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Spicy breezes from the strategic Isle of the Indian Ocean



By B. Nimal Veerasingham

Rev. Reginald Heber, while writing in his Journal of a voyage to India in 1823, took great length in capturing a moment of pure tranquility, infused with an aromatic phenomenon, in phrasing the lyrics from the famous hymn, From the Greenland’s Icy mountain. The famous quotation, “What though the spicy breezes – Blow soft over Ceylon’s Isle; though every prospect pleases – And only man is vile”, appears and comes alive in the lyrics of the same hymn. He was penning his experience to illustrate that ‘though we were now too far off Ceylon to catch the odors of the land, yet it is, we are assured, perfectly true that such odors are perceptible to a very considerable distance … and from Ceylon, at thirty or forty miles, under certain circumstances, a yet more agreeable scent is inhaled’.

Spices have dominated our landscape and our lives from times immemorial and continue to dominate our geographical and geological position in the world. The two most daring sea voyages that changed the world are related to finding spices in lands that were yet to be (re)discovered. On one of those voyages Christopher Columbus in 1492 failed to find India but did land in the Americas. The second was the one Vasco da Gama in 1497 made; he reached India and returned laden with a cargo of pepper. Thus, two of the most significant voyages of world history were triggered by the Europeans’ desire for spices, especially pepper, at the time.

What started as the entry of European merchants and navies to conquer the waves of the Indian Ocean in search of spices, also dealt a death blow to local maritime commerce and placed the almost 34 littoral States of the Indian Ocean at the mercy of Europeans. Although the use of spices predated the times of Egyptian Pharaohs; it gained notoriety with the advent of sea routes in the age of expansion and through the profound appetite for its variety of uses by the European consumers. The Indian Ocean and spice trade became synonymous in the eyes of Europeans with the ability to obtain aromatic treasures. The vast majority of the desired spices grew in the diverse agro-climatic regions of the Indian Ocean’s territorial states. Out of the 109 spices recognized by the International Standardization Organization, these states are home to at least 80 of them.

The trade was often followed by the flag, especially when referring to the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. These empires had the advantage of not only as being seasoned seafarers, but had sizable fleets to transport and dominate the sea.

When I was in Lisbon, years ago, out of curiosity, I engaged a well-informed guide to find answers to some questions. I asked him how it had been possible that Portugal, one of the least populated countries in Europe (approximately with about 10 million), could venture out into the seas so far while daring their lives unto the unknown. He smiled and pointed to his hairline of slightly yellow, faded and brittle strands and said that it told the story of his ancestors. “This is what, exposure to salty sea water does to your DNA” he said. With outright exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, they were good fishermen. However, once they were able to cross greater distances for fishing, they became adventurers who sought out to look for more than just fish. Navigating around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa opened up their world to the greater wealth of the Indian Ocean – the spices.

But before the times of conquering the seas and the colonial ambitions of Europeans, spices were reaching their shores via the ‘spice route’, also known as the ‘maritime silk route’. This network of almost 15,000 km of sea and land routes from the East to the West via the Mediterranean towards Europe. The Republic of Venice made exorbitant profits in the Middle Ages by exercising its naval power to have a monopoly in supplying spices arriving from the East for distribution in Europe.

Sri Lanka’s role in the spice route has become clearer through recent archeaological findings. During the 1st millennium, the ancient port of ‘Mantai’ situated on the North-Western coast of Sri Lanka, near Mannar, was ideally located to act as a trade and transport hub between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The Sealinks Archeaological Project and excavations of 2009-2010 in Mantai yielded extensive archaeobotanical remains, including clove discovered which, dating back to AD 900-1100. The spice, which is native to Maluku Islands in Indonesia, is around 7,000 km away from Mantai by sea. It is unlikely that merchants from Sri Lanka ever visited Indonesia; trade may have spread across the Bay of Bengal from Southeast Asian ports. Mantai entered its main phase of occupation in AD 650 and continued to flourish into the second millennium AD.

Historians are still trying to ascertain what impact spices had on Sri Lanka (Ceylon) during the times of colonialism.


The Portuguese stayed for almost 150 years, followed by Dutch for another 140 years, and English for another 130 years. That’s a long period of time, to sit as kings of spices (nearly 400 years) in this country we call home. That time span is nearly equivalent to that of the Roman Empire, which changed the course of human civilization.

During this long period of stay, the colonialists knew the importance of securing the sea routes to maintain dominance of the spice trade, notably in black pepper, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Later added to the list was, timber, pearls, tusks, precious stones, coffee, tea and rubber.

In order to dominate the waves, they built massive forts overlooking the Indian Ocean all around the country. This grand endeavour and bold undertaking would have taken long periods of time, and we know that the Dutch completed, or modified, much of what the Portuguese had started.

The Batticaloa Fort is one of these majestic structures with moats and watch towers, complete with cannon; they still house government offices including the District Secretariat. While we were growing up not far from the fort, our father took us on family walks along Lake Road towards the fort on full moon nights. The clear reflection of a bright moon was dazzling on the waters of the Batticaloa lagoon on one side and the colonial bungalows and salty patches of open dry land stood on the other. My father told stories from the past while seated on the granite benches overlooking the fort. He would point out the man-made cavity or dugout that runs parallel to Pioneer Road and continues on to Bar Road, till it reaches the entrance of the sand bar that separated the Batticaloa lagoon from the Indian Ocean. It is a highly visible straight ditch, at least 30 – 50 feet in width and about 2-3 kilometers in length. According to my father, it was a tunnel dug out for emergency escapes from the fort’s land direction without getting spotted until one could reach the safety of the Indian Ocean. This now collapsed tunnel could be used for surprise attacks on the enemy as well since the sand bar prevents direct access of boats or ships to the fort from the ocean.

The eminent botanist and naturalist late S.V.O. Somanader of Batticaloa, who was feted by the Government of Sri Lanka by releasing of a postage stamp in his honour, has written about the construction of the fort.





In a letter to UK naturalist magazine Country Life in its August 6th, 1943 edition, he mentioned that the construction had been initiated by the Portuguese in 1627, only to be rebuilt by the Dutch 55 years later. He also mentioned that thousands upon thousands of eggs and pots of wild bee honey was collected from the population of the surrounding areas of Batticaloa, to be mixed with the mortar to ensure that the masonry work was impregnable.

We are approaching almost three fouth of a century since the Europeans left our shores, only to be replaced by Regional Asian powers, all around us, both inland and surrounding Indian Ocean. They are not interested in the spice traffic in the Indian Ocean anymore, but the entire commerce, including the energy products that move between East, West, Americas, Africa and the Middle East, to ensure their superiority, prosperity and future.

‘MT New Diamond’, which caught fire, last September, about 38 nautical miles off Eastern Sri Lanka, was carrying nearly two million barrels of crude oil from Kuwait to the Indian Port city of Paradip. It was not only a close environmental disaster; it revealed that nearly 500 vessels were plying around the Southern tip of Sri Lanka daily. As the most southerly point between Middle East and East Asia, Sri Lanka is strategically located between the choke points of Red Sea/Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca. This defined area sees the movement of nearly 40 percent of the world’s maritime oil, and half of world’s seaborne trade. Given the thirst for energy and commerce among East Asia’s rising economies and commerce, these Indian Ocean sea lanes are crucial. These routes may be of greater importance than those of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

It is true that India, China and US are competing to influence the smaller countries of the Indian Ocean Rim by doling out money for development and military gadgets for security. As famous oceanographer Alfred Mahan said, “Whoever controls Indian Ocean dominates Asia – the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters”.

Sri Lanka, being strategically located, has to do more than signing mortgage papers. It can enlist the support of legal bigwigs and other experts who are familiar with ‘Mare liberum’ or international laws pertaining to territorial waters and exclusive maritime economic zones. Sri Lanka should sit at the head of any table pertaining to disputes of the Indian Ocean. Additionally, Sri Lanka should help the Indian Ocean Rim countries draft new regulations pertaining to environmental issues and the safety of sea line communications. It should solicit to have a UN affiliated headquarters built in Sri Lanka, not only to work closely with the International Court of Arbitration to resolve disputes, but also to encourage and evaluate the blue economy of member states, and coordinate between regional organizations such as ASEAN, EAS, ARF and SAARC. The blue economy is greater than a country’s ‘coastal economy’ as it includes activities related to fisheries, boat and ship making, ship repairing and breaking, ports and shipping, marine biotechnology, marine construction, deep sea mining, tourism, marine renewable energy, insurance, finance and disaster management. A funding model has to be agreed upon and managed by this mechanism.

As Somanader referenced 77 years ago, we should not be limiting ourselves to providing eggs and honey for the construction of forts thereby ensuring someone’s prosperity – and not ours.



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Sat Mag

Health benefits of veganism



That a vegan diet helps in reducing, and even removing diabetes and heart disease, is fairly well known. While generally higher in carbs, vegan diets are up to 2.4 times more effective at improving blood sugar management in people with diabetes. Vegan diets are also more effective at reducing total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to omnivorous diets

But what effect does it have on other problems of the human body.

In a study done by C. M. Clinton et al. in 2015, 40 people with osteoarthritis followed either a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet, or their regular omnivorous diet for six weeks. The vegan group reported greater improvements in symptoms, energy levels, vitality, and physical functioning, compared to the regular diet group.

Since I have had rheumatoid arthritis for the last 20 years, I was particularly interested in this study done by R. Peltonen et al printed in the British Journal of Rheumatology, 1997. This study took 43 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants consumed either a raw, vegan diet rich in lactobacilli, or their habitual omnivorous diet for one month. Participants in the vegan group also experienced significant improvements in disease symptoms, such as swollen and tender joints, much less pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness, than those continuing with their existing diet. A return to their omnivorous diet, after the study was over, again aggravated their symptoms.

A raw vegan diet is actually the answer to almost everything. But it is the most difficult thing to do. When I binge on rice and curries over several weeks, I give myself two days of just “green juice”- a mixture of whatever green vegetables/leaves we have in the kitchen, a few neem and coriander leaves, ginger, tomato, haldi, celery, beetroot, and a fruit, four times a day. This brings me back to good health immediately and makes me lose weight! In fact, every study done, on the effects of a vegan diet on weight loss, shows it to be far more effective than any other diet. I tried a vegan diet during the Covid lockdown and lost 11 kg in three months – without feeling hungry at all. In fact, now I eat only once a day and my feeling of fullness could be due to the higher intake of dietary fibre which can help people feel full. But it could also be because studies show that a vegan meal reduces the hunger hormone, ghrelin, less than a meat-containing meal, in healthy participants.

What effect does a vegan diet have on the brain? Scientists Medawar, Huhn, Villringer and Witte, reviewed 32 studies done on the effects of plant-based diets on cognition, and printed the results in Translational Psychiatry.

This is what they write, “We found robust evidence for beneficial effects of plant-based diets versus conventional diets on weight status, energy metabolism and systemic inflammation in healthy participants, obese and type-2 diabetes patients. Considering neurological or psychiatric diseases and brain functions, the systematic review yielded in six clinical trials of diverse clinical groups, i.e. migraine, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Here, mild to moderate improvement, e.g. measured by antibody levels, symptom improvement or pain frequency, was reported in five out of six studies, sometimes accompanied by weight loss”

The most important thing they found was that the body’s inflammation was much less in plant-based eaters. “The reason could be due to the abundance of anti-inflammatory molecules in plants and/or their avoidance of pro inflammatory animal-derived molecules.” This is important because inflammation leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of dementia.

A study by Song et al. estimated that statistically replacing 3% of animal protein, especially from red meat or eggs, with plant protein would significantly improve mortality rates. “This beneficial effect might however not be explained by the protein source itself, but possibly by detrimental components found in meat/eggs and milk (e.g. heme-iron, opioid-peptides, nitrosamines, antibiotics, dioxins).”

In a study done by Winston Craig on the “Health effects of vegan diets”, printed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009, he writes :

 “A vegan diet appears to be useful for increasing the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and for minimizing the intake of dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases.” In a recent report by World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO), different plant food groups were rated with respect to their ability to influence chronic disease reduction. Cancer risk reduction, associated with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, was assessed as probable/ possible risk of heart disease reduction as convincing, and lower risk of osteoporosis was assessed as probable.

Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that non vegetarians had a substantially increased risk of both colorectal and prostate cancer than did vegetarians. A vegetarian diet provides a variety of cancer-protective dietary factors. In addition, obesity is a significant factor, increasing the risk of cancer. Because the mean BMI of vegans is considerably lower than that of non-vegetarians, it may be an important protective factor for lowering cancer risk.

Fruit and vegetables are described as protective against cancer of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, and stomach, and to a lesser degree at some other sites, whereas the regular use of legumes provides a measure of protection against stomach and prostate cancer. In addition, fibre, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals in the diet, are shown to exhibit protection against various cancers, whereas allium vegetables provide protection against stomach cancer, and garlic against colorectal cancer. Foods rich in lycopene, such as tomatoes, are known to protect against prostate cancer.

Red meat and processed meat consumption are consistently associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Those with the highest intake of red meat had elevated risks, ranging from 20% to 60%, of oesophageal, liver, colorectal, and lung cancers than did those who ate the least. The use of eggs was recently shown to be associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Data suggest that legume intake is also associated with a moderate reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. Consumption of isoflavone-containing soy products during childhood, and adolescence, protects women against the risk of breast cancer later in life, whereas a high childhood dairy intake has been associated with an elevated risk of colorectal cancer in adulthood. Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that consumption of soy milk by vegetarians protected them against prostate cancer, whereas in other studies the use of dairy was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Bone health depends on more than just protein and calcium intakes. Research has shown that bone health is also influenced by nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium, and by foods such as soy and fruit and vegetables. Vegan diets do well in providing a number of those important substances. Results from 2 large cohort studies support an association between vitamin K intake and the risk of hip fracture. In the Nurses’ Health Study, middle-aged women consuming the most vitamin K, green leafy vegetables, had a 45% less risk of hip fracture. In the Framingham Heart Study, elderly men and women, who ate the largest amount of leafy vegetables, had a 65% decreased risk of hip fracture than did those who ate the least.”

Fruits and vegetables provide phytochemicals and vitamin C that boost immune function and prevent certain types of cancer. A meta-analysis on the effect of a plant-based diet concludes a beneficial effect on heart disease, cancer, overweight, body composition, glucose tolerance, digestion and mental health. You have only one body. Why don’t you take care of it ?

( To join the animal welfare

movement contact,



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Sat Mag

Ranjith Rubasinghe’s journey into television (Part II)



By Uditha Devapriya

Continued from last Saturday

Never one to abandon his education, Ruba proceeded to obtain diplomas and qualifications in journalism from the University of Colombo (where he was taught by Edwin Ariyadasa), the Open University, and the Sri Lanka Press Council. How he balanced these pursuits with what one can only describe as a hectic, rigorous schedule is probably grist for another biography; suffice it to say that, among other important lessons, he learnt that “filmmaking is no nine-to-five business.” 20-hour shoots with short breaks were very much the norm then. “Basically, if you were planning to enter the industry, you had to be prepared to work on time, overtime, all the time. Shoddiness was never tolerated. Not once.”

But these are the same values that seem to be deteriorating in the industry today. That, Ruba tells me, is attributable to the race for popularity actors and directors are enmeshed in. “They are only interested in what they can buy with what they earn. They are not interested, at least not as much as their forbearers were in my time, in sustaining the industry that fed them.” In other words, consumerism and advertising, which by no means were lacking on film and TV back in the day, have come to monopolise popular culture now.

Unfortunately for Ruba, this has a personal bearing on him also: in the early 2000s, he made the decision to jump from the assistant’s to the director’s chair.

His first television directorial venture, Ruwan Sakmana, came out in 2002. Helped by the late H. D. Premaratne and scripted by K. B. Herath, it was telecast on Swarnavahini, featuring the likes of Deepani Silva and Janak Premalal. Five years later, in 2007, his second TV venture, Mosam Rella, got a slot on Rupavahini; again scripted by Herath, it featured a stellar cast: Tony Ranasinghe, Daya Tennakoon, and Grace Ariyawimal all took part in it. Like Ruwan Sakmana, it was half morality tale, half thriller, and it ends, again as with his first serial, with redemption for the protagonist and comeuppance for the villain. Sumitra Peries liked both: “they are good,” she told me, “not only because they are technically proficient, but because, seeing them, you can discern the director’s love for storytelling.”

Rubasinghe’s latest television miniseries, Yathrakaya, has a frustratingly long history. Shot in every conceivable location, from Anuradhapura to Nuwara-Eliya, and spanning 30 episodes, Ruba spared no expense to instil authenticity to the narrative, “which is basically about a man who, thought dead, is caught up in an investigation.” I’m surprised to hear that it’s based on a series of incidents which took place “a long, long time back.” Indeed, the minute he heard of the story, he had collected almost every newspaper article on it.

I put to Ranjith that he must have taken some effort to scout for locations. He agrees. “We went almost everywhere to be honest, from Anuradhapura to Dankotuwa to Negombo and to Gampaha and Nuwara-Eliya. We even shot a character’s death from a train accident ‘live’, taking advantage of a slow moving train coming from the Awariwatta Station in Katunayake. The driver didn’t know what we were doing. We heard the train sounding its horn frantically, but we waited until the last minute.”


, as with his previous ventures, was written by K. B. Herath, and it starred, among a galaxy of other names, the late Tony Ranasinghe; apparently the crew were putting together the final cut when he passed away in 2015. Having edited and reedited it, Ruba lobbied for sponsors for the finished product; that he hasn’t received word from them even today is cause for concern, especially since Rupavahini granted a slot for the show. Frustrated as he is by the patronage lavished on “mega-series”, he is nevertheless still hopeful.

For me, however, this is tragic. It is especially tragic since, given Rubasinghe’s enthusiastic ramblings about his hopes and dreams, Yathrakaya appears to be unlike Ruwan Sakmana and Mosam Rella. This one isn’t just a morality tale cum thriller; it’s more an epic thriller in the vein of The Fugitive or No Country for Old Men. God knows we’re missing that kind of film or miniseries these days. To have come up with such a production a decade and a half ago is laudable, and to not have scored points with sponsors yet is regrettable. “I still have hope,” he wistfully repeats. But hope can last only for so long. Where will we get the serials we deserve on our TV screens, if we don’t pay attention to getting their directors the money?

Rubasinghe has made his case there. It is up to us to listen, and up to sponsors to act. Perhaps we should listen harder, and they should act faster. We’re missing out on a lot.


The writer can be reached at



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Sat Mag

Sugar is the villain, not fat



By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

After the Second World War, with increasing affluence, the consumption of fat, sugar and fast foods increased notably, and concurrently the incidence of coronary heart disease stroke and metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, diabetes and obesity), in the U.S and Europe. It is reported that fast food outlets in the U.S doubled from 1972 to 1999 whereas obesity jumped by 113% and currently remains at 18.5%! Worldwide, obesity has tripled since 1975 and is now 9% whereas childhood obesity is even higher, being 10.9%, having increased more than tenfold across the world over the past four decades! Obesity is now a serious worldwide malady, especially of young ones for which diet is key, sugar being the main culprit!

However, since the 1950s the blame on heart disease and strokes has been laid squarely on saturated fat (SFA) consumption and elevation of blood serum cholesterol (BSC), and in the early 1970s the lipid hypothesis came into being and was globally accepted. It states that SFA consumption increases serum lipids and BSC which clogs arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. Of the three types of cholesterol, HDL, LDL and VLDL the latter two, also called the bad cholesterol are believed to clog arteries via the formation of plaques inside blood vessels whereas HDL, the so called good cholesterol, scavenges the excess serum cholesterol and transports it back to the liver. The lipid hypothesis was based on the exhaustive research findings; but despite substantial evidence contradicting the findings, the medical authorities of the U.S, supported by the American Heart Association, stood by its decision. It was reported then that in the U.S, the people feared saturated fat more than ghosts!

However, despite substantial reduction in the consumption of fat and cholesterol, over the last five decades, the incidence of heart disease hardly decreased.

Overwhelming evidence

contradicting the saturated

fat- heart disease hypothesis

A major study relating to the lipid hypothesis was the Framingham study, a longitudinal cohort study, a type of epidemiological study, that followed a group of individuals over time to determine the natural history of coronary heart disease and strokes. However, the study failed to demonstrate the expected relationship of SFA and BSC. Interestingly, William P. Castele, M D, the Director of the Study, writing an editorial in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ in July 1992 states that “in Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more calories one ate, lower the persons BSC, …. they weighed the least and were the most physically active”

Similarly, the Framingham Ischemic stroke study reported in the article titled ‘Inverse association of dietary fat with development of ischemic stroke in men’ published in the Journal of American Medical Association, by Gilman, M.W et al (1997), the authors reported an inverse association of dietary fat with the development of ischemic stroke in men; and the lowest incidence of strokes was with the highest saturated fat consumers. The duration of the study was 20 years and included 832 men.

A much publicised study by the anti-SFA lobby was the Seven Countries study of Ancel Keys, considered the leader of the ‘diet-heart hypothesis. He claimed establishing a correlation between SFA consumption and CHD . His demeanour was most confident and convincing, and many nutritionist of the day believed him and fell in line. However, this study was also subjected to a critical evaluation by a famous biometrician of the period, Wood W D P. In a publication in Statistician in 1981, he questioned how Ancel Keys selected the seven countries out of the 21 OECD countries. He pointed out that, statistically, there were 116,280 ways of selecting seven samples out of 21, and fewer than 10% of the samples gave a correlation coefficient equal to or more than 0.84, and his correlation varied from +0.9 to – 0.9 !

Then in 1990, a famous cardiologist at the time, Sir Walter Willet writing an eeditorial in the American Journal of Public Health’stated that ‘even though the focus of dietary recommendation is usually a reduction of saturated fat intake, no relation between saturated fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease was observed in the most informative prospective study to date’.


A landmark happening of the epoch was the diametrically opposite stand taken by Paul Dudley White, M.D, famous cardiologist in the 1970 s to support Keys from what he did in 1956! He was the President then of the American Heart Association and later cardiologist of President Eisenhower. On invitation to a television programme to support the SFA- CHD in hypothesis in 1956, he said: “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921, and I never saw an MI (myocardial infarction) patient until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil” In 1961, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and Keys diet heart hypothesis was the belief of the day. Eisenhower too was convinced by it; and apparently Dudley White changed his thinking through conviction or otherwise!

In regard to association of SFA and CHD then, the following conclusions can be drawn:

1. International epidemiology is flawed by confounding factors and selection biases;

2. Within countries, epidemiology gives little support for diet and heart disease;

3. Risk factors have largely been established by epidemiological studies, and only provide evidence of associations not of cause and effect;

4. Trends in CHD mortality not consistent with changes in amount and type of fat in the diet;

5. Less than 50% of CHD risk is accounted by known risk factors; and

no research has proved high BSC or High SFA intakes cause CHD

Villain remains at large

Concurrently with the evolution of the lipid hypothesis, Professor John Yudkin, the highly reputed British Physiologist claimed that sugar was a hazard to public health. In fact, reviewing the Ancel Keys’ data relating to the lipid hypothesis, he was astounded by the correlation of heart disease not with fat consumption but sugar. His research established that sugar processed in the liver is converted to fat before entering the blood stream. Ancel Keys was intensely aware of Yudkin’s research but called it ‘mountain of nonsense’, and accused of producing ‘propaganda’ in support of the meat and dairy industry. Sadly, the mild character Yudkin, did not positively respond to Keys. He was also vulnerable to attack by the British Sugar Bureau which dismissed his claims as ‘emotional assertions’!

Although Keys had shown a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, he failed to exclude the possibility that the disease could also be caused by something else; but his Italian partner in the Seven Country Study Allesandro Menotti, re-analyzing the data showed that sugar was the food that correlated the most with heart disease deaths, and not saturated fat! It was too late as in most countries saturated fat hypothesis was already the official position!

John Yudkin retired from his post at Queens Elizabeth College in 1971 to write his book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ which the current day nutritionists consider a masterpiece. The College, however, reneged on a promise for him to continue to use the facilities, as it had hired a fully committed supporter of the fat hypothesis to replace him, the man who built the nutrition department of the College from scratch!

Villain convicted

There is now overwhelming evidence that excessive sugar, in fact fructose, consumption in the key cause of the metabolic syndrome: hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, Alzeimer’s disease and cancer. Sucrose breaks down in the liver into 50% each of fructose and glucose.

In the US for example, the per capita sugar consumption has doubled in the last 50 years from 32kg to 63kg, and that is why despite the majority opting for a low fat diet with the advent of the lipid hypothesis, CHD rate increased. The global consumption of sugar is 23 kg per capita per year whereas, that of Sri Lanka and India, for example, are 23 and 19. The highest sugar consumer is UAE at an unbelievable 214 kg per capita per year!

Robert Lustig, M.D, a pediatric endocrinologist and a leading campaigner against excessive sugar consumption claims that fructose is a poison! Much of it is consumed via high fructose corn syrup, which is a major component in many of the sugary drinks such as coke; and 12.1% of the daily caloric intake of an adult American is via fructose. He states that hepatic fructose metabolism leads to visceral adiposity (abdominal fat accumulation) leading to all manifestations of the metabolic syndrome. Thirty percent of the fructose is said to be converted to very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) which block the blood vessels through synthesis of plaques. The LDL cholesterol, he claims is not as bad as we think.

Lustig in his much quoted 90 minute lecture titled Sugar: the bitter truth, uncompromisingly claims that sugar is the main cause of the global obesity syndrome. He argues that governments catering to the sugar mafia have overlooked the facts. It is sad that the world overlooked John Yudkin’s warning for half a century with catastrophic consequences! The American Heart Association now recommends only 9 teaspoonfuls of sugar per capita per day as against the average US consumption of 26!

In conclusion, whilst sugar is the main culprit, saturated fat cannot probably be totally absolved. Sadly the global food industry cabal too should be blamed for overlooking the health warnings. They have been hell bent on fighting one another for grocery shop space rather than heeding public health: and it is up to the governments now to be more resolute in controlling the food quality from the health perspective.

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