Monday, March 23, 2015

Calorie counting in foods-Uncertainties regarding label declaration!

Why should the food industry print on the label the so called nutrition information? Those who came up with the idea of nutrition labeling were honest in their intention that such information would help the consumers to select the best foods from the market from the health point of view. But does it really happen the way it is intended to be?  Probably not! Why? The human biological system varies from person to person and the efficiency of utilizing the nutrients also will also vary. Therefore the figures printed on the food pack can at best indicate maximum efficiency without taking into consideration the individual variations or the extent of processing the food has undergone. Calorie values exemplify this paradox. The calorific value of food declared is based on the estimates arrived at through the Bomb calorie meter test where food is burned under controlled conditions to find out the calorific value. Unfortunately the human system cannot be expected to be as efficient as a bomb calorie meter with the digestion system depends on the compliment of enzymes and the microbiome that inhabit the GI tract. As a thumb rule more the food is processed or cooked more efficient is the digestion efficiency. Why this factor is important can be understood in the context of the critical role played by food calories in leading to over weight and obesity. Here is an interesting expose regarding the role of processing and cooking in calorie generation once the food is ingested and their fate within the system   . 

"Unfortunately, of course, in today's overfed and underexercised populations, nature's way is not the best way. If we want to lose weight we should challenge our instinctive desires. We should reject soft white bread in favor of rough whole wheat breads, processed cheese in favor of natural cheese, cooked vegetables in favor of raw vegetables. And to do so would be much easier if our food labels gave us some advice about how many calories we would save by eating less-processed food. So why are our nutritionist advisers mute on the topic? For decades there have been calls by distinguished committees and institutions to reform our calorie-counting system. But the calls for change have failed. The problem is a shortage of information. Researchers find it hard to predict precisely how many extra calories will be gained when our food is more highly processed. By contrast, they find it easy to show that if a food is digested completely, it will yield a specific number of calories. Our food labeling therefore faces a choice between two systems, neither of which is satisfactory. The first gives a precise number of calories but takes no account of the known effects of food processing, and therefore mismeasures what our bodies are actually harvesting from the food. The second would take account of food-processing, but without any precise numbers."

Ideally a healthy person must derive full benefit from the food he consumes and the nutrition guidelines do not make a differentiation between cooked foods and raw foods, the values of the latter being used universally in all guidelines across the world. If calorie needs are determined based on the theoretical calorie yield and if the calories contained in the diet are not absorbed, naturally the question arises whether man really needs so much calories as being recommended? Obviously consumers looking for 2000 kC from the food they consume will go by the theoretical values presented to them in the label. While a consumer eating minimally cooked or refined food will not derive the theoretical values because of the digestion inefficiency, those consuming highly processed foods will get almost 100% of the calories declared on the label. Another dimension to this paradox is that refined foods require less energy expenditure for the biological digestion system, eating minimally cooked foods calls for comparatively higher energy input by the body leaving very little for conversion to fat and consequently to weight gain. Sounds confusing? Well that is the reality and that is why health pundits universally condemn highly refined and over cooked foods because of their higher energy mobilization and fat deposition potential. No wonder consumers are realizing this "unpalatable" truth and shifting towards whole cereals and pulses and raw fruits and vegetables to avoid many life threatening health afflictions and improve the quality of life.  


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