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FoodPharmer ke Lessons: Are the Foods Indians Consume Really Safe?

Do you go for quick-fix, readymade, ready-to-eat options often? Well, it might be time to swap them for cleaner, healthier alternatives, says FoodPharmer. Before you go grocery shopping, read this and don’t forget to read the food labels.

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Srushti Pathak
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FoodPharmer

You get to your local grocery store or nukkad ki dukaan, pull out the list, and fill up your cart or bag with items. But how often do you read the labels of these foods you pick up and are about to eat? Besides checking the expiration date of a few, we don’t really sit and read everything on those food labels. And why would we? It’s not like we understand all the ingredients listed anyway.

All of this, and India’s perspective towards food labels, changed with content creator Revant Himatsingka, AKA FoodPharmer. He is a certified health coach on a mission to improve health literacy in India by educating people on the importance of reading food labels.

Local Samosa spoke with healthcare experts on this; Rajeshwari V Shetty, HOD of Nutrition & Dietetics at SL Raheja Hospital and Dr Shobha Itolikar, Consultant - Internal Medicine at Fortis Hospital, Mulund. Here are some hard-hitting facts about the food items we Indians have been consuming blindly. Scroll down, read it all, and start changing your food habits.

Health Drinks

Cadbury Bournvita

In a fun video, we saw FoodPahrmer rating so-called health drinks. He gave Horlicks 2/10, Boost 3/10, deemed Ensure as not applicable, said never mind to Milo and gave a minus to Bournvita. 

On April 1st, 2023, FoodPharmer shared how Cadbury Bournvita was full of sugar. According to the video, the second ingredient in this product was sugar, next were cocoa solids which are basically chocolate, colour (150C), a caramel colour known for causing cancer and reducing immunity, liquid glucose which is sugar, maltodextrin - a fancy word for sugar, an emulsifier 471 which is made from glycerin, allegedly. The label, at the time, read that it contained 50 grams of sugar per 100 grams of Bournvita.

After a lot of back and forth, and some legal exchanges, Cadbury had to make changes. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has asked all e-commerce websites to remove drinks and beverages, including Bournvita, from the health drinks category on their portals. And eight months after this Bournvita row, Cadbury slashed added sugar by nearly 15%.

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has also advised e-commerce platforms to ensure that dairy-based beverage mixes, cereal-based beverage mixes, or malt-based beverage mixes like Bournvita are not available under the ‘health drinks’ or ‘energy drinks’ category.

Revant said on social media, “This is probably the FIRST time in HISTORY that a social media video has led to a food giant reducing their sugar content!  If one video can result in a 15% reduction in added sugar, imagine what we can achieve if all of us start reading food labels before we buy anything!”.

Healthcare experts suggest giving your kids homemade fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies instead of sugary “health drinks”. Coconut water is another great option and so are herbal teas.

Dr Itolikar said, "Healthy alternatives to milk additives include dry fruit powder, ragi malt. Basically one has to find the optimal solution depending on one’s taste, age, weight, other health issues if any." "Some food alternatives you could opt for are - B protein, soymilk, oatmilk, ragi malt, skimmed milk powder, dry fruit powder, home made smoothies, mango or chikoo or banana milkshake.", mentioned Ms Shetty.

Biscuits

Biscuits

Indians and chai time are incomplete without biscuits. As FoodPharmer said in one of his videos, people consider chocolates to be unhealthy but claim that biscuits are healthy in the same breath. However, he said that we might eat chocolate once a week, but we tend to consume biscuits every day, making them the worst of the lot.

Pick any biscuit brand, whether it claims to be healthy or not, and you will see that they share the top three ingredients. Those are maida (refined flour), sugar and palm oil.

According to a research published by Harvard University, eating refined flour or Maida has a bad effect on the ability of the brain. The ability to think and understand starts decreasing and the memory becomes weak, and further leads to dementia. Long-term consumption of refined flour can also weaken the bones. It can also lower blood sugar while increasing the carbohydrates and insulin in the body. According to a report on NCBI, when it is consumed for a longer duration, white flour increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart diseases.

Palmolein is a liquid fraction obtained through a refining process from palm oil, with both derived from the same oil palm fruit. Palm oil is in semi-solid form. Although palm oil contains vitamin E and antioxidants, it is high in saturated fats. According to Harvard Medical School, oils like palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil contain saturated fats that boost ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Both these factors increase the risk of heart disease.

FoodPharmer suggests some healthier alternatives to biscuits. He recommends eating roasted chana, roasted makhana, almonds and walnuts during chai breaks or at snack time.

Ms. Shetty stated, "Some snacks that can be consumed during hanger pangs are roasted chana, roasted makhana, plain popcorn and dry fruits like almonds, walnuts, mixed seeds." Dr. Itolikar shared, "Healthy alternatives for snack time hunger pangs include Makhana (foxnuts), mix dry fruits, rice or wheat crackers, mix seeds, fruit smoothies or local and seasonal whole fruits. A handful of roasted peanuts or dried roasted chana will also be healthier alternatives and keep you feel full for a long time."

Chocolate Spreads

Nutella

As a child what would they prefer on their toast or bread and the answer would be either a jam or Nutella! It’s a hazelnut spread that’s taken over India and Indian kids, ever since 2010. Hazelnuts might make it seem healthy, but is it really?

Found in the breakfast section of a grocery store, this chocolate spread has been advertised to kids. But if you look at what it is made of, you would move it to the dessert aisle for sure. Per 100 grams of Nutella has 56.3 grams of sugar! A jar of Nutella is 825 grams, which means it has about 462 grams of sugar or 115 sugar cubes worth. And you might argue that you only eat a tablespoon or two at a time, but even that has more sugar than what you think. 

Nutella’s marketing team wants you to serve the product with rotis to your child. So should you? WHO has sugar intake recommendations according to age brackets. For 1 to 3-year-old children, 10 energy percent is equivalent to about 30 grams of sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons). This is calculated based on D-A-CH reference values for nutrient intake. For children, 4 to 6 years, it is about 35 grams of free sugar per day and for, 7 to 10 years, it is about 42 grams of free sugar per day.

If your child likes a sweet start to the day, you can still make it happen without Nutella. Experts suggest eating plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. Homemade fruit puree or unsweetened applesauce are also some healthier alternatives.

Talking about options, Dr. Itolikar mentioned, "Alternative brands for bread spreads include spreads with no added sugar or you can try making nut butters at home. Peanut butter is a better option compared to Nutella also using whole wheat, multigrain bread is better compared to regular white bread or brown bread." Ms. Shetty said, "One can made home-made spreads like Guacamole- made from Avocado. Hungcurd can be used as a spread, can try home-made pesto sauce, peanut butter, hummus."

Cereal for Babies

Cerelac

Remember how a couple of decades ago, Cerelac was the go-to for new mothers? Well, it was advertised as such. But what exactly does it claim to be? Cerelac is a brand of instant cereal made by Nestlé. The cereal is promoted for infants between 6 and 24 months old, as a supplement to breast milk when it is no longer the sole item in an infant's diet.

In reality, it had added sugar. And most doctors agree on the fact that babies below the age of 2 years shouldn’t be given any added sugar at all. According to healthcare experts, added sugar consumed by babies at such an early age can lead to tooth decay and obesity in the future. There’s more. A global report claimed that Nestle sold baby products with higher sugar content in lesser-developed countries including India. The consumer affairs ministry and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) expressed concerns about Nestle’s sugar content, taking note of the global report published by Swiss NGO Public Eye. The WHO advises against the introduction of added sugars before the age of two years to prevent addictive eating habits.

So what’s the option? Your pediatrician can easily recommend homemade healthy alternatives for your baby. Pediatric nutritionists can help you create safe and healthy food for your child that’s filling as well as full of nutritious goodness.

Ms. Shetty informed, "Healthy alternatives for infants are ragi, khichdi, porridge, vegetable soups, boiled veggies like carrot, peas, boiled dal like moong dal, cauliflower, boiled egg yolk, boiled potato or sweet potato, mashed fruits like banana, chikoo." "Cerelac can be made at home- use good quality ingredients along with no added sugar and preservatives, use dry roasted cereals, pulses, millets and some puffed rice. Infants can be fed home-cooked meals, boiled mashed vegetables and fruit purees. The inclusion of rainbow colour in your diet and good quality protein ensures getting all the essential nutrients -proteins vitamins and minerals.", shared Dr. Itolikar.

Watch Out for this when Reading Food Labels

Reading Food Labels

We asked Dr. Itolikar and Ms. Shetty to share some key ingredients/things to watch out for when reading food labels.

Dr Itolikar said, "While interpreting food labels understand to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package and the calorie count. Decide if you are consuming ½ serving, 1 serving, or more. Steer clear of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Nutrients to include will be dietary fibre, vitamin B, calcium, iron, and potassium."

Ms Shetty shared the following list;

  • Make sure there is no added sugar as those are empty calories and can affect weight

  • Corn Syrup, it’s a form of sugar

  • Trans fat is not good for the heart. Artificial sweeteners must be minimal as more of it is not good as they can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea

  • Salt and Sodium Content should not be more than 1 tsp salt per day i.e-2300 mg of Na. Packaged foods may contain more sodium, so it needs to be checked as more consumption can affect BP, and heart health and add to the risk of stroke

  • Serving size: How many calories are in one serving

  • Percent daily value: Shows the amount  of nutrient present in a serving

  • Total CHO: includes sugar, complex carbohydrate, fibre- More CHO can affect blood sugar, weight 

  • Protein: check the source of protein  and protein content as too much of protein is not good

  • Fibre: Small amount should be present, Consumption of this prevents constipation and is good for sugar control

  • Fat: type of fat and amount of fat. Look out for Saturated fat content as too much is not good. 1 gm or less is good

FoodPharmer’s ‘Label Padhega India’ Initiative

On May 11, FoodPharmer started an initiative to promote checking the nutrition label on the back of all packaged products. The objective of the initiative is to raise awareness about the hidden dangers lurking behind the nutritional labels of packaged foods, highlighting the poor effects of preservatives and unhealthy additives on consumer’s health. Here’s where you can read all about it.

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