Aflatoxin: A toxin you should mind

Aflatoxin: A toxin you should mind

Aflatoxin: A toxin you should mind

In 2019, a national survey by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) detected Aflatoxin M1 (AFM1) in milk samples. It was found that the highest rates of AFM1 contamination were present in Delhi, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Milk is a staple commodity for all sections of society in India, and detection of Aflatoxin M1 in milk is a grave concern. Considering this, in 2020, FSSAI released Gazette Norms on Contaminants, Toxins Including Aflatoxin M1 and fixed the limit of Aflatoxin M1 at 0.5 µg/kg for milk (liquid), 6 µg/kg for skimmed milk powder and 4 µg/kg for whole milk powder. But what is Aflatoxin, and why is it so dangerous? Let’s try to understand here.

Richa Pande

Aflatoxins are mycotoxins, i.e., toxins produced by certain fungi found in agricultural crops like maize and groundnuts. Some other food products commonly contaminated by aflatoxin are tree nuts such as pistachio and brazil nuts, cottonseed, copra, rice, maize, wheat, sorghum, pulses, figs, etc. oilseed cakes. Unrefined vegetable oil made from contaminated seeds or nuts usually contains aflatoxin. However, aflatoxin is destroyed in the refining process so that refined oils are safe.

The reason why aflatoxins are considered so harmful to human health is that they are carcinogenic. Their consumption is also associated with complications like hepatotoxicity, immunotoxicity, and teratogenicity. It can also lead to growth failure in children. Their consumption can cause stunting in children. Some studies often suggest that their consumption can lead to congenital disabilities in children. Aflatoxins can also decrease resistance to infectious agents, including grave diseases like tuberculosis & HIV. Large doses of aflatoxins can also lead to acute poisoning that can be life-threatening

Types of Aflatoxins

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), several types of aflatoxin (14 or more) occur in nature, but out of these four– Aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2 are hazardous to humans and animals as they have been found in major food crops. Also, most human exposure comes from contaminated nuts, grains and products derived from them. Aflatoxin M1 (AFM1) discussed above, is a product of Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) metabolism. If the cattle feed is laced with this Aflatoxin B1, it could be converted in to Aflatoxin M1 and could probably be detected in the milk. It’s surprising to note that humans may also be exposed to this aflatoxin through breast milk, especially in areas where the poorest quality grain is used for animal feed.


Food Stuff

What can you do as a consumer to prevent and reduce the consumption of foods contaminated with Aflatoxin?

  • Carefully inspect whole grains and nuts. If you see mould, discard the food. Note that the moulds do not just grow on the surface but penetrate deep into the food. It might be visible only on the surface, but the whole food product could have been contaminated.
  • Buy nuts as fresh as possible.  Buy reputable nuts and nut butter brands – aflatoxin moulds are not entirely killed by processing or roasting, so it is possible that they can be present in cashew butter, peanut butter, etc. Check their packaging methods.
  • Store nuts, including groundnuts in refrigerators at home. Storing nuts at a low temperature (refrigeration) have been found to have reduced aflatoxin levels for 3-6 months.
  • Assure that foods are stored adequately. Moisture promotes the growth of mould in foods.

Ensure that you have a diverse diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.


A2 Milk: Why you should know more about it?

A2 Milk: Why you should know more about it?

A2 Milk: Why you should know more about it?

You might have heard about A2 milk and the claims that it is better than the regular milk (A1 milk) commonly available in the market. Consumer perceives such milk as better option than regular milk. Even A2 ghee too is perceived as healthier. But, what’s the reality? Here’s a fact-check read on A2 milk.

Richa Pande

Take the example of A2 ghee; it is costlier. However, is it healthier too? Interestingly, any type of ghee made either from A2 or A1 milk are just fats. Any ghee does not contain protein, and it is mainly a protein BCM-7 present in regular milk that is under scrutiny for having some adverse health impacts. So, it is essential to be mindful when you are buying A2 milk products.

Behind the A2 milk controversy

The A2 milk controversy has its roots in the milk revolution which was launched in the 1970s in India. The milk revolution, also known as ‘operation flood’ and ‘white revolution’, was an Indian food security program. It was a move to boost the milk production to meet the nutritional requirements of the nation. The program was a huge success and is still considered to be one of the most accomplished food security programs in India. The program emphasized on the import of cattle breeds for higher yield. This eventually led to the side-lining of the Indian breeds.

Traditionally, the cows in the African and Asian continents produced A2 milk. But the switch from A2 to A1 cows to boost the production let to the milk consumption switch in India. However, on the other hand, many developed and developing nations including China, Australia, USA & UK have imported the Indian and African breeds and are switching to A2 milk consumption.

Recently, it has been found that the consumption of A1 milk (now commonly consumed in India) could be linked with neurological disorders heart diseases, diabetes. Also, some individuals cannot digest this type of milk and its regular intake can lead to bloating and irritable bowel syndrome. This is harmful and can lead to many intestinal disorders. On the other hand, A2 milk does not have beta-casein 1 and thus it’s consumption does not result in the disorders which can be caused by the consumption of A1 milk.

A2 Milk

How is the composition of A1 milk different from A2 milk?

Let us begin by understanding that milk has beta casein protein in it. There are two types of variations of this protein i.e. A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein. The milk nomenclature is as per beta casein variant present in the milk. The difference is because of the change in the position of an amino acid. The A1 variant has histidine while A2 casein has proline.

Potential harmful impacts of consuming A1 milk 

  • Consumption of BCM-7 has been interlinked with causing type 1 diabetes, heart diseases infant death, autism, and digestive problems
  • Some research papers also interlink its consumption with adverse impacts on immune system  

Note that BCM-7’s absorption in its intact form into our bloodstream is not understood well. Many research studies couldn’t detect BCM-7 in the blood of healthy adults who drink cow’s milk, but some studies indicate that BCM-7 can be present in the bloodstream of infants who consumed cow milk. This predisposes the infants to the risk of developing type 1 diabetes in infants

The other side of the story

Although there are many studies which link consumption of A1 milk with some diseases, some experts argue that many Europeans and Americans have been consuming it for generations and it is safe for consumption. A systematic review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) declares that no cause-and-effect relationship can be established between consumption of BCM- 7 (present in A1 milk) and the occurrence of acclaimed diseases. It is important to note that the conclusions of a systematic review are more reliable than a single study. The same article also quotes a NBAGR [ National Bureau of Genetic Resources] paper that, there are very few cattle with the A1 genes in India which are used for breeding and milking. As per this paper, the A1 milk and A2 milk are mixed when they are procured from small farmers. Even if the claims related to the A1 milk are true, the impact of A1 milk after being mixed with A2 milk is subdued and can cause little harm to human health.

Prices of the A2 milk products in India

   Cost Per Litre
A1 Milk ₹ 56- 90 per litre
A2 Milk ₹75- 110 per litre
A1 Ghee ₹ 450- 650 per litre
A2 Ghee ₹ 1500- 2300 per litre

How to assess if you are intolerant to A1 milk?  

As mentioned before, A1 milk can not only cause comorbidities like diabetes, heart diseases etc but can also impact your gut health. You can follow these steps to understand whether you are intolerant to it:

  • Carefully observe the changes you experience after consuming milk and milk products that you consume usually. Do you feel bloated? Does it ache? Does milk impact your motion? If yes you could be either intolerant to the lactose or beta-caesin1. If you are lactose intolerant, you can consume curd instead of milk as fermentation reduces the lactose levels in the milk.
  • You can buy lactose free milk from the market to check if the problem is because of the A1beta-casein or lactose in the milk. If the intolerance persists even after consuming the lactose free milk, it could be because of the A1 beta-casein. As many Indians rely on dairy products for protein intake, milk cannot be eliminated from the diet. These consumer tips might help someone who is intolerant to beta-casein1 in milk-
  • Switch to pasteurized A2 milk if it is available in your locality
  • Procure milk from local vendors who raise ‘desi cattle.’ However, please note that food safety can be compromised in procuring milk from local vendors.
  • You can buy soymilk as an alternative to the milk products.

FSSAI regulation on A1 and A2 Milk 

  • Standards of milk as specified in Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 do not mention or recognise any differentiation of milk based on A1 and A2 types.
  • Scientific panels on milk and milk products have discussed the regarding adverse/beneficial effects of A1 and A2 types of milk. They couldn’t arrive at a conclusion due to lack of clinical data and risk assessment.

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Antacids: Not healthy over the long term

Antacids: Not healthy over the long term

Antacids: Not healthy over the long term

There are these advertisements that feature individuals gulping down food in excessive amounts, leading to indigestion (also known as heartburn and acidity). This discomfort is often shown to be eased by the branded antacid, and invariably has a funny and loud burp as an accompaniment. The portrayal is funny but doing this – that is, resorting to the antacid – on a long-term basis can lead to serious health concerns. Such advertisements trick the consumers into believing that one can stuff their stomach with large amounts of food and subsequently ease the discomfort by popping an antacid. And trick it certainly is, for too much consumption of antacids is unhealthy. Find out why.

It is important to know that apart from gulping down an antacid to ease the discomfort, one must understand the cause of it and address it. One’s long-term health may be determined by this. Taking antacids doesn’t actually solve the problem; it merely affords immediate relief.

Heartburn happens when acidic contents of the stomach reflux back into the oesophagus (long, muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach) and inflame its sensitive lining. This leads to a burning sensation in the oesophagus. Antacids contain alkaline chemicals that neutralize the action of excessive acid produced in the stomach.

Excessive Production of Acid

Our stomach naturally produces acid to properly digest the food we eat. The production of this acid is dependent on the type of food and the quantity in which we eat it. Unhealthy lifestyle habits – such as an imbalanced diet and low physical activity – may contribute to an imbalance in the production of this acid.

Foods That Can Cause Heartburn

  • Products that contain caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Sodas and carbonated beverages
  • Table salt/Salty foods
  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods

Too much acid production can lead to ulcers and other serious health concerns. Any long-term stomach discomfort must be reported. In any case, antacids should never be consumed for the long term without consulting a physician. 

Type of Antacids

Antacids can be divided into systemic and non-systemic antacids. Systemic antacids are absorbed mostly from the gut into the bloodstream, whereas non-systemic antacids are not.


  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium citrate & potassium citrate
  • These are also known as fruit salts


  • Magnesium hydroxide
  • Aluminium hydroxide
  • Aluminium phosphate


  • Magaldrate
  • Almagate
  • Hydrotalcite

Source:  Antacids and alginate*-containing preparations: What is their mechanism of action and their place in the management of GERD? C. Scarpignato, G. Gimbo (Parma)

What Are Alginates?

Alginates are also used commonly to treat indigestion issues. Preparations containing alginate are very effective in easing acid refluxes. A combination of both is considered to be an apt solution for acid refluxes.

Indigenous Preparations in the Indian Market

There are many indigenous preparations that are known to relieve the symptoms of indigestion. These are marketed as ‘ayurvedic proprietary medicines’. Yet, despite being labelled as ‘ayurvedic’, quiet often these preparations are not completely ayurvedic. Also, to stabilize the ayurvedic ingredients, additives are added to these preparations. 

Key Findings

  • Many clinical studies have associated consumption of antacids with nausea and headache.
  • Consumption of antacids (aluminium-containing antacids) is known to cause constipation. This is because of the impact of aluminium on gut motility.
  • Due to the same reason, antacids that contain magnesium are known to cause diarrhoea (impact of magnesium on gut motility).
  • Milk-alkali syndrome is a condition in which the level of calcium and alkali (opposite of acidic) raises in the blood levels. This is caused by consuming either dietary supplements (to correct calcium deficiency) or antacids (which contain calcium) in excessive amounts. If it isn’t treated, it may lead to kidney failure or even death.
  • Excessive consumption of antacids (containing bicarbonates) can lead to increased bicarbonate levels in blood, leading to metabolic alkalosis.

Extra Caution Needed

Antacids are alkaline (basic) in nature. This is why they shouldn’t be taken along with acidic medicines (such as digoxin, phenytoin and chlorpromazine). The reason is simple. Antacids will react with these medicines and will limit the absorption of these drugs. Antacids containing magnesium reduce the absorption of antibiotics. Antacids also impact the elimination of some drugs from the body.

Liquid forms of antacids work faster than tablets.  If you are taking a tablet, chew it slowly. Do not gulp down the whole tablet with water. If you are taking liquid, it is advisable to take it undiluted or with very little water.

Antacids may impact the nutrient absorption in the body and their regular use may lead to depletion of essential vitamins and minerals in the body.

Patients suffering from kidney disease/heart disease/liver disease must not consume antacids without consulting a physician. Some antacids have sodium bicarbonates, which can lead to adverse effects. 

Some Remedies to Prevent Indigestion

  • Avoid consuming large meals, which can lead to excess production of acid and thereon to acid refluxes. Small meals ensure that the stomach is not overfilled with food.
  • Some individuals find spices and condiments – for example ajwain (carom seeds), pink salt, cardamom, heeng (asafoetida) – to be relieving when they experience indigestion. Scientifically, too, they have been found to aid in indigestion.
  • Curd has probiotics that help in keeping the gut healthy. Its consumption can aid in maintaining a healthy gut flora.

Other foods that you can add to your diet to help relieve heartburn include bananas, melons, oatmeal, grains, potatoes, ginger and green veggies.

Let’s Be Realistic About Eating Healthy

Let’s Be Realistic About Eating Healthy

Let’s Be Realistic About Eating Healthy

Instead of over-ambitious food resolutions, small changes in eating habits can make a big difference.

Dr Rajni Chopra 

Setting unrealistic dietary resolutions like zero eating out, zero-packaged foods, et al. are more often than not impossible to keep. Instead, moderation rather than abstinence would to be a more realistic goal to achieve. Our health would be better served by understanding, and then deciding, what we put inside our bodies. Specifically, the ingredients that we must be watchful of are oils and fats—an integral part of Indian cooking.

Oils and fats are used in various recipes—baking/shortening, deep-frying, sautéing, pan-frying, stir-frying, etc. Hence, it’s important to choose the right kind of oils and fats for cooking. After all, the kind of fat and its sources play a major role in defining how healthy or unhealthy a food item is.

Understanding Bad Fats

Half-a-million people die every year due to trans-fats, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study released in 2019. Trans-fat is the worst kind of fat, and yet it is surprisingly common. Understanding two of its major sources can help you avoid it. Naturally formed trans-fats are found in animal products, including high-fat meat, lamb and full-fat dairy foods.

On the other hand, trans-fats are also formed during the process of partial hydrogenation which is an industrial process to convert unsaturated oils into saturated fat. During this process, vegetable oil, which is liquid at room temperature, is converted into partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is solid at room temperature. As a result, it has better textural properties, better flavour and stability. Some food manufacturers also use partially hydrogenated oils to improve food’s texture, shelf life, flavour and stability in baked foods.

WHO has set in motion a plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fat by 2023, citing linkages to increased risk of coronary heart diseases, including mortality. Demonstrating the dangers of trans-fats in an Indian context, an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) report found that our country has the highest number of trans-fat consumption-related deaths—77,000—per year.

Clearly, heart-healthy fats—those of plant and vegetable origin are the way to go. These help to maintain desirable levels of blood lipid profile. Replacing partially hydrogenated fat, saturated fat and fat of animal origin with natural vegetable oils (unsaturated fat) has been linked to a reduced risk of heart problems. Completely refusing street food/outside food or packaged foods is simply impossible for a majority of people.

Healthy, realistic choices

An occasional cookie/mathri, samosa or cupcake with our tea or coffee is not going to harm our health if we have a predominantly healthy diet and lifestyle. It is not going to be possible to practice a completely zero-eating-out policy. Culturally, eating out is often the most common social activity. In both scenarios, we should simply watch out for the sources of trans-fat.

When eating out, understand the way food has been prepared and avoid items that are prepared with reheated used cooking oil (samosa, kachori, cutlets, spring rolls, deep-fried dim sums, fries, etc.). Exercise the same caution when it comes to savoury snack items (e.g. bhujjia, namkeen) and bakery goods (cake puffs, khaari, and naankhatai). Reuse of heated oil for frying, a common street food practice, can increase the trans-fat content of fried products. Trans-fats also enters our diet through snacks like pizzas, burgers, french fries, mathris, etc., for which vanaspati is used as a shortening fat.

When you go shopping, read the labels on the foods you are thinking of buying, and look for options labeled as trans-fat-free. Also, look for foods that use natural vegetable oils (soybean, canola, corn, safflower and sunflower oils). When shopping for cookies, frozen desserts, chocolates, snacks and bakery items add to your shopping cart only items that are made from vegetable oil/fat and are not fried or cooked in hydrogenated vegetable oil or vanaspati or fat of animal origin.

When compared to more ambitious food resolutions, these changes may seem small but that is what makes them achievable. And, in the long run, they can have a significant impact on your heart health.


ABCs of the processed foods!

ABCs of the processed foods!

Processed foods have become a part of our lives. Experts recommend to avoid eating them in excess due to their unhealthy nutrition composition or...

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Milk Milk from a glass, or milk in tea and coffee! Plain milk or flavoured or chocolate milk. A hot glass of milk or chilled milk…but ‘piyo glassful...

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Health Effects of Acrylamide Consumption

Health Effects of Acrylamide Consumption

Health Effects of Acrylamide Consumption

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that is formed in some foods when they undergo high-temperature cooking processes like frying, roasting and baking. Sugars and an amino acid (asparagine), which are naturally present in food items are responsible for acrylamide formation. These food items include potatoes, coffee, cereals, etc. According to USFDA, it is not formed/ or formed at lower levels in animal-based food products such as -dairy, meat and fish products. Acrylamide could be formed in food prepared at home or commercially available food items including ready-to-eat food items.

Acrylamide has probably always been present in cooked foods. However, acrylamide was first detected in certain foods in April 2002.

Since acrylamide is formed through cooking, acrylamide levels in cooked organic foods should be similar to levels in cooked non-organic foods.

Why Is Acrylamide Harmful for Health?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) grades acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen”, and National Toxicology Program (NTP), USA classifies it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It is also capable of causing nerve damage function (including muscle weakness and impaired muscle coordination) in human beings. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), in 2010 states acrylamideto be a human health concern, and acrylamide levels in food should be reduced.


ABCs of the processed foods!

ABCs of the processed foods!

Processed foods have become a part of our lives. Experts recommend to avoid eating them in excess due to their unhealthy nutrition composition or...

read more


Milk Milk from a glass, or milk in tea and coffee! Plain milk or flavoured or chocolate milk. A hot glass of milk or chilled milk…but ‘piyo glassful...

read more

Why hydroponic foods are good for you

Why hydroponic foods are good for you

Why hydroponic foods are good for you

Our food systems are constantly evolving every day. Innovations like vegan meats and NutriLock technology are already transforming our food systems.  These innovations not only improve the nutritional adequacy of food, and its taste but also address sensitive issues like food carbon emissions and food shortage. Hydroponics is one such technology that is gaining in popularity in recent times. Let us know here, the benefits of consuming Hydroponics grown foods.

By Richa Pande

Hydroponics is derived from two Greek words ‘hydro’ meaning water, and ‘ponos’ meaning work. It is the technique of growing plants without soil. Yes, you read it right- farming without soil! With the rise in the global population, the demand for food has also constantly increased. To increase food production and prevention of its spoilage by pests, farmers use fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. Further, to ripen fruits and to aid faster growth of fruits and vegetables, chemicals in the form of ripening agents are used. At the same time, with growing awareness of the health hazards from these chemicals, more and more people are opting for chemical, insecticide, pesticide free food these days. Hydroponics offers a safer option for growing food in the coming times. And if you are not very fond of growing them yourselves, you can purchase them from the growers in your local vicinity.

Let us now understand one by one what are the advantages of consuming foods that are grown hydroponically.

Benefits of hydroponics foods 

  1. Products using hydroponics techniques could be made available to you in any season at any time of the year and that too in any geographic area. This is because there is no dependability on a specific soil type, rain, insolation, etc. For example, we can consume strawberries in the summers. You don’t need to buy frozen foods when the fresh foods are available in all the seasons. You can grow/buy foods in small quantities and always have fresh food available.
  2. Uses less water. Yes! This is a proven fact. Hydroponics uses less water as compared to plants grown in soil. Hydroponic plants use 98 per cent less water than normal plants. Thus, these plants are helpful in conserving water. This must be seen in the backdrop of the impending global water crisis. It is being predicted that by 2050 drinkable water will be available for less than half of the population of world. As global production is increasing, the demand for water needed for agriculture is increasing too. Also, the yield is more if the food items are grown hydroponically. So, by consuming hydroponically grown foods, you are actually conserving water for future generations and conserving the environment.
  3. Hydroponically grown foods are safer for you as they are free from chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, that are not good for your health if consumed regularly. They can cause chronic illnesses like cancer. Some of them can get stored in your body’s fat cells and can get released when you start losing weight and begin to cause symptoms.

Where to get hydroponically grown foods? 

You can buy hydroponic grown food from your local sellers. You can access the details of these sellers from their websites by just typing hydroponics plant and your city name/locality name in the search engine and check relevant details.

Can you grow these foods on your own?

You can purchase hydroponic DIY kits if you are fascinated by this technique and are planning to set your own hydroponics system. These can be easily set indoors as well on the roofs, and in your garden. Some of them can even fit into your balconies. The DIY kits for hydroponics can be purchased from e-commerce websites as well as local suppliers. Sellers often provide tutorials to setup the hydroponics system and to grow your own produce. Some suppliers can help us in developing an understanding about –

  1. Temperature control while growing different kind of produce
  2. Equipment set-up and requirements
  3. Root replacements
  4. Nutrient water preparation for different foods
  5. Oxygen supply (i.e., air pumps set-up)
  6. Other details about the product we wish to grow.

Initially, you might need a professional guidance or even training sessions because you are learning a new concept. But with time you can learn to grow food items that we need as per your convenience. Imagine foods you wish to eat can be grown in your own gardens/ balconies. You don’t have to depend on others to supply it or worry about food safety.  Isn’t that fascinating, isn’t that empowering?

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