In the times of fusion of cultures, customs and traditions, the food industry has been one of the most benefited arenas in terms of innovation, investments and interests. Classic dishes of overseas can reach our palate in streets now. But as it, with great choices comes great consequences. India has a reach diversity in offering food that keep our taste buds satiated. Food is now not just a necessity, it’s a luxury too. With the exodus of herbs, spices and exotic recipes along with the mastermind analytical and experimental approach of chefs, food has become a religion and representation of our faith in celebrating life, not just living it.
Before the saga of health commences in this article, let us rewind a few steps and start at the basic fundamentals regarding food and it’s components. The definition of health is an interesting twist of words. Health is not simply the absence of diseases, it would be a simple one dimensional definition. But as is with the advent of technology, science turns multi dimensional too. Health is defined as the complete physical, mental and social well being of an individual. Bear this in mind, ‘cause it is going to put up some very ‘healthy’ arguments against our beloved choices. Next up is nutrients. Nutrients are the organic and inorganic material in our food that provide us energy, growth and as such. We don’t need dieticians and expensive diets to follow which would only make us more pensive. Most of the times, we are pretty unsuccessful with our plans regarding our diet. But nothing to worry about, with each failure we just know ONE MORE DIET THAT IS BOUND TO FAIL (in the ideology of Edison). And there’s the bonus of an amusing topic to discuss with friends and share a great laugh with (the title would be something like “The great misadventure of an adventurous diet plan”). But keeping the cynical amusement apart, it’s a burden, a liability in our mind. Maybe we always reach at the same disappointing conclusion because our very objective is wrong. Maybe instead of studying each section of the grass, we need to study how the grass survives and what it needs to survive. All the other processes and phenomenons would follow suit and be explained by those questions. The point is simple. Instead of harbouring an objective and desire to be slender or lean with the right muscles in the right places, we should opt for something simpler, more tangible and easily obtainable. The objective should be to maintain a good health instead. All other things would be the byproducts of a good health and you won’t even have to strive hard to attain it. The instance of people being extremely thin to follow the trends in fashion but having low stamina and hence having the misfortune of being the recipient of untimely faint spells is a common problem these days. The reason is facile. These people are not giving their body what it needs to be healthy. One can manipulate their body to have the silhouette they want to have but one simply can’t manipulate their body to be healthy. Enzymes, hormones, cells or at the most basic level, cistrons, RNAs and proteins, need what they need no matter what we want. Hence, the choice is not about which dietician to appoint or which diet plan to follow; it’s about choosing our objective, do we want to be healthy (which will give us what we want in the long run, albeit it will take time) or do we want to be foolish (but beautiful/handsome)?
Hopefully the choice has been made. Even if your choice is the latter, just mutate it to the former till this article lasts. Food has various components. Some of them are needed by our body, some have no effect in our body while others are downright disastrous for our body. Let us have a brief idea about each of the category.
1) Basic essential nutrients – these include carbohydrates which provide energy, vitamins which are indispensable for chemical reactions in the body, proteins which are the building blocks of life, minerals whose presence is of utmost importance for various life processes, water which is the medium for various chemical reactions and for homeostasis and last but not the least, fats which are the largest source of energy as well as the reserve bank for energy in times of starvation.
2) Components that have no effect in our body- these would include chemicals for which no digestive enzymes are present in our body and thus, they can’t be digested and assimilated for further use and egested in their original form like cellulose etc.
3) Components that have negative effect in our body- these are components which are pernicious for the well being of our health. These include-
A) Trans fat- it may not be incorrect to compare it with ‘The Godfather’ merely ’cause it’s presence is felt everywhere much like the terror is omniscient in the famed movie. Trans fat is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (unsaturated fats) that has been chemically modified to increase shelf life and make them solid at room temperature. And it is absent in which delicious meal, snack or breakfast? That would be a tough one to answer. It’s effects are far reaching. It increases the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) as well as decreasing the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Thus, it causes inflammation and blockage of arteries including coronary artery which leads to heart diseases. It also leads to obesity. It is used as a preservative in the packaging of foods which makes it more ubiquitous. A point to be noted, many products come in the market stating to have zero trans fat. Don’t be fooled by it. It simply means that it contains the amount of trans fat approved by food authorities without any health concerns for the time being but which turns out to be a major concern in the long run. Fast/junk food contain a large amount of trans fat combined with food additives which make it one of the forerunners of health risks.
B) Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)- it is that extra tang, that special addition to our food which leaves our palate completely satisfied but our health a tad bit unsatisfied. Though it’s cons are not yet known properly but many short term effects such as nausea, headache etc have been linked to it. The best way to approach it is to be aware when we are having MSG (it is always mentioned in the labels). By this awareness, we can optimise the amount of MSG we intake.
C) High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)- another mega villain of the health industry. It is the sweetener present in beverages like soda, soft drinks etc. It’s gravest sin lies in the fact that it is addictive and one sip of any beverage containing HFCS is just not enough. Ever. Not to mention that we don’t stop having beverages after one day, the love story continues for decades. Even when we take it in moderation, it is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure and more. Need I say more?
D) Artificial sweeteners- anything artificial which requires to be processed naturally comes with its own set of risks. Artificial sweetners are no exception. They are the sugar substitutes which contain less calories but provide the same sweetness. But they come with their own side effects as is seen in the case of aspartame which causes depression, insomnia, blindness, tinnitus, hives and a major contributing factor to alzheimer’s and MS. Since it is mostly present in light food, beverages and packaged diet snacks, it’s awareness and control is the need of the hour too.
E) Calories- calories are the underdogs of both bad as well as good health. Everyone wants to take less calories which leads to fatigue, nausea and malnutrition. Foodies take lots of calories which increases the chances of obesity. The solution: calories in moderate amount to never give up on calories.
F) Saturated fats- fats = the Voldemort of the heart. Needless to say, high amounts of it causes lots of terror in the kingdom of heart leading to an early retirement.
If making food is an art, choosing the right kind of food and balancing it with our palate is definitely an art too. Coming back to the definition of health, it also signifies mental well being. Which means we need to understand that food is required not only for our survival just as it is not required only for taste. We need to balance food and have the best of both worlds. Being in diets and yearning for our favorite foods doesn’t give us mental peace and hence, we can’t be healthy too. We are a species of superior intelligence. We can reason as well as enjoy what we eat. Ultimately, the choice is ours to make. Ignorance is a bliss till deception abandons us in the threshold of ER and makes us face the facts. Sometimes, it is too late. The moral is not to let food govern us. We are competent enough to know what we want and what we need and strike a good balance to lead a healthy life.