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Girth of the nation and other stories

You must have seen ‘Smart Chips’ advertisements for “low fat tension-free munchies” that you can eat all you want without packing in extra pounds, reports Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 07, 2010 00:03 IST
Sanchita Sharma

You must have seen ‘Smart Chips’ advertisements for “low fat tension-free munchies” that you can eat all you want without packing in extra pounds.

But a look at the nutrition facts on the pack will tell you a different story. It states that 100 gm of smart chips have 503 calories, compared to 539 calories for the regular chips. The difference is a paltry 36 calories.

Considering you need to eat 7,700 calories to put on one kg, cutting down on 36 calories per pack would make little difference to your girth. Even if you have chips every day, you would need to eat 214 packs of ‘smart chips’ instead of regular to lose one kg.

As for nutrition benefits, the less said the better. Any kind of chips have nothing but calories, fat and salt. Another example is McDonald’s Chatpata Spice Mix given with my favourite fries. The label tells me that it has “salt, sugar, dehydrated vegetable powders, spices, milk solids, hydrolysed vegetable protein, acids (E296, E 330), herb flavours and anti-caking agent (E551)”. All I wanted, and thought I was getting, was spices and herbs.

Labels often lie without breaking the rules, so the trick is to look for what a product offers rather than go by what it doesn’t claim to. Most people think they are right as long as they choose foods that are sugarfree and low in calories, fat, cholesterol, starch and carbohydrates, not realising that in avoiding these, they end up eating things with no nutritive value. Processed food is high in sugar, fat, refined flour and additives that give it shelf life, so a simpler way to cut down on excess calories is to go for raw or freshly cooked food.

Fruit-flavoured yoghurts, for example, are full of sugar and preservatives. It’s cheaper and healthier to eat an apple and natural yoghurt. A product labelled “Contains no sugar or artificial sweeteners” may not have table sugar (sucrose) but have other equally fattening natural sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup. The label you should look for is “no added natural or artificial sweeteners”.

Similarly, food that is cooked in cholesterol-free oils doesn’t prevent a heart attack. The oil may contain other fats that block arteries just like cholesterol. Then, there is the portion size scam. Most spicy mixes (namkeen) give the portion size as 20 gm, which is about 2 teaspoons of the mix or one-tenth of the entire pack. It’s misleading because few people stop at two teaspoons and end up eating at least half of the 200 gm pack, which has more calories than a dinner with read meat and potatoes.

So don’t go by the ads and the promos. Read the fine print.