By Dr.Harold Gunatillake

(Talk delivered at the Women’s International Club, Guilford Crescent, on 20th Feb. 2003- modified for the web)
Ladies, thank you very much for inviting me here today for this post-luncheon talk, on a very important topic, to be delivered after such a sumptuous meal.

Long time ago the common food related diseases, our ancestors suffered were pellagra, rickets, malnutrition, scurvy, beri- beri, and a few others, due to the dearth of availability, and knowledge of nutritious foods. Today we suffer from high tech malnutrition, and diseases that kill us younger, possibly due to over indulging in the modern fast foods. Why is it that diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and degenerative diseases like arthritis, increasing almost to epidemic levels in most affluent countries, and the same trend is happening at our own door step here, too? Something is wrong with our life styles, and something should be done soon before the entrepreneurs open more private commercial hospitals to look after the sick at costly prices for the rich and average people.

On the other hand the drug industries are applying pressure on us to take more drugs to remain healthy for longevity. A very good example is the ‘statins’ to control your blood cholesterol, costing over fifty rupees a tablet to take daily for the rest of your life, as recommended by the doctors, when a food parcel costs much less.

We are supposed to eat more carbohydrates than proteins and fats. This is well emphasized in the famous Food guide pyramid created for us by the US Department of Agriculture, first published in 1992. Obviously, the Americans ate the recommended carbs too much causing epidemics of obesity, without realizing that any excess carbs would be converted to saturated fats.

Carbohydrates, as a class, are the most abundant organic compounds found in nature. Though the humans cannot manufacture them, the green plants and bacteria produce them using the process known as photosynthesis, in which carbon dioxide is taken from the air by means of solar energy to yield carbohydrates.

We classify carbs as monosaccharides the simplest sugar as in glucose, the disaccharides containing cane sugar, lactose, and maltose. The polysaccharides have enormous molecules made up of one type or several types of monosaccaride units, such as starch, cellulose, and rice, pastas, bread, vegetables, potatoes, are all included in this group. The complex carbs containing high fibre are strongly recommended for daily consumption.

Let me now talk to you about ‘Glycaemic Index”.
Some carbohydrates like sugars and glucose are absorbed into the bloodstream almost as fast as you eat them. This is what happens with your favourite chocolates, cakes, sweets, and many others cooked adding sugar. These foods have high ‘glycaemic index’ (GI). Rapidly absorbed sugars increases your blood sugar level tremendously. Some sugars like fructose in fruits, lactose in milk and sucrose(white table sugar) have little effect on blood glucose level when taken in small amounts or as part of a mixed food, for example in custard, yoghurt or a muffin.

To bring the blood glucose level down to normality, the pancreas has to be quick functionally, and send out a hormone called ‘insulin’ to ferry the glucose to the liver and other tissues. Pancreas has no thermostatic control mechanism, and most times send out uncontrolled quantums of insulin into your bloodstream, with demands, resulting in sometimes lowering the normal blood sugar levels. This, we refer to as a ‘hypoglycaemic syndrome. This is why you sometimes feel hungry and perspire immediately after a meal. So the solution is avoid eating fast foods containing sugars. Rice, potatoes and white bread are also classified as having high GI.

Those that are classified as moderate GI are absorbed through the gut at a moderate level, whilst the complex carbs that are classified as low GI are absorbed very slowly. These complex carbs containing high fibre needs to be broken down in the gut by enzymes and the glucose produced is absorbed very slowly. The pancreas can handle this situation by sending slow streams of insulin causing no catastrophes. There may come a time when the insulin becoming less sensitive and less active, when high GI foods are eaten frequently, so that would be the beginning of early diabetes. So, confirmed diabetics too should eat carbs with low GI, to keep the blood glucose level within normal.

Let me now mention a few foods that we consume daily that have high and low GI.
High GI(fast acting) ones are cornflakes, Weetbix, CocoPops, Sultana Bran, Sunbrown rice and Semolina, whilst slow acting low GI cereal foods are – Basmathi Rice, instant noodles, spaghetti, vermicelli noodles, Pasta
All vegetables have a low GI. They are Asparagus, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, brocolli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, choko, cucumber, raddish, pumpkins, silver beet, onions, peas, olives, to name a few.

In the said US. Pyramid the importance of eating vegetables in abundance is not emphasized as the major portion of carbohydrates. As a rough guide 1/3rd of your plate should have carbohydrates like rice, noodles, etc. and ½ the plate as vegetables, and a ¼ as meat, fish, or alternatives. Today, we know that vegetarians live longer than those who eat more animal meat. Further it is emphasized that at least one-third of all the veggies you eat should be raw, as cooking and processing can destroy essential micronutrients. Vegetables are an easy and obvious choice to enjoy raw.

Dr Joseph Marcola in one of his articles states that vegetable juicing should be an essential part of your nutritional plan, which is enjoyable and an easy way to consume your raw vegetables on a daily basis. You need to invest in a juicer for this daily routine.
It is stressed that you should buy organic vegetables for eating raw and juicing. If no organic vegetables are available, carefully wash your foods to remove remains of pesticides and other chemicals.
Dangers of Over-Cooking your Food

Recently a report by Leif Busk, head of the Research and Development Department of the Swedish National Food Administration showed that overcooking of some baked and fried starchy foods causes acrylamide to be formed in these cooked foods. Acrylamide is cancer causing in animals.

Not only is acryl amide formed in some starchy food but also meat cooked at high temperatures has many as 20 compounds known as heterocyclic amines.
It is believed that food must be over-cooked to facilitate easy digestion in the gut, and also to avoid bacterial infection. We now find that overcooked food, meat, poultry, or fish at high temperatures for long periods of time can also be dangerous to your health.

It is also observed that the more food is cooked, the more difficult to digest and metabolise.
There are many ways to cook food. Our ancestors did not cook food beyond the boiling point of water (100 C). Such boiled, steamed or stewed food, are easily digested and metabolized, as the gut enzymes have been conditioned through ages to handle such cooked food. Today we have gone further and the food we daily eat are cooked in ovens, microwave ovens, in our modern pantries, and the temperatures are much higher in the cooking process. Microwave ovens expose food at 200 degrees C, and the baking ovens the temperature may be as high as 400 degrees C. There are many other problems with micro waving food. The highest temperature that foods are exposed to is broiling and barbecuing which can be 400 degrees C. Frying with a pan or wok normally uses high surface temperatures.

Higher temperatures are used in Pasteurized milk, chocolates, Margarine, Sugar manufactory, White flour and regular salt. Forget not the sweet meats, Bombay sweets, traditional oil fried sweet eats we enjoy at functions, and festivities. In this sense, ‘wataluppams’ which we enjoy at Muslim functions, is bad news. Oven baked food in our wayside mushroom Pastry shops in most suburbs and main roadsides have to be taken notice of seriously.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis how volunteers digested bread that had been cooked to varying degrees: The slightly cooked bread went through the stomach rapidly and caused no problems in digestion. But the longer the bread was cooked, the longer it stayed in the stomach.

Francis Pottenger, quoted in an article on Dangers of overcooking your food, 29/5/02, by Nancy Appleton MD, states that every food has a heat labile point. The heat labile point is the temperature point at which food changes its chemical configuration. All foods are made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen in different chemical configurations with minerals added.

The article further states- “that we have come from early man eating foods in certain chemical configurations. We have the digestive enzymes to digest foods with those chemical configurations. When food is heated past the heat-labile point, its chemical configuration changes”.

Pasteurizing, deep-frying and barbecuing, are methods of cooking past the heat labile point. The body does not understand these new configurations and does not have the enzymes to digest the food easily.
The article states,” when the food does not digest properly, it can sit in the gut, unable to be assimilated completely and it starts to become toxic. The carbohydrates start to ferment, the proteins begin to putrefy and the fats become rancid. These toxins irritate the lining of the gut mucosa”.

Such changes in the ecology within the gut poisons the normal friendly bacteria, causing overgrowth of candida and other pathogens. The irritation of the gut causes the inner lining cells to enlarge. When this happens, the putrefied, undigested or partially digested foods slip into the blood stream, called the leaky gut syndrome.

When they get into the blood stream these toxins become free radicals, and the liver becomes overloaded with them. These free radicals could be responsible for food allergies, causing runny eyes, scratchy throat, itchy ears, sinusitis and sneezing. They can cause headaches, anger, fatigue and perspiration, and in the joints- arthritis, and on the skin they can cause skin irritations and acne.

Luckily the immune system comes into action and clears these toxins.
What this implies is cook food within the heat labile point or else eat them raw.
Eat as few over-processed and over cooked foods as possible.

Safety of Chips, Fries
It has been recently published and brought to light by FDA that popular brands of potato chips and French fries contain variable levels of a possible cancer-causing substance.

FDA researchers tested numerous brands of commercially available packaged and fast foods, according to an article written by Jeanie Davis and reviewed by Michael Smith MD, in WebMD Medical News, for the presence of acrylamide, a chemical known to cause cancer in animals at high doses. However, there are doubts whether acrylamide in such lower doses found in human foods will cause cancer.

Further report says that Acrylamide may be formed when foods high in carbohydrates-sugars and starches- are fried or baked. Earlier this year, Swedish scientists reported that acrylamide forms when a naturally occurring amino acid in foods is heated with certain sugars such as glucose.

Cooking Oils
Today our housewives are confused to find out the most suitable cooking oil, when there are so many on store shelves. Many years ago our house wives had one choice. That was coconut oil, used over and over again, until the used oil became rancid. Then, in the 1950’s a Minnesota researcher pointed out that saturated fats caused heart disease. So, the vested interests and the commercial interests of the U.S.domestic fats and oils industry were successful in driving down usage of coconut oil, though it was noted that coconut oil containing medium chained fatty acids, did not raise the bad cholesterol in blood.

Then the polyunsaturated vegetable oils became popular and we were told that they were good for heart health as it reduced the bad cholesterol in the blood. The unsaturated oils available in our supermarkets are Corn oils, Canola oils, Olive oils, Vegetable oils, Sesame oils, Peanut oils, Soya Oils, and coconut oils. So, what are we going to choose?

Despite ubiquitous concern about fat and cholesterol, fats still play an important role in good health and fine cooking. First, they provide the means for transporting the fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) where they contribute to healthy bones, nerves, and skin. Butter is a saturated animal fat from butter fat. It has cholesterol and when eaten will increase the bad cholesterol in the blood. Still a little butter used as cooking oil infrequently will not affect cholesterol levels. Many housewives also use margarine as cooking oil for many years. We were told being made of poly unsaturated fats from vegetable seeds will not increase the cholesterol level in blood. Margarine is made from hydrogenated fats or trans fats. These man made fats are more saturated than saturated natural fats, which was not revealed by the vested interests for many years. Margarine is unhealthier to use as cooking oil than butter.