Are We Exporting Health and Importing Diseases?

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Today we see that many nations are developing progressively in all facets of life as more and more technologies emerge from all over the world.

We, the Asians, have a tendency to believe that anything imported from the West is the best. With increasing disposable income for the middle-class in developing countries, it has been relatively easier, especially for the American fast food giants, to ‘invade’ our nations thanks to their gigantic marketing machines. The result? Imports have climbed, especially of processed and junk foodstuffs, whose consumption is making people unhealthy, overweight, diabetic and even heart patients. In return, Eastern countries are exporting to the West the best they have to offer like fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals etc.

A report presented by Olivier De Schutter, UN food adviser, reveals the following:

Diseases in the West

Obesity (increased body weight because of excessive accumulation of fat) is considered to be one of the leading diseases in the West. In the early 1960s, an average American adult male used to be 168 pounds while today, he weighs nearly 180 pounds. Over the same period of time, the average female adult weight climbed from 143 pounds to more than 155 pounds. Wake Forest University researcher, Gregory L. Burke, MD, and colleagues conducted a research that said 30% to 40% of white people were obese. More than 50% African-American women were also found to be overweight.

The West has the world’s highest diabetes rate. Records from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that two-thirds of adult men and women in the US diagnosed with diabetes have a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or more, which is categorised as overweight and unhealthy.

Diabetic and obese people also have an increased prevalence of heart diseases, and thus fall victim to a heart attack, congestive heart failure, sudden cardiac death, angina, and abnormal heart rhythm more often than those who maintain a healthy body mass index.

Popularity of Westernised edibles in the Middle East and the other Asian countries

The influx of Western-oriented television programmes and advertising in Asia and its exposure to Western-style dietary habits is bringing a revolutionary change in the lifestyles of millions of people. Lee Linthicum, (head of global food research at Euro monitor) says: “Packaged food is slowly eating away fresh food across the Middle East. People have been eating fresh and unprocessed food in the region for years. Now there’s a shift from unprocessed to processed.”

BBC reported that the demand for processed food is rising considerably in the Middle East. Even one of the world’s richest countries like Qatar is not spared. The gas-rich nation was recently named as the most obese nation of the world. Some of the Asian countries including India and China are also welcoming processed food and consider it as part of the solution to address the issue of growing need for food. Duty on food imports are diminishing, particularly in north-east Asia, and Western companies are launching operations in Asia by taking advantage of lower production costs and bypassing remaining local import barriers.

truth about processed foods
Infographic - Liu Chang/

Investments of Multinationals on processed foods to target Asian countries

Recently, the top multinational food makers have increased their stakes in the Australian and New Zealand food production chains with a motive to expand in Asia. A news report said the International Flavours and Fragrances (IFF) plans to invest more than $100 million to introduce new flavours of packaged foods in Asia.

And when it comes to the Middle East in particular, more than 350 exhibitors out of a total of 3,800 companies contributed in the world’s biggest annual food and beverage trade show conducted at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre in February which concentrated on food processing and packaging, and included global giants such as Al Bayader, Al Thika, IPS, Ishida, Multivac, SIG Combibloc Obeikan, Rieckerman, and Rondo.

Effects on Health

Foodstuffs are packed using special packaging techniques for storing and keeping them in a good condition for a long time. Packaging of food mean processing and preserving it from contamination including germs and dust. Another important purpose of packaging food is to reduce food wastage. Today, when one visits a grocery shop, he prefers to spend on an average of more than half the budget on packaged foods.

The BTA and BHA are two antioxidants that are added to dodge unwanted fermentation of food. The research is still going on to prove that BTA and BHA are cancer-causing, so it is advisable to avoid food with these additives. Some of the dangers posed by processed foods include body ache, allergies and rashes on skin, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhoea, constipation, etc. In the long run it can lead to heart diseases, diabetes and obesity as children prefer more junk and processed food.

The World Health Organisation underlined the following point in its report about child obesity:

Use of Microwaves

Over 90% of Americans prefer using microwave ovens for preparing their meals. If compared to the conventional ovens, microwave ovens are very convenient and energy saving. It is used in almost all the restaurants and homes. However, people do not consider the negative effects of microwaved food on their health.

In Dr Lita Lee’s book, Health Effects of Microwave Radiation – Microwave Ovens, she said that every microwave oven produces electro-magnetic radiation which harms food and converts substances cooked in it to dangerous organ-toxic and cancer-causing products.

“It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of one or two things still safe to eat.” ~ Robert Fuoss

fresh food
Fresh vegetables laid out in bowls and on trays to pick out from to cook for lunch in Dalian, Yunnan province, China. Photo - Conor and Kellee Brennan

Solutions to save ourselves from long-term diseases:

1. Avoid high sugar processed food and cereals. Frozen Pizza, wafers, french fries, ice-creams, processed and cold breakfast cereals etc. raise sugar levels in blood. An excess amount of sugar in the bloodstream enhances the chances of obesity and increases the risk of diabetes. So, avoiding processed food that spikes blood-sugar will be helpful in targeting diabetes.

2. Avoid products that contain nitrates and nitrites, sulfites, sulphur dioxide, benzoic acid, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), Colouring, coal tar, propylene glycol, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and refined or bleached flour.

3. Increase use of fresh vegetables and fruits in daily meals. Vegetables are carbohydrates that contain, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and other healthy nutritions. Cabbage, capsicum, and other green leafy vegetables are helpful in reducing blood-sugar levels in diabetic patients. Fresh fruits should be used instead of fruit juices, because fruits contain natural nutritions whereas fruit juices are loaded with sugar.

4. Avoid food with longer shelf life. Processed food enhances the beauty of the shelf but causes major harm to our bodies.

5. Add disease fighting products in meals. Increase the use of garlic, aloe-vera and vitamin E supplements to your diet. These are vital ingredients in the bid to protect our bodies from the harmful effects of eating refined and processed foods.

6. Prepare meals at home. Reduce the intake of fast foods, and foods cooked in microwaves. Cook healthy and nutritious food at home. This calls for a bit of spending more time in the kitchen but will definitely save your family from several long-term diseases.

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