Health Farming: 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 can’t 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 don’t 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.

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