Nutritionist Tehzeeb Lalani discusses the pitfalls of indulging in ‘ready to eat’ and ‘instant’ foods.
2015 is here and amongst other things, many of you may have resolved to try and cook more for yourself and for your family. So right at the outset, note that if you make yourself a pack of instant noodles/pasta or a microwave dinner and feel accomplished about yourself, then every penny that the manufacturers of these products invest in smart marketing has been worth their while. Fortunately for them, they thrive on the prospect of being able to hoodwink you. Unfortunately an array of short-term and long-term inconveniences (to put it mildly) is directed your way, if you consume instant foods.
Before we get into a summary of everything that’s wrong with instant noodles and what you can do to redeem the health of your family and your children, it is important to discuss the marketing gimmick used by various manufacturers. I stumbled upon an image advertised by one of the most popular instant pasta brands of India. On the right side is a slim, tall, sexy, fair-skinned, happy looking mommy in a little, red dress making pasta for her child and on the left is an Indian mother—displayed as chubby, stout with a look of exasperation on her face as she tries to keep her dupatta in place and makes rotis for her child. A slogan on the right screams how wonderful and western the pasta-making mother is as compared to the Indian roti-making mother. In reality, homemade, fresh rotis are significantly more ‘slimming’ and nutritious as compared to a pasta from a packet.
There was a popular commercial a few years ago wherein a lady discussed her excitement at being able to FINALLY spend more time with her children thanks to instant meals. Once again, this can’t be further away from the truth. Your children and your family deserve real food, don’t they? If you feed them chemicals, additives, colouring agents and preservatives, you would probably end up spending that extra time nursing their health issues.
Instant equals unhealthy
So here you have it, ten very good reasons to ditch instant foods:
- Let’s listen to the experts. The results of a study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health were published in the August issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The study explicitly stated that eating instant noodles two or more times a week was associated with an increased likelihood of developing heart disease, Diabetes and stroke.
- The same study elucidated that the presence of bisphenol A (BPA) which is used for packaging these noodles can interfere with the way hormones send messages through the body, specifically estrogen and could cause imbalances and other endocrine disruptions.
- Instant food consumption is linked to altered insulin response and subsequently a greater chance of acquiring diabetes.
- If you grew up in India prior to the 80’s, you were lucky enough to have a few good years before the advent of instant foods. But children today consume to these instant foods from a very young age. This dependence on quick packet meals takes a toll on their digestive system which probably has to work doubly hard to digest these foods and eliminate toxins from their body. Processed foods have no nutritive value and are completely devoid of fibre. Fibre is crucial for better digestion and a healthier gut.
- In order to increase the shelf life, these products are loaded up on excessive sodium/salt, preservatives, flavour enhances, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and transfats. All of these are ingredients that are not only unnecessary, but also could lead to blood pressure issues, heart disease, lowered good cholesterol (HDL) and abdominal fat accumulation amongst other things.
- The preservatives and flavour enhances make them addictive on the palette which means you (and your children) would keep wanting more of them.
- TBHQ or Tertiary Butylhydroquinone is one such chemical preservative found in instant noodles. Consuming even as little as 1 gram of TBHQ can cause delirium, collapse, nausea, diarrhoea and hyperactivity in children.
- Long-term, TBHQ is linked to DNA damage and the development of cancerous precursors in the stomach.
- Adding vegetables to instant noodles or pasta isn’t any wiser as nutrients of said vegetables won’t get absorbed in the presence of all those preservatives and chemicals.
- If you eat unhealthy food it leaves less room in your life for healthy food.
Healthy cooking tips
The silver lining at the end of this tunnel though is that the time cost between an instant meal and an actual meal is not that different. A home cooked meal doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair and in fact, there are sociological studies which state that if you make it yourself, you’ll feel much more connected to it which in turn leads to better absorption. Moreover, involving children in the cooking process even in a small way would mean that they are much more likely to eat the food.
Healthy cooking does NOT have to be a huge time investment. There are several strategies that you could employ in your everyday life to ensure that your eating patterns are healthy and quick – Make a loose eating schedule over the weekend for the upcoming week.
- Using pre-cut vegetables to prepare a frankie from the morning’s roti.
- There is a cliché but accurate quote which states, “You are what you eat so don’t be cheap, easy, fast or fake.”
Tehzeeb Lalani is a Mumbai-based Nutritionist and Health counsellor.