Functional Foods & Holistic Health

Let food be thy medicine
and not medicine be thy food.

                         - Hippocrates

Announcements of 'Ayurveda: Food & Nutrition' Conference at Pittsburgh in May 2016, Symposium on 'Functional Foods in Health and Disease' at Gwalior in October 2015 and the book 'The Ultra Mind Solution by Mark Hyman' brought my attention to the food which we usually take for granted. Increasing incidence in non-communicable diseases or lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases, obesity etc, raising healthcare costs and health consciousness among people are leading to the development and launching of functional foods and nutraceutical foods for better health and well being. Functional foods from plants, animals and microbes being rich in health promoting ingredients help in disease prevention and promotion of positive health in addition to basic nutrition. Spirulina is a unicellular blue green, filamentous alga with number of bioactive ingredients being extensively cultivated in artificial ponds has been designated by WHO as best food for future and NASA called it super food. Spirulina's positive biological activities, antitoxic, antioxidant, probiotic and haeomopoetic activities are responsible for its healing properties in anaemia etc. Spirulina capsules and tables are marketed. Carrot rich in carotene and presence of bioactive compounds (phenolics, terpenoids, alkaloids), is used in value added food products. Blueberry fruit native to North America rich in antioxidants is consumed in variety of ways. The term "Nutraceutical" was coined from nutrition & pharmaceutical. Established nutraceuticals are probiotic yogurt, prebiotic dietary fibre, omega 3 fatty acid, antioxidants etc. Most of these can be obtained from carrots, fruits, green vegetables, tomatoes, flax seed, soya bean & other beans and legumes. Arachidonic acid abundant in brain, muscle and liver is essential for normal functioning of brain and liver as per National Institutes of Health and is shown beneficial in patients with autism. WHO and FAO of United Nations defined probiotics as the live microorganisms, which when administered as dietary supplements in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. They are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut and are called friendly and good bacteria.  Evidence is mounting that an early and intimate interaction between gut microbes and host defense mechanisms are key to the maintenance of a balance between tolerance of innocent exposures and ability to mount an inflammatory response. Prebiotics are non digestible and non-absorbable food ingredients (oligosaccharides, dietary fibre etc) form symbiotic with probiotics which are available in foods such as yogurt, milk, some cheeses, soy beverages, bananas, garlic and onions.
            Importance of healthy diet and lifestyle is being emphasized in management of lifestyle diseases. It is of interest to know how a balanced diet is defined in ancient Ayurveda and modern science. To westerners, a balanced diet is one which contains carbohydrates, proteins and fats in certain proportion (4:1:1) supplying essential amino acids and fatty acids along with optimal concentrations of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. In Ayurveda, a more holistic six tastes concept has been proposed for balanced diet. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Any meal that contains food items from all these six tastes will be a balanced meal which needs study and understanding. Sweet foods provide needed energy, Sour foods stimulate digestion and anabolic, Salty food containing sodium chloride and variety of minerals for taste. Bitter foods include many active phytochemicals with medicinal properties, Pungent foods stimulate digestive fire and catabolic, Astringent foods tonify and dries out the tissues. (   
In vedic philosophy, based on energetic quality, foods are classified as sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. Further, regularity in eating and mindful eating (with mind on eating and truly tasting the meal) and consumption of local and seasonal fresh fruits are advised for optimal digestion and health.
            Food processing with thousands of chemicals has brought ‘Climatic change’ like effect in human health causing rise in lifestyle diseases like obesity, cancer etc. CDC’s ( National Report on Human exposure finds 3500 chemicals can be added to our food. On an average 148 chemicals were detected in our bodies. Recent report finds umbilical cord blood having 287 toxic chemicals, 217 of which are toxic to the brains and nervous system (UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman). Highly processed foods, canned and preserved foods are considered tamasic foods dulling the body and mind, cause sleepiness lethargy and slow poisoning of the body. It is not surprising that ‘Farm Fresh’, organic and ‘local produced’, ‘Farm to Table’ foods are attracting the attention of the public. Whatever it is, ‘Count down’ has started for processed foods.
We are made of the stuff we eat, says Mark Hyman (The UltraMind solution by Mark Hyman, MD). Food is the fastest – acting and most powerful medicine you can take to change your life. Genes dynamically respond to information or instructions that come from your diet, lifestyle and environment. Science of nutrigenomics allows us to personalize medicine – not everyone with the same problem needs the same prescription for optimal health.
               March  15, 2016                                                                        Prof. B.C. Harinath