Thursday, December 24, 2015

Enhancing flavor of Tomatoes-Modified packing house practice

Tomato is one of the most liked vegetables, its use in many preparations and as a salad component being universal. In many diets and customary eating it is consumed almost every day across the world. Besides being a nutritious food, it also enriches flavors of many cooked foods and is a standard component of a good salad. No wonder the tomato paste industry is well established, catering to the needs of millions of consumers who find it is a convenient product with many application potential. A curious question many people find it difficult to answer is whether tomato is a fruit or a vegetable? As its sugar content is very low, unlike that in fruits, tomato is legally classified as a vegetable but still many people consider it as a fruit. What does a consumer expect from tomato? The crisp texture, attractively smooth appearance, intense color, juiciness and mild flavor. In contrast the tomato industry from growers to handlers, distributors and processors look for other more important qualities which include hard fruit resistant to damage during storage and transportation, longer shelf life and higher solid contents. Interestingly tomato production is concentrated in China and India, both together accounting for more than 30% of the global production of 170 million tons per year and therefore development of new varieties with better characteristics and yield is rather limited in these countries. In contrast advance countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland lead the productivity race with average productivity in the range of 430 to 480 tons per hectare. The path breaking research in evolving a genetically modified variety called FlarSavr took place in the US which was a dream come true for the industry though consumers never accepted this GM nineteen nineties. Almost 75% of the tomato produced is consumed in the fresh form which reflects the importance of delivering farm fresh tomatoes to the consumer with least time delay and minimum damage. According to a group of scientists working in the US commercially marketed tomato does not possess good flavor because of the practices followed by the industry which do not allow the metabolic system in the crop to function and generate optimum flavor. A new approach is being suggested to modify the handling practices that will enhance the flavor very significantly. Read further below:  

"The distinct flavor of tomatoes is due to a cocktail of chemicals produced by the fruits as they ripen, but, according to the team that includes the USDA, the Agricultural Research Service, and the University of Florida, conventional storage methods inhibit these flavors. If tomatoes seem more flavorsome when bought from a farm stand, that's because they're being sold in the ideal condition – fully ripe and immediately after picking. However, commercially grown tomatoes need to be shipped hundreds, if not thousands of miles to reach market along with delays in packing and unpacking. Shipping ripe tomatoes over any distances risks unacceptable levels of spoilage, so the tomatoes are picked green, treated with ethylene gas to induce ripening, and then chilled for shipping. According to team leader Jinhe Bai, this chilling prevents flavor compounds, such as 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one, 2-methylbutanal, and 2-phenylethanol from forming and the tomatoes end up with a watery taste. To avoid this, the team added an extra step. Instead of sending Florida-grown green tomatoes straight on to chilling, the team plunged them into 125° F (52° C) water for five minutes, then cooled them to room temperature before a final chilling to between 41° and 55° F (5° and 13° C), which is the standard shipping temperature. Compared to a control group, the team found that the treated tomatoes had more smell and flavor, as well as higher levels of flavor compounds. According to Bai, this is due to the heat treatment regulating certain ripening enzymes and activating the production of a protein that makes the tomatoes tolerant of cell decay. "Chilling suppresses production of oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur-containing heterocyclic compounds, ketones, alcohols and aldehydes, including 13 important aroma components of tomato flavor," says Bai."But hot water-treated fruit actually produced higher concentrations of these important aroma contributors, even with subsequent chilling." The team is currently testing the technique at various stages of ripeness to see how it affects flavor compound production. Bai says the next step is to determine which method is the most effective before offering it to food processing firms. In addition, they're trying alternatives to hot water, such as methyl salicylate (wintergreen oil), which is an anti-fungal fumigant, and 1-methylcyclopropene when the tomatoes are at the slightly riper green/pink stage to make the fruit more tolerant to cell decay when at higher storage temperatures."

Even to day why are people preferring to buy wine ripened tomato or directly from farm gates offering fresh ripened crops? Simply because these crops possess much better flavor compared to that bought from a supermarket. As explained by the authors of the above study, development of flavor from a cocktail of chemicals present in tomato depends on temperature. The commercial practice, heavily dependent on chilling to low temperatures for long distance transportation in the distribution chain to prevent physical damage, does not allow the inherent enzyme systems to act on the dormant precursors for conversion into the characteristic flavorful substances. The heat shock method developed by them is claimed to be able to "wake up" the metabolic activity which sets of the process of generating flavor substances. Since the method is very simple there should not be any logistical problem to incorporate this step into the currently practiced protocol. Hot water treatment has the additional advantage of sanitizing the product to some extent by killing some of the undesirable microbes. Way back in nineteen sixties a similar heat treatment was developed in India for mangoes for reducing microbial spoilage during the long process of ripening which takes more than a week. If the new findings are confirmed and accepted by the industry there could be a dramatic increase in the flavor quality of tomatoes consumed world over.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gluten-free foods are harmful? A reality check

Wheat allergy due to the presence of the protein gluten in it, is well known but those affected by this disorder are not people with normal health but having the disease commonly referred to as Celiac disease. There are also people who are intolerant to wheat for the same reason though this is not as serious as Celiac disease. Whereas allergy can be even fatal if not treated immediately, intolerance to wheat can be temporary. and may manifest only when large quantities are ingested. Similarly gluten allergy is more or less a genetically inherited disease whereas intolerance development is not yet well understood. Though allergy to wheat is often attributed to gluten, one can also be allergic to non-gluten components present in wheat. Allergic foods like wheat when ingested cause several symptoms to manifest due to immunological reactions while intolerance may be purely an gastrointestinal event. Unfortunately gluten has been given a bad name because it is included in the list of major food allergens and due to misconception and ignorance many people try to avoid gluten containing products in the market. It is unimaginable why almost one third of the population in the US is moving towards gluten free foods with no rhyme or reason though those needing these foods constitute just 7%! It is an ungainly scenario where the industry, hell bent on making a fast buck "at any cost", ignoring the well being of the consumers, is exploiting this trend to the hilt without bothering to educate them regarding the implications of wheat allergy and intolerance. What are the consequences of more and more people switching over from normal wheat products to gluten free versions? According to some impartial observers it could be catastrophic in the long run because most of the gluten free products are generally unhealthy with more calories and fat besides being pricier to the extent of 50-75%! Here is a take on this terrible transformation taking place in that country which does not seem to be abating.   

"Gluten-free. It's among the hottest trends in food today. It competes with "non-GMO," "local" and "organic" for mindshare among today's health-conscious, price-insensitive, and trend-following foodies, yuppies, and self-anointed amateur nutritionists. It's become so fashionable to be gluten-free that even Fido and Spot have jumped on the bandwagon. Like all such sweeping trends, it has a powerful attractive force that lures innocent bystanders into asking if they too should join the party. Last Fall, The New Yorker ran an article entitled"Against the Grain: Should You Go Gluten Free?" to help readers answer the very question. Grain Brain and Wheat Belly hold entrenched positions on lists of today's best selling books. Gluten-free is clearly on the minds of many. Like financial bubbles, the herd behavior identified by such popular attention is never sustainable. Here's the big disconnect that captures the essence of the problem: less than 1 percent of the population has celiac disease,approximately 6 percent are gluten intolerant, and … drum roll please … almost 30 percent of American adults are trying to avoid gluten.One of the main reasons consumers avoid gluten is they feel it's healthier. It's generally not. The blunt reality is that many gluten-free foods are not healthier for the 93 percent of the population that doesn't have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Consider that a Glutino Original New York Style Bagel has 26 percent more calories, 250 percent more fat, 43 percent more sodium, 50 percent less fiber and double the sugar of a Thomas' Plain Bagel. Further, because many gluten-free products utilize rice flour, they are also at risk of containing higher levels of arsenic than desirable or healthy. And then there's the cost. The Glutino bagel I just described costs 74 percent more than the Thomas' bagel. Nabisco's Gluten-Free Rice Thins cost 84 percent more per cracker than Nabisco's Multigrain Wheat Thins. And when it gets to baking products, the costs are even higher. Betty Crocker's gluten-free brownie mix is more than 3 times the cost per serving of Duncan Hines regular mix. While economic logic might lead you to conclude that higher prices would lead to lower demand, you'd be wrong. In a classic indicator of bubble dynamics, higher prices have been met with higher demand. That's right, despite the facts I've just shared — namely that gluten-free may harm those not needing it for health reasons and that it's more expensive — the gluten-free craze continues. Market research firm Nielsen estimated that sales of products with a gluten-free label have doubled in the past four years, rising from $11.5 billion to more than $23 billion. While the trend is impressive, it's partially driven by marketing efforts. Chobani Greek yogurt and Green Giant vegetables, for instance, added "gluten free" labels onto products that never contained gluten. Add a label, grow your sales! Reminds me of Internet mania when merely announcing a URL increased valuations overnight. Consider Trader Joe's campaign advertising "Gluten-Free Greeting Cards For 99 Cents Each! Every Day!" Another sign the gluten-free bubble is nearing its end is the popular backlash against casual gluten-free diners. None of this is to suggest that there isn't a real underlying need for gluten-free products. There is, and I know from personal experience. In October 2011, my doctor informed me that a blood test indicated I had heightened sensitivity to gluten. The sensitivity was so high he recommended a gluten-free diet. I protested, suggesting he was over-diagnosing my unhealthy diet. I asked: "Have you considered icecreamitis? That's a disease I know I have," bluntly admitting my addiction to the divine creamy frozen sugar to which I was devoted. I insisted he conduct a genetic test to determine if I had a genetic marker for celiac disease. When the results came back, I was saddened to learn that I indeed had the gene. I've been gluten-free for 3.5 years now and I genuinely do feel better. Whether you have celiac disease, are gluten intolerant, or just part of the fashionable trend-following crowd, you can rest assured that this article is certified gluten-free."

How can any one decide whether one has to switch over to gluten free foods? Gluten allergy and sensitivity generally manifest at very early stages of life and there are reliable tests which can reveal the vulnerability of individuals to gluten. Biotechnology tests, to examine the genes regarding the possibility of wheat allergy, can predict the onset of this deficiency which can be helpful to take early precautions and resort to regular consumption of gluten free foods. Interestingly by demonizing gluten.the industry is trying to ride on the fear factor of people to amass a fortune within a short time as it is not sure when the bubble is going to bust! Is there any way to arrest this undesirable trend? Probably in a democracy no restriction can be placed even if policy intervention is possible to dissuade people from consuming gluten free products if they do not need them. The marked price differential between normal and gluten free products should have dampened the frenetic growth of this industry but obviously this is not happening. The possibility of mandatory labeling provision to warn consumers that glten ffree products are intended only for people with gluten allergy may or may not work. That leaves us with the only option of educating the citizens regarding the real picture vis-a-vis gluten free foods.  


Can imposition of punitive taxes on high calorie foods have any impact on buying behavior of consumers? The imponderable factors

Three great "sinners" among foods which are held responsible for most of the adverse health conditions in the world are sugar, fat and salt, added to the foods being churned out by the industry. Hardly a day passes without someone or the other indulging in bashing of these so called culprits and calling for policy changes that can make such foods for the citizens too expensive which hopefully would be a disincentive to frequent buying. What is lost in this debate is that escalating the consumer price has never worked as expected where ever such punitive action was taken. Therefore there are doubts whether such fiscal measures can work at all. Most dreaded of all foods are high calorie laden ones which are blamed for many health disorders like obesity, CVD and metabolic syndrome and naturally these foods provide easy targets for imposing extra taxes by the government. Since obesity has assumed epidemic proportion in countries like the US and which defies solution it is assumed that disincentivising purchase of foods rich in sugar and fat may work though no one has any clear answer as to what should be the price differential between lower calorie foods and high calorie foods. Against this background a recent study in the US throws some insight into the buying behavior of consumers when confronted with a market situation where differential pricing was prevalent. Read further to get an essence and significance of the findings to appreciate its relevance in today's world.      

"Professors Romana Khan at Northwestern University, Kanishka Misra at University of Michigan, and Vishal Singh at the New York University Stern School of Business looked at situations that mimic a "fat tax", a peculiar pricing pattern of milk in the U.S., where relative prices for milk across fat content - whole, 2%, 1% and skim - vary depending on where you live and which store you happen to patronize. At some stores, prices are equal across all fat content; at others, prices decrease with fat content, with whole milk the most expensive and skim the cheapest option. "The question that comes to mind is whether these different price structures have an impact on people's choices To put it simply, do people switch to lower fat milk for a price difference as small as 15 cents per gallon?" said Khan. "The answer to this question is of interest because it relates to the hotly debated issue of whether a 'fat' or 'sugar' tax can be an effective mechanism to curb obesity."  The study finds that in markets where milk prices are equal across fat alternatives, people tend to choose whole milk over lower calorie alternatives, particularly in low income zip codes: at equal prices across fat content, the market share of whole milk is 52% in lower income areas compared to 25% in higher income areas. What happens in markets where whole milk is priced at a premium? Although the average price difference for a gallon of milk is just 14 cents (5%), it causes a significant shift in market share away from whole milk to lower-fat options. This shift to the lower calorie options is significantly more pronounced in low-income neighborhoods. Besides income, the analysis accounts for other factors such as age profile, racial mix, and educational attainment of the local customer base. A critical factor in the analysis is that the prevailing price structure--whether prices across fat content are the same or not -- is determined by the chain's policy at the regional level and does not vary with local demographics or competition. "This provides us with a quasi-experimental setup to analyze how small price differences impact people's choices," said Misra. "Studies addressing similar questions are often conducted with small, non-representative populations, often university students. What distinguishes our work is the real-world field setting covering sales across the US and observed over a long time period -- mimicking what a potential 'fat-tax' would look like and what the long term consumer choices would be," added Misra. "Our results have significant implications for health experts and policy makers, since interventions in the form of taxes on high calories foods are highly contentious," according to Vishal Singh of New York University. "The general perception is that these taxes need to be substantial, at least 20% and often as high as 50%, to have a meaningful impact. This would be highly regressive since low-income consumers spend a greater proportion of their disposable income on food. Here, we have compelling field-based evidence that such taxes don't need to be high to be effective," noted Singh. The study finds large shifts in demand toward the lower-calorie option are achieved with a price difference of just 5-10%. Consumers respond to small price incentives; and more importantly, low income consumers who are at higher risk for obesity are particularly responsive. The authors also examine implications of a fat-tax and the inherent trade-offs for different segments of society from such interventions: while there are economic losses from taxes to some segments, the health benefits from shifting to the lower calorie option outweighs these costs. The authors' recommendation is a selective taxation mechanism designed to induce substitution within a narrowly defined product category (e.g., baked versus fried chips), rather than to discourage consumption of the category as a whole. This has the additional advantage of mitigating the regressive nature of food taxes since some options within a narrowly defined product category can be made less expensive. Importantly, these taxes should be imposed as an excise tax so that they are reflected in the shelf price at the point-of-purchase, rather than imposed as a post-purchase sales tax where they become less salient in the decision process."

Their findings that even a marginal increase in the sticker price for a higher fat content milk produced a significant shift in the purchasing pattern with people preferring to buy lower calorie milk costing less. In other words it is not necessary to increase the price very high as is being considered by food market gurus and according to the authors of the above study a difference of 10-12% can achieve a significant shift away from the high fat milk. Probably this may be true considering the experience of tobacco and spirits industries where prices were increased exorbitantly through imposition of punitive taxes with the avowed purpose of  dissuading the buyers from buying these products. Neither cigarettes nor spirits have disappeared from the market though their sales must have dipped somewhat. Obviously making high calorie foods marginally dearer can achieve the desired results while there will be less opposition from the industry to such a move. It for the policy makers to ponder over it and orchestrate appropriate policy changes to reduce consumption of high calorie foods or high salt foods in order to improve the health of the population. 


Monday, December 21, 2015

Authentication of GMO free foods-Newly proposed Government certification to help consumers to choose such foods

Hardly a day passes without some one in some parts of the world speaking for or against genetically modified foods and their safety. Mankind had never faced such a divisive issue when it comes to food safety and GM foods have divided the world vertically into two sides, one favoring them and the other fiercely opposing the same. While many governments have refused planting of GM crops in their respective countries, USA is one of the most ardent advocates of GM foods, its safety authorities taking the stand that GM foods are "practically same" as the natural foods and therefore do not pose any safety hazards. Flowing out of this policy decision is the remarkable growth of GM crops industry in that country where more than 80% of the foods in the market are either made from GM raw materials or contain GM ingredients. Unfortunately the confidence of the citizens on the credibility of the US government agencies in charge of food safety is rather low and this had given birth to a vigorous and sustained campaign to force the food industry to compulsorily declare the presence of GM materials in packed foods as a matter of constitutional right. The powerful GM crop industry with a vice like grip on the law makers has been able to resist any mandatory labeling provision in the statute books. Recent attempt by the government in that country to provide a mechanism for those who want to declare their foods are free from GM materials appears to be a deflective strategy to evade the responsibility of promulgating orders that will require mandatory labeling of all GM foods. Here is a take on this interesting development which may have far reaching implications in that country.

"The Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified ingredients. USDA's move comes as some consumer groups push for mandatory labeling of the genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The certification is the first of its kind, would be voluntary — and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a "USDA Process Verified" label along with a claim that they are free of GMOs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined the new certification in a May 1 letter to USDA employees, saying it was being done at the request of a "leading global company," which he did not identify. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press. A USDA spokesman confirmed that Vilsack sent the letter but declined to comment on the certification program. Vilsack said in the letter that the certification "will be announced soon, and other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service." Companies can already put their own GMO-free labels on foods, but there are no government labels that only certify a food as GMO-free. Many companies use a private label developed by a nonprofit called the Non-GMO Project. The USDA organic label also certifies that foods are free of genetically modified ingredients, but many non-GMO foods aren't organic. Vilsack said the USDA certification is being created through the department's Agriculture Marketing Service, which works with interested companies to certify the accuracy of the claims they are making on food packages — think "humanely raised" or "no antibiotics ever." Companies pay the Agricultural Marketing Service to verify a claim, and if approved, they can market the foods with the USDA process verified label."

According to the above policy, individual manufacturers can get their claim of GM free product verified by USDA, the agency managing safety of agricultural products through a universally accepted methodology and the certificate issued will confirm their products are GMO free. While this is a welcome first step, it does not still obviates the need for declaring presence of GMO in foods that are made from such modified food materials. Probably the present attempt may be to regulate the current practices followed by some manufacturers in including on their label words like "GMO free" putting consumers in a fix as to whether it can be trusted. Though many such products declaring to be free from GMO are certified by non-government agencies, their credibility will be enhanced if such claims are verified and confirmed by government authorities. But there is a perception among impartial observers that this is a ploy by the government to hamper the enthusiasm of a major segment of the population agitating for mandatory labeling. This is confirmed by the proposals now being pursued by the federal law makers to prevent state authorities imposing regulations mandating for compulsory declaration. This raises questions regarding the role of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which is supposed to regulate packed and processed foods industry and it will be interesting to watch out how this is going to be played out. USDA certification must be accepted by FDA in the interest of the consumers and honest food manufacturers.though no one is still sure whether FDA will take a positive stand on this crucial issue. .


Well being foods-Can they carve out a viable market?

The word "nutraceuticals" originated back in 1989 to differentiate edible consumer products which neither belong to a classical food industry segment or the pharmaceutical sector. Though there is lot of confusion regarding the precise meaning and scope of these new generation products, most consumers feel that they provide some value to boost health and can be a part of a regular diet. Many countries do not allow such a delineation but are taking them as food products though the claims on health attributes are some what regulated. Still there are many grey areas that deserve more clarification and transparency. The new generation products now being marketed use a more appropriate terminology "well being products" and the market for these foods seems to growing with each passing day with increasing consumer awareness about food related disorders like CVD, hypertension, diabetes, kidney ailments, and a host of others affecting precious lives besides lowering the quality of life. So far predominant players have been those from the food industry but this area is receiving focussed interests from pharmaceutical industry which is looking for investments and expansion in non-drug areas. This is understandable because regulators are becoming more and strict in scrutinizing health claims which require expensive field studies to corroborate the claims and pharmaceutical industry has the necessary wherewithal to wade through the intricate web of safety clearances involved. The turmoil going on in many developed countries vis-a-vis amalgamation, mergers and acquisitions of smaller food companies by established drug companies has become a focal point for investors looking for new business opportunities. Read further below:  

"A boom in "nutraceuticals" - food and drinks with potential health benefits - is paving the way for a rush of deals, as food and drug companies compete to dominate a market expected to be worth $280 billion by 2018. Consumers have been encouraged to eat smarter by an obesity epidemic and a burst of fitness-focused technology like gadgets and apps to track exercise and calorie intake. Now companies supplying goods like probiotic yoghurt, advertised as being healthier for the gut, and omega-3 biscuits, thought to improve brain and heart function, have seen demand rise sharply. "It's only a matter of time before the fight spills over into corporate takeover wars," consultancy KPMG predicted in a report. Bankers said moving into nutraceuticals was an obvious move for both food and pharma companies given the blurring line between their sectors. "The space is ripe for M&A and I think you are going to see more," added Jeremy Johnson, managing director of North Carolina-based Bourne, which advises on deals. Food companies are likely to take the lead, chasing healthy products to improve their profiles while drug companies, rocked by patent expiries and the rise of biotech medicines, look to divest units, forecast Bourne Partners, which estimated the market to hit $280 billion in 2018 - double that of 2011. M&A activity so far has been relatively small, but the pace is picking up. Bourne counted 185 mergers and acquisitions involving private and public nutraceutical companies in 2014, up from 95 in 2011. "It's an industry which has seen a lot of interest and is likely to see a lot of deals," said one consumer industry banker, adding that many smaller companies were looking to deals with bigger players to help them reach their potential customers. While the concept of nutraceuticals is not new - the term was first coined in 1989 - KPMG head of life sciences Chris Stirling believes the current focus on health will spur more tie-ups as firms seek to exploit increased consumer awareness. "The consumer arms of pharma companies are going to have to look at this area hard because there is so much public interest," he said. "They need to get on the bandwagon."

Look at India itself where many drug companies have positioned themselves to establish their predominance in the field of well being foods and the resources commanded by them cannot be matched by thoroughbred food companies. It is rather interesting that these products, though made by drug companies require clearance from FSSAI which does not have any clear policy regarding manufacture and marketing of well being foods in the country. The result is total confusion in the market with many products offered to the unwary consumers boasting of health benefits without much scientific evidence. Words like improved brain power, growing taller and smarter, protection from diseases like cancer, diabetes etc are routinely claimed as USPs to expand the consumer base. It is another thing that most manufacturers have no data to support these claims. Probably India has to take a leaf out EU experience where health claims are critically assessed and as of to day there are only a few products cleared by the authorities there. Such rigid clearance regime can benefit drug companies greatly because they only have the necessary insight into regulatory aspects and required testing infrastructure to satisfy the authorities. As for the consumer, he is more likely to trust these companies because of their established credentials in making life saving drugs. With deep pockets, drug industry can be expected to play a more important role in designing and making diverse well being products in the coming years.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mid-day meal program in schools-Management misdeeds!

School feeding programs world across are considered a win-win situation because it is supposed to attract children from low income population to the schools facilitating the objective of universal literacy besides improving the health of these school going kids. No doubt it is a noble thought and its success, though may cast a huge economic burden on the national budget, can bring in qualitative transformation of the society at large. But the crucial question is whether such programs are efficiently managed or not? From time to time we do hear about many complaints regarding mishaps, some minor and others major, affecting the safety of the beneficiaries. Ever since the idea of school lunch program was mooted there was a debate whether the food should be made and served hot within the school premises or pre-prepared foods in sealed packs should be distributed and even to day this issue has not yet been settled. However the trend seems to be to equip all the schools with the necessary infrastructure to cook the foods in the schools themselves. Though many observers had pointed out the dangers and pitfalls inherent in a gigantic arrangement like this, government seems to have decided to encourage school cooking and massive funding is being proposed to set up or upgrade the infrastructure needed. It is against this background one has to read the latest report of the CAG, placed in the Parliament which makes a sad commentary on the efficiency and seriousness with which this program is managed at present. Read further below: 

"The quality of food served in schools under the Mid Day Meal Scheme continues to remain poor across the country, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) said in a report tabled in parliament on Friday. The report raised many red flags such as over-reporting of enrolment figures, financial indiscipline, poor quality of means and inadequate meals. "Cases of cooking of poor quality meals in unhygienic conditions, inadequate and poor quality of infrastructure in terms of kitchen sheds and utensils were rampant across all states exposing children to health hazards," it said. Launched in August 1995 to boost education by increasing enrolment, retention and attendance simultaneously impacting on the nutrition levels of children, the Mid Day Meal Scheme was extended in 2008-09 to students of upper primary classes. The scheme is currently operational in 27 states and seven union territories. According to the report, the Food Corporation of India did not serve the best quality of rice in Uttar Pradesh schools. It said there were several complaints of poor quality meal cooked by Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation Limited which is engaged in cooking for schools in Chandigarh. According to the report, the prescribed nutrition to children was not provided in schools of at least nine states, including the national capital. In Delhi, samples of cooked food of the 37 service providers during the period 2010-14 were tested by the Sri Ram Institute of Industrial Research. "Out of the 2,102 samples, 1,876 (89 percent) failed to meet the prescribed nutrition standard," the report said. The report showed a consistent decline of enrolment of children in the Mid Day Meal Scheme from 14.69 crore in 2009-10 to 13.87 crore in 2013-14. Declining trends in enrolments during 2009-10 to 2103-14 were observed across the country in states such as Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. The report also observed that the checks to ensure quality of meals and adequacy of nutritional value of food served to children remained only on paper. The inadequate monitoring of the scheme by the human resource ministry and the states was a major bottleneck in implementation. The funds earmarked for monitoring and evaluation had been grossly underutilized, the report cited."

Though there would be some slip ups in any program of this size, not doing enough to improve upon the existing practices cannot be condoned, especially when we are dealing with school kids who will be tomorrow's citizens. To realize that almost 90% of the samples tested by independent assessors failed the standards laid down for making the foods is indeed shocking. Added to this the enrolment of children to schools is showing a declining trend raising the critical question as to why this is happening at all? The blame game will go on for some time with no one willing to accept the responsibility as passing the buck is a favorite game in this country!  Look at the Parliament and the abominable behavior of the law makers and even a kid can get disgusted because these so called representatives of the people have no time to consider matters affecting the citizens and their children, wasting their time on personal bickerings and narrow political agenda. Probably switching back to packed foods with standard and safe standards may be the only answer. With food technology organizations like CFTRI , DFRL and NIFTEM, all public funded agencies, why not the government demand a time bound development mission to come up with a dozen RTE food products with diverse tastes and long adequate shelf stability that cannot be diverted to open markets? This will ensure adequate safeguards for quality, quantity, safety and accountability.   


Friday, December 18, 2015

Is Turmeric's antibacterial prowess over rated? Time for a reassessment

Lately the spice or condiment known as Turmeric, used widely in India and other Asian countries has been eulogized as one of the most powerful health protectants and many claims are made in different publications regarding its properties that benefit mankind. Look at the list of diseases/disorders it is supposed to "cure" and one is struck by the diversity of ailments this humble food adjunct is capable of curing.  If the Ayurvedic system of medicine so widely adopted in India is to be relied upon turmeric can cure a host of disorders affecting skin, heart, liver and lungs. Besides turmeric is also touted as a remedy for epilepsy, bleeding disorders, skin diseases, decongestion of lungs, alterative, analgesic, antibacterial, anti inflammatory, antitumor, antioxidant, antispasmodic, appetizer, astringent, cardio vascular issues, carminative, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, stimulant and vulnerary! Quite a mouthful! Well why this narrative now regarding a spice with 5000 years history behind it? Provocation comes from a study recently published which talks of turmeric as a powerful antibacterial, advocating resurgence of this spice as an alternative to modern antibiotics. How far such a claim is backed by scientific evidence on hand?  Look at the report emanating from one of the universities in the US which claims that curcumin can be coated on cookwares and knives to make the food cooked at home safer.  

"What if our next-generation, futuristic antimicrobial turns out to be the same thing people have been using for the last 4,000 years? A new invention could improve food safety by borrowing a trick from ancient civilizations: using spice to fend off germs. If you want to keep food from spoiling you can load it with sugar (see preserves), or salt (see pickles), or fat (see confit, or SPAM) — but then you end up with a lot of sugar, salt, and fat. You can use synthetic preservatives, or natural chemicals (like the ones you get from smoking food). You can freeze food, but then you have to keep it cold until you are ready to eat it. Another alternative is to add spices, which can inhibit the growth of harmful microbes. Garlic, onion, cinnamon, allspice, oregano, thyme, cumin, turmeric, and the chemical that makes peppers spicy are all bacteria killers. It's likely that equatorial cultures have spicier foods because the warm climate leads to faster food spoilage. The flavors that those spices lend to food is a side effect — a delicious side effect. But we don't always want everything to taste spicy. Ruplal Choudhary, a food and bioprocess engineer at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is part of a research team that has found a way that the antimicrobial properties of the spice turmeric might be employed without making foods taste like turmeric. They discovered how to coat glass and metal with curcumin — the main antibacterial chemical in turmeric. The curcumin is embedded in nano-capsules, so it doesn't rub off and flavor foods. You could imagine using this technology to coat the insides of cans (a substitute for BPA perhaps) or knives and countertops — to provide a new line of defense against food-borne illness. Choudhary also thinks this technology could be used to make fresh produce safer. As he told the university's news service: "Where I grew up, our house was surrounded by gardens," Choudhary said. "My father never liked to eat produce that came from the store, especially if it was harvested early and ripened in transit or at the store – he said it had no taste. We know now fresher foods are also higher in antioxidants and nutritive value. My goal is to find practical ways to use this technology to preserve food freshness as well as to create antimicrobial surfaces."

If one looks at the composition of turmeric it does contain curcumin which had been studied extensively all over the world confirming its value as a natural therapeutic substance with some positive influence on human health. The standard extraction procedures using solvents like ethyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, hexane, acetone, fluid carbon dioxide can separate curcumin from dried turmeric rhizome but industrially solvent extraction is done after distilling out the essential oil through steam distillation. The oil content can vary from 2-7% depending on the variety cultivated (there are 2 dozens of varieties grown in the world). The deoiled residue yields oleoresins containing resins, less volatile oils, waxes etc from which curcumin has to be fractionated out.. Curcumin content in turmeric varies between 2-7%. The big question is what are the active principles involved in conferring antibiotic properties to turmeric powder? Most experts believe that it is the essential oil component that is responsible for this property. In turmeric essential oil there are constituents like ar-turmerone (22%), a-turmerone(26%), b-turmerone(17%), curione(24%, ar-curcumene(6.3%) and a host of others making up about 24%. Out of the 54 compounds separated more than 20 are yet to be identified. It is reported that actually turmerones and curione fractions of turmeric oil have some antibiotic properties and evidence is there about the antimicrobial property of turmeric oil against Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger. The new study cited above talks of using curcumin as a coating to confer antibacterial property which needs further exploration before application. No doubt the nano technology used for coating is a novel one but how effective it is against pathogens must be independently verified.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chicken and beacon more environment friendly than fruits and vegetables? Strange findings!

Science can be some times really mysterious in its findings and researchers who bring out scientific results through their efforts are also as mysterious as the subject they pursue. R & D is a hotly debated area because of bias attributed to many studies due to the dependence of such efforts on funding from sponsors most of whom have an agenda in getting results of their likings. There are also academic studies by researchers to obtain a university degree and many of their findings also may not reflect the true situation due to many factors. This is the reason why many advocate that scientific research in areas of public interest must be pursued in public funded research organizations which do not have any axe to grind while looking for results. It is not correct to brand all private sponsored research as "motivated" as there are many outstanding research institutions with very high credibility and scientific credentials. Carnegie Melon University is supposed to be such an organization and if they bring out some startling findings that fly against the currently accepted notions, one has to sit and listen to them. Recent claims by a group there regarding the green house gas emissions by vegetables being more than that by the beacon industry need to be taken seriously though prima facie they appear to be ludicrous. Here is a take on this controversial issue.  

"Vegetarians may be no greener than bacon-lovers, according to new research. In fact, lettuce eaters may be three times worse.
Looking at the way food is consumed in the United States, a student-professor team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh concluded that following the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended nutritional guidelines to eat more fruits, vegetables, dairy, and seafood is actually more harmful to the environment than a diet of typically "less healthy" foods.  "Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon," said Paul Fischbeck, professor of social and decisions sciences and engineering and public policy, in a statement. "Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken." Dr. Fischbeck and his co-authors, whose study appeared in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions, found that the USDA recommendations tended to have higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissionsper calorie than alternatives. Following the supply chain from growing to processing to transporting food, and onto store shelves and tables, as well as household storage, the researchers measured the strain on environmental resources in the form of energy use, water use, and GHG emissions.
Eating fewer calories and reducing weight was found to have a positive effect on the environment by shoring up energy use, water use, and emissions from the food supply chain by some 9 percent, according to the study. By comparison, eating the USDA recommended "healthier" foods – a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and seafood – increased the environmental impact across all three categories the study examined: Energy use went up by 38 percent, water use by 10 percent and GHG emissions by 6 percent, according to the study. The initial findings of the study were "surprising", according to senior research fellow Anthony Froggatt at Chatham House, a think-tank unaffiliated with the research that is looking at the connection between meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Froggatt said in an interview with the Independent that it is "true lettuce can be incredibly water intensive and energy intensive to produce", but comparative exercises like the one performed by CMU can yield vastly different results depending on how the foods are raised or grown. "We usually look at proteins rather than calories, and as a general rule it is still the case that reducing meat consumption in favor of plant-based proteins can reduce emissions," he said.
Still, with global population ballooning, "we have a pressing need to eat better and farm better," Tamar Hospel, a food-policy columnist for The Washington Post, wrote last August.  Lettuce, Ms. Hospel writes, "has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate," citing its high water content and relatively low nutritional value.  Michelle Tom, a co-author of the study, acknowledges the relationship between diet and environment is "complex."
"What is good for us health-wise isn't always what's best for the environment," she said in a statement. "That's important for public officials to know and for them to be cognizant of these trade-offs as they develop or continue to develop dietary guidelines in the future."

The Carnegie Mellon findings may contradict the soon-to-be-released USDA dietary guidelines which are expected to recommend more veggies and less meat consumption as part of a diet that's "more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average US diet," an advisory panel draft said, according to the Associated Press."

Common man can get highly confused because meat industry has been castigated across the world as polluting industry and raising meat animals involves waste of resources, the conversion efficiency of the animals vis-a-vis the "feeds into food" is recognized as poor. If so how can it be a relatively minor culprit in greenhouse gas emission? If the claims are true why the competent authorities who recommend several servings of fruits and vegetables every day, can assert that their production is more friendly towards environment protection compared to meat production? These findings raise several pertinent questions to which answers must be found sooner than later. How does this new finding affect the diets of more than 6 billion people living in this planet? Is the mankind better off by expanding meat consumption in the long run in stead of the persisting on the present high pitch campaign by almost all segments of the society to become vegetarians? Shunning of meat is a national priority in many countries and is it necessary for them to stop such policies believing fully the outcome of the above research? Though earlier studies were focusing more on protein cost which is always high in the case of animal products, the present comparison of calorie expenditure per unit of product may justify curbing production of fruits and vegetables but the million dollar question is whether the results of these limited studies can be confirmed by multi country studies supported by international agencies immediately to prevent unnecessary anxieties among consumers? 


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Preventing food wastage-The new French initiative

Food waste is a hot subject that commands a big audience across the world. Obviously wasting any food is considered obnoxious by any one with a common sense or a clean conscience but unfortunately it is precisely these are what one finds lacking in rich countries like USA, Canada, Japan and countries in Europe. Otherwise it is difficult to explain why an average French citizen throws away foods per year sufficient to feed about 100 people and Australians leading the pack with foods wasted capable of feeding 200 people. One of the reasons cited for squandering so much foods is the mandatory declaration of expiry date in all food packs and most people throw the food away after that date believing that they are unsafe to consume. There is greater awareness now that all date expired foods need not be unsafe and consumers can save significantly in their food budget by judicially using such foods. However those who are well to do with high income may not mind suffering economic loss by throwing away date expired food products not wanting to take any risk to them. It is against such a situation that we have to appreciate the lead taken by France to make wasting food unlawful through enactment of mandatory policies. Here is a take on this exciting development which can be a role model for other countries convinced about the unconscionable practice of wasting precious foods.     

"With that in mind, the National Assembly of France (the lower house)recently passed a bill making it illegal for large supermarkets to simply throw away food. The new laws mean that any medium or large supermarket – determined as being 400 square metres or larger – must turn over any edible food to charity. As for food which is no longer edible, it cannot simply be thrown away either, instead it must be turned into compost or biofuel. The former Minister for Food, Guillaume Garot, was quoted in French newspaper L'Express saying, "It's scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods." The law is part of a French plan to cut food wastage in half by 2025. The plan was implemented in 2012, after studies showed the average French person wastes an average of 20 to 30 kilograms of food per year, which translates to between 12 and 20 billion euros ending up in the bin. But don't go feeling smug about how wasteful the Frogs are – Australians are worse! According to FoodWise, Australians waste a staggering $8 billion worth of food every year – 345 kilos per household! And while it's, as Garot said, "scandalous" to think of all that food going to waste when the UN estimates there are 805 million people in the world who are undernourished, there are also environmental factors at play. As food rots in landfill it lets off methane, which Food Wise say "is 25 times more potent than the carbon pollution that comes out of your car exhaust". The French National Assembly passed the bill unanimously – that's 577 politicians representing seven different political parties who all agreed that waste needs to end. Getting almost 600 people to agree on anything is virtually impossible, making the passing of this law all the more impressive. And kind of obvious. Seriously, if almost 600 French politicians can agree that waste is abhorrent, the men and women in Canberra should take note. Indeed, Arash Derambarsh, a councillor from the north-west of Paris who was the lead person who persuaded French MPs to adopt the regulation, is looking to go global. The French MP is planning to table the issue via Bono's campaign group ONE to the UN in September, as well as at the G20 economic summit in Turkey in November, and the COP21 environment conference in Paris in December."

While it is easy to pressurize organized industry, especially the big retail chains into stopping their present practice of sending such foods to landfills, how can any government stop the house holds from throwing foods into the garbage which cumulatively can be substantial? Probably only education and large scale awareness program can reduce such wastage. One crucial issue is how these foods can find gainful use if there is no organized collection mechanism that can ensure regular offtake of thrown foods for immediate delivery to those who need food badly. Food banks which are functioning in the US with good efficiency may be an exception though such institutional mechanism do exist, albeit in a smaller way in many other countries. World has to take notice of this issue a bit more seriously and there must be a global cooperative efforts to save food. Another dimension to food wastage is its impact on global warming caused by large scale dumping of organic matters like foods in landfills where Methane gas is generated, considered to be deadlier than the much maligned carbon dioxide in that it can trap more heat than CO2. Why not some of the major retailers open new counters to give away date expired foods free to those in need of food but have limited means to buy due to economic limitations. Of course they must ensure that these foods are safe before offering to the needy public from special counters.  .  


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The great food crisis looming ahead-Is the world prepared to face it

Beating a horse beyond its limit of tolerance can obviously lead its incapacitation eventually. This seems to be true with the agricultural land humanity depends on so heavily to coax it to produce more and more food for meeting its survival needs of food. This stark reality has been highlighted by a group of scientists in the US to warn the world that global security is already jeopardized though not beyond redemption if adequate measures are taken to restore soil fertility through appropriate remedial action. Green revolution was applauded as the arrival of a panacea for solving food problems faced by many countries and provided a means to increase food production by boosting land productivity. But it is now realized that the very same technological break through has already caused heavy damage to the soil health by depleting the nutrients at a rate beyond the sustainable level. Though the report is alarming it does promise a way out to which the world will have to listen. Here is the take on this crucial issue.  

"The soil fertility of the world may soon reach the point of jeopardizing global food security. A group of the country's top environmental scientists has authored a review paper about the tantamount importance of correcting the imbalance of soil depletion and replenishment.
Soil degradation and erosion – combined with damage to agricultural land from urbanization, as well as the expanding global population – are among the century's most urgent concerns for the international community, according to the researchers. The "green revolution," which started in the late 1960s, considerably improved food production through concentrated farming that utilized agro-chemicals. The researchers however said that those principles and techniques would not be able to match the needs of the increasing population today — unless greater attention is given to soil fertility and soil preservation. In a review of global soil fertility published in the journal Science, the research team said the most industrious farmland is a result of the domestication of wild soils produced by advance farming exercises. The challenge for these domesticated soils is preserving the quality of their wild inherited stock. From 1970 to 2000, an area of agricultural plot the size of Denmark was developed and urbanized. In the next 20 years, an agricultural area the size of Mongolia – about 600,000 square miles – will be enveloped by city modernization, the scientists wrote. Dr. Ronald Amundson – the study's lead author and a professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley – added that agricultural methods through the years have triggered the enhanced loss of soil through nutrient removal and erosion. This is one of the crucial game-changers for the extended, maintainable production of the soil — the living top layer of Earth. One of the major challenges of future food security is maintaining the supply of artificial soil fertilizers — specifically potassium and phosphorus, which have to be extracted from reserves held in minerals and rocks."

It is true that agricultural land suffers not only qualitatively but also quantitatively and the major reason for quantitative loss is the high rate ofurbanization taking place around the world sacrificing the agricultural land in the name of development. Alarmingly this frenetic pace of urbanization does not seem to be slowing down with the real possibility that available arable land left over might not be sufficient to provide enough food for every body. Added to this the modern agriculture plus faster depletion of natural forests are causing a great damage to the environment by releasing the vast storage of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere accelerating the global warming  effect with unimaginable consequences. It is mind boggling that the top 10 feet of soil in earth holds about 2300 gigatons ( 1 gigaton= i billion ton) of carbon and humans have already lost about 50-70 gigatons through out its history because of agriculture.Most of this loss came from agricultural practices during the last 200 years. Some of the solutions suggested include changing the way agri operations are carried out without tilling and manufacturing nitrogenous fertilizers like urea without burning fossil fuels. Recovery of nutrients like phosphates and potash from sludges through appropriate technological means may also be necessary to overcome the monopolistic hold of Morocco and China where phosphate mining provides bulk of the world supply and greater afforestation. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Street vendors-Sensitization and training, need of the hour

Street foods seem to be having a fascination for many consumers, though the products made under none too satisfactory conditions, may have potential health dangers at least for some of them with "weak bellies". Whether we like it or not street foods are here to stay and government may be right in closing its eyes towards the existence of such a flourishing businesses activitiy under its very nose across the country. From time to time seminars and workshops are held to "focus" on the problems and dangers of street foods and "recommendations" are made to improve the safety of foods catered by these vendors. There are even international programs to address the problems of street vending as it is a phenomenon common in many countries, especially in Asia. Why is that consumers are attracted to street foods like a magnet, ignoring the possible dangers lurking behind them? The answer is simple, the unique culinary pleasure experienced by them while eating these freshly made and hot foods made in front of them by artisans who excel in creating unique taste and flavor characteristic of many traditional Indian preparations, most of them being not available in regular restaurants. Besides this sector provides gainful earning opportunities to millions of self employed people to eke out a decent living. It is in this context we have to understand the compulsions governments world over have to nurture this sector without seriously impinging on the civic amenities that could be affected by their operations in the pavements meant to be for pedestrianwalking in crowded urban areas.

"With an aim to train street food vendors on cleanliness and hygiene, the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) recently organized a workshop in the city. Their training also included various aspects of food preservation techniques. "We were already aware of the cleanliness aspect, but NASVI taught us how to present any food in the right way," said Shyam Sundar, one of the street food vendors. NAVI also distributed I-cards among the registered street food vendors. The workshop was part of the National Street Food Festival that concluded on December 28.When asked what they benefitted from this workshop, the vendors said it helped them increase their profits. "Now, when customers see us wearing gloves and aprons, they believe we serve better quality food than others," said Satish, owner of Satish Snacks in Sarojini Nagar. Gulab Singh, a bhelpuri vendor at India Gate, said though he had gone to Singapore to train the staff of a hotel on bhelpuri making, he was unaware about the tricks of the trades till NASVI taught him. The vendors who are registered with the organization will receive a certificate. They will receive licences once they are found conforming to the cleanliness norm laid down by the civic body. Then they will be allowed to put up their stalls at various places in the city.  Meanwhile, 'Street Saathi', a food book, was launched during the festival, which features all the vendors trained by NASVI. It contains pictures and recipes of various food items. The best part of the book is that it not only tells people about various street food and their preparations, but also sheds light on the lives of the vendors". 

The workshop may be relevant in the context of wide scale misgivings about the safety of these foods and the clientele now enjoying the services of these vendors must be minimum with only adventurous customers patronizing them regularly. If such workshops are held in all the towns and cities in the country more frequently, the quality and safety of the foods made by them will naturally get upgraded in the long term. Civic authorities have a great responsibility in regulating these vendors as they can pose a serious congestion problem with pedestrian and vehicular traffic affected adversely. A master plan for regulating them must be drawn and minimum facilities required by them to ensure food safety must be provided. Strict overseeing of their activities is also necessary. Use of potable water, cleaning of reusable plates and cups and cookwares and waste disposal logistics must be monitored regularly. Recent advent of mobile food vans presents another opportunity for urban dining and snacking and it is time that serious planning is done at the local authorities level to standardize their activities and fixing places where they can park for serving foods. Food Processing Industry Ministry and the Tourism Ministry at Delhi can play a vital role in helping the state governments by designing suitable models of mobile vans with required facilities and laying down national guidelines for their efficient functioning.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Indian decision on GMO foods premature? Who will own the responsibility for health damages in future generations?

Genetically modified crops are mired in controversies during the last two decades with many questioning their safety at least in foods consumed every day. The fact that more than 80% of foods consumed in the US are either based on GM materials or contain one or more ingredients derived from GM materials does not confer legitimacy on its cultivation or production in other parts of the world. Because of the anti people attitude of the safety authorities in that country, biotech giants have been given a free ride and in spite of 90% of the consumers demanding clear labeling on food packs containing GM foods, there is no mandatory regulations yet in place, binding the industry to be transparent in label declaration. Those who advocate GM foods take the stand that the modified food is "substantially" same as the original one while those opposing point out the unpredictability vis-a-vis the new modified crop in terms of any safety hazard. That is why many impartial observers feel that conducting large scale human trials, in multiple centers through global cooperative endeavor, only can resolve this issue once for all. But such studies being time consuming and highly expensive the GMO industry is not willing to do that. Under such a situation the reported decision by GOI to permit trials of a few crops undergoing genetic modification in the Indian soil may be untimely. Here is a take on this contentious issue as per some reports. 

"21 new varities of genetically modified (GM) crops such as rice, wheat, maize and cotton have been approved for field trials by the Narendra Modi government, say reports. According to these reports, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — consisting mostly of bio-technology supporters — rejected just one out of the 28 proposals up for consideration. Six proposals were rejected for want of more information. The move comes while the Supreme Court is in deliberation on the safety of GM crops. GM crops is a contentious issue in the nation as it faces opposition from activists who say it is dangerous for the environment and the health of its citizens. While backers say the high yielding GM crops can address hunger issues and also bring down prices of food and commodities.  The issue is also a political one with the BJP supporting growing GM food whilst the Congress opposing it. The then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had rejected a move to grow BT brinjals in 2010, with the BJP calling it a 'wrong' decision. Only Bt Cotton is allowed to be commercially grown in India till now."

Whatever is the reason that prompted GOI to permit field trials in India, there are strong indications that some GM crops could be of doubtful safety credentials. Some of the findings which are reported so far have highlighted the following risks which may or may not be true in all cases:
GM food can cause kidney problem, ovarian disease and obesity- according to some findings of Washington university in 2004. Pesticide methoxychlor used for crop protection produces symptoms of health damage after 3 generations. Atrazine-herbicide, another GM crop protectant produced in situ during the gene modification process, produced off springs with infertility, kidney and prostate problems, cancer, shortened life span with rats. It is a travesty of truth for a senior minister in the government, in charge of environment protection to declare in parliament that no scientific evidence exists regarding non-safety of GMO foods!. In some crops due to genetic manipulation specific chemicals with pesticidal properties are incorporated and it is suspected that these chemicals can show its damaging effect after 50-70 years. No human experiment showing absolute safety of GM foods has yet been carried out. Any health problem that exists to day and not diagnosed through current methods of testing may turn out later that it is due to consumption of GM foods. The famous Italian study on GM soya using rats,over a duration of 24 months found undesirable changes in their liver, pancreas and testes. Another study in Australia in 2008 showed low fertility, low body weight in rats fed on GM foods while similar studies in Russia showed significant stunted growth and unusually high mortality.  In 2012 French scientist researching on GM corn for two years found that it caused mammary cancer, liver and kidney diseases. Alarmingly in the UK scientists observed that transgenic genes have the ability to get into the blood stream across the GI tract indicating the dangers inherent in consuming GM foods containing such genes. These findings, though not very substantial or conclusive, still raises some concern and unless safety studies with humans are carried out to prove these apprehensions are real, GM food production must be kept in abeyance.


A diabetic dilemma!-Heavy break fast vs heavy dinner

Diabetes is a dreaded disease and there is unanimity in calling it "the silent killer". A complex metabolic disorder, diabetes is still not understood well though there are well accepted treatment regime to control it. As it is related to the inability of the body to fully metabolize the glucose generated in the GI tract and absorbed by the blood stream, those affected by this disorder has to control their diet to prevent surges in blood glucose after consuming foods. The big dilemma facing diabetes affected people is how to balance the need for energy for sustenance and the ability of their metabolic system to handle the glucose derived from the foods they have consumed. Why is it called a silent killer? Most probably because the symptoms of the disease, especially during early stages, are not manifested and those affected have practically no knowledge about its onslaught. Untreated diabetes can lead to many other problems like heart disease, kidney ailments, declining eye sight, loss of pain sensation etc. How do we monitor our "sugar health"? As of now most physicians subject their patients to the "fasting sugar and postprandial sugar" testing and optimum sugar levels for normal health have been set. However these days many medical experts prefer to depend on the HbA1C or glycated haemoglobin test which is a cumulative record of unmetabolized glucose build up over a period of 3 months. Still daily monitoring is advisable to have a control of the glucose levels in the blood due to irregular consumption of food by some people. A new study coming from Israel has propounded a new diet regime that has the potential to have a control over blood glucose. Here is a take on this new development.

"A high-energy breakfast and modest dinner can control dangerous blood sugar spikes all day, says a new Tel Aviv University study published in Diabetologia. More than 382 million people in the world suffer from diabetes, predominantly type-2 diabetes. For these people, blood sugar surges - glucose spikes after meals - can be life threatening, leading to cardiovascular complications. The study proposes a new way to suppress deadly glucose surges throughout the day - eating a high-caloric breakfast and a more modest dinner. The combined consumption of a high-energy breakfast and a low-energy dinner decreases overall daily hyperglycaemia in type-2 diabetics, said the study. "We found that by eating more calories at breakfast, when the glucose response to food is lowest, and consuming fewer calories at dinner, glucose peaks and glucose levels throughout the day were significantly reduced," said professor Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University. The new study was conducted on eight men and 10 women aged 30-70 with type-2 diabetes. Patients were randomized and assigned either a "B diet" or "D diet" for one week. The B diet featured a 2,946 kilojoule (kj) breakfast, 2,523 kj lunch, and 858 kj dinner, and the D diet featured a 858 kj breakfast, 2,523 kj lunch, and 2,946 kj dinner. The results of the study showed that post-meal glucose elevations were 20 percent lower, levels of insulin, C-peptide, and GLP-1 were 20 percent higher in participants on the B diet compared with those on the D diet. Despite the fact that both diets contained the same calories, blood glucose levels rose 23 percent less after the lunch was preceded by a large breakfast."  Read further

The concept of Glycemic Index (GI) was developed by a group of scientists in University of Toronto in 1980-81 and to day it is the golden standard to assess different foods regarding their potential to increase blood glucose levels. Once GI of any food is known, consequent glucose load (GL) can be estimated in order to exercise self discipline while eating. Unfortunately for an average consumer it is rather difficult to think or worry about these highly scientific way of planning his daily food with the result that wide fluctuations in glucose "reading" is unavoidable and can lead to a slow process of debilitation of the body. What the Israeli scientists are proposing is some what revolutionary and if true may offer some practical guidelines in controlling the intake of glucose rich foods. It is a remarkable finding which can easily be practiced by those affected by Type 2 diabetes. Distributing the calories needed every day with 45% being consumed during breakfast, 40% during lunch and 15% during dinner, it has shown that glucose spike in the blood can be reduced as much as 23% compared to a diet with low calories consumed during breakfast. With more than 85% of calories intake coming from breakfast and lunch, glucose management is much easier and such a change in the meal pattern can be easily achieved for the sake of a better health. One criticism of above study is that the size of the experiments is rather small with hardly about one and a half dozen subjects and further studies on a much bigger scale only can help to come to a firm conclusion.