The changing goan diet and its impact on health

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Rohini Diniz

Traditionally the diet of the Goan Catholics did not include sufficient amounts of vegetables and fruits. Hindus on the other hand included a lot of vegetables particularly local vegetables, fruits and sprouted pulses in their diet. Studies have shown that regular consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, and some of the functional declines associated with ageing.

Nutritionally vegetables and fruits are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals particularly potassium. Fruits in addition contain sugars which contribute to its sweet taste. Fruits and vegetables are also chockfull of plant chemicals known as phytonutrients that have an antioxidant role in the body by providing protection against free radicals which damage cells and also stimulating enzymes that detoxify carcinogens. They also help maintain the acid-base balance of the body and aid the body in eliminating toxins.

Today people are concerned about the health hazards of pesticide residues and other contaminants in fruits and vegetables. It must be remembered that while these are genuine concerns, the nutritional and health benefits of fruits and vegetables cannot be overlooked. Pesticide residues from fruits and vegetables are best removed by soaking them without peeling and cutting in salted water or soda bicarb solution for 10 minutes and then rinsing them thoroughly under running water. Inadequate daily intake of fruits and vegetables could be responsible for the increase in digestive complaints such as constipation and piles among Goans and possibly an increase in the number of people suffering from insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, certain types of cancers and other chronic disease.

One of the major and most noticeable changes in the Goan diet is an increase in the consumption of trans fats. The use of vanaspati instead of pure ghee while making chapattis and other dishes and margarine instead of butter in the preparation of bakery products like cakes, biscuits, cookies, pastries, etc, contributes to the trans fat content of the diet which in turn may be one of the factors responsible for the sharp rise in heart disease among Goans. Increased consumption of deep-fried foods too adds to the trans fat content of the diet as trans fats are produced when oils are repeatedly reheated and reused for deep frying. Trans fatty acids have been found to be more dangerous than the saturated fats because they

Raise the levels of bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. A high LDL cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women.

Appear to damage the cells lining blood vessels, leading to inflammation which plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis.

Can lead to insulin resistance thereby increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and polycystic ovary disorders (PCODS).

Another change that has emerged during the past few years has been a decline in the use of coconut oil in cooking and an increase in the use of refined vegetable oils. Refined vegetable oils are oils that have been purified by the use of chemicals in order to remove the suspended and colloidal particles, toxic substances, free fatty acids, flavour components, colour and odour resulting in a clear and bland oil. The refining process does not alter the fatty acid composition of the oil, but it does modify the composition of the minor components like plant sterols, natural vitamin E compounds, carotenes, etc, all of which have beneficial effects on health. Coconut oil on the other hand is cold pressed from dried coconut kernel and does not undergo any refining thereby retaining all the natural components that are present in the oil.

What makes coconut oil different from other vegetable oils is its unique fatty acid composition. Coconut oil contains short and medium chain saturated fatty acids lauric acid and capric acid. The body uses lauric acid to manufacture monolaurin, a compound that protects the body from infection while capric acid gets converted into monocarpin that has been shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Contrary to what is popularly believed, coconut oil does not contain cholesterol and several research studies have shown that when coconut oil is taken as part of a normal diet there is no linkage with the increased level of cholesterol or the incidence of heart diseases.

To be continued . . .

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 22 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on [email protected])