Supermarket Foods Contribute to Rise in Lifestyle Diseases

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise in middle and low income countries including Kenya. More commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases, a common sight are overweight and obesity cases which are being exacerbated not only by our increasingly sedentary lifestyles but also poor feeding habits and food choices.

Urbanization has brought with it many good things, one of them being the convenience afforded by shopping at supermarkets rather than moving from kiosk to kiosk. Large retail chains are continually expanding their network and can now be found in the hearts of our estates in urban areas to towns in the countryside.

It’s believed that this shift to retail shopping is among the causes behind the rise in obesity and overweight cases.



Why Do We Buy Foods From Supermarkets?

supermarket aisle
Supermarket Aisle

The answer to this is mostly convenience. Supermarkets are growing larger by the day in a bid to house all manner of goods in one place. This way consumers don’t have to shop for different items, including different kinds of food, at different locations.

As a result, supermarkets now not only offer a wide selection of packaged foods but also offer fresh foods ranging from fruits and vegetables to in-house brands of fresh milk and baked food stuffs. Some retail chains even have cooked meals and snacks on sale, thus in effect turning themselves into “mini-malls”.

Examples of local large retail supermarkets in the country include Tuskys, Naivas, Nakumatt, Uchumi, Maathai, Eastmatt and Chandarana. In the recent past, there also has been a growing interest from foreing retail chains with the likes of Choppies, Shoprite, Carrefour and Games Stores making an entry into the segment. 

This indicates that there's a demand, and thus a shift to shopping for food items in supermarkets as opposed to small stores and informal markets.


Supermarket Foods Linked to Increased Risk of Lifesyle Diseases

Fresh foods are usually the main source of food in rural areas as this is where farming is centred, be it for economic purposes or just subsistence. However due to urbanization, residents of rural towns can now source some of their food from supermarkets.

A study conducted in three towns in central Kenya showed that supermarket purchase contributes to nutrition-related non-communicable diseases.These towns included Njabini and Ol Kalou from Nyandarua county and Mwea town in Kirinyaga county. The reason for selection in these towns was due to the characteristics of supermarkets and prevalence of diabetes found in this region.

Two of these towns, Ol Kalau and Mwea, had supermarkets while Njabini didn’t have any. The aim was to compare the consumption of food among these areas and their effect on human health.

The study established that from the two groups, respondents that were buying their foods from supermarkets had higher BMI compared to those that did not. In addition to these, the prevalence of pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity was also high among supermarket buyers.



Nutritional Quality of  Foods Sold in Supermarkets

The reason for these results are not surprising as the majority of foods that fill the shelves of supermarkets are processed in nature. A wide selection of such foods include those from processed grains such as wheat and maize.

While whole-grains varieties exist for some of these commodities, such as the various bread varieties on offer, most consumers will usually prefer the white variety either due to taste preferences and/or affordability reasons.

There’s also the likelihood that some consumers conflate the fortification of white varieties with superior quality, thus in effect concluding they’re just as healthy (if not more) than the unprocessed whole-grain varieties found in informal markets. 

Other processed foods include a majority of snacks and soft drinks that are high in sugars and fats and processed meats that are a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers.

Lastly, the cooked foods & snacks tend to be of the junk variety and therefore only exacerbate the poor food choices people are likely to make when shopping there.

With that said, there are a lot of healthy foods to be found in the halls of most supermarkets. A case in point is that retail chains are increasingly including fresh fruits and vegetables sections in their branches. The prices of these however tend to be higher to those found in informal markets and mama mbogas.

The solution therefore lies in educating the consumer on making healthy choices when shopping for food rather than expecting retail businesses to shift to what may be considered as healthy food products. 

Low Carbohydrate Diet in Weight Loss Management

Most overweight and obese individuals express a willingness in shedding off weight to achieve a normal weight. This is usually a tough journey that requires patience and commitment should it be realized in a healthy way.

A common challenge that’s often met while on this journey is that of stagnating after losing some few kilograms or in some, gaining some weight out of frustration. One of the reasons this could be attributed to is the body’s response to the kind of the food being taken while in the process of weight reduction.


Factors that affect Weight Management

obese woman


Weight management can be affected by various factors which include:
  • Diet choice
  • Physical activity level
  • Hormones
  • Metabolic rate

When the body losses weight, it responds by defending itself by regaining the lost energy. The hunger increases and the metabolic weight decreases thus there will be quicker deposition of calories as fat in the body.

Hormones

There are two hormones responsible for weight management:
  • Ghrelin 
  • Leptin.
Ghrelin is a hormone responsible for boosting appetite while Leptin is responsible for long term energy balance and keeping weight stable, thus encouraging weight loss.

Ghrelin induces appetite and makes an individual to eat more food. When one has had enough food, leptin is sent to brain to decrease appetite. High secretion of leptin thus becomes more important when managing weight for it reduces food intake and prompts the body to instead use the stored fat for energy.

Most obese or overweight people however develop a resistance to leptin especially when the level of this hormone becomes high. In such situations, even with high levels of hormone the body does not receive the signal to stop feeling hungry and instead make use of the stored fat for energy.


Relationship between Carbohydrate Intake and Weight Loss

A certain research was done at Harvard T.H. CHAN School of Public Health to identify whether different levels of carbohydrate intake may affect weight loss.

In this 20-week study, respondents were assigned into three groups consisting of diets having different levels of carbohydrates: a high carbohydrate-low fat diet, a moderate carbohydrate-fat diet and a low carbohydrate-high fat diet. In all three diets the protein level was constant.

The group with the low carbohydrate diet showed an increase in energy expenditure (burned more energy) than the other two groups. Those on the moderate carbohydrate diet had a slightly lower energy expenditure but higher than that of the high carbohydrate diet group.

In the low carbohydrate diet, both Ghrelin and Leptin hormones decreased thus promoting weight loss. The decreased levels of Leptin in this context are beneficial as this improved its sensitivity (lowered resistance since high levels cause resistance).

This results suggest that a low carbohydrate diet is more favourable to maintaining weight loss. However, one should also consider the quality of the diet, as a healthy diet is not only key in maintaining a normal weight but also in preventing diet related diseases.

Abdominal Obesity and the Rise in Non-communicable Diseases

The prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country has been rising. For instance, the prevalence of Diabetes has been rising sharply over the past few years in Central region with the most affected counties, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Murang’a and Kirinyaga, having prevalance rates of 12.6%, 10% 10% and 5.6% respectively (source).

Globally, NCDs are accountable for 63% of deaths and out of these, 80% occur in the middle and low income countries. Current projections show that by 2020, deaths caused by non-communicable diseases will be highest in Africa.

It's further projected that mortality from NCDs will have surpassed that from communicable diseases, neonatal and maternal deaths by 75% by 2030 in this region.



Prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases in Kenya

In Kenya, more than 50% of the patients admitted in hospitals suffer from NCD. It’s also responsible for more than 55% of deaths. Overall in the national mortality, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death with rates ranging from 6.1% to 8%. Cancer is next accounting for 7% of the mortality followed by diabetes. (source)

More recent statistics from the WHO (below) indicate Cancers have taken the helm.
Mortality in Kenya (Noncommunicable diseases country profiles 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO])

These statistics point to a bigger problem, one that will only get worse should appropriate actions not be taken. But before we head there, what exactly are Non-communicable diseases?


Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

NCDs are simply diseases that cannot transmitted from one person to the other. Out of all non-communicable diseases, the following account for 75% of all mortality caused by NCDs:
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • respiratory illness

Risk Factors of NCDs

Obesity is one of the risk factors for the above diseases. However, of late it's becoming quite common to see people with normal BMIs suffer from NCDs too. The reason for these could be attributed to the location of the obesity.

Central or abdominal obesity is one of the risk factors for NCDs that's classified under metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors that increases the risk for diabetes, stroke and heart diseases).

Other metabolic risk factors that increase the risk of a normal person having NCDs include:
  • reduction in good cholesterol (HDL - high density lipoprotein)
  • elevated triglycerides levels
  • insulin resistance
  • hypertension
  • elevated blood glucose level




What is Abdominal Obesity?

Abdominal Obesity also referred to as Central Obesity is the deposition of fat around the abdominal cavity (region between your diaphragm and waist). Consuming a lot of calories than what the body needs, prompts it to store the excess as fat in adipose tissues (under the skin and around vital organs) to use as a source of energy.

Excessive abdominal fat can indicate that the subcutaneous adipose tissue (under the skin) is not able to serve as a reservoir which can be used to supply calories when the intake of energy is excessive or when there is a reduction in energy expenditure.

Consequently, if the intake exceeds expenditure, the fat accumulates around vital organs like liver, lungs, kidney, pancreases and other important organs around the abdominal area. This fat deposition alters the normal function of these organs increasing the risk for NCDs.

The main contributing factors for abdominal obesity are:
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • physical inactivity (lack of exercise)
  • poor nutrition
  • inheritance
  • age
  • sex


Do you have Central Obesity?

Waist Measurement
Central obesity is determined by taking a waist-hip ratio measurement. A waist-hip ratio of more than 80cm in females and 90cm in males is inidcative of central obesity. Therefore, it's important to consider including waist-hip ratio measurements when taking BMI since on its own it cannot discriminate between the location of fat.

Consequently, BMI may erroneously indicate a person with abdominal obesity to be of normal weight (assumption: healthy) and a person with more fat below the abdomen (e.g. hips in women) or more muscles in relation to height as overweight or obese (assumption: unhealthy). This nuance cannot be overstated.

Bottle Feeding Vs Cup Feeding: Which to Use?

Bottle feeding is mostly used on infants that are either on infant formula or expressed breast milk. Once the infant is beyond six months it becomes a common sight in complementary feeding when giving milk or water.

The advantage of using bottle is that it's easier since it's equipped with a pacifier (artificial teat/dummy/soother) that mimics the nipple. These also includes cups with spouts or teats. These two are however not recommended as they pose certain risks to the child.



Disadvantages of Bottle Feeding

bottle feeding
Bottle Feeding


1. Once introduced, children have a difficult time learning good attachment during breast feeding and the mother may not able to identify well the satiety of the child during breast feeding.

2. It’s not easy to wash the bottle around the teat area making this site an ideal breeding ground for some harmful bacteria that may cause infection to the child e.g. a child may start to diarrhoea, vomiting or show other signs and symptoms of bacterial infection.

3. Exposing some of the plastic-made bottles to high heat may emit some dangerous chemical which can cause harm to the child's health.


Benefits of Cup Feeding

Whether breastfeeding is out of the question or is still being done, using a cup or spoon is recommended over using bottles. Cup feeding is much friendly and safe for the following reasons:

1. It maintains contact between the mother and the child as it’s impossible for children to feed themselves this way.
self-feeding
Bottlefeeding like a Boss

2. It doesn't interfere at all with the suckling of the baby during normal breastfeeding. There is no "nipple confusion".

3. Cleaning the cup is much easier since all the rim of the cup can be accessed with no difficulty. This drastically lessens the chances of infection.

While feeding with a spoon from a cup is acceptable, cup feeding is much easier. This is because spoon feeding takes more time and there is a likelihood that the child may not be satisfied.


How to cup feed a child?

The idea of cup feeding seems easy however much like breastfeeding, doing it properly is key for its success. To cup feed a child properly, take note of the following key points:
  • Hold your baby well on your lap.
  • The child can be upright or semi upright when feeding.
  • You can hold the child hands to prevent him or her from knocking the cup.
  • Rest the cup with the milk or formula lightly on the child's lower lip ensuring the cup's rim touches the upper lip.
  • Angle the cup a bit to the lip so that the child is able to reach the milk.
  • Your child will start suckling the milk from that cup.
  • The child will close his/her mouth once he/she has had enough. If according to your measurements the feeding was not adequate and the child has simply refused, adjust accordingly either by feeding a little more next time or by increasing the frequency of feeds.
  • Note: Don't pour the milk into the child's mouth.

Calming a Baby with Colic Pains

Colic is a common condition experienced by babies world over that is characterized by excessive and frequent crying. It can be experienced as early as after two weeks and can last up to four months with most episodes happening in the evening.

When it occurs, the infant cries on and off for several hours. This however doesn’t mean the child is sick. Most colicky babies are usually healthy and affects both the breast fed and those on formulas.

Colic doesn’t usually affect feeding in any way but in case the infant is not feeding well it's recommended one consult a paediatrician.


Signs of a Colicky Baby

A baby with colic may display the following signs:
  • crying that last for hours and that occurs the same time every day
  • pulling their legs up and clenching of fists
  • may pass flatus/gas

If the baby shows symptoms such as vomiting, stomach distention, not gaining weight, constipation or diarrhoea, this is may not be colic and it's advisable to take such a child immediately to the hospital.

What Causes Colic in Babies?

It's not exactly known what causes colic however it's believed that it could be related to:
  • Overfeeding
  • Poor attachment and position during breast feeding
  • Swallowing of air during feeding
  • Introducing solid food during exclusive breast feeding
  • Gastrointestinal re-flux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Allergy to some proteins


Remedying Colic

There are many remedies that have been devised in society to release colic. Some of these are not proven and can actually do more harm to a child's health.

Gripe water and chamomile are commonly used by mothers however they do not solve the problem. Remember a baby below 6 months old is supposed to be exclusively breastfed without even giving a drop of water. Such formulations may therefore only put a child at the risk of infections.

Instead, during a colic bout one of the first things one ought to do is hold the baby. The baby can be held in the following ways:
  • By the tummy
  • Along your forearm, or
  • On your spouse’s chest to ease the pain
calm colic pains
Calming a Baby with Colic Pains by Unicef (click-to-enlarge)

Other ways mothers and fathers can help a child with colic include:
  • Lactating mothers should not take caffeine and chocolate as they can aggravate colic.
  • In addition, mothers should avoid dairy products for a while as they can cause allergic reactions in the baby.
  • Burp (allow the baby to pass the air) after every breast feeding session.

A baby with the colic will grow well and the crying bouts will become less after baby has passed the three months mark. So hold on there and remember it's not your fault. Consider this one of the many challenges that come with the joys of parenthood.

Beware of Toxic Artificially Ripened Fruits

Fruits are widely loved and almost everyone has their favourite kind. They are sweet, flavourful and come in a wide spectrum of appealing colours. Still, their most appealing quality goes to their nutrition value.

They are so to speak the workshop of vitamins and minerals in our body. They pack generous amounts of these nutrients and usually, without sacrificing much on the taste. Consumption of a wide variety of fruits thus reduces the chances of various micronutrient deficiencies by a big margin; a good reason why they should be enjoyed in the all stages of life, from weaning to ripe old ages.


Ripening of Fruits

ripe bananas
Ripe Bananas
Due to the high demand of fruits, many people have now ventured into the fruit business. Many of these fruits require lesser skills to cultivate and maintain explaining the appeal to this line of business. Walking along the streets gives sufficient proof to this assertion; you’d be hard pressed not to run into a fruit vendor on a cart, a hawker or even a kiosk brimming with all manner of fruits.

Depending with the fruit question, ripening may happen while still attached to the mother crop, after separation or both. Ripening in itself is hardly the issue rather it’s the process used.

The traditional ripening method is to leave the fruits to mature at their own discretion; that is, whether unharvested or after harvesting and subsequent storage under favourable conditions.

This takes time and money, a dire situation for farmers and traders that wish to get the fruits of their labour when conditions are most ideal. As a result, some opt to find ways to hasten the ripening using unscrupulous ways, the most common being the use of chemicals.

One such chemical is calcium carbide which has featured in the headlines on multiple occasions for all the wrong reasons.


Artificially Ripening with Calcium Carbide

Calcium Carbide is a compound that’s produced by industries that manufacture fertilizers and is often at times used in welding. It combines with the water to produce a gas (acetylene) that expedites the ripening.

Common fruits that are implicated in this kind of ripening include bananas, mangoes, pawpaw and apples.

Calcium Carbide is very harmful as its considered carcinogenic and thus could potentially cause cancer. Furthermore, the chemical often has traces of arsenic and phosphorus. It’s these two that pose the major health risks since the gas (acetylene) that causes the ripening is toxic in higher doses that are unlikely to be found in these fruits.

This study on artificially ripened fruits lists the following potential symptoms that may be caused by these two compounds:
“The early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorus poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea with or without blood, burning sensation of the chest and abdomen, thirst, weakness, difficulty in swallowing, irritation or burning in the eyes and skin, permanent eye damage, ulcers on the skin, irritation in the mouth, nose and throat. ... Eating artificially ripened mangoes causes stomach upset because the alkaline substance is an irritant that erodes the mucosal tissue in the stomach and disrupts intestinal function. Chronic exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcers.”

An investigation conducted by The Star Newspaper back in March 2014 in Nairobi and Mombasa on found traces of this chemical in fruits sold in supermarkets and some of the city’s markets.

Ripening of fruits like bananas usually takes weeks however with Calcium Carbide it’s only a matter of hours (24–48 hrs.). These allows such fruit traders to leverage the selling of their produce when market conditions are most optimum (demand is high and supply is low).

In addition to this, artificially ripened fruits have even colours with few spots and injuries, a quality that renders them more attractive to customers.


Detecting Artificially Ripened Fruits

Despite this new challenge, we shouldn’t stop eating fruits as they have tremendous benefits for our health. Instead, we should endeavour to tell apart between the naturally and artificially ripened ones.The most easily identifiable characteristic is that artificially ripened fruits have a uniform colour.

For example, a banana will be entirely yellow with little to no blemishes but the apexes (top) and stock (point of attachment) will be greenish. Concerning this, the study we quoted earlier has this to say: 
“… fruits ripened with CaC2 [Calcium Carbide] are overly soft and less tasty. They also have a shorter shelf-life. An artificially ripened fruit would present a yellow outer skin, but the tissue inside would not be ripe or itself remains green and raw.”

The Star's investigation further asserts that imported fruits are more likely to be artificially ripened if they originate from countries where Calcium carbide use is prevalent. As such, it's worthwhile ascertaining the origin of the fruits you buy from a vendor in addition to inspecting them.

This also includes the vendors that prepare salads as opposed to selling whole fruits. And while we're on this, make sure their stations are hygienic and well covered from environmental contaminants. In particular are roadsides where dust and exhaust fumes are unavoidable.

Lastly, you should clean your fruits properly before eating them. Washing fruits properly will help to get rid of chemicals and other contaminants on the skin of the fruit. Otherwise you risk ingesting even more contaminants with the false premise that you’re “eating healthy”.

Is Blue Band Margarine Healthy?

Blue Band is the most popular brand of margarine this part of the world. Many, including yours truly, have grown up using the brand as the preferred spread for our favourite breakfast starch: bread. The margarine is manufactured by Unilever, a global company of a variety of consumer goods that can be found in shelves worldwide.

Unilever markets Blue Band in a way that implies the margarine is healthy. In particular, the brand targets school going children or rather capitalizes on the message that the margarine promotes growth at this developmental stage.


Blue Band Margarine

bluu band brands
Blue Band Original (left) and Spread (right)

The brand is marketed in two forms: the medium fat Original Blue Band that can be used for cooking, baking and spreading and low fat Blue Band Spread that's to be used only as a spread (for bread and the like). On whether the majority of Blue Band consumers are aware of this subtle distinction is debatable.


What is Blue Band Made of?

Before we can answer the question that this article is built around, we need to take a look at what makes Blue Band a margarine.

Margarine as you may or may not know was formulated as a substitute for Butter. This happened in 1860's France after Emperor Napoleon III sponsored a contest to a find a cheaper alternative to butter for his soldiers and the French lower class.

While Butter is made from milk (explaining its rather luxury status) margarine is made from vegetable oils. Blue Band is specifically made from palm oil, though margarines can be made from other vegetable oils. Most cooking vegetable oils in the market are likewise made of palm oil.

The remaining ingredients in Blue Band Original include:
  • canola oil (the edible form of rapeseed oil),
  • water
  • salt
  • skimmed milk
  • emulsifiers (lecithin)
  • preservatives
  • artificial flavours and colours

In addition to this, it's fortified with some vitamins (more on fortification later).

Processing is what's responsible in putting these ingredients together into the final product as we know it. Of particular interest is a process called Hydrogenation and the addition of emulsifiers.

Hydrogenation is what responsible for making the oils remain solid at room temperature preventing them from going bad and thus increasing the product's shelf life. Partial hydrogenation however comes at a cost of producing unhealthy trans fats as a by-product.

Note however that it's unclear whether Blue Band is manufactured through this specific method. Other processing methods do exist that can achieve the same purpose as that of hydrogenation.

Emulsifiers on the other hand are added for a reason that you are very well aware of from your daily life. Remember one of our ingredients was water, and as you know, oil and water do not mix. For this reason, emulsifiers are added to prevent the two from separating.

Blue Band uses an emulsifier called lecithin which is usually commercially extracted from Soy.


Why Doesn't Blue Band "Dissolve" in Hot Water?

Apparently there's a video in circulation showing Blue Band Spread (variant with light blue cap) not dissolving in hot water. Naturally it went viral and the hysteria from that realization has led many to mistakenly conclude that Blue Band is closer to a "plastic" than a food.

The further realization that margarine was the result of some ingenious lab work leaves the commodity with little redeeming qualities in light of such an accusation. The video that as its origin in Nigeria had such a significant impact that Unilever Nigeria found it  compelling to release a statement to clarify the reasons behind the strange phenomena.

According to Unilever, Blue Band Spread is a low fat margarine, a quality (desirable no less) that renders it less stable than the original variant which it classifies as medium fat. To be able to withstand the same conditions that its counterpart is subject to during distribution, Unilever uses the aforementioned emulsifiers to keep the product stable at high temperatures.

Otherwise we should presume the product would melt/go bad and thus fail to meet acceptable quality standards.
Unilever Statement (click-to-enlarge)

The emulsifiers used are likewise from plant sources however we can safely presume the mix or proportions in which they're used is different to such an extent it makes it more stable than the Original variant in higher temperatures. A food scientist would be better equipped to expound on this matter.

The video is therefore just another case of misinformation. Nevertheless, this whole event is not without its positives as people are now asking questions.


Does Blue Band Contain Saturated Fats?

Butter is not only expensive but over the years it has lost much of its popularity due to its high levels of saturated fats. Saturated fats have been shown to increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) making them a risk for cardiovascular diseases. Its therefore generally recommended to limits foods that are high in saturated fats.

As a result of this revelation, Margarine was championed as a healthier alternative due to its comparatively lower levels of saturated fats. This is because margarine is made from vegetable oils that have less saturated fats compared to those from animal sources.

Therefore, to answer the first question: margarine does have saturated fats but their levels are  ultimately dependent on the vegetable oil used.

Blue Band is made from Palm Oil which belongs to a family of oils called tropical oils that have higher levels of saturated compared to other vegetable oils. Others in this group include coconut oil and palm oil kernel (oil from the seed rather than the fruit.)

In the case of palm oil, it's 50% saturated however it does redeem itself by having significant amounts of healthy omega-6 fatty acids.

Blue Band would therefore be considered healthier had it used a healtheir vegetable oil such as olive oil, soybean oil or canola as they're less saturated. Unfortunately, such margarines seem to be non-existent in this parts of the world.

Nevertheless, it does seem Unilever answer to this is through the low fat spread variant.


Does Blue Band Contain Trans-Fats?

Trans fats have the reputation of being the worst kind of fat. This is because unlike saturated fats that just increase the bad cholesterol (LDL), trans fats also lower the good cholesterol (HDL). Trans fats are by-product of the process of hydrogenation that we discussed earlier.

Unilever makes no mention in Blue Band's labelling on whether it contains trans fats or not. The only thing they include along this subject is the industry popular zero cholesterol claim. Searches online however indicate that the company claims that Blue Band is "virtually trans-fat free".

Still, it's unclear whether this statement is true for all the other territories where Blue Band is produced.

This claim could however be valid based on two reasons:
  • Palm oil and other tropical oils are naturally semi-solid in room temperature and thus unlike other vegetable oils do not need hydrogenation. This is most likely the basis of this claim. 
  • As it was stated earlier, hydrogenation is not the only processing method used in hardening fats. Modern processing methods that do not produce trans fats such as interesterification are therefore preferred nowadays.

An explicit labelling on the level of trans fats would therefore save Unilever much of these speculation as trans fats almost always come up whenever the healthiness of Blue Band is brought up. Otherwise many are inclined to believe the contrary based on the wide assumption that "solid fats equal hydrogenation".

Such labelling already exists in other jurisdictions such as the US where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to remove trans fats completely from processed foods.

WHO has also come out recently with a plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fats globally. Such is the extent of how prevalent and bad these trans fats are. In that sense, Blue Band shouldn't be only the cause of concern for you as a consumer with regards to it. Other foods you're consuming are likely worse offenders.

With this in mind, it would benefit Kenyan consumers a great deal if our regulatory bodies (KEBS) mandated that processed foods include levels of trans fats in their labelling.


Is Blue Band Good for Growth as Advertised?

Promoting growth is just one of the many functions that fats & oils carry out in our bodies and thus on its own wouldn't be sufficient to warrant this claim or at least one that's capitalized on to this extent.

That's because the main selling point behind Blue Band is that it’s not only packed with essential vitamins but also healthy fats.

Unilever aptly call these Blue Band vitamins the 6 Goodstart Vitamins. They include:
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Folic Acid

Likewise, this is not especial to Blue Band as the law requires that staple foods such as flours, salt and cooking oils/fats be fortified with essential micronutrients. Therefore, some of this "goodstart vitamins" may also be found in the other few brands of margarine that exist in the market not to mention the staggering variety of cooking oils and fat.

This claim is further enhanced by the fact that their margarine formulation is further fortified with Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. While our bodies can make other fatty acids it cannot synthesize these two . As such, they have to be obtained from our diets. They can be found in some vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, fish and other seafood.

In Blue Band the fatty acids are from the canola oil that we mentioned in the ingredients. Canola oil happens to be a good source of omega 3 and 6 oils and is used to make vegetable oils.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids carry out important functions in our bodies one of which is promoting optimal growth and development. Therefore this carries most of the weight behind this claim as other vegetable oils in the market (save for some premium ones) do not fortify with this two. Actually its put quite clearly on the label this way:
Omega 3 and 6 For healthy growth and development of Children


Conclusion

Margarine and butter are never easy topics to discuss in the nutrition world. More research is being done to understand the different kinds of fats out there and their potential health effects. Butter for one is already making a comeback.

Blue Band is just one of the many margarine brands out there but clearly it holds a special space in many Kenyan homes. Based on the arguments we've presented here it's reasonable to conclude that Blue Band has two sides: a healthy side and not so healthy one.

Healthy as its uses vegetables oils that are medium to low fat and further fortifies them with vitamins and essential fatty acids. Unhealthy as it could use a lesser saturated vegetable oil and be explicit on its trans-fat content (0 if it has none).

For some people however we do recognize that Blue Band is unhealthy just by the mere fact that it's processed and has additives.

As more people become conscious of their diets and the impact it has on their health, it's expected that products such as Blue Band with their opposing sides stand to lose. Simply put, consumers want to switch to alternatives that don't have to make a case for their healthiness i.e. they're "self-evidently healthy".

This shift has had a negative impact on Unilever's margarine business with it not doing well globally; actually in some territories it's apparently their worst performing unit. As such the company last year (2017) decided to exit the spread business globally and sell the Blue Band brand as well as others in this category.

Likewise, as a consumer you have two choices: exit the Blue Band "business" for a clear-cut healthier alternative or you can stick around for the good it has to offer. Nevertheless, this is shouldn't be merely a conversation on the healthiness of Blue Band as it's about one's entire diet.

As such it would be prudent for you as a consumer to also consider other foods in your diet that may be implicated as unhealthy in their entirety or to a certain degree as it's the case here. Processed and fast foods in general are the most obvious candidates that warrant most attention.

However, as with most things of this nature, moderation is usually the most reasonable approach for the majority.

Beware of Fake QRMA Health Check-Ups and Scanning

This post has been on my back burner for about two years now. It would have remained there for a little longer were it not for a brochure that got dropped where I reside about a month ago.

The brochure which I have scanned below (personal details have been blurred to protect the individual’s privacy) was advertising a health scanning camp at a local church.
health scanning brochure
Health Check-up Brochure (click-to-enlarge)

What caught my eye, and which I hope has yours too, is that bold almost fantastical claim at the second paragraph: "Full body scan, no urine, no blood, no stool"

Is such a thing even possible? Well, it does seem as I was fortunate to witness for myself first-hand the magic behind this non-invasive scanning back in 2016.

I don't want to bore you with the back story behind this event, but the short version is that after lab results showed elevated cholesterol levels, a relative got the suggestion from a fellow church congregant (happy customer I take it) to try some Chinese Supplements from a certain Chinese Company.

The supplements however were to be prescribed after a convenient home scanning session.


The Quantum Resonance Magnetic Analyser (QRMA)

The scanning session I refer to was carried out by a device called a Quantum Resonance Magnetic Analyser (QRMA). I'll assume most health scanning’s of this nature (i.e. broad and non-invasive at the same time) that are popular in the country either use this device or one that utilizes a similar principle (a rather simple one as we shall see).

The QRMA, as we shall refer to it from now on, will undoubtedly capture the imagination of many that lay their eyes on it. That is, if the name alone ("Quantum" carrying most of the weight) is not sufficient on its own.

The device is comprises of three major parts:
  • a handheld instrument
  • a small electronic unit that the instrument connects to (they seem to vary in shape, size & functionality)
  • a typical computer to which the entire device is connected to via USB to communicate with the QRMA software (a different model is equipped with its own display unit, no need for a computer)
The scanning process is pretty simple: one takes hold of the probe in their palm, and the consultant turns on the unit to start the scanning. The scanning goes on for a couple of minutes meanwhile the QRMA software displays some nice graphical accompaniments of the organs it's currently scanning while being fed, and presumably interpreting this vital data.

Once it's done, the software outputs detailed reports of the state of all the major organ systems in the body along with tons of biochemical data to back it up. The reports themselves are very detailed and quite overwhelming (i.e, credible looking) to layman’s eyes.

Out of curiosity I ended up keeping the relatives HTML scan reports with me that you can find here for your viewing pleasure (names have been removed).


Debunking the QRMA

If you do get around opening those reports, first thing you'll notice is how comprehensive they're. The verdict here is that the QRMA is a walking laboratory that only needs your palm to lay bare yours cells current state. This device is therefore an imminent threat to the medical laboratory profession as we know it.

How it manages exactly to do this without doing any physical test or taking blood and tissue samples is beyond comprehension. The only logical explanation is that the device is a gimmick, and a very dangerous one at that. Where's my proof of evidence?

As a start, first watch these videos: QRMA, QRMA 2 and QRMA 3

As you can tell, the QRMA is actually quite a basic thing and not the ground-breaking high-tech device you might take it for. At best, it's a toy with plenty of shocking entertainment value for "at-risk of" adults. At its worse though it's one of the many tools in the magician’s bag of tricks to make money out of gullibility mixed with desperation from an unhealthy dose of mortality.

But make no mistake, the magician here is not the "certified" health consultant going door to door (or rather church to church) with the QRMA. He or she is merely a magician’s assistant to the executives that have made a profitable business franchise out of something as critical as people's health.

The QRMA works on a very simple principle: the software it’s paired with generates random biochemical data based on one’s age, sex, height and weight. These are things that the consultant can easily estimate from appearances alone or will likely ask before the scanning begins (not that they will let you see the report anyway).

In a medical camp context though it's likely they will carry out anthropometrics and a blood pressure assessment for good measure then leave the biochemical assessments for the QRMA.

So it's basically guesswork but educated guesses.

But even before we go there, first consider whose likely to visit a health camp and the reasons that would prompt such an undertaking. You'd be hard pressed to see a young person (below 35 years) at such a place, not unless the camp also caters for reproductive health in which case women of child-bearing age would take a sizeable proportion of the clientele.

Universally men of all ages tend to be somewhat of an endangered species in such habitats with the few that intersperse such gatherings either being elderly or those have been dragged there by the symptoms (the most profound being their caring wives).

Thus the age demographic you're likely to see going for health check-ups and scanning is that of between years 40+ and would disproportionately comprise more women than men. And what's common about these age group?

Well, they are at the highest risk of developing lifestyle diseases simply because of their age. And if that's not enough, they are fully aware of this fact if their bodies haven't already made sure they feel it. It's all part of the health-conscious mentality that kicks in with ripening.

In that sense, these deceptive health scanning has the people it's targeting working already in its favour. All that is left for it is simply to do its "magic" by capitalizing on the self-diagnosed general apprehensiveness and conformational bias that's  naturally to be expected from its test subjects when around such an environment.

For example, it's obvious that a 60-year-old African male that's moderately obese (it will tell that from the weight and height) would no doubt be at a higher risk of hypertension compared to 30-year-old male that is of normal weight for his height.

It's obvious that no woman would be at risk of prostate complications and that a 70-year-old will likely have poor eyesight due to aging.

Likewise, the older one is the more likely they've accumulated more toxins (heavy metals) from the environment due to exposure over a longer period.

Low amino acids levels could be predicted from the fact one is underweight and thus likely to have wasted muscles.

The exacts levels the reports detail are guesswork, and that goes for every biochemical data the device is spewing.

Still, the consultant can easily decide to forego the task of interpreting these data (after all, the graphics will long have sealed the deal) and instead prefer to give his take based on what's actually on sale.

You didn't think it starts and ends with the scanning did you?


On Supplements

The QRMA is merely a sales pitch. What's actually on sale here are supplements. In our particular case it's Chinese herbal medicine though I take it the device can easily be repurposed to sell any kind of supplements: from the Maasai's snake oil to the GNLD marketer's dreams.

A much better repurposing would however be as an educational toy.

The reports are however not without merit (much of the effort behind the device, namely the software, seems to have been concentrated on their sourcing and computerized generation) and thus would make for good use as cliff notes for medical students.

With the reports, supplements can justifiably be recommended as a necessary prescription to address the diagnosis from a QRMA bolstered consultant. As expected, the supplements come in a wide variety and cost way more than the scanning.

The plan here is to set a precedence for future prescriptions should they prove successful in treatment. This would ideally then open doors for word of mouth referrals - a very viable business model it does seem now once coupled with an electronic quack.

With the specific company that the relative was referred to the supplements cost upwards of Ksh.2,000. Their catalogue ranges from the usual calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin D tablets to fish oils, capsules containing various extracts/oils and tea/coffee drinks. They also have some machines including various massagers, something called a blood circulation machine and a slimming belt.

The company also runs a reward system where clients and I suppose the "consultants" earn points to redeem various products. So it's likely that is essentially a multi-level marketing (MLM) business for supplements not unlike GNLD and the like.

What's unsettling about all this however is if a client doesn't do due process on the diagnosis that is meted out on him or her. For all we know it could be an overdiagnosis, an underdiagnosis or worse a misdiagnosis.

Fortunately, and rather crudely, it would seem some people merely use this scanning to "supplement" the diagnosis from a medical doctor; or rather, when they’ve had little success with western medicine and wish to try (or complement with) alternative options, the obvious choices being supplements and herbal medicines.

This way, one has an excuse not to take their prescribed medicine or to adhere to a nutritional care plan since supplements will supposedly take care of that. You usually witness this thought process with patients having life-long conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. It’s only after the symptoms get worse that they make the switch back.

For the rest, you can only hope that the supplements do work or are at the very least not harmful in any way to their health. I'm not equipped to comment on the efficacy of these Chinese supplements, but it would be fair to assume that they have beneficial effects in managing or preventing certain conditions e.g. alleviating pain, by detoxing.

The referrals can't be without merit to an extent however it's important to adjust for the likelihood of placebo effects and false advertising.

Where some salespeople go wrong, and with disastrous effects, is when such supplements are championed as complete substitutes for a prescribed drug therapy. They are called supplements for a good reason: to be supplementary, or rather, to function in a supporting capacity.

In this particular case, the means utilized to prescribe the supplements are dishonest (however harmless they may prove to be) and therefore one is more inclined to think the same towards them.

If one wishes to switch to a particular type of alternative medicine for their condition, it's advisable to consult a health care professional prior to beginning it. If that’s not possible, an impartial research online may provide some insights. Otherwise one may risk having a worsening condition. The same applies for supplements that one can easily get over the counter.

With that said, western medicine is also subject to certain pitfalls so it's pointless to endorse it over other forms without reservations. Where it does excel however, is that it has a process to guide it rather than relying on guesswork.


Health Scanning the Proper Way

Regular health check-ups or scanning are necessary to prevent and detect health conditions in their early phases. They should be done once in a while or as recommended by a health care professional.

However, rather than settle for quick cheap unscrupulous check-ups such as the one provided by the QRMA, it's best to visit a health facility and have a doctor recommend a series of tests to be done. They will cost you less in the long run and you will be at least confident of the results you get.

If you're concerned with costs, a government health facility is bound to be more affordable. Basic tests such as anthropometrics (weight, height/length, BMI), blood pressure and blood sugar will cost you close nothing in such facilities and are a good place to start to get a general idea of your current health.

From here then you can work up to more comprehensive tests that test the function of various organs and for specific conditions such as cancer.

You can also take advantage of free health check-ups that are usually run by various NGO’s and institutions in the community e.g. Beyond Zero.

Lastly, it would seem this new phenomenon has somehow escaped the ministry of health officials so be on the lookout for such fake health scanning camps (churches tend to be the preferred targets) and sensitize your fellow community members on why to avoid them.

6 Tips to Help you Beat Low Appetite

Every part of the body needs specific nutrients for better health and energy to carry out daily activities. Eating of food is the essential activity that starts the complex processes involved to carry out these tasks. However, for most of us the lack of desire for eating food is something we have at one point or another experienced.

This condition is described as loss of appetite or anorexia. The opposite of it, namely an increase in appetite, is also true and is termed polyphagia. Some of the factors that may be responsible for a loss of appetite include:
  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Pain
  • Abdominal distension
  • Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
  • Medication

A loss of appetite puts an individual at risk of losing weight. This is because the person fails to meet the recommended nutrient intake that is required by the body in a day. As a result of this, a condition by the name of anorexia cachexia is likely to occur in a such an individual.

Anorexia cachexia is the loss of weight as a result of an inadequate intake of the nutrients. Anorexia implies that the hunger is absent and the person get satiety (a feeling of fullness) after eating small portions of food or when they just see food. Beyond the expected reduction in weight, this condition also sets precedence for the likelihood of some nutrient deficiencies to occur.

As we go deeper let us discuss the main regulators of the appetite in our body. The hypothalamus is the organ in our brains that is involved in regulating appetite and also metabolism. The lateral hypothalamus or feeding centre is the part in the brain that induces feeding. Should it get damaged, this affects the appetite of an individual.

Anorexia can either be acute or chronic. Acute anorexia is mainly caused by infections, pain, oral disorders or environmental causes. The chronic disorder is associated with anorexia that has been present for extended periods.


Tackling Low Appetite

appealing food
Bon Appétit

Some of the things that can be done to bring back appetite include:

1.Ensure that you consume food from all the major food groups. By doing this you first ensure that you’re receiving sufficient nutrient intake for your body and second, that you are able to vary the taste of the foods you take thus promoting your appetite.

2.Take small food but frequent meals (at least after every 1-2 hours). This will enable you to meet the recommended nutrient intake that you need per day. Moreover, frequent food intake will likely increase your desire of eating.

Snack with fruits as they provide you with vitamins and minerals that are key in bringing back your appetite. You can also include high calorie and high protein snacks like milk, eggs or cakes to promote weight gain.

While doing this, it’s also good to identify at which meal time your appetite is highest so that you can take advantage by taking more food to compensate for times when your appetite is usually low.

3.When preparing and serving the meals make them appealing to all the senses by including different colours, tastes and pleasant aromas. Food that is inviting, both in appearance and aroma, is likewise pleasurable to eat and this is likely to increase one's desire to eat. It's called appetizing for a reason.

4.Environment is another factor to consider. When taking the food ensure you are in a conducive environment far from the anything that may disrupt the enjoyment of your food e.g. an off-putting smell in the place you’re eating at, distractive activities like watching TV, using your mobile phone to chat or play games etc.

5.Fluids are preferably to be taken in between the meals rather than together. This is because fluids may reduce the amount of food your eventually consume by taking some of its space. Drinking in between meals thus ensures you take a bit more food than you normally would had you consumed it together with a fluid.

6.Before taking food it's advisable to perform some form of physical exercise like walking or jogging as these will increase your desire to eat.