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Affluent Indians have aped the lifestyle of the West by taking to the junk food culture. They suffer from mall-nutrition
Shrinking waistlines are a good indicator of our generalised calorie-deficient sub-nutrition (poverty-mediated starvation, in plain English). There are over 47 million children with severe nutritional immune deficiency syndrome (NIDS) in our country.
On the other hand, we have a burgeoning middle class and the rich. Most of them live in the air-conditioned comfort of their homes, oblivious to the abject poverty that defines India.
What worries me about the Indian upper class and the rich is their nutrition. They are out of touch with our traditional ideas and eating habits. They have aped the lifestyle of the West by taking to the junk food eating culture at the food courts in malls. I call this ‘mall-nutrition’. This adds to their comfort as they need not cook anything at home. Such mall-nutrition leads to malnutrition, of the dangerous variety.
There are advertisements which rope in rich sportsmen and film stars to sell the stuff. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his 1954 book Affluent Society, tells us that advertisements were invented not to tell the truth but only to make people buy the stuff even when they do not need it! I wish our advertisers and celebrities knew this. For they are becoming willing accomplices in damaging the health of our future generations.
Eating junk food is one of the easiest ways to overload oneself with salt, as most preserved foods are loaded with salt to enhance their shelf-life. Taste of processed food is also masked by other chemicals. Sugar-laden soft drinks in cans, cartons and bottles are being advertised heavily as if they are the best nutritional aids. Some milk-based drinks are touted as growth promoters! Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each can of soft drinks contains upwards of eight spoons of sugar. ‘Natural fruit juices’, advertised heavily as original fruit pulp laden juices, contain so much sugar equivalent that they are verily dangerous—good enough to start an epidemic of bulging waistlines even in school children.
Sugar, according to a London biochemist, John Yudkin, is a far greater enemy of blood vessels than fat. His book Pure, White and Deadly exposes this. Dutch health expert, Paul van der Velpen, feels that sugary foods and drinks should come with a warning similar those printed on cigarette packets. He said that sugar is the most dangerous drugs of our time: “Just as with smoking labels, soft drinks and sweet products should come with the warning that sugar is addictive and bad for the health.” Sugar is also addictive like smoking and should be avoided and discouraged. While fats and proteins make you feel full, sugar does not. Thus, it is easier to over-consume it.
Mr Velpen also wrote that more and more people are becoming overweight and that soaring healthcare costs come at a time when many governments are trying to reduce public spending on healthcare.
Added preservatives in junk foods and even in baked foods, like monosodium glutamate, are another worry. Most meats are full of antibiotics, making consumers resistant to those drugs when we most need them most. Growth hormone content of meats like chicken is also injurious for humans.
Cooked food, left over a long time, becomes bad and is often dangerous to health. Many junk foods are preserved for long times. Also, cooked meat has been shown to be carcinogenic. Meat-eating animals in nature do not eat cooked meat. If they did, they would not live as long as they do in nature. But this information does not reach out to the mall-eaters. Mall-nutrition also lacks in health giving fresh vegetables and fruits.
Mall-nutrition, in my opinion, is worse than regular malnutrition seen in the poorer segments of the population. In fact, in the latter segment, it is just sub-nutrition of calorie lack. Mall-nutrition is preventable, if we educate the middle class and rich segments of the population about its dangers.
Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.