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Beware, Big Pharma Is Messing With Your Head (And Food Choices!)

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The American Heart Association (AHA) has released a report attacking coconut oil: “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favourable effects, we advise against [its] use.” AHA’s Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory reviewed existing data on saturated fat, showing coconut oil increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in seven out of seven controlled trials. In fact, 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, according to the data — making it less healthy than even butter (63%). Juggernaut spoke to Rujuta Diwekar about this latest finding:

Juggernaut Books (JB): Rujuta, do you believe there is any merit to this report?

Rujuta Diwekar (RD): Well, they looked at seven studies. If they looked at 70, they would have a different kind of advisory. For example, they didn’t look at what it did to HDL, another cholesterol molecule which has cardioprotective properties. If they did, they would want to go back on their words. And I suspect they will. It’s a matter of time. The science on saturated fat and how it is not a risk factor for heart diseases is out there Now it’s only about not staying blind to hardcore evidence.

JB: What exactly is LDL cholesterol?

RD: A molecule that does many functions in the body, including transporting of fats. And using cholesterol levels as a surrogate measure for assessing risk to heart disease has been questioned and widely debated.

There is clear evidence to prove that cholesterol is not the bad guy it is made out to be, thanks to pharma companies wanting to sell statins (a drug to lower cholesterol levels), which incidentally is amongst the highest selling drug in the world.

JB: What do you think of studies of this kind which are routinely released from American health associations?

RD: That they should look at food in totality and not as a sum total of individual parts or nutrients. Because then you only keep getting it wrong and further fuel public confusion on what to eat and what to avoid. One day fat is bad, the next day it is okay and only saturated fat is bad. Then it’s okay but only up to 6% of total calories – which no one knows how to count.

As the public, we should always look at who funds the associations that serve public health. Is it food corporations and pharma? Then we should take all advice with a pinch of salt, don’t you think?

And as a country, we should grow up. We have no business staying umbilically connected to the American guidelines, at least on food. We have a different food pattern from theirs, in fact, what is applicable in Delhi is not even relevant in Rohtak.

And then, we need better editors in mainstream media who ask their writers if the title or the headline really justify the content of the study or the article? So we need better reporting, transparent studies that more than clearly state conflict of interest and an educated public that doesn’t depend on tabloid headlines to make decisions on food.

JB: Is saturated fat really such a big bad thing?

RD: There is no such thing as a bad thing. The only really bad thing is to replace saturated fat with vegetable oils like the way the guidelines suggest. The bad thing is to stay blind to the tons of scientific evidence that saturated fat is not linked to heart disease.

Also, saturated fats have always existed in nature, breast milk is dominantly saturated fat as is dairy or even coconut for that matter. But then even within saturated fats there are types, the medium chain, long chain etc.

The question to ask is, is it naturally rich in fat? If yes, have it bindaas. Don’t leave out the yolk or process the milk to make it low in fat. Processing naturally fat food to turn it into low on fat is the bad thing. Ask any biochemist, they love the structure of the saturated fat, it’s beautiful you know, nice and stable.

JB: A study done at Cornell University showed coconut oil had a higher proportion of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) than most other fats or oils which actually increase the rate of metabolism. The current report claims that the Cornell researchers used a “designer oil” packed with 100% MCTs. Traditional coconut oil, on the other hand, only contains about 13 to 15%. What do you think of this statement?

RD: No one should be reducing coconut oil to just MCTs, there’s much more to coconut than just one type of fat. In India, we use it in all forms from tender to dry coconut from Biryanis to laddoos. So while coconut is great, I am no fan of adding coconut oil to coffee for turning it into bulletproof coffee but I am all for eating deep fried banana chips in coconut oil while on a backwaters cruise in Kerala.

It is really about preserving our common sense here, add regular full-fat milk to your coffee or chai and enjoy the coconut in the multiple ways we have known it. Keep your end of the bargain at all times, don’t buy western fears and also don’t buy their fads. Focus on enjoying the chai with the bhajiya because soon normal rains may be extinct and pray for that and farmer well-being while you are at it. Our global outlook should not divorce us from our roots or local issues.

JB: Are there good fats and bad fats?

RD: There are naturally existing fats and fats that come from packaged food. Avoid packaged food and eat plain simple real food.

JB: Should Indians ever listen to dietary advice from international health bodies?

RD: No. We should stop being brainwashed by our education=English, the doctor=always correct and America=boss equations, and listen to the language of common sense and love that our grandmom speaks. That’s timeless wisdom. That’s the stuff that the world needs to address issues like public health and climate change. Our diversity, especially in the way we eat, is our strength, we must preserve it.indian_super_foods_150_rgb_1460872451_380x570


Read Rujuta’s book “Indian Superfoods” here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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