Recently, cases of people who died due to consuming bottle gourd (dudhi/lauki) juice have been reported in the country. The juice that they consumed, unfortunately, was bitter due to excess content of cucurbitacin. This is a natural toxin produced by the cucumber family of vegetables. Its bitterness is a warning sign to avoid it.
What goes wrong in such instances?
Basic physiology has a lesson for us:
- Smell, flavour and taste of food are a powerful indicator. It informs you of the content and texture of food. Very strong or unpleasant flavours and tastes are almost always harmful substances for your body.
- When you see, smell, and chew food, your brain is analysing it. It also starts ‘cephalic phase’ of gastric acid secretion. Almost 30% of your gastric acid is secreted while food is still in mouth.
- Protein digestion starts in stomach. All ingested poisons are protein too.
- Pepsinogen is the chemical produced by your stomach that gets activated at pH of 1.8 – 3.5 and starts digesting proteins/poisons. Stomach has very strong anti-acid coating of mucus so it is safe from such poisons and strong acid.
When you drink juices, you:
- Bypass safety mechanisms of mouth and nose
- Lose out on acid secretion and partial digestion.
- Liquid reaches upper small intestine directly, spending very little time in stomach, so stomach digestion process is bypassed.
- Harmful products reach intestine directly, where they can get absorbed or act on intestinal wall that is not defended as compared to the stomach.
- From the intestine, they reach the liver directly and if a certain substance is bad for the liver, it will harm your liver directly. The most well-known example of this is alcohol.
- So if you insist on consuming raw vegetables and fruits, consume them as solids, chew well and eat slowly. Respect your body’s signals.
Liquids are for babies and the aged who cannot chew anymore.
Take care and be safe. Help nature protect you. Just because humans invented the blender, that doesn’t mean that you should be in a hurry to drink ‘healthy’ but horrible tasting juices, don’t bypass the firewall that nature evolved to protect you.
And a word of advice from me is that you cook and consume your own food. Roadside vendors or superstores selling veggie/wheatgrass smoothies are unlikely to have your best interests in mind.
The author is a senior Child Psychiatrist from Pune.