Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Not So Sweet Reality

Lets introspect on how things were a half century ago. At that time people consumed lots of fat, butter and pure ghee. Sweets were eaten rarely and the sweetener used was honey. Ninety percent of the food that people ate was cooked at home. The fast food industry was nearly non existent and there were few available brands of biscuits, potato chips, cakes, mithai, chiwda, chocolates, colas or ice cream. Going out to eat ice cream would be nothing less than a family event which would be fondly remembered for days. A box of mithai would come home but once in months. All of these snacks were consumed rarely! Restaurants were few and going out to eat was infrequent. Also infrequent at the time were here heart attacks, blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.

Then cholesterol was identified as the substance which was found in blocked blood vessels. This lead to a diet revolution based on fear. We were told that dietary cholesterol is bad for our health. We started avoiding fatty foods like cheese and butter, oily food or deep fried food. We didn't eat the egg yolk and only preferred the egg white. At a restaurant we started to ask for normal roti and not 'butter-roti'. We would frown if we saw a dish with excessive oil. This movement against fats and oil tilted the diet towards carbohydrates. Slowly but surely diets around the world became carbohydrate rich.

Simultaneously there was a surge in the economy and people's spending power increased. The food industry expanded and packaged foods and fast food became affordable. Refined sugar and refined flour became the main ingredients of these snacks. What was a luxury enjoyed once in many months, could now be easily consumed every week or even every day. Today, the smallest event is celebrated by cutting a cake. Home refrigerators are loaded with ice creams and colas. They have become oft consumed midnight snacks. Historically sugar consumption has increased from barely 2kg per person per year in the eighteen century to a whopping 70kg per person per year in the twenty first century. Calorie intakes have increased but physical activity has reduced. People are enjoying a sedentary lifestyle. With elevators and cars there is no need to exert. What has also increased unfortunately are the rates of obesity. People are developing pot bellies more than ever before. Low fat and high carbohydrate diets are not having the desired effect that was hoped for. In fact the absolute opposite is happening. Along with obesity, rates of blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are up.

Only recently, the veil has been lifted. It is not fat, butter or cholesterol that is the real devil. It is the carbohydrates, especially the simple ones like refined sugar and foods that contain large quantities of this sugar. To reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease we must re-adopt the lifestyle our ancestors. We have to change the way we think about food. It is time for a paradigm shift. We should not consume sugary drinks like colas, tang, rasna or sugary tea. They are directly linked to obesity and therefore many diseases. Biscuits are a strict no, at least not daily. We can eat a biscuit, or a piece of cake, or a few chips once in a while. Jam is full of sugar and we must stay away. Same is true with tomato ketchup. Snacks and mithai must be consumed only occasionally. On the same note, we must not eat out often. It is desirable to stick to home cooked food made with hand picked, quality ingredients. In addition to simple sugar, we must eat less quantities of starchy foods like potato, maida, rice and bread.

Sugar from a cola or an ice cream or a chocolate is easily digested and quickly absorbed in the blood stream. This puts a strain on the pancreas to produce a large quantity of insulin. This insulin in turn reduces the sugar in the blood by converting it into fat. Moreover it makes you hungry and you end up eating more food. Regular high sugar consumption literally burns out the pancreas and the end result is diabetes.

Along with diet we must re-adopt the physical activity of our ancestors. We must exercise by going to the gym, walking, cycling, swimming or similar activity. The best results are seen with weight training either in the gym or by using body weight (push ups, dips, squats etc).

In conclusion, sugar is the real problem. Lots of sugar indirectly enters our system through packaged foods. We must make it a habit to read the ingredients before we consume any foodstuff. Our food should come from our own kitchens and not from restaurants, bakeries or factories. Carbohydrates are the new enemy!

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