Packaged food: tasty but toxic

Packaged food: tasty but toxic

City doctors warn that regular consumption of packaged food can cause sleep disorders, low energy levels and fatigue in adults   

A recent international survey and study by Oxford University’s George Institute for Global Health in 12 countries, has found that India’s packaged foods are the most energy-dense, with high levels of sugar, saturated fat, salt and calories.

Health experts in the city attribute the slow but steady increase in lifestyle-related diseases such as cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, in youngsters aged between 25 and 25 years, to increased consumption of junk and packaged food.  

Dr Sanjiv Lewin, chief of medical services, St John’s Medical College Hospital, points out that unhealthy food habits are especially a challenge for children.
Explaining why many Indians, especially children, are turning to junk packaged foods as a quick solution to satisfy their hunger, Sanjiv says, “Socio-economic changes in Indian society has led to smaller families; usually both parents are working now and have busier lifestyles. They look for convenience with regard to family meals, especially when it comes to
food to be given to school or creche-going children. Packaged foods are acceptable to children, given their taste, are relatively reasonably priced and come in smaller packages, makes them convenient options.” 

Even during weekends, most people opt for easy options as they are looking to relax, he points out.

“Taste is both ingrained and learned. Hence, children find food tasty if all senses are satiated -- touch, sight, taste, smell and what they hear about the food,” he adds.

Sanjiv says that this habit continuous through adulthood.

A little sugar creates a craving for more, observes Keertana Ramu, nutritionist. “For kids, the ‘sweet’ taste masks the taste of everything else and hence they’re more attracted to packaged food than other natural forms of sugar,” she says.  She adds that television advertisements promoting packaged food play a decisive part in attracting kids.

 “The nutrition standards in regard to fat, sugar, sodium, and whole grains are rarely met by intake of such food stuff. The nutrients provided by milk, fibre, fruit and vegetables lose out to high intake of fats, sugar, salt and calories,” says Sanjiv.

Doctors warn that regular consumption of packaged food has long-lasting effects and leads to metabolic disorders. “Traditionally, obesity is a common consequence along with micronutrient deficiencies like anaemia, which is caused by a deficiency in iron,” says Sanjiv.

 Keertana agrees that packaged foods are major cause of obesity, hypertension and other lifestyle disorders.

“Regular consumption of these will cause low energy levels and fatigue in adults. It can affect the sleep cycle as well due to high levels of sugar and salt,” she adds. Being physically active is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, says Babu Vamsi, ultra marathoner and founder-managing partner of Sutra Fitness. “It doesn’t matter what kind of physical activity you do. It is important to understand that there is no one activity or a sport that everybody likes. Choose what you want to do — gym, running, yoga, or sports — but be consistent in whatever you do,” advises Babu.

He also suggests at least two days of 30 to 40 minutes of full body strength/resistance training “This is important to gain functional strength in day-to-day activities,” he advises.

Babu also feels that concerted effort must be made to bring about changes in one’s food habits.

“An evening snack is important to ensure that you have a light dinner. The snack should be wholesome and not heavy and greasy to serve the purpose. Eating burgers, bottled milkshakes, doughnuts — which are very high in
sugar and saturated fats in the
evening— slows down metabolism and leads to an excessive fat accumulation,” he cautions.

He suggests that people substitute it with a sandwich, idli, poha or home-cooked food. “The balanced nutrients will ensure better satiety and help you have a light dinner,” he sums up.  

Watch out

An addiction to packaged foods can cause:

Diabetes; Hypertension;Obesity; Cholesterol variations; Low levels of Vitamins; Dementia;Blood pressure; Stroke

Here are easy alternatives to packaged food

Dr Sanjeev Lewin suggests the following:

*Have fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese and crackers, low-fat milk, calcium-fortified juices, and frozen yogurt as snacks.

*Break the monotony and try different cuisines where foods may be subtly incorporated and with appealing names.

*Sharing portions

*Avoid fried items rather begin baking

*Try salads

*Replace beverages with yogurts and fresh fruit juices.

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