( By Dr. Krishna Murari Modi )

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1-Value of Diet

Both the energy value of food and the energy spent in daily activity are measured by calories or units of heat. Diets for gaining or losing weight are based on the amount of calories taken into the body in food and the amount of calories used up in activity. If people take in more calories than they use up, they gain weight. Special diets are prescribed for person suffering from certain diseases. For example, the healthy body needs sugar but a person with diabetes must not use sugar. Doctors many prescribe a low-salt diet for patients with certain heart or kidney diseases. Some persons suffer allergic or skin reactions from certain food products such as milk, tomatoes, strawberries, wheat potatoes, eggs, fish, nuts, chocolates or pork. Certain groups of people including younger children and older people have special dietary needs. A balanced diet contains all the food elements needs to keep a person healthy. One needs proteins to build tissues and fats and carbohydrates to provide energy and heat. Minerals and vitamins are needed for growth and to maintain tissues and regulate body functions. A diet that lacks any needed food element may cause deficiency diseases. Lack of Vitamin A causes night blindness and lack of Vitamin C leads to scurvy.


A cardiologist from Chicago stressed that, after the age of 40, everyone has to succumb to one disease or another. It may be diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis or asthma. He agreed they are preventible with the help of diet, but in his day-to-day practice he saw nobody wants to forego the pleasure sensations they get on their 9,000 taste buds most of them located on the tip of the tongue by taking food prepared by untiring hands, ingenious inventive minds with best expensive ingredients of the world. No doubt the cook books are best sellers in the world.

There is a prayer in the Veda: "I should live for 100 years. Not only live but my mind should be alert, my eyes should behold, my ear should keep hearing, I should not lose my bodily strength and vigour and should not be dependent on others of my day-to-day routine work". A Professor of Medicine frankly believed that doctors can hardly cure a disease, except control a few acute ones.

In diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, allergy, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, cancer, Aids, there is no such thing as cure. We can control them with drugs, but for how long? The brunt of the side effects of these drugs after prolonged use will fall on the body. To prevent diseases and bring them under control, to cut drugs to the minimum, diet is the only means. Charak, an ancient Ayurvedic physician say : "The life of all living things is food; complexion, clarity, voice, growth, strength and intelligence are all established in food".

He further says that even light and easily digestible food should not be taken in excess of bodily requirement or after the appetite has been satisfied. Food difficult to digest should not be taken every day. When taken it should not exceed the fraction of a full meal. HE adds that if a person takes a suitable diet and practices self control, he lives a full span of 100 years or 36,000 nights without illness. Ayurveda believed more in prevention of disease and prolonging life rather than in cure.

Yogis are equally concerned about food. Patanjali who initiated yoga a few hundred years before Christ has his concern also about food. Yogis has said that food should be wholesome and should not be eaten only to gratify senses. They divided food as 1. sattavic which gave longevity, health and happiness 2. Rajasic which gave excitement , and 3. Tamsic which gave disease. They prescribed sattavic food to the students of yoga. They believed that character and temperament are influenced by food. They advised taking pounded rice, cooked in milk, and butter added to it.

Mahabharata recounts the story of Swetketu who lived on fluids for 15 days and lost his power of thinking. He regained it as soon as he came back to solid food. His power of speech was reduced when he went off fats in his diet. This revealed to him that the body is a product of food. Speech depends on fat and energy on fluids. Yogis further say that only water can quench thirst. Real thirst chooses you are emotionally disturbed.

As students in the medical college we were eating in the dining hall. Suddenly we saw the principal entering the hall to check the quality of food supplied by the canteen contractor. All students stood up. The Principal, Dr. C.B. Singh, was very much annoyed and he told us food is to be revered and one should never show disrespect to it in any way.

Three things are important in the maintenance of health - diet, exercise and relaxion. Diet is the most important. We become addicted to whether food we take. The food we has since childhood seems most desirable. When we are ill and forced to change the diet we may do so far a few days but return to our old food habits in no time. We become addicted to a particular food just as we become addicted to smoking and drinking. To change the pattern of diet of a life time needs a lot of effort and metal strength.

I see in my daily practice how difficult it is for patients to change their diet. A common utterance heard from the patients is that "if we canít eat then what is the fun in living". Gandhiji stressed "one should eat to live and not live to eat". But who every day and donít hesistate to indulge in different food when you are invited for a social function, but again help yourself in moderation. Food should be good to look at and it should have nice flavour. Digestion starts as soon as the eyes see the food and the smell reaches the nostrils, then saliva is secreted.

We should make food simple but must use our imagination to make it at the same time inviting and appetising. It is better to inculcate healthy habits in our children. As soon as you know that a particular food is affecting your health, be prepared to change it. A stitch in time can save nine. You will need a strong mind and a will to do it. Diet is a field where desired amount of research has not been done. Everything now-a-days has gone into the hands of commerce. Big pharmaceutical companies do research and invent new medicines every day. They market them and make big profits. But who will profit form research on food habits?

With the arrival of incurable diseases like cancer and Aids, our concern to prevent them is more sincere. Recently a lot of studies have been made among different population of the world. Where diseases are more prevalent, starling facts regarding diet have become a matter of common concern. With prosperity, food habits change. In the beginning of the century, American diet consisted 50% calories from carbohydrates, 30% calories from proteins and 20% calories from fats.

With affluence, national dairies are churning out a lot of butter, cheese and milk. The amount of fat in an average American has reached an astounding figure of upto 44% calories. Food has come to mean a few glasses of milk shakes and big chunk of beef steak. High amount of cholesterol in American diet has led to an alarming increase in heart disease and strokes. When food is taken in excess to the body needs for energy, growth and repair, it gets deposited in parts of the body as fat. This fat is called lipoproteins: low density (LDL) Intermediate density (IDL) and high density (HDL). The high density lipoproteins are good for the heart.

The level generally recommended for prevention of heart diseases and cancer is not to exceed 30% of total calorie intake from fat, according not have such a problem yet but with increasing affluence and rise of tension it may not take long. Recently a vegetarian fried came from the US to pay me a visit. He was happy that he had no problems regarding food. Quite a few Americans are turning to vegetarianism and many salad parlours have opened up. They are getting more conscious of health and eating a lot of greens and vegetables. Thomas Sydenham wrote two centuries ago that " A man is as old as his arteries." Nothing has changed since then.

Saturated fat primarily is of animal origin and is found in ghee, butter, egg and meat. It circulates along with the blood and gets deposited in the wall of blood to travel through freely. This narrowing is called atherosclerosis which is responsible for heart diseases and high blood pressure. There is another type of fat called unsaturated fat (found in many but not all vegetable oils). It has not been proved to be dangerous. In other words, cook with sunflower or soyabean oil, instead of lard or ghee, you will be less susceptible to atherosclerosis. If you tend to take a lot of unsaturated fat as the Japanese do, the blood will become thinner and the bleeding time will tend to increase. It would be pertinent to mention that the Japanese have a low incidence of heart disease but a high incidence of strokes (cerebrovascular) diseases.

The great danger is that many people assume that unsaturated fat consumption is healthy. It is not. A recent Norwegian study on likely way of reducing heart diseases came to the conclusion that the best way to minimise the risk is to cut down on all fats saturated or unsaturated. The average level of cholesterol in American adult male is per 100cc and in rural Japan it is 160 per 100 cc. Heart disease are more in U.S.A. than in Japan.Cholesterol content of commonly used foods.

Items Amount Cholesterol mg. Items Amount Cholesterol mg.
Skim Milk 8 oz. 4 Lobster 1 oz 24
Whole Milk 8 oz. 14 Oysters 1 oz 13
Ice cream 1/2 oz. 27 Crab 1 oz 29
Heavy Cream 1 tbsp 32 Lamb 1 oz 27
Butter 1 t-sp 11 Poultry light 1 oz 22
Mayonnaise 1 tbsp 12 Poultry dark 1 oz 27
Cheese 1 oz 19 Kidney 1 oz 228
Egg yolk 1 oz 252 Liver 1 oz 166
Egg white 1 oz 0 Heart 1 oz 78
Fruits 8 oz 0 Brain 1 oz 756
Vegetables 8 oz 0 Tuna 1 oz 18
Cereals 4 oz 0 Salmon pink 1 oz 10
Beef 1 oz 26 Fish 1 oz 29
Veal 1 oz 28 Shrimp 1 oz 43
Pork 1 oz 25      

Calculation by K. Smith and L. Snetseaiaar by Nutritional coding center, Minneapolis Minn, U.S.A.

It is better to keep the cholesterol level to less than 180 per 100cc. Higher level of cholesterol carries more risk of coronary disease. To reduce the cholesterol level in blood, dieting is the only method. This can be done easily by reducing body weight. As the body weight comes down blood cholesterol level also comes down. The level of fat in the diet should be reduced. It should be brought down to 30% calories (8% saturated fat) and ideally to 20% calories (5% saturated fat) will mean avoiding all friend food are primarily from animal origin as ghee, butter, meat and egg are known to be associated with the deposition of cholesterol is high. Strict vegetarian diet contain less cholesterol. For non-vegetarians mixed diet is ideal.

Alcohol is a high calorie food. It also increases cholesterol and triglycerides in the food. It is recommended to stop or restrict to minimum level. Increase fibre in your diet, it has good effect in bringing down cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. By judicious dieting cholesterol can be brought down by 15%. A further 10% can be brought down by restricting fats in the diet. It has been estimated that if above restrictions are observed, reduction by two fold in the risk of heart diseases is possible.

Controversy about baby food was estimated to 4 billion dollars. High pressure publicity in the media makes believe that baby food is good and even better then breast milk. Figure conscious ladies switch on to baby food from breast milk. After a hue and cry by the medical men and scientists some restrictions have been put on such advertising and an effort has been made to tell people that breast milk is better than baby food. It is compulsory to write on every tin of baby food that breast milk is superior to baby food. It has been proved beyond doubt in reputed India and International medical journals that breast milk is the best. Breast fed children have fewer allergies and illnesses. They have more immunity. The antibodies from the motherís blood are transferred to babies through breast milk.

Ayurveda stresses the importance of breast milk. "Kasyap Samhita" glorifies pure breast milk on which the baby thrive and by which both mother and baby remain happy. Breast feeding is the medium for transferring affection to the baby, it has been found that breast-fed in the first six months of life have upto 10 times more risk of dying.

An American nutritionist, Dr. John Yudkins advises against "good things of life". If a person consumes 110 grams of sugar per day, he has 5 times more risk of a heart attack than a person consuming only 60 gms. He advises to cut down on sweets and alcohol to bring down tryglycerides and cholesterol in blood.

Soviet and American scientists have come together to advise that the more you cut down your daily sugar intake the healthier the heart and body will be. Sugar which makes our life sweeter, infact makes it bitter and compels us to fall ill and live on borrowed time. Eminent Soviet cardiologist Dr. N.G. Khaltayevr, disputes the popular belief that sugar is harmful to the heart, only if it increases body weight. "It is wrong to think that you can take any amount of sugar if you are not fat," he warns.

We love our sweets. No auspicious occasion is complete without sweets. Every good meal ends with sweets. Tea must have 2 or 3 spoon of sugar in a cup. Have we ever have calculated how much sugar we consume every day? Sugar is carbohydrate full of calories devoid of vitamin, mineral and fibbers. Whatever sugar we eat should be burnt up to produce energy, and if they conít they will produce health problems. Recently a survey was conducted by World Health Organisation (WHO). They selected 10 countries which consume more sugar and 10 countries which consume less sugar. They found that countries which consume least sugar have least heart problems. Excess sugar puts extra load on pancreas to secrete more insulin and when it conít do so we get diabetes.

Sugar raises cholesterol level in the blood which is the main cause for high blood pressure and diseases. It is easier to give up sugar than smoking and alcohol. Recent studies in the U.S.S.R., in the Institute of Preventive Cardiology, has connected refined sugar to serious problems like gout and arthritis. Sugar raises the level of uric acid in blood.

Eat poor manís food and avoid rich manís diseases
Dr. John Higginson, senior fellow at the Institute of health policy analysis, U.S.A. called for avoiding rich foods at a meeting in New Delhi. Dr. Higginson claimed that a large group of cancer common in North America, Europe and Japan had been linked to general diet. He said it was suspected that cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum and breast, relatively rare in most parts of Africa and India, were connected with the amount of fat in the diet.

Dietary Fat
A comprehensive study made by National Cancer Institute, U.S.A. (NCI)estimated that 35% of all cancers, particularly in the United States, can be associated with dietary incluences. The main factor increasing colon cancer risk was too much dietary fat and too little dietary fibre.

Most Americans get 40 percent of their total calories intake from fat. The level generally recommended for prevention of cancer and heart diseases is 30% or less of calories from fat. NCI recommends dietary guidelines that include cutting fat consumption by eating low fat diary products, fish and lean meat and increasing intake of fibre as in fresh fruits and vegetables containing Vit. A, Vit. C. and Beta-carotene found in green and yellow vegetables and converted to Vit. A in Digestive tract.

Fibre in diet increases the bulk of stool and speech of transit. Transit time is the length of time food takes to pass through the body. In western diet it may take 48 to 72 hours. Among the poor and tribals eating unrefined food this takes a short six hours. While officers in British navy and their wives had stool which ranged in weight from 38 to 223gms. (two table spoon to a cup in volume). British vegetarians like vegetarians from Uganda and India has stool weighting from 178 to 980 gms, the average being four times that of naval officers. Bulky stool dilute carcinogens present in stool and rapid transit reduces time of action for the carcinogens on the gut wall. Thus fibre in diet help us in prevention against cancer.

Exposure of meat to high temperature as in charcoal and microwave oven help in the formation of a compound with more carcinogenic risk. Nitrates used in the preservation of meat are carcinogenic in the stomach and oesophagus. Vit. C inhibits their effect. Increased use of Vit C may account in part for the decrease in the incidence of gastric carcinoma observed in recent years. Large amount of nitrates in certain vegetables, overfertizied, are carcinogenic to some extent. Better to fertilize the fields with organic matter and use minimum insecticides to prevent this problem. Aflatoxin has been linked strongly to hepato cellular carcinoma in Africa and Asia. Aflatoxin is found in peanuts and grains stored under moist conditions.

There is lot of fadism regarding diet. Big industries promoting different food products. They claim them to be wholistic and will give you energy and vitality, make you more attractive and reverse the process of disease. How far they true? They invent every day indigenous methods to defraud the masses.

The food industry is concerned with gratifying the taste buds and making profits than looking after their customerís health. Fast food joint are opening up in major towns in India. They provide pizzas, hamburger, ice creams and milk shakes. These are high calorie foods loaded with lots of fat and sugar and lacking in fibres. These are junk foods.

Cancer can be brought down with right diet. Vit. C, Vit. A, carotene are protective against cancer. So are cabbage cauliflower which have a chemical in them called indole which acts against the cancer in the bowel. The fibre plays a great role. It protects us against many diseases from constipation to heart diseases and cancer. There are two main groups of fibre rich food. Cereal food made from whole grains, whole wheat flour, brown rice, bran based biscuits and crackers. The other type is found in indigestible cellulose - the roughage of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and their skin, potatoes, green leaves, spinach, cabbage and cauliflower are important for our diet. You can take peas, beans, lentils. They contain proteins and fibre.

The fibre from cereals in an inferior fibre source. The fibre in fruits, vegetables and pulses are softer type and superior. Wheat fibre has no effect on the cholesterol level. The viscous type fibre present in fruits and vegetables in large doses produce a major reduction in cholesterol. Artificial sweeteners, saccharin and cyclamates, are associated with cancer of bladder. Cooking practices like too much frying or too much browning of onions and masala may release hydrocarbons or other carcinogens in food although no epidemiological observations are available.

Colon and rectal cancer is more common in developed countries. Its incidence is high in north America, New Zealand, Europe and low in South America, Africa and Asia. The United Stated has the highest rate of colonic cancer in the world. There is a high risk among the city folk than the rural population. Diet is an important factor. There is low incidence of appendicitis, adenoids (tonsilitis), diverticulosis, ulcerative collitis, and colorectal cancer in South Africa, Bantu area, where the diet contains more fibre and less animal fat.

There is direct association between fat and animal protein intake in the western diet and the rising incidence of colonic cancer. In Japan, the intake of fat (mostly unsaturated) provide only 12% of total calorie intake. In the United States the fat intake represents 40-44% of the total calories intake.

Carcinoma of Stomach
The consumption of barbecued meat, smoked pickled fish and alcohol and deficiency of magnesium and Vit A are related to gastric cancer. The increased intake for Vit. C and refrigeration has been postulated to be responsible for decrease in gastric cancer.

Diet and Peptic Ulcer
Milk stimulates acid secretion. Taking milk between meals and bed time is not healthy. Wheat husk contains pentosans which are found to be beneficial. So it is always useful to take whole wheat bread and avoid maida, bread, pastries and maida sweets. The right kind of carbohydrates are the single most important element in the diet, they can be the cheapest kind of food, most nourishing and least fattening. Most common sources of carbohydrates are bread and rice.

Bread has been used since pre-Biblical days. Grinding grains of wheat between stones to produce the gritty powder called flour, people have later mixed it with yeast, salt and water to make dough. The dough is kept to ferment. the risen mass is baked in the oven to form bread.

Wheat has three components, bran wheat germ and endosperm. If you want to get real benefit from bread you must eat all of the three components in the same proportion as God has provided. Some 80 years ago man found that if bran and germ are removed from the flour they can produce white flour which can be kept for years. It could be stored and sold at higher prices. Since then we have been using flour (maida) to make the bread.

Bran and wheat germ contain all life sustaining vitamins and minerals and they are as follows: Pyridoxine, riboflavine, potassium, linolic acid, protein, pantothenic acid, iron, phosphorus, manganese, copper, sulphur, iodine, flourine, chlorine, sodium, silicon, boron, inositral, folic acid and vitamin E... So white flour becomes poorer in life sustaining properties. The name of "enriched" bread was not heard till world war II. It started in the U.S. with Generals and Admirals who insisted on enriching the bread and flour out of fear that their soldiers would not be able to stand up to the wholewheat eating Germans and Japanese. Enriching consists of adding few cheap synthetic vitamin to wheat flour.

If someone pulled out 32 of your healthy teeth and gave you back 8 false ones in return would you consider your mouth to be enriched? Same is true about rice. Polishing of rice started almost at a later date but for the same reason. If you strip off rice from bran, it looks clean and whiter. It can be stored for years unspoiled by germs. Bran is one of the richest sources of vitamin B-Complex. Its deficiency in food causes Beri Beri. Patients suffer from lack of concentration, poor memory, anaemia and even phychosis and senility.

Dr. Takaki, a naval doctor, studied Beri Beri which was a common occurrence in the Navy. This was a common condition after a long voyage and half the crew used to be affected by it. Dr. Takaki after detailed investigation concluded that it was dietary disease and occured due to polished rice and lack of protein. On a sea voyage of 9 months he added whole wheat bread and increased the allowance of 9 months he added whole wheat bread and increased the allowance of milk. He found only 9 cases of Beri Beri out of 300 crew whereas earlier their number was 169.

Later on, it was proved that there is substance in the pericap of rice, which is water solube and protected from a disease similar to Beri Beri. Eijkman, the discoverer won the Nobel prize. Beri Beri can thus be prevented and cured. The husk of rice and bran of wheat not only protect us from Beri beri but also from cancer and other diseases. The fibre food needs more chewing and it is bulkier and so more filling and less fattening than low fibre food.

Scurvy is common among the urban poor especially the elderly people whose diet lacks citrus fruits, leafy vegetables and tomatoes. Deficiency occurs due to food fadism and bizarre nutritional practices. Pressure cooking is convenient and a quick method of modern cooking. Sadly it is not that healthy, it takes away all vitamin C from the food due to high temperature. Scurvy develops in the first year of childhood when cowís milk is not supplemented by citrus fruits juice and vegetables.

In scurvy the common complaint is general malaise, lethargy, weakness, dysnoea and pain in the bones and joints. Swelling and bleeding gums are common. In children disturbance of growth occurs. Wounds heal poorly. The story of scurvy is long. In the 15th century a lot of European adventures went on long sea voyages. In 1457, Vasco-da-Gama, from Portugal sailed round the Cape of Good Hope to reach Calicut in South India. Scurvy broke out, killing 100 out of his 160 crew members. Scurvy as a determing factor for the success of sea voyage for another 300 years. James Lind, a Scottish Naval surgeon, in 1747, showed the good effect of lemon and oranges on scurvy. Later on, the British army started supplying oranges, lemon and vegetables to their crew. Vitamin C could cure scurvy. Today we know a little more that vitamin C is also anti cancer. More fruits and vegetables in your diet dilute the carcinogenic effect and help to move your bowels more efficiently.

The use of vitamin C for the treatment or prevention of common colds has aroused great interest. Available evidence indicates that its use does not reduce the number of episodes of respiratory illness but does decreases the total number of days of disability.

Sun bathing is healthy and stimulates better bony growth in children. the man cause of rickets is lack of sunshine, fresh air and exercise. Sunbathing not only helps in better growth of bones but also in allergy and promotes relaxation.

Nicotinic acid deficiency causes pellagra. In survey carried out among 128 causes of pellagra admitted to Udaipur mental hospital it was found that they were mainly eaters of maize. It occured due to lack of a water soluble substance Nicotinic acid. Which is found in most grains, except maize and jowar.

It is advisable not to take jowar or maize chapati all the year round. Alternate them with wheat, bajra,gram or soya mixed with wheat chapaties. It is better not to stick to the same pulses. Keep on changing them, arhar, gram,masur, urad,moong etc. to make meals more interesting and avoiding deficiency diseases.

We may conclude that the simple food is better. As we get richer and the diet tends to become inferior. Rich countries suffer from more cases of high blood pressure, heart diseases, cancer and diabetes. Move from rich to poor country, the food improves, move from urban to rural area the food is healthier. Our ancestors were healthier because they used to take unrefined food. Why not we make an about-turn in all our food matters, and go back to the old ways and habits. The body is the abode for jivastama (self). If it has to perish due to lack of food, the self will leave the body as a tenant and go else where, who knows?