Food has always been a major concern for man, be it our distant ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, or present-day modern humans. Man has thrived on diets comprising exclusively the raw fat and protein of fish and mammals (Eskimoes) as well as on diets composed largely of wild plants (Australian Aborigines). In between the two extreme types of diet there is a considerable number of dietary permutations which have evolved over time as a result of the cooking, processing, heavy reliance on domesticated grains and root crops, refined sugar, processed vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. Man can be vegetarian, vegan, or non-vegetarian. The latter group consume various types of meat which may be pork, beef, poultry, fish, mollusc, cats, snakes, frogs, etc., together with the vegetables. Taken holistically man eats both plants and animals and is an omnivore.
It is wondered whether the alimentary system of the modern man had time to adapt to the variety of diets. The body size, dentition, shape and structure of the gut, digestive fluids, how food elements get absorbed by the gut, etc., set limitations on the types of food intake. It is evident from medical literature that one of the principal causes of the prevailing diseases of affluence (heart disease, high blood pressure, artherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, etc.,) is the food that man eats.
“We are what we eat” is the adage. It is indeed true that the type and quality of food consumed do a great deal to determine the chemical composition of each cell of the human body. Consequently, food has a huge effect on the overall health of a person. A diet rich in any one aspect only can be an unhealthy diet, in the same way that a diet lacking in a certain nutrient or vitamin can also affect our health. A balanced diet consists of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and water in the right amount.
In prescribing for himself food which is conveniently available and what he likes to eat unlike his forefathers who were eating that which they could get through hunting, fishing, gathering and cultivating, man has spared no effort to make supply of food adequate. To this end he has exploited technology to produce, process, refine and alter both plant and animal foods, making them readily consumable. These foods give more energy per meal than wild foods which have a low digestive energy density.
In his search for healthier foods and to meet the growing food demand (protein in particular), man has included non-conventional protein sources in his diet. One such non-conventional proteinaceous food source is the single cell proteins (SCP) or biomass protein (BMP). Bacteria, Moulds, Yeasts, Green and Bluegreen algae are used as sources of protein. Products made from single cell protein abound in the market – Quorn, Biolife products, fishless fish fingers/burgers, Yeast for Life, are some examples of trademark SCP products.
The production of microbial protein or SCP has certain advantages over animal and plant protein production in that it can be produced all round the year in limited spaces without taxing the scarce water resource and land. Nutritionally SCP has a relative high protein content with a wide amino acid spectrum, traces of useful nutrients and a low fat content making it good food. It is consumed by both vegetarians and non-vegetarians and well tolerated by all age groups. Its consumption offers a means to check on the diseases of affluence.
Single cell proteins and its derivatives are natural and unprocessed food to palliate the shortage of healthy food (proteins). It is indeed causing a bio-revolution in the food chain. It is even viewed as a Marshall plan for food security. Making SCP easily available will go a long way towards giving people the choice of eating so as to remain healthier.
- Published in print edition on 25 September 2015