Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Life Exclusive
Cereal Offenders

Doctors, stunned by the increase in patients with gastro or digestive-system linked cancers, are suggesting the need to do away with sugar—and breakfast cereals

Over the last few years, an amazing and visible change has taken place in India, and that has to do with the easy availability of such processed and manufactured foods as well as the ailments which follow, with digestive and gastro issues taking pole position.  Certainly, low sanitation has one part to play with this, especially the quality of water we drink. But more importantly, it is the rapid change in dietary habits in urban India which is a major change in the reasons behind medical issues, and only one of the areas where it is showing up in huge numbers is cancer.
 
For example—sweetened coloured carbonated soft drinks, were sold and available out of small cottage industries which had not learnt the art of adding more salt so that they could make you crave for another within a short time. And to counter all that salt, they then had to add more sugar. And since sugar was expensive, other chemicals masquerading as sweeteners have now been added. (Readers may be glad to observe that the number of celebrities endorsing soft drinks appears to have come down now, especially after Yuvraj Singh’s unfortunate episode with cancer. (Cancer Colas: Slowly being outcast by the West, Colas exploit India through unaccountable celebrity endorsements)
 
Or take another example—pre-packaged polished rice or refined flour was simply not available. Indian food simply didn’t taste the same with this base for a meal. Besides, everybody knew that the real nutrients as well as value came when you ate it without losing all the good parts. And the end products, bread or biscuit, were mostly made locally—from fresh ingredients sourced locally, too. Not loaded with garbage in the name of add-ons. (How does the wood in your bread, biscuit taste today?)
 
However, within the Indian context, even in the poorest of families, breakfast was the main building block of the day’s meal. Something which had to provide everybody with a reason to go, work, study or whatever. It was healthy, freshly cooked, and it was of prime importance that people knew what went into it.
 
A lot of that appears to have changed in the last decade or so. And one reason for it is the massive push being given to packaged breakfast cereals. Famously, it has been said more than once, including in the US Congress that the boxes they came in provided more nutrition than did the breakfast cereals themselves—and this was never contested or denied by the breakfast cereal industry. But, based heavily on advertising and marketing, the push for space on your table is huge. Simply put, the more they spend for the effort involved in getting breakfast cereals, the less you will get in terms of value.
 
This heavy push to try and change Indian breakfast eating habits does not come cheap, for anybody who knows what the cost of advertising is, or the charges levied for retail display space. After soft drinks, breakfast cereals are now the second highest marketed food products in India, and that is saying something for a category that simply did not exist here a decade ago. In the words of one advertising guru, the brief given was to make it a lifestyle product for children, with the power of pestering their parents. So, free toys, provocative advertising, and somehow connecting breakfast cereals to “family values” and “healthy lifestyles”, all this and more, made sure that you brought cereals home.
 
But what, then, is the link with cancer?
 
Doctors one speaks to are not very sure, but that old villain—excess sugar and salt—raises its head again. And why is there so much of it? Well, sugar provides the ‘bulk’ feeling and salt provides the taste, and the manufacturers have to provide something for the Indian palate—so up goes the sugar and the salt. In effect, when you are eating a bowlful of cereals, especially the so-called high fibre sorts, you are likely ingesting more salt than an equal weight of potato chips.
 
So where is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India on breakfast cereals? As usual, nowhere, other than saying that they adhere to Indian standards. Which, actually, say nothing about the process to be used to make them in the first case, which is where the trouble starts. What sort of corn goes into making corn flakes sold in India, for example?
 
Even the crows don’t touch GM corn anymore...
 
Typically, when you manufacture a breakfast cereal, you are simply running the base grain through high temperatures, using a variety of processes to remove most of the natural nutrients, and then replacing them with artificial additives. This is done to (a) prevent the cereal from going rancid and (b) keeping the cereal crisp. The additives can include the mythical Vitamin D as well as our famous plant fibre, and of late, the new buzzword is Omega-3. The problem is, all these make the whole thing taste unpleasant, at least to children, so add more sugar.
 
Of course, after that you add milk and you guessed right—added more sugar.
 
So does this conclusively prove that breakfast cereals are now an additional possible cause for cancer?
 
The point is this we still don’t know what goes into breakfast cereals sold in India. And like there are people still denying that tobacco causes cancer, there are those who will sing the glories of breakfast cereals, so strong is the cereal lobby.
 
But if you ask the doctors, mostly over-worked and some absolutely stunned by the vast increase across all social and class levels of patients coming in with gastro or digestive system linked cancers, they are increasingly suggesting lifestyle changes need to do away with sugar. And breakfast cereals.
 
Breakfast cereals on their way to becoming serial offenders? It’s your life and it’s your money. Why do you want to spend it on cancer?
 
 With credit to Felicity Lawrence’s books, “Eat Your Heart Out” and “Not on the Label”.
 
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)

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COMMENTS

Dillip

4 years ago

We are in a state of complete blindness about the truth. We don't know what to believe and what not to. We are killed by advertisements and promotions and the tragic part is whom we consider our hero are the guardian of devil's products.

Awdhesh Kumar

5 years ago

Good interesting fact at one place
people should be educated and ofcourse should remember

Tks V M
Keep it up

DrSharmila Rao PN

5 years ago

Good to see the article, it has been an against the current swim, when we try to educate patients, brocholi, olive oil, all these are crap in Indian context,
Maggie, kellogs are not necessary, our traditional foods are good enough.
I am still trying to figure out with 85% water content how can fresh coconut be contributor or imbalanced diet.
Of course sugar is definitely not as healthy as jaggery, or honey
Anyway keep the good work going.
we are being brainwashed into being a robotic consumer society.

REPLY

malq

In Reply to DrSharmila Rao PN 5 years ago

Dr. Sharmila Rao, thank you for writing in, and request you also to guide your patients accordingly.

About 4 years ago, I was given all of 3-6 months more to live, but then met some doctors and others who worked on and improved my lifestyle.

One of the bigger constituents of this was the food we eat. Moved out as much as possible from all forms of soft drinks, packaged food, as well as refined flour, white sugar, polished rice, packaged attas, and substituted spices and herbs for salt.

Seems to work. I'm still around, overweight sure, but off medications totally.

And yes, fresh coconut water whenever spotted or mausambi juice - even with the evening vodka or rum.

Brgds/VM

Rahul

5 years ago

Hi,

Thanks for the wonderful article. Exactly since 1 year i started eating sweet corn and developed lot of digestion issues.
Till I read your article, i thought some issue with my food habits or with my health.
After reading your article, things became pretty clear to me. I will stop eating sweet corn now onwards..

Regards,
Rahul

REPLY

malq

In Reply to Rahul 5 years ago

You are welcome, Rahul, and thank you for writing in.

All the best.

rgds/VM

Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

Cereals and colas are by no means truly home breakfasts, they are unwarranted imports from the West.
Mis-sold by glitzy ad. spree. It is time for FDA to act. They have no nutritional value, full of chemical preservatives. - not to be found in any of our own upma, idli, ragi balls, saraso ki sag, makke ki roti,junka bhakar, aloo parota.

REPLY

malq

In Reply to Nagesh Kini FCA 5 years ago

Nagesh Kini ji, the FSSAI in India are laike a shameless bunch.

People who will try to co-opt or pass answers which don't make sense.

Better to go to try and change things, and shame the bunch of jokers there, with their assorted committees and boards largely stacked with the same purveyors of packaged garbage.

rgds/VM

Narendra Doshi

5 years ago

Dear Veereshji,
Could you please highlight on Kellog's All Bran Wheat Flakes especially for a Diabetic 60 year old person?

REPLY

malq

In Reply to Narendra Doshi 5 years ago

Dear Narendra Joshi ji, thank you for writing in.

1) I would not wish to comment on a particular branded product, but overall markings on packaged, processed and manufactured foods say one thing and contain another.

2) For diabetics, I would suggest fresh ground options - there are a variety of porridge/dallia mix available, wheat, oat, and other grains, which are with bran because it is not sieved out. Likewise, at many of the "chakkees" that are increasingly coming up, a variety of fresh ground "diabetic mix" attas are available - with a mixture of wheat, bajra, jawar, soya, channaa atta and even some roughage, which you can adjust to your personal requirements. In addition, for diabetics, doctors and others would incresingly suggest unpolished "red" rice.

I hope this helps.

rgds/VM

Chandraprabha V

In Reply to malq 4 years ago

Veeresh, thanks for opening my eyes, I won't serve Chocos or Kellogs breakfast cereals to my grand children, thanks very much for opening our eyes

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