An interview with Dr Ajay Bakshi
“Bad nutrition – specifically addiction to carbs and sugars is self-inflicted harm,” says Dr. Ajay Bakshi, the Managing Director & CEO of Manipal Health Enterprises (Manipal Hospitals), calling for the scientific community to better engage with the public to share scientific facts (on nutrition) proven through rigorous research studies – rather than anecdotal evidence that seems to drive a lot of fads.
Grow Fit: How do you think the way medial science has viewed nutrition has changed over the years?
Dr. Ajay Bakshi: The medical science on nutrition is still evolving and despite a lot of research, a single consensus view has not yet emerged. However, one thing is clear: nutrition, its relationship to over-weight/obesity and ways to control weight are very complex topics with inter-related forces like total calories consumed, quality of calories, individual hormonal responses, individual psychological characteristics (like motivation etc), social factors (like family eating habits). All of these forces have complex interactions with each other and there are no simple solutions towards weight loss. However, one thing is becoming clear about nutrition. The excessive consumption of carbs in general and sugars in particular are key factors contributing the over-weight epidemic. In fact, the new phrase – “sugar is the new tobacco” is quite apt because it has taken us decades to understand the damage sugar causes, it is equally addictive and there is a large sugar-based food industry that stands to lose if people start consuming less sugar.
The awareness (in India) about the harm caused by sugars is lagging behind the West
Grow Fit: Has there been a change in this (i.e., medial sciences’ views on nutrition) between the way India and the West have viewed this?
Dr. Ajay Bakshi: The awareness (in India) about the harm caused by sugars is lagging behind the West. In fact, the large contingent of vegetarians in India are seen to be overweight because their diet has much more carbs and sugars than those of non-vegetarians. This is anecdotal data and the fact that systematic studies on this simple but important question do not exist is telling.
But unfortunately, obesity is still seen as a failure of “will power” and “weakness”
Grow Fit: Specifically to do with chronic disease, how has the significance of nutrition changed?
Dr. Ajay Bakshi: People do seem to recognize the connection between diabetes and obesity. But unfortunately, obesity is still seen as a failure of “will power” and “weakness”. Obese people continue to be joked about and made fun of. This is unfortunate. Obesity is as much a disease/medical problem as arthritis or hypertension often originating in an addition of carbs and sugars.
The scientific community needs to engage with the lay public better to share scientific facts which are proven through rigorous research studies rather than anecdotal evidence that seems to driving a lot of these fads.
Grow Fit: What is your opinion about functional foods and the clutter in the market on “eating healthy”?
Dr. Ajay Bakshi: For sure “eating healthy” is a fad – which is double edged sword. On one hand it is important for lay public to become much more aware of what they eat and how unhealthy eating can seriously damage their quality of life. On the other hand – there are a lot of questionable and scientifically un-supported diets out there. The surge of ‘organic’ foods is one such – there is hardly any scientific evidence that organic foods are actually healthier and lead to better health outcomes. Similarly, people go on crash diets where they are on liquids only for a few days, or eat only one type of food (e.g., boiled vegetables) or exclude a particular component (e.g., gluten). The scientific community needs to engage with the lay public better to share scientific facts which are proven through rigorous research studies rather than anecdotal evidence that seems to driving a lot of these fads.
People should make the choice explicitly with their own mind, rather than allow external industrial forces to dictate their choices.
Grow Fit: Any additional thoughts or comments that you would like to share?
Dr. Ajay Bakshi: In the end, modern medicine has successfully conquered most infectious diseases and even several chronic diseases like cancer, heart attacks etc., are amenable to cure and good long term outcomes. But bad nutrition– specifically addiction to carbs and sugars is a self-inflicted harm that a lot of people seem to be committing. We have a choice of living a shorter but ‘sweeter’ life or a longer and more balanced life. There is no right answer here– but people should make the choice explicitly with their own mind, rather than allow external industrial forces to dictate their choices.
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