Story of THE FOOD WE CONSUME (1/3)

Human body needs three basic ingredients to survive: oxygen, water and food. We can survive only about three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Clearly food is essential for our existence and it is crucial to understand how food can make or break our body. This blog is inspired from my learning through a recent course on “Food and Health” from Stanford University.

In the past century, there have been numerous researches to comprehend, decode and re-create the food we eat. This primarily started in western society during the times of World War when shortage of food became a global issue. There was a socio-cultural shift where women, who were usually the caretaker of food needs of family, started working to run the family as men were out for war. This gave birth to an industry of processed food where mothers need not to invest time and energy in cooking the food at home.

Overtime the convenience food meant fewer meals to be cooked at home and more leisure time for people to relax. Thus, people get to eat tasty food instantly without having the need to prepare it. This was contrary to the traditional approach, which required a lot of physical activities to grow, procure, process, serve and then consume food. This led to emergence of obesity as chronic disease with well-defined health consequences and medical recommendations. In second half of twentieth century, attention was focused on reducing saturated fat and total fat in diet. And processed food industry responded promptly to these demands. One of ways to reduce fat was by adding significantly more sugar like corn syrup to almost everything we eat. This not only made food taste better but also increased their shelf-life. And the sudden increase in our intake of simple sugar fueled modern epidemic of Obesity and Diabetes.

Over the years, scientific studies break down the food we eat into various nutrients which they say are essential for different body functions; and medical advancements started diagnosing our bloodstreams for innumerable “check-ups” to point out which vitamin and mineral was in excess or deficit. Soon people started showing symptoms of new-age diseases which never existed before. This further created a demand to manufacture food supplements which would serve specific nutritional requirements and the way was paved for packaged food industry.

And here we are today looking at the ingredient list of each pack from the shelf of grocery store, ensuring to consume the right nutrition for our health. Whether it’s a pack of potato chips, carbonated cold drink, lip-smacking cheese or your favorite dessert, we feel it has been carefully prepared (formulated) for our consumption using the best of technology. One of the biggest drawback in the approach of modern science I always feel is that it tries to breakdown to the lowest single entity or component out of the whole, based on current scientific records. What it ignores is the fact that nothing in this universe works in isolation. Similarly, any food we intake as whole acts as a system in itself and if we break it down trying to extract one or two components, we are breaking down the system. Thus, the iron our body extract from eating an apple would not be the same when we pop-up an iron supplement pill.

To delight the taste buds of ever growing population, the food processing industry is launching new products each day neglecting the side effects of synthetic ingredients on the health of its consumers. These food products are usually high in sodium(salt), fat and sugar to maintain appealing taste. Regular excessive consumption of such products damages the homeostasis of our body leading to diseases categorized under lifestyle disorders like obesity, type II diabetes, blood pressure, etc. At the same time, ignorant consumers don’t seem to question what they are feeding their own body each day and fall prey to such diseases.

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