Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Green Food and Health

Clean air, sunshine, clean water and appropriate food are central to health of all life. Knowledge about food is essential knowledge for any human. It is surprising that in our world there are many persons, especially the young, who know more about sports and films than the basics of what constitutes good and healthy food. The first thing to know about food is that healthy food is not expensive. Much of it is derived from grass and other vegetation that grows in abundance on our planet, in spite of a burgeoning human population that exceeds seven billion. Milk and meat is produced by grass eating animals and we as humans consume the seeds of grass as wheat, corn, rice etc. let us just briefly list the types of food a human requires:

Carbohydrates: These are a primary requirement to mitigate human hunger. Wheat is a primary source for it supported by other food grains such as rice, corn etc. Wheat has excellent storage capacity and it can be consumed in a variety of ways such as numerous kinds of leavened and unleavened bread, noodles, spaghetti, biscuits, semolina etc. If bread is central to food and if it is prepared at home, food costs come down drastically and food becomes inexpensive. At the present time there is sufficient amount of wheat on our planet to feed all humans as well as domestic animals besides. More food goes waste on our planet due to apathy and carelessness than the food required by all humans who go to bed on a hungry stomach. A substitute for food grain carbohydrates are certain root crops such as potatoes but these do not store as well as food grains.

Proteins: Food grains can provide a limited amount of protein to the human body. However, good health requires supplementing this with protein from other foods. The best such are eggs and milk or milk products. Whereas milk appears to be the best protein source for most growing children, cheese or yoghurt is better for grown-ups. Fish is another fine source of good protein. Unfortunately, due to a heavy human population on the planet and the pollution caused by indiscriminate consumption, water bodies have become polluted. This pollution has been picked up by fish. It no longer remains as healthy a food as it used to be historically. Vegetable proteins are a cheaper source of protein and foods such as beans may not cause flatulence if precautions to eliminate that are taken. Moong bean is the least flatulence causing of all beans. The washed split variety of this bean is easily digested by children provided the starch is reduced by pre-soaking and during cooking. It can easily be sprouted at home in order to increase its nutritional content several fold.

Fats: After the human need for carbohydrates and proteins has been met the next item of food has to be fats. The best of fats available on our planet are butter and certain tree oils such as olive oil. Both are relatively expensive and a variety of other vegetable oils may be used to substitute for this requirement. Oils and fats are an essential ingredient of cooked human food adding taste and nutrition. There is a need to increase plantations of oil yielding trees such as olives and oil palms on the planet. At the present time there has been much opposition from environmentalists to expanding palm oil plantations of South-East Asia. This opposition would reduce if a law is imposed in these countries to disperse uniformly around twenty percent other native trees uniformly throughout such plantations to maintain bio-diversity. Tree oils and tree foods tend to be healthier than other agricultural produce because trees are not replanted every year to deplete soil of essential nutrients. Their roots go wider and deeper inside the ground.

Fruits, Vegetables and Greens: A certain amount of raw vegetable foods or fruits are required to keep the human digestive tract populated with live enzymes. Drinks containing live yeast and yoghurt help in the same direction. Salads do the same job. The trouble with salads is that incase they are contaminated with bacteria such as e-coli and Salmonella etc. they would make a human sick rather than healthy. It is also dangerous to have salads when one eats out especially in developing countries where adequate standards of hygiene may not be maintained in farms and restaurants.

Green Leaves

Central to the vegetable requirements of a human body is the leafy green ones. In fact it seems that a human who consumes just a few of the leafy vegetables such as spinach would be healthier than another who consumes a large variety of other vegetables and fruits but does not consume leafy green vegetables. The King of the leafy green vegetables is Spinach. Recent studies have indicated that there is more to the pop-eye myth than has been previously believed and it is not just because of the iron content of spinach. Baby spinach leaves can be consumed raw in salads but in view of what has been said earlier about bacterial contamination of salads, it is best to consume it cooked unless one is absolutely sure of the source. The best is if it is home grown for the purpose. Some persons have also expressed fear about the oxalic acid content of spinach. However oxalates are a naturally occurring compound in a variety of foods and human bodies and only appear to harm already compromised humans in a manner similar to sugar harming a diabetic or cholesterol harming a lipid compromised human. The average human need not worry about oxalates in spinach. Those who do can easily dunk spinach in boiling water for a minute and drain to reduce oxalates. The good thing about spinach is that it grows well even in saline conditions (see an older post on that). Wider use of this food in a dehydrated form mixed with wheat flour will help utilize scantily planted saline areas on earth and go a long way in meeting human nutritional needs.

A real worry about spinach and other vegetables is the indiscriminate use of pesticides. It is a good idea to soak spinach leaves for at least half an hour in a bucket or large pail of fresh water and drain to reduce these. Washed and similarly treated spinach leaves can be dried and stored in jars for use throughout the year. It may be added to dals, soups and bread to improve their nutritional content.

There are a number of other leafy greens that are perhaps not consumed as much as they should in human food. Some of these are goose foot weed (Bathua), Malabar Spinach (Poi) and Drumstick leaves. The leafy green foods mentioned here grow far more easily than celery, lettuce or cabbage that is currently more popular amongst humans. These latter can be dried too and consumed as and when needed. It may be repeated that a human who consumes leafy green vegetables daily need not consume any other vegetable in order to remain healthy.

Food Imbalance and Obesity:  The tragedy of our world is that whereas many persons are suffering from shortage of food there are others who are over eating and suffering from obesity. Whereas an underweight or normal person needs a healthy balance of all the four groups of foods mentioned above the obese must drastically cut down on two of them – carbohydrates and fats. However, they need to continue consuming foods from the other two groups – proteins with fruits, vegetables and greens in order to maintain good health.

Disaster Relief: From time to time various kinds of disasters take place on our planet and it becomes necessary to provide relief immediately to the affected population. This relief includes clean drinking water and food. A promising food in such circumstances are relief biscuits that can help mitigate hunger of humans including children for a few days until better arrangements can be made. Here is a simple recipe for a relief biscuit that a large scale biscuit manufacturer may wish to try as a part of their corporate social responsibility agenda. Just replace five percent of the wheat flour with dried spinach leaf powder and 2.5 percent of the flour with milk powder. Use both sugar and salt in the seasonings for such biscuits meant for relief purposes. More detailed descriptions of such biscuits can be found here

An excellent use of such fortified biscuits aside from disaster relief is to provide them as school supplements at midday along with a glass of milk in developing countries where adequate facilities are usually not available for providing safe cooked food.


ashok said...

A friend commented through email that a mention of nuts in the article would be great. Most certainly that is a great food providing proteins, carbohydrates and even fats all at the same time while they store well too. Tree nuts are the best. Coconut, Walnuts etc. are great even peanuts. There is full older post on almonds. However they are expensive and overeating them which one tends to do because they are so delicious can be harmful

Bakramandi said...

I really like salad leaves and other green foods that make me healthy.