Last month, one fine morning, to our shock and disbelief, reports came through that the flavour powder of a very popular noodles brand contained dangerous substances. Tests conducted later by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) confirmed that the product contained Lead well in excess of permissible safety limits.
It came as a rude shock as the top noodles brand in question had virtually revolutionised the global fast-food market. The brand was the first real ‘convenience food’ and basically filled a need for mothers and children alike. ‘2 minutes’ was the new mantra back then. But at what cost? Just think about it. Maida (refined flour), salt, some chemicals and plenty of fat – the key ingredients.
Research suggests that regular consumption of products high in MSG and Lead leads to conditions like obesity and can even damage brain cells. And how do you, as a consumer, understand what is right and what is wrong?
The first step is to take a closer look at the food labels and the ingredients list in every packaged food product before purchasing it. Here are a few toxic food additives that you should watch out for. Carefully read the ingredients list on the packet and if you find any of these in there, just stay away from the product:
Artificial Sweeteners: By this, we mean Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame K and Sucralose-containing products. Well-known author and neurosurgeon Dr Russell Blaylock had asserted in his book Excitotoxins that Aspartame can potentially damage nerve cells of the brain even in normal doses, leave alone excess consumption.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate): Studies have indicated that MSG stimulates the pleasure centre in our brain to keep us addicted to that food item and then the long-term damage starts playing out. MSG can potentially kill the nerve cells of the brain by over-stimulating them.
BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene): It is an endocrine disruptor which plays havoc with organs that produce the hormones required to regulate basic body functioning. There is a growing debate worldwide over the role played by BHT in heightening the risks of cancer, asthma and behavioural issues in children.
Red No.3 or Erythrosine: Coal-tar-based food dyes and any artificial colouring is a suspect. Caramel Colouring III and IV contain 4–Methylimidazole, a carcinogen. Even if a product claims to have natural colours (and flavours), it can still contain synthetic versions of natural compounds. Several studies have linked conditions like thyroid to the usage of Erythrosine.
Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated Oils, Interesterified and Mono/Diglyceride Fats: Research has shown that usage of hydrogenated oil in food is responsible for most of the heart diseases in the world.
It’s time to eat healthy - really!
Before even looking at the contents of the pack, you need to understand that the 2-minute concept is unreal. It’s an impossible standard to instantly fulfil a child’s hunger. All processed instant foods take a toll on health. The hard truth is that there really is no substitute for home-made nutritious food, whether it takes 5 minutes or 50 minutes to prepare.
Remember, healthy food is not always the tastiest, but the benefits of eating healthy food far outweigh any amount of ‘tasty junk’. Healthy options don’t come instantly. It involves a careful search for wholesome and healthy recipes, spending more time in the kitchen and being receptive to varying reactions from your children. To all kitchen queens and kings out there – get your partners and kids involved in the process of cooking good food. Have a stress-free, fun family time. Educate your kids, or better yet, let them educate themselves with guidance.
- Certified organic products are free from adulterants, chemicals and genetically-modified ingredients. Choose from certified organic staples like whole grain cereals and millets, whole pulses and split dals with skin, spices, tamarind, jaggery, cold-pressed organic oils and so on. Organic fruits and vegetables may be tougher to find, but with a bit of an effort, you should be able to find a store within your range.
- If you’re selecting a processed organic product, make sure you read the ingredients list and food labels. The word ‘organic’ alone doesn’t guarantee it is free from adulteration. You’ll be surprised to know there are some organic junk foods too in the market.
- Support local farmers and ask for their certification to ensure you are buying authentic products.Promoting sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly practices is the need of the hour. A United Nations report states that Sustainable Agricultural Practices (Organic and Natural farming) are the way forward, NOT chemical-intensive, biotechnology-enabled farming.
By buying organic products, you can send a clear message to the food industry and businesses everywhere that you will not tolerate inferior goods.
We are What We Eat
Despite the incredible attention devoted to health and wellness, over the past 30 years, the percentage of people worldwide considered overweight (BMI ≥ 25 to <30) or obese (BMI ≥ 30) increased 28% in adults and 47% in children, according to the 2013 Global Burden of Disease Study. The study reports that in 2013, an estimated 2.1billion people - nearly 30% of the global population - were overweight or obese.
(AS REPORTED IN THE STUDY TITLED ‘HEALTHY EATING TRENDS AROUND THE WORLD’, AS PART OF THE NIELSEN GLOBAL HEALTH & WELLNESS SURVEY, 2014)
The recent controversy is surely a God-sent opportunity. Make the best use of it. Tell your children that junk foods like noodles, pasta, etc. are dangerous for health. Get them into healthy eating habits and be ready to welcome a healthy tomorrow. After all, for a healthy tomorrow, we need a healthy today.
Smitha Suresh is a renowned nutritionist and child specialist from Chennai