Wednesday, February 15, 2012: 02:35:36 PM

Food Processing Guest Column

A master food for all - Dr V H Potty, Diversified Food Technologies

Designing processed food that ensure perfect health of the consumer is a major challenge that has confusing answers

Food consumption habits differ from people to people depending on many variable factors and these have evolved over centuries of traditions, societal interactions and the environment where people have been living. Stresses and strains in the modern society have compelled many people to modify their consumption behaviour and adopt foods that are more convenient to make or factory processed foods to save time and focus on their professional career. The busy city lives, opportunities to eat out side home, exciting new products coming to the market and mega promotions by the food industry have all contributed to a slow shift in the emphasis on food from healthiness to convenience and this seems to have made an adverse impact on the health status of the people all over the world. 

 
Advent of diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disorder, high blood pressure, kidney problems, constipation and GI tract ailments are all caused by continued consumption of nutritionally imbalanced foods turned out by the processing industry. Repeated attempts by governments everywhere, impleading the citizens to consume more fruits and vegetables, high fibre foods, low salt products, low sugar foods, low fat items, coarse cereal based products and less consumption of meat, are falling on deaf years with practically no impact on the deteriorating health status of the population in general. It is sad that such a helpless condition of the society is being exploited by a section of the industry by touting special foods and functional foods with claims, not substantiated by scientific proof leading to all pervasive criticism about the real intention of the mainstream industry.
 
A big challenge
 
Imagine the situation in which a consumer finds himself, saddled with any of the diseases cited above with no practical way to get solace and comfort from market products of doubtful benefits. These foods are invariably loaded with too much energy, fat, salt, sugar, refined carbohydrates of high GI values, and undesirable and unsafe chemicals but with practically no fibre, natural micronutrients and unsaturated fats. It is true that consumer gets lot of useful information from the nutrient labels supposed to be truthful but he is lost completely regarding the importance or irrelevance of such information in taking a decision in the market aisles. The MyPlate icon now being popularised advocates that the fruit and vegetable content in a diet must be almost 50% of the volume of food consumed, but how is it possible that a consumer can stick to this advice without spending substantial time in the kitchen? Here is where enlightened industry must come to the aid of consumers who cannot eat most of the commercial food products because of one or the other dietary restrictions.
 
Those requiring specially designed foods cannot take too much sugar, too much salt, too much saturated fats, or too much carbohydrates whereas they need adequate dietary fibre, proteins, natural micronutrients, mono and poly unsaturated fats and low GI food materials besides yearning for high palatability and diversity. Can these requirements be factored into the design of a food product which can be a foundation recipe to build variety into it? It is time such an attempt is made and the product should have the following characteristics: adaptability to use in the preparation of different types of products and beverages from a single formulation, diverse flavours and tastes to avoid monotony, portioning flexibility, good shelf life, optimum nutrition, depression avoiding, sleep inducing, obesity avoiding and the like.
 
The ingredients that can go into such a product include coarse grains, pulses, quinoa, oats, barley, low sodium salt, non-metabolised sweeteners, bran fractions, stabilised mono and poly unsaturated fat sources, dehydrated vegetables and fruits, spices and herbs and nuts, all of which can support life when used in various proportions. Such a master food mix can be converted into various shapes and textures for ready-to-eat or can be converted into various products similar to mainstream items prepared by cooking, steaming, roasting, baking, frying and other means at the kitchen. There are products in the market that contain multiple grains both as grain blends or in powder form for the consumers to use in their day to day preparations but such product formulations need to be refined further in the light of today's technological prowess.
 
Dr V H Potty is a renowned food technologist and the chairman of Diversified Food Technologies (India), Mysore
 

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