After an unexpected social visit or shopping spree I can return home in time for lunch with a smile. “How convenient!” my mother would say. In her times, either she had to prepare the lunch for the entire family or cook it after a hurried outing or even better, she would skip the visit! I would just come home and heat up some ready-to eat delicacies and have a sumptuous meal. Recently, I began to think about the effects of this type of food on health. This made me think. Are they really bad?
Processed Food : An Observation
In the grocery stores out there, we find whole sections dedicated to processed food. Processed foods have been altered from their natural state to increase their shelf life and for ease. This technique evolved and got promoted as a result of urbanisation and resultant hectic life style. In the present scenario, people like me can’t imagine a week without dried noodles or canned fish.
How it changes your whole of life!
It helps people who can’t get fresh food and refrigerate it. You don’t remember seasonal foods anymore. Any food item is made available all around the year by food processing. Food processing also enables the market to have variety. The grocery shops are not going to look nice if food processing is stopped.
The methods of processing include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing. The use of preservatives like antioxidants and antimicrobials to increase the store life of food is not uncommon. If you believe that consuming processed is totally unhealthy, then you are mistaken.
Not all kinds of food processing are harmful to health. Some food items gain edibility and nutrition after getting processed while some need processing to retain nutrition. Tinned fish and pasteurized milk are instances. Except for those who prefer raw milk, pasteurization kills bacteria and homogenization prevents the fats from separating.
Vegetables do not lose anything when frozen. The minerals and the vitamins remain fresher in them than in the ones available in the market. The vegetables do not reach the market the day when they are picked and by the time they reach the destination they may end up losing their nutritional content. Through processing, provisions like bread and breakfast cereals can be given more minerals and vitamins. In any case, the human body will not retain any unnecessary vitamin or mineral. Sugar, oil, pulses and grains get their edible form through processing. They are again processed in the making of bakery products, dairy products and packed foods.
Dangers of Processed Food
The tendency to consume these kinds of food is ever on the increase. But one has to know that though they fill the stomach and quench hunger they do not give the body and its immune system their regular share. Processed meats amplify the risk of colorectal, kidney and stomach cancer. They are often simply saturated fats and salt with just preservatives and flavouring agents. They do not contain much of protein, minerals or vitamins.
Doctors relate the reason for the leaping number of cancer patients to processed foods. Carcinogen is a substance that promotes cancer. It seems to be omnipotent by being present in asbestos, radon, certain pesticides, arsenic, tobacco smoke and food stuffs. Foods cooked at high temperatures are susceptible to carcinogen due to certain chemical reactions. In eatables like fried potatoes carcinogen is found in potential amount. Hence the French fry scare!
Forms of acrylamide present in heat–processed food is another concern. Acrylamide is a chemical used to make polyacrylamide materials which in turn is utilized for the treatment of drinking water. WHO says that acrylamide, if taken in can cause and damage the nervous system. Acrylamide is born in foods when processed in high temperatures especially for long duration. This is seen in higher levels in potato fries while breakfast cereals, biscuits, cookies and snacks and even pop corn. WHO adds on some more alarming information. Acrylamide is also found in home-made food as well. WHO further warns us that food should in no way get overcooked. (I also read that Acrylamide in these proportions is not dangerous! But I I go with WHO)
I am not sure what they mean when they say ,“no preservatives”.
Some of the food preservatives used are Sodium acetate, Sodium nitrite and Sodium metabisulphite. Taurine, glucuronolactone and caffeine are introduced in energy drinks and fizzies as stimulants. Lalala! Disodium inosate and disodium 5-ribonucleotide do the flavour part. Needless to say that these chemicals and stuff are not going to be very friendly to the body.
Processed food (frozen dinners) and soft drinks contain a good amount of sodium. Sodium chloride (salt) is used for preservation of food as it checks moisture and prevents the growth of bacteria.
We should think healthy first. Let’s look for foods that are free from trans-fat, low in sodium and calories and those made of whole grain.
-Aparna K V