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Packaged, preserved and deadly

Salt, oil and sugar are the worst offenders among everyday foods

brunch Updated: Oct 12, 2013 16:57 IST
Shikha Sharma

The root of most lifestyle-related health problems boils down to three major ingredients of our everyday food: Salt, sugar and processed oils.

The quantities of each of these are rising alarmingly in our diets, particularly in the food of those living in big cities. Rich gravies with a layer of floating tadka, salt-laden snacks and sugary condiments. A samosa here, a fried-starter there, a double dose of chocolate some other time. We call it normal, but we don’t know how abnormal our normal diets have become., how much sugar, salt or oil is normal for us? While salt in very small quantities is important for us, excess salt is harmful. Our body requires only 3.75gm of salt per day. That amounts to even less than a teaspoon, because even a full teaspoon of salt is 5gm. This amount includes the salt which is inherently present in food. In the process of cooking, we add more salt to flavour the food. In addition to this, we also consume sauces, ketchups and pickles that are really heavy on salt and oil. A lot of packaged foods that people normally tend to eat are the worst offenders as they have high levels of salt.

Table salt is white because of processing. Other salts look and taste different due to the presence of other minerals. Sea salt, kosher salt, iodised salt, rock salt (typically used in chaats), saindha namak (pink salt, used at Navratri), pickling salts (for German Sauerkraut) and dairy salt (for making cheese) are commonly used. Many people wonder why the food processing and packaging industry add so much extra sugar, salt or oil to their offerings. The simple answer is that the food which is processed and packaged has little or no taste left in it. Without the extra sugar, salt and oil, packaged food would be tasteless. Sugar, salt and oil also act as preservatives, allowing foods to have a longer (therefore more profitable) shelf life. So, it becomes a necessarily evil.

Sauce, the bad boss: Ketchups are loaded with salt and sugar to improve taste

Preserve at your own peril

The only way to increase the shelf-life of some foods is to either add a lot of salt (such as bacon, cured meats, pickles), or laden it with sugar (marmalade, fruit jams), or simply fry it (all Indian sweets such as mathhi, namkeens etc.). Even fast foods are not far behind in loading the foods with an overdose of sugar, salt or unhealthy oil.

Cause and Effect

Clearly, the amount of excess salt that we normally eat in this so-called ‘normal’ diet is five-10 times more than we require!

This excess salt gives rise to health complications such as water retention, excess load on the kidneys, skin degeneration, hair fall and hardening of the arteries, which may ultimately lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and damaged blood vessels. So watch what you’re eating, especially if it’s high on the three evils.

From HT Brunch, October 13

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