The force which holds the food-elements together in combination, is called potential energy. In breaking up the food into simpler compounds, the body sets this energy free, i.e. changes it into kinetic energy. The changes by which this is brought about have been likened to burning, i.e., the foods are oxidised in the system setting free energy and heat. Proteins fats, carbohydrates may all be burnt up to furnish energy and heat.

Following my articles in the “Herald dealing with difficulties in alimentation, I have been asked by Dr. Bose to chalk out a series of diets from a purely Indian stand point with their rationale, for identically those conditions for which I had attempted to seek out causes. While frankly admitting this to be a considerably more difficult task than what I have done hitherto, there will be no two opinions on the fact that subject asked for is one of extreme importance and value. But planning of diets for disease conditions takes for granted a thorough knowledge of all the elementary principles of dieting in health.

The latter has received enormous importance of late, specially abroad, and the volume of literature devoted to this end has been a staggering one. Though one comes across stray articles on diet in health in journals here and there, the fact remains that Bengal, probably the most poorly nourished of all provinces in India, has given the subject the least consideration. One reason for this obvious lack of enthusiasm on part of people to adopt a changed mode of food to be a want of practicability of carrying out instructions everywhere.

Most of our data and informations regarding have been collected from works by Western authors and quite naturally, the lists contain names of such foods which are rare, absent or too costly for our average public and miss a few quite common and cheap here, the food values of which are beyond question.

The proper solution of the problem will lie in fixing up compromise diet if I am allowed to use the term, which will embody the food principles in their proper proportions, and includes such articles which are essentially Indian as well as those which have been applauded in the Western books and yet are none too difficult to obtain here. The task, obviously, is a difficult one as it will seek to break open the tradition and accumulated dogmatism of centuries in a people whose characteristic trait is to cling desperately to whatever it is old and who have been trained to look with suspicion and fear, whatever it is new.


But the urgency is none the less present there. It is not difficult to ascertain wherein lies the causes of the stunted growth and emaciated physical of the majority of the Bengalis, specially of the younger section, roaming about in our streets. It is equally easy to see the root of the superior physical and stamina of the Punjabis and other races noted for their bodily vigor. It is not luck. It is sensible dieting. It is futile to argue on lines such as, “What about our forefathers, Sir? They were not very much inferior to the Punjabis. Arent we taking what our forefathers took?” There can be only one answer to this question.

It is, “No, we arent”. A careful analysis of the average daily ration of a Bengali 50 years back will bring out the enormous deterioration in the nutritive value of the foods consumed by the average present day Bengali. The relative increase in the cost of foods in modern times admittedly had much to do with this general falling off of the quality.

But then, there has been very little attempt top substitute the costlier foods with cheaper ones which have equal nutritive value. My attempt here would be to present before the readers a general idea about the relative value of the different foodstuffs in a way as will enable the reader to plan out a system of dieting himself most suited to the individual concerned.


Food is required for two purposes. 1. To build up the body (during the growing period) and repair tissue waste is continually going on inside, and (2) To supply energy and heat. During digestion, simulation, respiration and excretion, the food taken undergoes many changes, breaking down into simpler compounds or being transformed into others. These changes are grouped under the general term metabolism.

It is to be clearly understood that the first function of the food mentioned above can only be served by nitrogen containing foods, i.e. proteins, alone. The second function is subserved by all, i.e. proteins, fats and carbohydrates it is this power of the foods to liberate heat and energy which has afforded scientists a basis for evolving a method to calculate the relative value of foodstuffs. Every act in the body consumes energy. If a man lifts a pound a foot high, he must reproduce in his body that amount of energy to the utilized by the muscles concerned for purposes of lifting.

The force which holds the food-elements together in combination, is called potential energy. In breaking up the food into simpler compounds, the body sets this energy free, i.e. changes it into kinetic energy. The changes by which this is brought about have been likened to burning, i.e., the foods are oxidised in the system setting free energy and heat. Proteins fats, carbohydrates may all be burnt up to furnish energy and heat. The amount of the latter, i.e., the heat produced can be ascertained, and varies with the different classes of foods.

Thus, the heat value of fats in much greater than either the proteins or the carbohydrates. As the amount of heat liberated by a quantity of food varies directly with the amount of energy liberated, determination of heat-value of any food gives us the proportionate energy-value of the same food and, therefore, also the actual food value of the food in question. Thus the heat values (expressed in terms of calories or heat units) of proteins, fats and carbohydrates may be taken as a standard of their food-values. The following are the fuel values of the three classes of foodstuffs arrived at after careful experiments-

1 gram. of Protein 4 calories

1 gram. of Fat 9 calories

1 gram, of Carbohydrate 4 calories.

Some foods are all protein, as the white of eggs; some all fat as ghee; some all carbohydrate, as sugar. Most foods are, however, combination of all these and contain in addition, certain salts and water and in many cases, vitamins. To determine the fuel-value of any food, it is only necessary to multiply the percentage contained in 100 parts of the food by 4 for proteins and carbohydrates, and 9 for fats, and the total will give us the calories for 100 gms. of the food. For example, milk contains on an average, 3.5 per cent protein, 4 per cent fat and 4.5 per cent milk sugar. Therefore, the caloric value of 100 gms. of milk (just over 3 oz, or 12 chhataks) would be:.

Protein 3.5 x 4 = 14 calories.

Fat 4 x 9 = 36 calories.

Carbohydrate 4.5 x 4 = 18 calories.

Total value for 100 gms. = 68 calories.


The next question to be answered is, how much food, i.e. how many calories are needed by the body under ordinary conditions in 24 hours? The problem has been approached in various ways, but the best method is to express the total calorific requirement in per seer of body weight in 24 hours. It is simple common sense to know that this total will vary within wide limits.

A person engaged in hard muscular exercise will demand a much higher number of calories from his food than a person of the same weight in sedentary occupation, because the metabolism of the former runs at a much higher level. Thus, the diet will vary much according to the occupation and habits of the individual concerned. The following table modified from one of the greatest authorities on diet, represents a fairly reliable guide for calculation of total requirement in 24 hours:.

During rest in bed – 26 calories per seer of body weight.

In light work – 31 calories per seer of body weight.

In moderate work – 37 calories per seer of body weight.

In hard work – 45 calories per seer of body weight.

Thus, a person weighing 12 maunder and doing moderate work, will require 60 x 37 or 2220 calories worth of food in 24 hours. On the other hand, a man weighing 1 maund and 30 seers and doing hard muscular work would need 70 x 45 or 3150 calories in 24 hours. This table, of course, can not cover cases for the very young, who require much higher values. Thus, an infant in its first year of life requires nearly 100 calories per seer of its body weight in 24 hours. The figure gradually descends with each succeeding year, until reaching a standard for adults.

After we have considered the total calorific value of the food required, the next problem seems by far the most vexed of all we have hither to considered and concerning which quite a lot of confusion and an equally amazing divergence of practice prevails here. This is, how much of proteins, fast and carbohydrates each is to be given to furnish the requisite number of calories. The most intelligent plan appears to be determine the quantity of proteins at the outset and fill up the remaining calories by fats and carbohydrates.


A deficiency of nitrogen-containing foods (i.e. proteins) from the Bengali diet has for long been regarded as notorious factor contributing to our underdevelopment. Nitrogen is the only element which has the power to replace tissue waste as well as promote tissue growth. It is being continually taken with our food in the form of proteins and is being thrown out of the body (mainly through the urine as urea). Normally, this intake and output of nitrogen should fairly balance each other, in which event, we speak of the body as being in nitrogen equilibrium.

With increased intake of protein, increased metabolism of nitrogen takes place, the body excreting a proportionately increased amount of nitrogen, thus maintaining the equilibrium. Similarly proportional will be the output if proteins are reduced from the diet. The body is thus able to regulate the amount metabolised, by the amount taken. But there is a maximum and a minimum to these amounts of protein which will enable the body to maintain nitrogen equilibrium without producing ill effects.

The danger of exceeding the maximum, which is supposed to be 120 grms (roughly) in 24 hours is digestive and other metabolic disturbance such as high blood pressure, etc. The danger of going below the minimum. which has been estimated at 60 grms, in 24 hours, is much more serious, specially at the growing period of life. In fact, it is grave. The body, finding a dearth of available protein in the foods, begins to burn up the protein of the tissues, to keep up the the minimum requirement for metabolism.

The consequences of this vicious process may be well imagines which will be almost the same as partial starvation. More protein will be metabolised than what is taken with the food and thus the body will stop growing and will begin to reduce. The present day BEngali diet, on an average, shows a lamentable dearth of this essential protein, though the total calorific requirement may be more than met up through the other two sources, i.e. fats and carbohydrates, of which again, the latter is consumed in abnormally large quantities.

S. C. Laha
S. C. Laha, M. B. (Cal. Univ.)