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The changing Goan diet and its impact on health – II

Rohini Diniz

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 in 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 our 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 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 promote atherosclerosis, which is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Lower levels of good 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 formation of fatty blockages in the blood vessels.

Lead to insulin resistance thereby increasing the risk of developing diabetes.

Another change that has emerged over 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.

The diet of Goan Catholics generally includes a lot of red meats. Red meats are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol. Increased consumption of red meats and not consuming adequate amounts of vegetables, fruits and pulses coupled with sedentary lifestyles and stress, could be one of the reasons for the rise in heart disease and cancers particularly breast cancer and colorectal cancers among Goans.

One striking feature of the traditional Goan Hindu diet is that most families eat pure vegetarian food at least twice or thrice a week. This practice of abstaining from animal foods ensured that a variety of plant foods was eaten which in turn provided the body with the five vital nutrients, fibre, prebiotics, probiotics and phytochemicals that helps keep the body healthy.

Another dietary change that is seen among a number of Goans is the habit of skipping breakfast. Breakfast is the most important yet most neglected meal of the day. Skipping breakfast may be one of reasons why many Goans are becoming overweight and obese or suffering from high blood triglycerides and high blood cholesterol. When one skips breakfast there is a tendency to eat high calorie fried snacks during the midmorning hours to curb hunger or eat more than usual at lunch resulting in the consumption of excess calories. Excess intake of calories coupled with rising sedentary lifestyles leads to deposition of fat in the body and consequent increase in body weight. Research studies have shown that the human body tends to accumulate more fat when a person eats fewer, larger meals than when the same number of calories was consumed in smaller, more frequent meals.

To be continued . ..

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