The bane of junk food

The bane of junk food

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has requested the Ministry of Human Resource Development to ensure withdrawal of junk and fast foods, which include carbonated drinks, from the canteens of educational institutions.

Junk food is simply food which is low in nutritional value, high in fat, sodium, calories, often produced as packaged snacks having little or no preparation, with preservative ingredients and additives to enhance visual appeal and extended shelf life. It includes pre-packaged foods like pretzels, potato chips, candies, pastries, burgers, chocolates and ice-creams. 

Surprisingly, the sandwich and masala dosa associated with health foods may not really be so. Celebrity cardiologist Dr Devi Shetty states that the masala dosa is a junk food. This is because an amalgam of potato and butter makes it high on calories.

The sandwich served with butter/mayonnaise is again high on calories and fat but really low on nutrition. Not everything homemade is necessarily nutritional and not everything eaten out is junk. A grilled sandwich is definitely a better alternative to a butter laden dosa.

These unhealthy foods which are both low cost and poor in nutrient value are packaged attractively and positioned in the market to hook the youth through sustained advertising campaigns in the print, television and outdoor media.

This is a distressing trend that forces peers/friends to label one ‘mentally diseased’ if he/she avoids junk food in favour of healthy foods. In India a product which contains less than 0.2 gms of trans fats per serving, is considered to be trans fat free as per food safety norms. However, some of the popular brands of snacks contain high levels of transfats, which invite obesity. 

Images of fatty food can trigger hunger pangs and lead to overeating and obesity, according to a study. Just looking at images of high calorie food stimulates the brain’s appetite control centre and results in an increased desire for food.

Mothers who eat junk food while pregnant or breast-feeding increase the likelihood of unhealthy eating habits in their children, and are likely to be more prone to obesity, type two diabetes, raised cholesterol levels, and high blood fat. 

Obesity among children, especially of obese parents, has progressively increased. The rate of childhood obesity has tripled over the last 30 years and junk food is a major cause. Children have cut down on consumption of pulses, cereals and vegetables.

A study shows that Indian children aged 4-6 years consume only 35 grams of vegetables daily, whereas100-150 grams is recommended.  Non-essential sugar and fat forms almost half of their total energy intake and it is amazing that only one per cent of children meet all dietary guidelines.

Today’s young mothers are extremely concerned about the dietary preferences of their children. However, the current craze for junk food does not appear to worry these young mothers. Children tend to eat what they want — which unfortunately is junk food. 

Parents need to influence the choice of children’s intake of nutritional ingredients. Unfortunately, many parents don’t understand what falls under the category of junk food. It is important that healthy snacking be promoted through selective options at home.

School canteens should replace junk food with healthy food and launch a campaign against food and beverage companies to prevent advertising directed at children. Let us join hands to promote healthy eating and avoid the American formula which is burdened 

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