Processed Foods: Just Empty Calories or Something Worse?

Away from parental check, Kashmir youth are consuming Junk Food at an alarming rate thus harming their health. Scholar Zeenat Farooq decodes the ‘Processed Foods’ and ‘their High Value’ in the fast changing life style of Valley

Junk Food

Processed foods are the food materials which have been altered from their original composition in any manner for purposes like increasing flavour, preservation, increasing shelf life, convenience etc. For example, milk brought from market places is processed in the form of pasteurization, a method to preserve milk against microbial growth or dry fruits are processed by means of salting which again prevents microbial growth on them and also increases their shelf like.

Food processing was initially developed as a technology to increase flavour, safety, shelf life and availability e.g. processed canned meat, canned or dried fruits or vegetables can be transported to distant places without the danger of getting rotten where it would be impossible to ship fresh ones but the same practice, as with most of the technologies in the world, has been taken over by people who, for their money making interests, play havoc with our lives.

Junk Foods

The above mentioned examples are some examples of processing foods but the term food processing, as used commonly, means changing food composition by increasing sugar or other additives to make it more tasty but more hazardous to health at the same time.

Such “bad processed foods” are also called as “Junk Foods” because of the reason that these foods rarely have any nutritional value since these contain negligible or no micro-nutrients (Vitamins and Minerals) or fibres and contain high amounts of added sugars, salts and fats  which supply empty calories and can deteriorate one’s health e.g., ice creams contain a very high proportion of fats and sugars, butter contains high amounts of sodium and saturated fats, ketch ups, sauces etc again contain very high amounts of added sugars and harmful preservatives.

If, on one hand, such foods taste delicious to our tongue and are easily accessible and convenient, these can lead to various ill-effects on our health as:

  1. Extra sodium contained within the processed food products is the main culprit in imparting hypertension. In fact, the extra sodium levels contained within foods like noodles and processed meats are way above the recommended dietary limits set by the American Health Association.
  2. High sugar levels which are present in most of today’s processed food products like ice cream, chocolate, cake, juice, soft drinks etc increases obesity and likelihood to develop metabolic diseases like diabetes.

III.    Extra saturated fats contained in pizza, milk and processed milk products like: Butter, Cheese, Curd, Ice Creams again increase obesity and risk of cardio-vascular diseases. In fact, some processed foods even contain Trans Fats which increase the amount of cholesterol in our body which can even lead to atherosclerosis, besides other heart diseases.

  1. Processed meat like smoked and canned meat contains food preservatives and high sodium which besides contributing to above mentioned conditions, can also increase chances of developing GIT cancers if taken to excess.
  2. Some of the canned foods which are preserved in preservative juices like canned fruits and curd also have a danger of getting contaminated with poisonous fungi which can remain undetected by the consumer for a long time.
  3. Apart from the above mentioned ingredients which harm our health by increasing calorie consumption, some processed foods contain undesirable contaminants like the recent reports about Maggie noodles containing lead. Lead is a harmful metal toxin which impairs brain development in children and if it gets accumulated in the body to toxic levels, it can result in death. Some “claiming to be health enhancing” food products like ‘Dabur Chayawanprash’ also contain lead traces.

VII.  Some companies do not even mention exact detailed composition of the ingredients on the cartons of processed foods and may contain undesirable substances.

Our Indifference

The worst part in this case is that the demand for such foods has increased manifolds in our valley over the past decade, especially among young generation, which indeed is not a good sign for our society.

A school going child of our valley, on an average, consumes as much processed food as would cost about 20% of the salary of his father. The most surprising thing here is that our parents, even after being aware of the major health issues associated with processed foods, hardly stop their children from consuming them. They, in fact, encourage them by buying them such foods, sometimes as bribe to go to school, sometimes as part of the over-feeding schedule, as our mothers always feel that their children are hungry and even sometimes as a substitute to home-made meals.

But such a practice should be stopped as it only harms our body and imparts ill effects on metabolism.

Tailpiece

The best thing here would be to limit our daily intake of processed foods and rely more on home-made and organic foods. Processed foods can be taken once in a while but we should always use our common sense and should at least avoid taking such processed foods with undefined composition.

Also, children from a very early age should be encouraged to have more natural foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. We should not encourage them for mere taste and convenience to fall prey to the ill effects of processed foods.

(Author is a Research Scholar at the Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir.)

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