Thursday, November 7, 2013

Let your Food be Natural - Trans Fats

Different species of plants and animals have evolved for millions of years on the planet providing mutual sustenance and life to each other. The very waste air we breathe out is fresh air for plants and the oxygen plants breathe out as waste is our breath of life. Plants provide our food too. Such food that comes from life, consumed in its raw form or with natural processing such as drying, fermenting, pickling and cooking may be regarded as natural food.

With advancement of science, over the past few centuries humans have also learned to produce synthetic food and food additives. Such synthetic foods do not occur in nature but may be produced through a combination of elements or by modifying natural foods through chemical or other extreme processes not common in nature.

Basic wisdom would indicate that foods that have been consumed for hundreds and thousands of years are far more likely to be safer and beneficial for life rather than synthetic foods that may have harmful affects over the short or long term. It is human ego, stupidity and greed that has made humans overlook this harm from time to time. Ego comes in when a scientist believes that he has outsmarted nature in creating a food that is superior and greed comes in when a company markets such food for profit with claims that have not been substantiated with long term use. Human stupidity plays a role when a person readily believes modern science food fact as compared to wisdom about a food that has been handed down by civilization for centuries. During the seventies when reports began to appear that eggs are harmful because of cholesterol, this author discarded such reports in favor of the wisdom in the family that an egg a day is good food. Now with time the doctors too appear to have admitted that. The same has been the view of this author with butter, clarified or otherwise. Similarly, this author has never touched margarine in preference to butter even though it is cheaper, simply because it is a trans-fat. There have been times in this author’s life when he was financially hard up but at such times he has preferred to do with out an expensive food rather than go for a cheap synthetic alternative.

One common synthetic food is Trans or hydrogenated fats. It makes food taste yummy but it is not natural. It is produced by a chemical hydrogenation of natural edible oil. For years its harmful affects on human health have been pointed out in various forums but its use has continued. Fortunately the food and drug administration in US has woken up now and initiated steps that will lead to the elimination of this artery clogging food. Undoubtedly this step will in time lead to its ban worldwide.

Sometime back while exploring the possibility of biscuits that may be used as a relief food, this author explored the various biscuits available in India. One brand known popularly as Parle glucose biscuits are produced at affordable rates and it is widely consumed all over India. The company has been providing a great service to the nation by providing a good biscuit at prices affordable by even the poor. However, Examining this biscuit, this author suggested to the company to research if a healthier alternative may also be produced by changing the ingredients slightly - a Parle H biscuit besides the Parle G they already produce. The parle H biscuit could then be utilised for relief operations, school mid-day supplement or just by others who were looking for  healthier albeit somewhat more expensive alternative. One suggestion was the addition of other natural ingredients to broaden the nutritional profile of this biscuit and the other was the replacement of synthetic ingredients such as Trans fats by natural ones. The concerned company has not bothered to acknowledge. However, eventually if Trans fats are banned this company would have to begin making the required modifications. That older post is here

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Vincent said...

Your points here are very well made, Ashok. The value of trans-fats in biscuits and other food products is in their hardness. there is a well-known alternative in palm oil, which comes direct from the fruit of the oil palm tree. This article illustrates the effect of reducing or banning of trans-fats.

The effect of increasing demand for palm oil is the destruction of remaining jungle in South-east Asia, replacing it by managed plantations.

My younger daughter, who is half Malaysian, used to be very fond of orang-utans, especially after we visited a famous sanctuary in Sabah where orphaned baby orang-utans are nurtured after their parents have been slaughtered to protect the crops of palm oil fruit. So I learned about the cruelty involved in these commercial operations.

For this reason and in this case I am glad that much of the world's population doesn't mind using trans-fats. It eases the pressure on the jungle and its wild populations Those of us who wish to eat more natural food (and I share your own feelings in this matter) are fortunately free to make an informed choice. But we are the privileged ones.

ashok said...

Thanks for the very useful reference Vincent. Surprisingly palm oil and canola are some of the cheapest edible oils in India still. Ohter more popular oils such as sesame, groundnut and mustard are more expensive and widely used in cooking here.

I think there is no getting away from the phasing out of trans fats with time but I am certain the food industry is inventive enough to make up for any loss of taste and hardness with other food additives. My hope is that these latter would be natural ones.

ashok said...

As regards the jungles problem somewhere long ago perhaps in this blog I had recommended that instead of mono palm oil plantations a mixed one must be imposed by regulation so that at least every fifth tree is a natural original one or if planted it is of a different species.It would increase the cost of the product but save the bio-diversity partially. In some ways the developed world has been a bit selfish in this regard, because having developed earlier and having cleared their jungles and wild grass lands before, they expect now the developing parts to maintain the tree cover on the planet by not reducing jungles of south east Asia and Amazon etc. As you know I am all for more trees but the world has to work on this together as they have to on carbon emissions.