Sunday, November 30, 2014

Spicing up the Spice!-Enhancing the bioavailability of phytochemicals

The so called well being industry which rides on a multi billion dollar market often confuses its own well being as that of the consume it is supposed to serve! The players who dominate this sector seem to be thriving on non-transparent, vague and some times misleading claims about the benefits consumer can derive by taking their products. The products being peddled around by them. most commonly referred to as "dietary supplements" have rarely any scientific data, proved by clinical trials with human subjects and most evidence offered is based on literature information or limited rat studies of doubtful value. The medical community, at least some members of this group who have some conscience, agree that no normally healthy person consuming a balanced diet requires any supplements and there fore these are specialty products, useful to various people with one or the other health problem. What is more intriguing is the unabashed marketing of many plant materials containing biologically significant phytochemicals with claims that cannot be easily substantiated. Here is a typical example of a phytochemical extracted from turmeric which was being touted as an antidote for every ailment experienced by man, though turmeric, per se, is a traditional alternate medicinal option known since centuries to get relief from some health problems. 

"Historians from all around the world have produced evidence to show that apparently all primitive peoples used herbs-often in a sophisticated way. "Quinine from Cinchona bark was used to treat the symptoms of malaria long before the disease was identified, and the raw ingredients of a common aspirin tablet have been a popular painkiller for far longer than we have had access to tablet-making machinery. Indeed, today many pharmacological classes of drugs include a natural product prototype that we originally discovered through the study of traditional cures and folk knowledge of indigenous people." There's a plant in South Asia called Adhatoda from adu meaning "goat," and thoda meaning "not touch" because it's so bitter even the goats won't eat it. However, it has compounds that help open one's airways and as such, Adhatoda tea has been used traditionally to treat asthma, where the leaves are steeped with black peppercorns. Leaves steeped with black peppercorns? That sounds gross to me—why would they do that? Because they're smart. Back in 1928, scientists discovered what the people evidently already knew, that adding pepper increased the anti-asthmatic properties of the leaves. Black pepper alone didn't work: it was the combination. And now we know why. Just like approximately 5% of the spice turmeric is composed of an active compound called curcumin, about 5% of black pepper by weight is comprised of this compound called piperine. Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color of turmeric and piperine for the pungent flavor of pepper. Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process. And it doesn't take much. If people are given a bunch of turmeric curcumin, within an hour there's a little bump in the level in their blood stream. We don't see a large increase because our liver is actively trying to get rid of it. But what if the process is suppressed by taking just a quarter teaspoon's worth of black pepper? Then you see curcumin levels skyrocket. The same amount of curcumin consumed, but the bioavailability shoots up 2000%. Even just a little pinch of pepper—1/20th of a teaspoon—can significantly boost levels. And guess what a common ingredient in curry powder is besides turmeric? Black pepper. Another way to boost the absorption of curcumin is to consume it in the whole food, turmeric root (fresh or dried as a powder) because natural oils found in turmeric root and turmeric powder can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin seven to eight fold. When eaten with fat, curcumin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver. How is it prepared in India? With fat and black pepper. Amazing how they could figure that out without double blind trials. (Though maybe it just tastes good, and it's merely coincidence?) Their traditional knowledge certainly failed them with ghee, however, which is practically pure butter fat, which may explain their relatively high rates of heart disease despite all their turmeric".

This case is not highlighted for any false claim but to show how difficult it is to prove the beneficial impact of a traditional plant substance. The type of study illustrated above brings out when turmeric can be effective and under what conditions. Just swallowing a capsule containing curcumin cannot ensure that the consumer will get the benefit attributed to whole turmeric. It is conveniently ignored that turmeric contains a few other biologically active organic molecules like turmerone having other benefits. The "revelation" that turmeric effect is several fold higher when consumed in combination with black pepper is indeed science based with biological logic. Some how the well being industry does not bother about such truths before promoting their formulated products. The rational explanation that turmeric efficacy, after it is mixed with oils which are absorbed through the thoraicic route is convincing and the complimentary effect of piperine in preventing curcumin destruction in the liver is plausible. This study has proved one thing whether any one likes it or not, that our traditional food habits in India have a scientific root whether accidental or coincidental. This is where Indian research institutions must focus more to unravel the strength of our traditional foods in stead of wasting their time on western oriented foods.  


Friday, November 28, 2014

"Zero-budget farming"- A challenger to organic farming?

Every one knows that organic foods are being patronized by more and more people and they account for about 5% of the main stream food industry produced foods. Whether all the claims made by the producers of organic foods are sustainable and 100% safe depend on individual producers/processor though there are stringent regulatory controls supposed to be in place. Unfortunately dilution of organic food specification started in the USA with pressure and lobbying by the "big brothers" in the main stream sector and consumers have to be careful in selecting only 100% organic foods to rule out any possibility of use of chemicals or practices not desirable for absolute safety. While "organic foods vs mainstream commercial foods" debate is hotting up, another side player has jumped into the fray saying even organic foods are not so natural as is being claimed. The so called zero budgeting farming technology being touted by an individual in India depended entirely on cow dung and cow urine to increase the yield with out using any chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The claim that one cow can support 30 acres of land producing crops like cereals is amazing indeed if true and deserves a close look from knowledgeable agricultural experts. Here is a low down on this on-going development in India in the farm sector. 

"Advocate of zero-budget spiritual farming Subhash Palekar has claimed that farmers' suicide in the country was observed among those practicing the chemical-farming methods. Making a plea for encouraging chemical-free farming, Mr. Palekar said there were nearly 4 million farmers practicing zero-budget farming in the country who were prospering. Mr. Palekar, who interacted with media persons here on Saturday, said there was not a single example of farmers practicing zero-budget farming committing suicide, due to higher yield and low cost input. Zero-budget agriculture entails no external chemical inputs like fertilizers or insecticides. While chemical farming methods yield about 12 quintals of basmati rice per acre, under the zero-budget farming method, yield was observed to be as high as 18 to 24 quintals, according to Mr. Palekar. Similarly, about 6 quintals of wheat per acre was the normal yield while it was 18 quintals under zero-budget farming. The country's food output cannot be doubled through chemically-intensive agriculture methods or even conventional organic agriculture. Only zero-budget farming was could meet the country's food requirements. Despite the obvious advantages of alternative methods, not many farmers were switching over to it due to government policies which link all credit, marketing, and insurance facilities to chemical-based agricultural practices, said Mr. Palekar. He noted that the alternative method of farming was more popular in Karnataka, than in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. He came down heavily on the organic farming policy of the State government on the grounds that it was more expensive than chemical-based agriculture. In Mysore region, there were nearly 400 to 500 farmers who had switched over to zero-budget agriculture and Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha leader Badagalpura Nagendra said the organisation was working to create awareness among farmers about its benefits."

It is claimed by the proponents of zero budget farming that the yield under this regime could be 50% to 100% more than the prevalent yields reported using irrigation and full fertilizer use. If 4 million farmers have switched over to this system of cultivation, as being claimed by the proponents of zero budget farming there must be some thing worthwhile that attracts them. In one sense this cow centered farming technology seems eminently suited to India and needs further encouragement. If farmers are happy and no suicide case has ever been reported by zero budget farmers, it is all the more reason to have a close look at this by agricultural experts in Universities and ICAR to confirm that the claims are true and there is no risk inherent in adopting this technology nationally. Just because a single person with years of experience dealing with farmers has propounded this new concept it does not mean that it does not deserve attention. Social organizations and NGOs engaged in rural upliftment in the country must put their heads together to study this system and if found feasible take action to propagate the same.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Plastic bags usage-Progressive measures in Europe

By now even a child knows the dangers involved in using disposable plastic bags which pose a great environmental hazard to humans as well as animals, both terrestrial as well as aquatic. During the last two decades increased awareness about these hazards have compelled many countries to introduce legislation to curb their use drastically over a period of time. Unfortunately the progress achieved cannot be said to be satisfactory as stricter laws are not being implemented rigorously and sternly. The result is that fossil fuel plastics continue to dominate in the day to day lives of population in many countries. The talk about substituting these almost indestructible man-made materials is going on though here also progress is not some thing about which we can really proud of. Bioplastics including Biopolymers have established their credentials with almost all user industries but their production has not reached even half a million tons per year while global demand for plastics stands at around 13 million tons. Europe is particularly in the forefront in dealing with use of plastics and their disposal and here is the latest development in this bloc of 28 nations as reported recently   

"According to the new rules, member states could either ban free plastic bags for shoppers by 2018 or else ensure that the average consumption of them does not exceed 90 a year per person by 2019. Under the proposal to be voted on by the environment committee, member states could choose to either ban free plastic bags for shoppers by 2018 or else take measures to make sure that the average consumption of these bags drops to 90 a year for each person by 2019 and to 40 by 2025. The European Commission would be required to evaluate the impact on the environment of oxo-degradable plastic materials, which fragment into small particles, and propose measures accordingly."

In India also "brave" talks are there regarding banning of plastics but where ever laws have been promulgated the enforcement is practically non-existent! Low awareness about the risks in continued use and careless disposal of plastics adds up to the problem. Government of India's brand new initiative under the name of Swach Bharat Abhiyan aims to stop mindless littering all around in urban as well as rural areas but it remains to be seen whether this will remain largely a photo-op without achieving much. At the retailers level there are some sincere players who already insist on the customers to bring their own bags or give only non-plastic carry bags at a price. Here again the possibility of this segment becoming lethargic in due course of time because of laxity all around cannot be ruled out. If adequate deterrent punishments are put on the statute books for violation of laws pertaining to use of plastics, probably that may have a salutary effect.  


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Changing face of cooking oil business in India-Shift from loose vending to branded products

Cooking oil is an essential component in the budget of every hold in India. Unlike in western countries most Indians consume home fried snacks in stead of depending on the products offered by the industry. Depending on the region preference varies and some of the commonly used oils include that extracted from groundnut, coconut, sunflower seed, sesame,  rice bran, maize germ, soybean, etc but critical shortage of domestic oils during the last 3 decades set a trend of importing palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia in sizable quantities. To day the number one cooking oil is Palm oil and its fractionated version Palmolein with most people switching over to it for economic reasons. till 1990 oil was packed in square tins of 18 liter size for retail dispensing in consumer's container. Due to development high function plastic packing materials loose vending started declining and to day more than two third of the oil sold in the market is in plastic unit packs under different brands. Probably Indian consumer embraced plastic packed oils because of rampant adulteration of cooking oil on a massive scale by unscrupulous traders and fraudsters trying to make a fast buck. Here is a report on Indian oil market as it is being developed by a few national players and some strong regional brands. 

"There has been a surge in consumer preference for branded and packed edible oil, as compared to the traditional loose-sold variety. In 2012-13, sales of the former category in the country overall rose 30 per cent. And, the share of branded and packed oil in the overall cooking oil segment shot up to 60 per cent from 45 per cent in the previous year. The packed/branded category has a strong presence among regional companies. The share of national brands continue to remain between 10 and 12 per cent. Consumer awareness of the benefits of using packaged oil from a known brand and the ability to afford the higher price for this (termed 'increased financial scalability' in trade jargon) appears to be the reasons for the shift. Also, the difference in prices has narrowed. "The attraction towards branded and packed products is increasing rapidly. Branded and packed edible oil has replaced the loose commodity in urban areas," said Siraj Choudhary, chairman of Cargill India, producer of edible oil brands, such as Gemini and Sweekar and the Indian arm of the US commodity giant, Cargill International. Manufacturers have also started retailing the commodity with value additions, such as promises of various health benefits over the loose ones. Ruchi Soya Industries, the biggest in the branded category, with Sunrich, Nutrela and Mahakosh as leading brands, has posted 17.4 per cent growth in branded edible oil sales, at Rs 5,413 crore in 2012-13. In the fourth quarter, it registered 10.75 per cent growth in branded edible oil sales at 2.1 million tonnes (mt) as compared to 1.9 mt in the corresponding quarter of the previous year. Says Dinesh Shahra, managing director, "We witnessed a staggering growth in branded sales in the last two quarters. Our focus on the growth of these has helped in achieving better margins." A recent paper presented by Dorab Mistry, director, Godrej International, estimates India's edible oil consumption at 17.6 mt in the oil year of November 2012-October 2013, as against 16.6 mt in the previous year. He forecasts per capita edible oil consumption at 13.9 kg in 2012-13, up from 13.4 kg in the previous year. "Shifting is happening very rapidly from loose to branded and packed edible oil, which can be attributed to a combination of factors, including growing prosperity of the middle class and narrowing of the premium over loose products," said Atul Chaturvedi, chief executive officer of Adani Wilmar, producer of the 'Fortune' brand. The premium for branded and packed products has been narrowing in recent years, with the difference between packed and loose varieties now Rs 10-15 a kg and Rs 15-20 a kg between the loose and branded ones. Branded edible oil was earlier Rs 30 - 40 a kg costlier."

The cooking oil prices are escalating practically every day in spite of galloping imports of palm oil products and there is no sign that this trend is showing any abatement. Imagine some of them like Coconut oil and Sesame oil costing more than Rs 200 per liter, almost 100% increase in 1 year, reasons for which are not clear. Though from the health angle experts frown on too much consumption of oils like Palm oil, the failure of the country to increase the production of oil seeds commensurate with demand has given this sector a golden opportunity to reap higher and higher  each passing day! Annual per capita availability of 13.9 kg of oil working out to about 45 gm per person per day is not bad considering that the recommended fat intake is 50 gm per day per person. After all a significant part of fat needs are met through invisible fat present naturally in the diet. The only worrying fact is that every Indian citizen is forced get 50% of his daily requirement oil through imports! A pathetic situation indeed and shame to the Government of India!


Claims put on food package labels- True, false and in between!

How truthful are the facts presented on the labels in packaged foods? Before criticizing the food manufacturers for being non-transparent in their label declarations, one must check the veracity of labels on products that are already on the market shelves. The tendency to boost up the sales is universal and no one can fault the industry if they promote their products honestly and truthfully. The problem arises when label declarations are fudged by vague statements and wholly inaccurate facts. In India the FSSAI, sitting in their cozy offices at Delhi seems to be concentrating more on licensing all and sundry including the "under the tree" food sellers though it is not clear what they are going to do with all the paper works involved in documentation associated with such mass scale "licensing". Indian market place is a thriving field for fraudsters, adultrators, cheats and "addressless" vendors to make a fast buck at the expense of the benign citizen. There are thousands of products with wrong labels, boosted up claims, distorted facts and unknown nature of contents. Many products are not even complete leaving out some of the vital information required to be printed to help the consumer. A recent report from the US indicates that mislabeling is not that widespread as in India though there is also a tendency to suppress some facts. Here is a take on that report.    

"Many packaged food items such as cereals, infant food, chips and more contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Some companies label their products; some do not. Still, some say their products are "natural," which can mislead customers into thinking that the food is free from GMOs. About 64 percent of Americans understand the "natural" label to mean "no GMOs." There is no evidence to prove that the consumption of food with GMOs causes illness, but many countries require food producers to label their products if these contain modified ingredients. The U.S. does not, however, require GMO products to be labeled this way. "Foods that are frozen, made from concentrate or homogenized are all required to be labeled. Why shouldn't products containing GMOs also be labeled?" says Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives. Consumer Reports examined the number of food items that contain GMOs. The product testing organization also wanted to know if people relied on the packaging of certain products that suggest no GMOs. The group looked at 80 different packaged food items that contained soy or corn, which are the two most genetically modified crops in the U.S. The GMO measurement process involved examining at least two product samples, each from a separate lot. Consumer Reports then compared the test results with the packaging to confirm if food producers provide correct information. For a food product to meet the requirements of non-GMO, it should not have over 0.9 percent of genetically enhanced soy or corn. Following the European Union's standards, any food item with more than 0.9 percent of GMO should be labeled to confirm the product has GMOs. The tests found items that did not mention GMO in the packaging contained a substantial amount of ingredients modified genetically. Almost all food products labeled "natural" also contained a substantial amount of GMOs. However, products labeled "Non-GMO" or "No-GMO" met the required standards of non-GMO foods. "Until GMO labeling becomes mandatory, consumers who want to avoid GMOs should look for 'organic' or 'Non-GMO Project Verified' labels," says Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability. Rangan also believes that products that say they are "natural" mislead customers and should be excluded from packaging."

One of the major transgression in the US concerns the failure of the industry to declare the presence of GMO ingredients in packaged food products beyond the level prescribed by international agencies. But this is a controversial area which is still being debated though common sense tells that GMO food ingredients can never be called natural. While a substantial segment of the population definitely want to shun GMO products, they have been made helpless by the spinelessness of the food safety agency in that country to discipline its food industry!
There is an urgent need to overhaul the labeling system throughout the world to bring in some uniformity and facilitate global trade with no disputes regarding the product identity and permissible claims that can be printed on the label.


Taxing the food-A retrograde step by governments in India

Whether in ancient kingdoms or in modern democracies, taxation is a genuine tool to garner resources for the development of the Society at large. But who ever is ruling a country must exercise caution and wisdom in choosing the basket of items to be taxed and at what rate. India to day is considered vibrant democracy with the governing fraternity being for the people and by the people. If so indiscriminate taxation regime can be nothing but suppression of the aspirations of people. This is what has been happening in the country with successive governments refusing to go by the wishes of the people not to tax their foods. If the industry is to be believed the present General Sales Tax GST) regime, being pushed through, wants to impose 20% tax on foods which is nothing but a cruel joke in a country where poor people predominate in the population. While lot has been said about "Right to Food" by the political class it is not realized that right to access food cannot be "at any cost"! The plea by the industry to reduce the food taxes to 4% is very reasonable and if the present government prides itself as a "responsive and responsible" one it must heed to this well reasoned suggestion. Here is a take on this contentious issue. 
"Preferred policy option should be imposed on food processing sector, keeping GST rate not more than 4% and farm sector should be kept outside the scope of GST, said Sharad Jaipuria, President, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The likely implementation of GST at more than 20% on food processing sector would not only impact the sector adversely but also hit the economic and social sentiments of the country, said Jaipuria. The food processing industry is still at a nascent stage of development in our country as only 2.2% of food output is processed in India as compared to 78% in Philippines, 65% in the USA and 23% in China. At this juncture, high rate of GST will slow down the growth trajectory of food processing sector in India. Further, as food comprise a major part of the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) which is nearly 14.3%, an increase in tax on food items will adversely impact WPI leading to higher inflation in the country, he said. We believe since food constitutes a large portion of the consumer basket of lower income households, any tax on food would be regressive in nature. Further, extending GST to food processing sector will also cause difficulty in view of the fact that production and distribution of food is largely unorganized in India, added Jaipuria. On global front, most of the countries tax food at a lower rate keeping in view the considerations of fairness and equity. Even in countries such as Canada, UK and Australia where food constitute a relatively small portion of the consumer basket, food is taxed at zero rate While in some countries, food is taxed at a standard rate which is as low as 3% in Singapore and Japan at the inception of the GST. Even in international jurisdictions, no distinction is drawn on the degree of processing of food. Hence, the benefit of lower or zero tax rates should also be extended to all food items in India regardless to degree of processing, he said."
It will be easy for the government to brush aside such suggestions branding industry as not adequately patriotic to help the government  in refurbishing its treasury but the citizens in this country will eventually punish the government if does not remove all taxes on food materials, whether processed or raw. There has been and still a procession of politicians going to foreign countries on some pretext or the other but never seems to learn good things of benefit to the citizens there. If food is not taxed in countries like Canada, Australia and the UK why should it be taxed in our country? On one hand successive governments never get tired of proclaiming from the top of their perch that agroindustries must be promoted as it provides more employment per unit investment while in successive budgets taxes are neither removed nor reduced but invariably increased What an anachronism! Can we expect from the present Finance Minister, when he presents his budget in February next to start the process of reducing the food taxes progressively, to eventually achieve zero taxation in 5 years? Pray God for good sense prevailing over him in the next 3 months! 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fresh Fish and super markets-A big contradiction?

The word "fresh" is one of the most misused terminologies by the food industry as most consumers want to eat their food as fresh as possible. Unfortunately there is no unanimity regarding the exact meaning of the word "fresh", different stake holders meaning different things. Consumer expects that fresh fish should the one caught immediately prior to be sold to him while the sellers aim at selling them before deterioration starts setting in. The arbitrator viz the government wants to ensure it is not dangerous to the health of the consumer. The food scientists and quality experts consider any thing fresh if the eating quality is essentially same as that when the fish was caught. In a food like fish which deteriorates in quality pretty fast the seller cannot afford to delay the time lapse between catching and selling too much though to day's technology has the wherewithal to keep it fresh for a few hours after catching. The reported situation in some of the super markets in the UK indicates that fish branded as "fresh" were actually caught 15 days back and consumers are buying a product with practically 80-90% of its life gone! Here is the low down on this tricky issue. 

"Mr Chivers said: Supermarkets selling 'fresh' fish that's really 15 DAYS old  if not in the past few days. 'They think the fish is going to be fresh and tasty. But some of the samples we tested they are not going to enjoy at all.' He used the Torry scale – an industry standard system to measure freshness – in which experts rate the fish's physical characteristics to estimate how long ago it was caught.  Mr Chivers found some fish was in danger of going off quickly. 'These are not off, but give them a day in a domestic fridge and you would begin to taste an off odour,' he told the Sunday Mirror. Current guidelines say fish can be sold as fresh if it has been kept on ice since being caught. Morrisons' fisheries manager, Huw Thomas, said: 'Careful planning ensures that the time between the fish being caught and then sold on our counters is minimal . In our experience, the Torry scale is a reliable tool for judging quality, but not food safety or how long each fish has been out of the water.' A Tesco spokesman said: 'We ensure all our fish is of good quality.' Asda also defended the freshness of its products, saying: 'We are the only retailer to publish how and where we source our wild fish.'A Sainsbury's spokesman said all its fish would remain 'good quality for the duration of its shelf life'"

While consumer is the "King" as far the market is concerned, the manufacturers and marketeers do expect some consideration for their logistical difficulties in procuring and distribution of the product. Industry normally endeavors to minimize the lapse of time between procurement and delivery to the consumer. However consumer is willing to give reasonable time and he expects the industry to be truthful. Where is the necessity of declaring a 15 days old fish as fresh? As long as such declarations are not made consumer may be willing to patronize the brand as long as it tastes good to his palates. Those who sell stale fish cannot be expected to remain in the market for too long and the market will take care of those indulging in  such deceiving practices. Fluid milk vendors often use the words "Dairy Fresh", again to exploit the weakness of consumers to all such things which are fresh (except for liquor). Ultimately under a branded marketing regime, whether fresh or not the quality and safety of the product only can ensure survival of the brands. 


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fried Foods scare-How justified are the present concerns?

Who does not love fried foods, whether young or old? But many health pundits advocate avoiding fried foods which according to them can spell danger. Though to some extent this is true, eliminating them altogether from the diet is not a choice at all. Such advocacy is not justifiable according to present scientific knowledge available to day. Acrylamide is a chemical artifact generated in foods when they are exposed to high temperature due to reaction between the naturally occurring amino acid Asparagine and reducing sugars like glucose and this has been found to be a health hazard with potential to cause cancer. If one really looks at the toxicity levels injurious to humans, most foods eaten moderately and not regularly cannot be a risk at all. Of course any food eaten without any control can be dangerous and fried foods are no exception to this well accepted rule. According to scientific data Acrylamide contents in some of the commonly eaten foods does not exceed the limit set by health experts and normal healthy consumer may not be at a risk by eating them at moderate levels. Here is a take on this issue which is being being highlighted by many journalists and scientists recently.  

"Yesterday, US Food Safety posted a blog about the How to Reduce Acrylamide in Certain Foods.Today took this one step further and posted an article about what foods to avoid. Cut out, or at least cut back on, fried foods. This is just a good idea, anyway, but it's an especially good idea if acrylamide makes you nervous. "If you want to make a big difference, have things that you boil or steam or eat raw," Fernstrom says.  Don't eat crispy or burnt french fries. The FDA says overcooked, crispy or burnt french fries are the ones most likely to have higher levels of acrylamide. Go for the golden yellow fries, and avoid the brown ones. Also, don't eat burnt toast. Same concept here: The dark brown or black areas on a piece of toast are more likely to contain acrylamide. Toast your bread to a light brown color instead. "The best rule of thumb is just don't cook things to death," Fernstrom says. Potatoes don't belong in the refrigerator. Keeping potatoes in the fridge can increase the amount of acrylamide produced during cooking, the FDA says. Instead, keep them stored in a dark, cool place, like a pantry." 

Foods containing Aspargine and sugars which undergo rigorous cooking can generate Acrylamide and that includes biscuits, bread, coffee, French fries, Potato crisps, home cooked potatoes etc. French fries are reported to contain about 40 ug (microgram) of Acrylamide per kg while potato crisps generate a whopping 65 ug per kg. In contrast home cooked potatoes have 32 ug, coffee 25 ug, biscuits 32 ug and bread 15 ug per kg. but from time to time high values exceeding 1000 ug per kg are also reported. Safety limit for Acrylamide is also a matter of debate though 500 ug per kg body weight is more or less accepted. If this is so why all these scare mongering about Acrylamide? Recent claim by a potato breeder about the development of a "gene silenced" version of potato which generates far less Acrylamide than the tradition varieties appears to be a direct outcome of the undue Acrylamide scare that can benefit only the organized potato using industry.


Diets that change gut bacteria- The implications.

Many of us associate bacteria with negative things as most pathogens causing a host of diseases belong to this group of microorganisms. But it is not a correct perception because there are many species friendly to man doing many things to support our health. Human microbiome which involves bacteria that thrive in and on human beings have received focused attention only recently and whatever has been unfolded is both exciting and scary. Exciting because it opens up avenues for maneuvering them for greater benefits and disease amelioration in humans. Scary because inappropriate food consumption habits and reckless diet can ruin them inviting disaster in the long run. The early recognition about the importance of dietary fiber was due to the role these fibers play inside the gut in providing a great service in avoiding many diseases including CVD, diabetes and obesity. According to one of the recent studies changes in the diet can change the gut profile of bacteria within a matter of 2-3 days causing some damage to the well being while in the long term such changes can be significantly injurious to the health. Here is a take on this important development.

"Scientists are just beginning to learn about how our decisions at the dinner table — or the drive-through — tweak our microbiome, that is, the communities of bacteria living in our bodies. But one thing is becoming clear: The critters hanging out in our intestine influence many aspects of our health, including weight, immunity and perhaps even behavior. And interest in studying the links between diet and the human microbiome is growing. Previous research in this field had turned up tantalizing evidence that eating fiber can alter the composition of gut bacteria. But these studies had looked at diets over long periods of times — months and even years. David and his colleagues wanted to know whether fiber — or lack of it — could alter gut bacteria more rapidly. To figure that out, the researchers got nine volunteers to go on two extreme diets for five days each. The first diet was all about meat and cheese. "Breakfast was eggs and bacon," David says. "Lunch was ribs and briskets, and then for dinner, it was salami and prosciutto with an assortment of cheeses. The volunteers had pork rinds for snacks." Then, after a break, the nine volunteers began a second, fiber-rich diet at the other end of the spectrum: It all came from plants. "Breakfast was granola cereal," David says. "For lunch, it was jasmine rice, cooked onions, tomatoes, squash, garlic, peas and lentils." Dinner looked similar, and the volunteers could snack on bananas and mangoes. "The animal-based diet is admittedly a little extreme," he says. "But the plant-based diet is one you might find in a developing country." David and the team analyzed the volunteers' microbiomes before, during and after each diet. And the effects of all that meat and cheese were immediately apparent. "The relative abundance of various bacteria species looked like it shifted within a day after the food hit the gut," David says. After the volunteers had spent about three days on each diet, the bacteria in the gut even started to change their behavior. "The kind of genes turned on in the microbes changed in both diets," he says. In particular, microbes that "love bile" — the Bilophila — started to dominate the volunteers' guts during the animal-based diet. Bile helps the stomach digest fats. So people make more bile when their diet is rich in meat and dairy fats. A study last year found that blooms of Bilophila cause inflammation and colitis in mice. "But we didn't measure levels of inflammation in our subjects," David says. "That's the next step."

Though the above study was carried out with a very small number of subjects, the significance of its findings cannot be belittled. It is a dire warning from these little creatures who live within us not to take them light and convey a message that co-existence means satisfying their needs also. If your gut microbiome profile is sound, your health also will be sound! Probably the carnivorous community may see red in this study as it frowns upon eating meat regularly but even the lacto vegetarians are forewarned that too much intake of dairy products at the expense of fiber rich plant foods can be disadvantageous. Only further studies by multiple agencies on the lines done under this limited trials can only dispel any lingering doubts about the help by our "friends" in our guts. 


Winter gardening-A new approach in Finland

Urban gardening has been and still a hot topic in many western countries where farmer population is showing a declining trend. Even in a country like China there are suburban gardens created on a cooperative principles where urbanites can invest on a small plot, few kilometers from the city and such cooperatives are offering its urban members an opportunity to visit during the week ends to do some gardening operations themselves to feel the thrill of being a "part time farmer"! Added to this the members have the luxury to have freshly harvested produce raised without using any chemicals. While such options can be understandable what will an urbanite in a country like Finland do when most of the time the weather is hostile being too cold to raise any crops. Here comes a new initiative from an entrepreneurial pioneer for growing a few crops with no soil needed at all. This is a welcome news worth pursuing for people in tropical countries who are novices in cold climate gardening. Here is a source from which further information can be gleaned. 

"Harsh, cold winters and scarce arable land make growing crops a challenge in Finland. A team of entrepreneurs hailing from the icy nordic nation believe this gives them a certain authority when it comes to growing crops indoors. Launched on Indiegogo yesterday, the team's Plantui Plantation hydroponic smart garden is aimed at giving urban green thumbs the capability to raise almost any kind of plant indoors, up two meters (6.6 ft) in height. Smart gardens and automated growing are not a new concept. Back in May we reviewed the Click and Grow Smart Herb Garden, while other efforts include the MEG Greenhouse and the Edyn monitoring system for the outdoors. Even Plantui itself is not new to the blossoming world of in-house agriculture, with its Smart Garden, the Plantation's predecessor, hitting the market in parts of Europe last year. The original Plantui Smart Gardens are soil-free capsules that use intelligent lighting and watering systems to raise plants through the germination, seedling and harvesting stages. Depending on the progress of the plant, 18 LED lights adjust in intensity and the irrigation feeds various amounts of water to the roots. The company says these methods replicate those used in professional Finnish greenhouses. The latest iteration, the Plantui Plantation, takes this concept and scales it up to accommodate a wider range of plants. The new version measures 45 cm (17.7 in) in diameter with an adjustable height of 28 to 200 cm (11 to 78 in), and can host crops including tomatoes, chillies, peppers and cucumbers. Also improved is the level of control over the maturation of the plants. While the device can automatically adjust water and light according to the plant's growth, it allows the user to manipulate these settings to shape the final product. The company points to the ability of different parts of the light spectrum to affect the taste and height of the harvested plants. Favoring a red spectrum over blue, for example, might induce mild, intense or peppery flavors, while red will give rise to taller plants. The Plantui Plantation is powered by a wall outlet and is said to use around 120 kWh of energy per year. Twelve plants can be grown in each of the capsules, with the estimated time to harvest ranging from 35 days for a crop of bok choy to 150 days for four chilli plants. Early pledges of US$250 will see a Plantui Plantation shipped your way in March 2015, along with 16 types of seedlings including pok choy, thai basil, coriander and tomato. For this to eventuate, the team will need to reach its somewhat lofty fundraising goal of $500,000 and have the rest of its campaign go as planned."

Though limited in its scale of operation the new technology requiring limited space is based on hydroponics and green house facilities with temperature and light control provisions to raise different crops. Its convenience and ease of operation can be gauged from the fact that ready capsules are available with designs suiting different crops. All one has to do is order for these capsules along with the seeds depending on what is to be grown. Low requirement of energy, hardly 120 units of electricity from a wall outlet for the entire year is indeed remarkable. Imagine one's ability to raise a bok choy crop in 35 days and the ease with which the crop can be harvested as when needed in the kitchen! Such novel ways of crop raising must be introduced in India also where temperature drop is phenomenal between November and February each year across most of northern India..    


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Government hospitals-Are poor patients destined to be "under nourished" in these medical centers?

During the last few years India has earned a reputation as a destination for medical tourism mainly because of two reasons. First the hospitalization costs are a fraction of what it costs in countries like the US or in Europe. Second the expertise and facilities are almost on par with internationally famous hospitals else where. Added to this a few hospitals in India are so comfortable to stay in with facilities that can be the envy of a 5-star hotel! The foods served also are of multi cuisine type serving to the taste of most foreign guests/patients. While this development is really hear warming for all proud Indians, there is a dark side to this story. A vast majority of Indian citizens cannot afford these high cost hospitals, depending heavily on government run public hospitals for curing their illness. Unfortunately given a choice most people will shy away from most of these hospitals because of congestion, over crowding, sub-par facilities, poor hygiene and sanitation, lax doctors with no dedication or commitment. Most importantly non-availability of food service facilities, make them do with foods brought from home or bought from eateries nearby which can be a veritable place spreading infection and other undesirable consequences of bad food. Tamilnadu seems to be tying to tackle this problem by setting up its famous Amma Canteens which have become a popular program of the present government. Here is a take on this development which can be a model for other states.   

"The recently-opened Amma Canteen at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital came with the promise of quality food at affordable rate through the day for the in-patients and visitors to the hospital. The promise also included timely delivery of food. Started more than a month ago, the canteen is a hit with the visitors, patients and staff at the hospital the canteen is a hit with the visitors, patients and staff at the hospital, as the first half of the promise has been fulfilled. The second half however remains to be fulfilled, according to some of those availing the services. The food is not being delivered on time and the lack of adequate staff at the canteen is said to be the reason. Visitors to the hospital say their joy would be complete if this issue is resolved. Before this Amma Canteen was established, relatives of the patients either bought home-made food or went out to buy food from hotels, mostly from those located near Taylor's Road, which is around two kilometres from the hospital. As most of the patients are from economically weak backgrounds , they are reluctant to buy food regularly from hotels. Most of the in-patients wait for their relatives to bring food from home. Sometimes, they (visitors) come late with food resulting in delay in taking food and medicines. Having Amma Canteen at KMC is a boon. It's just that they want the service be timely. Most of the government hospitals do not have full-fledged canteens on their premises. A few have Aavin booths where hot milk and other beverages are sold. Amma Canteens serve a variety of food including lemon rice, curry leaf rice, chapathi and idli."

Treatment of a patient has to be holistic and good food is a prerequisite for better recovery for every patient. Imagine the condition when each patient is accompanied by at least two relatives and with no over night staying facilities and food service options, the hospitals naturally  get cluttered with food liters strewn all around further deteriorating the environment. The Tamilnadu initiative will definitely give succor to convalescing patients by serving low cost foods with satisfactory quality and safety.  Regarding complaints that Amma Canteens are not delivering food to the patients in time, sufficient time will have to be given to the management to organize the same as the novel experiment has just started. Paucity of workers can pose initial hiccups which the authorities concerned will overcome eventually. What ever be the political differences among politicians, the Amma Canteen program must receive an applause for its poor people oriented tilt.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Demise of Polystyrene- Exit of another plastic material

Any news that spell discouraging plastics is a welcome one and the pioneering efforts in some American communities to ban use of the ubiquitous polystyrene material deserve a big applause. More than consideration of safety when used for packing foods, it is environmental pollution potential of this plastic material that is pushing the "ban polystyrene" movements in some countries. Polystyrene, popularly known as Styrofoam, is an expended product with very low bulk density and therefore can pollute wide areas due to wind, especially if they are smaller in size. One of the most commonly used insulating materials to keep food warm for longer time, there is no cheap substitute to polystyrene and hence there is considerable resistance to proposals coming from time to time from consumer activists and health conscious communities. While as an insulating material polystyrene may not be a health hazard unless used in direct contact with hot foods like soups or beverages, it definitely is an environmental hazard due to littering and careless disposal. Here is a take on this important issue which is currently being debated.  

"Technically, Styrofoam is a trademarked polystyrene product of Dow Chemical used in such applications as building insulation and craft products, not in food containers. For foes of polystyrene foam food containers, its problems are numerous. "Polystyrene foam doesn't break down easily, and it's easily dispersed by the wind," creating a litter problem in streets and local waterways, said Garth Schultz, city operations and environmental services manager for El Cerrito, Calif., where a ban will go into effect Jan. 1. Aside from the litter problem, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy pointed to concerns about the health affects of the chemicals that make up extruded polystyrene foam in justifying the ban. "You get takeout, the steam melts that lid," he said. "It's going into your food. Eventually, you're going to get sick from it." Opponents of such bans, such as the American Chemistry Council, have been pushing for community-wide polystyrene recycling programs in places like New York City as an alternative to proposed bans there. Restaurants themselves are increasingly turning a cold shoulder to polystyrene foam food containers. Fast-food titan McDonald's Corp. announced in September it would phase out foam cups at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants in favor of paper cups in coming months. It quit using polystyrene clamshell containers for burgers in 1990. And Dunkin' Brands Group, the parent company of the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robins chains, said in its most-recent corporate social responsibility report that it is rolling out an in-store foam cup recycling program at all its locations, but that it hopes to introduce an alternative cup within two to three years."

A redeeming feature of this problem is that some enlightened industry has already put in place a program to shun polystyrene for packing their products realizing the dangers inherent in a potential consumer backlash in future. While recycling may be an option to cut down on pollution by this plastic material, it may be impractical to organize collection on a large scale for centralized recycling operations. Some reports indicate that local communities and some restaurants are contemplating installing recycling projects locally to tackle the problem more effectively in stead of waiting for government action. A vexing question concerns the need of non-food industries for a packing material that can provide impact resistance of their products during handling and transportation and it may not be practical to ban polystyrene only in food industry while allowing it for others. But corrugated multi-ply paper boards are increasingly being used by industries substituting polystyrene while molded plastics and bubble formed plastics also can also are used in many cases. It is a question of time before the world is reconciled to a situation where plastics will not be around, especially non-biodegradable versions which dominate to day.    


Monday, November 17, 2014

Ornish diet-Last refuge for obese people?

Dieting is an accepted way of achieving reduction in body weight though even to day no one is sure which diet will work on different individuals. There are many dietary schemes available to day from commercial companies, none of them being absolutely fool proof to get desired results. Atkins diet took an early lead in cornering major business from the weight reduction enthusiasts while many others followed it subsequently. Basically the principle of weight reduction is restriction of intake of food, mainly calories coming from daily foods and one really does not need any expertise to adopt a life style with diets balanced in calories, protein and other nutrients. There are well accepted dietary recommendations globally established and all one has to do is follow them with strict eating discipline. Unfortunately too much food and too less of an exercise by many people lead them to a situation where the calories, especially the fat calories are not burned enough due to sedentary life style, causing fat deposits all over the body. Whether it is a low carbohydrate diet or a low fat diet, human body must receive enough nutrients like proteins and micronutrients for sound health. One of the popular diets which seems to be gaining acceptance among obese people is the Ornish diet based mostly on fruits and vegetables excluding fat and carbohydrate to a great extent. Here is a commentary on this seemingly different approach to weight reduction. 

"Dean Ornish, MD, president and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., was considered revolutionary in the early '90s when he suggested that a basically vegetarian diet can reverse symptoms of heart disease. Plus, Ornish and his research team argued, a vegetarian diet coupled with exercise can reduce stress and help people lose weight. Since that time, Ornish's diet has caught on, winning such high-profile fans as former President Bill Clinton. Far from being a diet fad, many doctors and nutritionists now recommend this popular diet to people who need to lose weight and who may have heart conditions. The diet's popularity partially stems from the fact it's evidence-based. One study showed that after five years, participants had lost an average of 24 pounds on the Ornish Diet, and most had managed to keep the weight off. "Few other major diet systems have managed to match this feat," says Susan Weiner, RD, MS, CDE, CDN, a nutritionist who practices in New York. However, the Ornish Diet has a major drawback: It may be difficult for some people to follow, especially over the long-term. The popular diet is essentially a vegan diet, Weiner says, and people may find it hard to avoid all meats, chicken, fish, and egg yolks. Also, she says, the diet is extremely low in fats of all types, and it's often fat that adds flavor to foods and makes people feel satiated."

Though Ornish diet has proved to be effective in losing weight very significantly and it is based on scientific principles, adhering to it may pose practical problems, especially in the long run. After all man does not live for the sake of living alone and there are many pleasures in life he does not want to miss. Eating good food in terms of taste, aroma, texture is an important aspect of good living and ruthless exclusion of fat from the daily diet as demanded by Ornish diet may be too much to be asked for. Use of fat is linked to flavor, taste and texture in the food and to day's food industry thrives because of the attraction of consumers to high fat food products. Shunning the same may be difficult for most people and therefore it is doubtful whether people will readily accept Ornish diet unless they are desperate, as in the case of high risk obese people. Many nutritionists advocate regular consumption of 'balanced" diet from early child hood which can ensure maintenance of normal body weight and BMI, avoiding dietary intervention at later stages of life for dealing with life style diseases that may emerge due to undisciplined eating and lack of exercise.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Brown fat Vs White fat - A new Insight into obesity development .

Stem cells are the so called mother cells from which differentiated functionally specific cells are generated. These cells are present in high concentrations in children during their early growth phase but gradually declines as aging sets in. The recent discovery that brown fats which are metabolically more active do not cause obesity may herald a new era for treatment of this epidemic which is assuming alarming proportions, especially among population in wealthy countries. It is a fact that the proportion of brown fat to white fat in children is heavily loaded in favor of the former while in adults it is the other way. Specific fat cells are involved in fat synthesis and if adequate amount of brown fat synthesizing cells are available in the body, white fat accumulation can be slowed down dramatically. These findings open up a new vista for "managing" obesity, diabetes and CVD. Here is a take on this new exciting development.

Until now, it was thought that brown fat stem cells did not exist in adults. Children have large amounts of brown fat that is highly metabolically active, which allows them to eat large amounts of food and not gain weight. "The study was led by Amit N Patel, director of Clinical Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering, and associate professor in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Adults generally have an abundance of white fat in their bodies, which leads to weight gain and cardiovascular disease but this is not seen in brown fat, Patel said. As people age the amount of white fat increases and brown fat decreases which contributes to diabetes and high cholesterol. "If you have more brown fat, you weigh less, you're metabolically efficient, and you have fewer instances of diabetes and high cholesterol," Patel said. "The unique identification of human brown fat stem cells in the chest of patients aged from 28 to 84 years is profound. We were able to isolate the human stem cells, culture and grow them, and implant them into a pre-human model which has demonstrated positive effects on glucose levels," said Patel. The new discovery of finding brown fat stem cells may help in identifying potential drugs that may increase the body's own ability to make brown fat or find novel ways to directly implant the brown fat stem cells into patients. Though the above findings are in early stages of elaboration, there is definite indication that it should be possible to manipulate the brown fat to white fat ratio through a genetic approach involving transplantation of brown fat cells or evolving a medicinal approach to increase the ability of the body to make more brown fat." 

Though the research is at an early stage these findings add considerably to the current knowledge about the tendency of some people to put on weight from eating. The possibility of implanting stem cells that can differentiate into brown fat synthesizing cells in obese people opens up exciting possibilities for treatment of diseases like diabetes and CVD. How easy this could be remains to be seen. Also possible is development of suitable medicines that can tilt the scale vis-a-vis the ratio of brown fat to white fat in favor of the former. Of course it may take years before a potential workable therapy becomes a main stream tool to tackle obesity based on these new scientific findings. 


Nutrition Quotient-A new tool for empowerment of mothers?

Awareness about quality, nutrition and safety of food eaten every day can be very reassuring for a house wife when it comes to managing a house hold with growing children and aged seniors. Media sources do offer a variety of information on food but often some of them are contradictory putting us in great doubt about our knowledge in this area. So is the Internet source where contradictions are galore on every aspect of food. Now comes a new source of information via the Internet that can be accessed by every aspiring mother for testing her knowledge about food and update the same constantly. Information is a "power" that if understood properly and used effectively can empower women who take great care in bringing up a family. The new tool of assessing the knowledge about food, christened as Nutrition Quotient (NQ) is designed by as alliance of Indian Dietetic Association, Indian Medical Association, All India Institute of Medical Sciences with the food industry. As a voluntary education program this is most apt for willing mothers and others interested in upgrading their food information base through interaction with experts on the Internet. Here is a report on this interesting initiative which is timely and appropriate.

"Tetra Pak recently launched the Right to Keep Food Safe initiative in Jaipur, as part of which, a seminar was held for mothers to equip them with information to make important decisions related to food safety and health. Present here was actress Aditi Govitrikar, who said, "As a mother, I need to become more aware about good nutrition and safe food habits. I congratulate Tetra Pak's efforts and recommend every mother be part of the Right to Keep Food Safe initiative." The mothers present at the seminar were shown the Nutrition Quotient (NQ) website - a first-of-its-kind online programme on food safety, nutrition and packaging developed by experts from the Indian Medical Association, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Dietetics Association and National Dairy Research Institute. Mothers can log on to the website ( and test their own nutrition quotient.  Diet consultant and nutritionist Ritika Samaddar said, "Mothers know that it's important to provide nutritious food. But rising incidents of adulteration and lack of proper understanding justify the need for access to better information. I am certain these initiatives will go a long way in doing just that."  Tetra Pak South Asia Markets communications director Jaideep Gokhale said, "Our vision is to make food safe and available everywhere for everyone, through our aseptic processing and packaging technology. As a responsible industry player, we are proud to launch the Right to Keep Food Safe initiative and the NQ programme so that mothers become more aware and make safer and healthier choices for their families."

Nutrition and health are closely inter related and even among experts there is no unanimity on certain areas of this subject. Both Tetra Pak and Nestle are giant food industries selling machinery and a variety of branded products all over the world. Their involvement may prima facie raise some doubts regarding the reliability and truthfulness of NQ assessment besides their motives in supporting such an initiative. But linking with government and quasi government agencies in developing this concept may, to some extent, lend respectability to the program. A better informed mother can be more effective in checking food industry and food service industry from producing and marketing unhealthy foods. A well informed mother can also be a source of enlightenment to the household as far as hygiene, sanitation and safe eating practices are concerned. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

3D Printing-Will it change the face of food technology?

Though food is basically to serve the needs of the body in terms of calories and essential nutrients, macro as well as macro, man still craves for certain desirable features that has to be part of food he eats. While nutritionally balanced food will take care of health and body development, sensory features like color, shape texture and aroma make eating a pleasure. The oral cavity and the taste buds together decide whether food is readily accepted or not. Fortification and enrichment can take care of nutritional deficiencies caused by processing but sensory quality beyond what nature is providing in fresh foods can be achieved only through appropriate technologies developed from time to time. Taking a specific trait in foods like shape or texture extrusion technology can achieve a wide range of shapes and textures and advent of cooker extruder provided further scope in enhancing the appeal of processed foods very significantly. Now comes another innovation in the form of 3D printer technology which has tremendous potential to offer a variety of shapes to the food. Though this has vastly enhanced the capacity of food industry to diversify the product mix the question still remains whether this is going to be as exciting as expected. Here is a commentary on this new development.  

"We're watching a short video from MSN/CNN entitled, "3D Printing to Revolutionize the Food Industry". We disagree. The reporter briefly interviews a representative of Natural Machines, who make the Foodini food printer. It's a fascinating machine that can extrude a variety of food substances in desired shapes. But 3D Printing Will Not Revolutionize the Food Industry.  We're skeptical, at least until these questions have been resolved: Speed. 3D printing is very, very slow, which is not a good attribute when you're hungry. Imagine waiting for a print of your dinner for six hours? Certainly some dishes do take that long to prepare or longer, but remember the current slate of food printers do not cook the food, they merely arrange it for cooking, with the exception being certain items such as chocolate that can be immediately consumed. Speed is a critical element not only in consumer kitchens, but also in commercial kitchens.  Cost. 3D printers can cost more than your average kitchen appliance, although they are possibly affordable by commercial kitchens, so long as they can produce product with sufficient speed to be cost effective.  Materials. The range of materials usable by current food printers is quite limited, as are all current 3D printers. Worse, most food dishes are composed of many different food materials mixed together in useful and sometimes complex ways. This is not a capability available in current food printers." 

Why do skeptics feel that 3D technology will not have much impact on food industry? There are two reasons for this skepticism. First 3D technology is a slow one taking hours to produce a product and therefore has limitations in terms of mass manufacture, Second the product needs further processing like coking, baking or frying unlike cooker extruder. Competition comes from already established equipment range available to the industry at a lower cost and with high speed for getting any shape one wants These machines are versatile enough to give a much wider range of products including center filled products with various casings. They also need further processing after shape formation but their productivity can be very high to keep up with the demand. Where 3D printers have high potential is in making uniquely shaped plastic products suited for medical industry such as implants and others and in engineering industry for making precision spare parts. Still 3D technology cannot be ruled out altogether and further development in this area in future may make it still relevant to food industry.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Growing younger!-A dream come true?

Leading a healthy life without being weighed down by a host of diseases and ailments is every one's dream towards which billions of dollars are being invested on research and development, spread through out the world. While this area of research is essential, what is more interesting is man's desire to look younger, feel younger and act younger and here again substantive efforts are going on in some countries, especially in the West. Living longer is logically the ultimate outcome of success of such efforts. We may recall the euphoria around restricted calorie diet which was the buzz word a few years ago. But recent studies do not favor this approach due to many reasons. Similarly resveratrol contained in red wine was touted as an elixir that can arrest effects of aging. In spite of all these efforts, man does not appear to be any where near achieving this dream. A new study emanating from Australia highlighting the role of mitochondria and nucleus in cells in aging dynamics is reported to be opening up a new approach in reversing the "inevitable" process of aging, at least in animals. Here are the excerpts of a report which can be gleaned to have a better idea about the significance of these studies.

"With the wide-ranging benefits of reducing disease and enabling a longer, healthier life, reversing the causes of aging is a major focus of much medical research. A joint project between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and Harvard Medical School that restored communication within animal cells has the potential to do just that, and maybe more. With the researchers hoping to begin human clinical trials in 2014, some major medical breakthroughs could be just around the corner. The researchers have managed to reverse the effects of aging in mice using an approach that restores communication between a cell's mitochondria and nucleus. Mitochondria are the power supply within the cell, generating the chemical energy required for key biological functions. When communication breaks down between mitochondria and the cell's control center, the nucleus, the effects of aging accelerate. A team led by David Sinclair, a professor from UNSW Medicine who is based at Harvard Medical School, found that by restoring this molecular communication, aging could not only be slowed, but could be reversed. The technique has implications for treating cancer, type 2 diabetes, muscle wasting, inflammatory and mitochondrial diseases. The study follows on from previous research showing that exercise and certain dietary habits, such as calorie restriction or the intake of resveratrol (found in red wine and nuts), slowed the breakdown of intra-cellular communication and therefore aging".

It has been known since long that Nicotinamide Adenine Nucleotide (NAD) is deeply involved in energy metabolism at the cellular level and it plays a critical role in the working of muscles. But to think that maneuvering to alter its levels can influence the aging process is a startling finding with far reaching implications. The scientists used a chemical, which has not been identified in the above report, to influence NAD level in the cell and if it is as simple as administering the same in specified amounts to achieve reversing of aging, world is at the brink of an imminent breakthrough in evolving an anti-aging therapy. Further, as a bonus these scientists claim that this therapy can also help in treating diseases like cancer, diabetes and others successfully. Of course there is a rider to these claims because the findings are based on rat studies which need authentication through human clinical trials which seem to be under way. Imagine a whole world, teeming with biologically old people looking more like teen age youngsters and the sociological consequences there of!