of detergent.
— The writer is a Delhi-based weight management consultant, nutritionist and author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks