Why is there a sudden shift of focus to ‘Food, Diet and Nutrition’ ?

In recent years, the world has seen a drastic shift of importance to the ‘healthy life’. Everyone wants to live a healthy and balanced life. Maintaining a certain lifestyle starts with we consume for our mental and physical growth. It is important to understand about Food, Diet and Nutrition and its effects, if we desire certain outcomes. For that, we need to understand what each of these terms means. 

Food is any substance that humans, animals or plants consume in order to sustain life and maintain growth. Food provides nutrition to an individual. The sources of food for humans are generally from plants and animals. The main components of food that we consume are, Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, Vitamins, Micronutrient and Minerals. 

Food is cooked to make it both palatable and easy to absorb. Obviously, culinary arts are very important and contribute to the taste of the food as well as in making the food interesting and picturesque. 

There are five tastes recognised by modern medicine, namely,

-Sweet, 

-Sour, 

-Salty, 

-Bitter and 

-Umami (Japanese). 

Ayurveda describes six tastes. They are: 

-Madhur (sweet), 

-Amla (sour), 

-Lavana (salt), 

-Tikta (bitter), 

-Katu (pungent) and 

-Kashaya (astringent). 

“Diet” is defined as the food and drinks that is provided and consumed by one. It is meant to provide habitual nourishment. This term ‘diet’ has different meanings and sentiments for each individual. There are various factors which influence ones chosen diet. The various types of diets popularly heard of are, Vegetarian diet, Non-vegetarian diet, Paleo diet, Keto diet, Low-crab Diet etc. The diet culture evolves and changes with time, with new reigning trends taking over the older ones.

Nutrition is not just providing or obtaining food for the purpose of health and growth but, it is also the process involving ingestion or taking in food, digestion and absorption of food. Absorption and assimilation of useful elements is followed by metabolism. Assimilation of the absorbed elements leads to the nourishment and growth of the body. Based on their nutritional value of consumed foods, diets are either termed as ‘balanced’ or ‘deficient’. Severely deficient diets, for a longer duration of time causes malnutrition. Whereas, a well balanced diet bestows health.

Food is not only health promotive but is also described as medicine or containing medicinal properties. For example, The bitter taste of coffee can prevent an asthmatic attack and the sweet taste gives energy and satiety. According to Ayurveda, humans are broadly divided in to three classes based on their constitutional mental makeup,

-Satwic, 

-Rajasic and 

-Tamasic. 

All of these three have different choices regarding diets and tastes. Satwics tend to prefer sweet and nourishing foods. Rajasics prefer hot, salty and sour foods which may cause ill health. Tamasic diet includes unpalatable, stale items or foods that lowers energy levels. There are certain rules related to the method of preparation and consumption of food in these 3 diets. 

Up until recent times, the role of large intestine in the process of digestion was not well understood. Digestion of food in the large intestine is mainly dependent on its micro flora or gut micro biome. Modern scientific research on micro flora has revolutionized the understanding of the structure and function of gut microbiome with reference to digestive, neuro immune and biological processes in the gut, creating a paradigm shift in the understanding of host micro biome symbiosis.

The relation of Diet and gut microbiome: Different types of diets are believed to be associated with colonies of different types of genera of microbes in gut flora. Thus, food borne microbes colonize the gut. These include bacteria, fungi and even viruses. Long term dietary habits influence the structure or composition of colonies, as well as the activity of trillions of gut microflora. 

For example, A non-vegetarian diet promotes bile tolerant microbes, viz., Alistipes, Bacteroides etc. It enhances the expression of genes that biosynthesise vitamins, carcinogenic compounds & beta lactamase genes. An animal origin diet and western diets with high protein, fat and sugar content show a predominant presence of Bilophila wadworthins. They also alter the genetic composition and metabolic profile of gut microbiome leading to genesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)  and metabolic syndromes such as, obesity, cardio vascular diseases as well cancer.

Gut microbial metabolic products are known to cause many pathological conditions including several heart diseases. For example, The gut bacterial metabolic by product Trimethyline N-Oxide (TMAO) is now considered as a marker for myocardial infarction (heart attack). Recent research on autism has shown its association with Sutterella wadworthens present in the gut. 

Fermicutes are more prevalent in the gut of those consuming a vegetarian diet. Examples include, Roseburia, Eubacterium, Ruminococcus bromi, etc. These microbes metabolize indigestible plant poly saccharides. 

Dysbiosis is the state of imbalance that disturbs the homeostasis of normal gut microbiota composition leading to a large number of diseases. Malnutrition also promotes disease producing rogue bacteria

The current pandemic has brought back the olden traditions of washing hands and feet before consuming foods. One must sit at ease, preferably in a pleasant environment with peace in his mind. Food must be consumed in moderate and measured quantities. 

Today’s diets are bringing out older practices with new names without paying homage to them. The new age dieting culture has essentially brought back to light some of the practices that were originally prescribed by Acharya Charaka. They are: 

  1. Hitashee syat I – Consume foods that are wholesome. This diet should be balanced in calories and nutrients. Green or coloured vegetables and fruits should form a part of daily diet.
  2. Matrashee syat I – Eat in a measured quantity. 
  3. Jeerne ashneeyat l – Eat only after the previously consumed food is fully digested.  

This brings to our knowledge that, excessive calorie intake with less expenditure of energy, due to sedentary life styles leads to metabolic syndromes such as, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Whenever the food intake is deficient both in quality and quantity it causes malnutrition leading to wasting disorders. 

Acharya Vagbhata advises for good health promotion and disease free life the following.

Lastly, it is important to have a regular daily intake of wholesome foods and follow a balanced life style. Contemplation on objects, disinterest in enjoying the objects of the senses, generous, judicious, truthful, forgiving and ever ready to serve the learned and elderly makes a human disease free and healthy, physically and mentally. 

 

Credits : Dr. H.S Palep & Bhairavi Palep 

Posted in Ayurvedic, General well being.