Processed Foods and How Moderation is Key
You really don’t need me to tell you about all the bad reputation processed food gets. You’ve read about it- sugars are bad, fats are bad, canned juices are bad, especially for kids!
However, placing a blanket ban on all processed food at home would be nearly impossible. I’ll tell you why – even the process of chopping a vegetable to make something out of it is ‘processing’ in a way.
So when doctors, nutritionists and mom groups tell you that you’re horrible for letting your kid eat processed food, what do they actually mean?
The Bad Processing
Most of the concerns around processed foods are actually around chemical processing- using chemicals to enhance the quality of a product. As we all know, no home-baked cake would stay fresh for months together, even if we were to use the most sophisticated packaging. This is where the role of processed foods affecting health comes in.
Take the example of the simplest, most commonly used ingredient in home-cooking – Refined flour. Refined flour has an abysmal amount of fiber, and whole wheat flour beats it when it comes to fibre content ten times, in addition to all the additional micro-nutrients it provides. Now let’s take the case of a simple cake with a basic frosting, one that is available just about anywhere in the market. One look at the link and you know where the trouble is. Sugar content is so high, just looking at it gives one a sugar rush, and the fiber and micro-nutrients are almost nil.
NHS suggests that having more than 20 grams of sugar in a 100 gram serving is not good for health, but most processed sweets we eat have way more than that.
In essence, the more we process food the more we lose its nutritive value. There really is no better example for this than the humble potato. Lay’s potato chips are supposed to be one of the healthier alternatives for wafers in the market because they have very little saturated fats and no cholesterol. But on the downside, just one packet of chips has more salt and calories than a serving of fruit for example. Also, there is some reason to believe that the ‘light’ variety of the chips uses Olestra that is a very controversial additive, Lay’s have had to re-brand their batch of chips more than once.
Compare this with eating a homemade potato cutlet! For one, you know exactly how much of each ingredient you’re adding. Next, the potatoes in a cutlet are boiled and shallow fried, as opposed to being fried on a vat of oil. Thirdly, they probably taste just as good. Most importantly, they don’t have any preservatives. How many products that you buy every day have one preservative or the other? MSG is the most widely known and despised additive, but did you know that it may appear in ingredient labels as ‘glutamic acid’ or ‘flavouring’ and slip right under our noses? Aspartame, the artificial sweetener in our favorite soft drinks can cause migraine, hallucinations and even cancer if take over a period of time continuously.
Is it worth giving in to a tantrum and passing our kids a glass of Coke?
Are We Making the same Mistakes as the Others?
Jamie Oliver, a famous British chef has gone on a campaign to get more people in the developed world to cook their own meals. He advocates starting with kids. Indeed, with this very compelling speech, he has a lot of people convinced to switch to making their own meals. The developed world is facing the consequences of their microwave meal habits, and it will be great if we could learn from their experience than set out to make the same mistake ourselves.
Our circumstances compel us to hand our kids a double edged sword. On the one hand, a packed cupcake is an easier alternative to go into a lunchbox than a whole wheat muffin made at home or cream biscuits go into their mouths and tummies faster than a healthy serving of fruit. On the flipside with fewer spaces to play and not enough exposure to the outdoors, we’re setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating and not exercising enough.
What is the Alternative?
While we do advocate making home-cooked meals, it may not always be possible to do so. In such situations, it is better to take advantage of third party vendors in your city who provide home-cooked meals rather than restaurant options. Even when you do eat out, avoid fried food as much as possible. Desserts are best eaten with discretion at any age and while not all of us can become amazing bakers, we can try basic cakes and biscuits. With awareness around processed food growing, ventures have mushroomed that promise to bake healthy and non-additive foods which are similar to home cooked food and can be better trusted.
The next time you pack that store-bought cookie packet for your child’s tiffin, think about what it might be setting them up for in the future.