DR. H S Prema
I have come to hear a piece of news. The news in the air is that Neslay, a giant in the food industry in its internal document, acknowledged that more than 60% of the products are not healthy. The leaked internal document admits that 60% of its mainstream food and beverages do not meet the recognized definition of health. That means 60% of its products are unhealthy. It is not just that. They even admitted that some of their products will never be healthy, no matter how much they renovate. They dare to say that they believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between wellbeing and enjoyment. This includes having space for some indulgent foods. Is Neslay encouraging junk foods? This statement is purely market-oriented, not a responsible statement for health promotion.
Though they have not specified anything about their Maggie and kit cat are sold in India. Let us look at how these pre-cooked packaged foods made inroads into our kitchens. These companies claim that their food products are healthier, tastier, and time saver and convince the public through advertisements. Their advertisement, especially Maggie's '2 minutes cooking', was so catchy. All the gullible home-makers believe they are saving time by using pre-cooked foods. Are we really saving cooking time? Are we eating healthy foods by shifting from traditional food to fast foods? The answer is no. Many more traditional Indian foods are easier to cook, healthier, and tastier such as Ragi hurittu, poha, chikki, etc.
Let us get refreshed with the nutritional profile of traditional poha preparation and the so-called healthy breakfast foods manufactured by the food industries. Here I have taken the basic recipe of (without vegetables) poha. So, that it helps you compare this to any pre-cooked noodles or cereals. Most of this packaged food claim peanut powder or some nuts in them. Hence I have also added 10 g of peanut and 4.2 g( 1 tea sp) of filtered vegetable oil in one serving of poha. The nutritional value of one serving of poha is- protein 5g, Fat is 6g, CHO is 25g, and energy is 180Kcal. The nutritive value of poha is superior to any pre-cooked packaged foods at any given time. Now let us know the valid health values of these foods.
These packaged foods contain varieties of non-nutritious synthetic substances, and they play havoc in our bodies. Let us compare the health profile of packaged foods versus traditional foods. Chemical substances like acidifying agents added to packaged foods are to reduce the PH of spray solutions. Whereas the PH value of poha is neutral and soothing to our stomach. Flavouring enhancers, mostly MSG added in these packaged foods, are carcinogenic. People also get addicted to flavouring agents, like how one gets addicted to alcohol or tobacco. The flavouring substances like curry leaves, coriander leaves, cumin, etc., added in poha enhance our health by improving epigenetic behaviour by the flavons they contain. Colouring agents, which are carcinogenic in nature, are a must factor in packaged foods, but poha has turmeric as its colouring agent is the world's best immune boosters. It can even fight against covid 19. The citric acid added in poha through lemon juice also contains ascorbic acid, known for its anti-inflammatory functions. Salt used in poha is natural NaCl is a vital nutrient. Whereas packaged foods that have potassium-based salts are not advisable. Apart from all these synthetic substances, they use certain artificial gums to keep their products non-sticky. Poha does not have gluten is known for its gastrointestinal discomforts.
To sum up, the non-nutritious synthetic substances added in packaged pre-cooked foods are carcinogenic, interfere with metabolic functions, disturb bodies epigenetic behaviour by causing oxidative stress. These chemicals can even cross the brain barrier and disturb the normal functions of the central nervous system. It is crucial to note that ingredients used in poha promote the synthesis of neurotransmitters to improve memory power in children and prevent or postpone degenerative disorders in older people.
It is high time that you have to review your shopping cart before you checkout. If you still think you can not give up these packaged precooked foods means you are addicted to them. The chemicals are already acting on your central nervous system. Yet, another reminder is that Nesley Maggie was banned in India in 2015 for its monosodium glutamate. But within 6 months, they relaunched with a bang.
Let us just know the actual facts about the cooking time required. If Maggie takes 2 minutes, Ragi hurittu takes no time, and poha preparation takes 2 to 3 minutes. For Maggie, you have to boil the water and stir Maggie for a minute and 2. For poha, heat the oil, season it with mustard and haldi and curry leaves, take less than 1 minute, and add soaked poha or unsoaked thin flaked poha. Stir it for 2 minutes. Poha is done. If you think Maggie is the only food that saves time, you are duped. Some people come to my clinic and say that they have no time to sit and eat food at home; they need something to eat while driving, and for some who strongly dislike cooking, we have an answer for them also. Chikki is the best replacement as they can eat while driving without any fuss. In India, we get varieties of chickies generally prepared by women entrepreneurs. One can eat different chickies for different days till one gets exhausted. If one is creative in cooking, one can even develop Namkeen chickies. Cooking is fun and science. If you spend some time cooking, you save a lot of time and money as you don't have to spend time waiting in hospitals for health.
None of these multinational companies come here to promote our health. They come here to make money by degrading our traditional foods though subtly, they encourage their unhealthy foods. If we all stop buying all these packaged foods, we encourage our cottage- food industry, and it is an economic boom for the small-scale local food industry and a step forward to Athmanirbar Bharat.
(DR. H S Prema is the Managing director and consultant dietician and nutritionist, Varenya nutrition concepts, Bengaluru)