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The fat of the matter

We need a campaign to educate people about the negatives of junk food, writes Lalita Panicker.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2012 01:12 IST
Lalita Panicker

Every once in a while, we wake up sweating at the thought of a transfat oil slick draping itself over our arteries. But in the light of day, such fears are forgotten as many of us sink our teeth into junk food. The latest findings from a study done by the Centre for Science and Environment now reveal that even those fast foods which claim that they contain no transfats have been less than transparent.

But, honestly, you'd have to be pretty thick in the head to believe that potato chips, noodles or aloo bhujia could suddenly by some alchemy become totally devoid of transfats. No, in the back of your mind, you know that this smart piece of advertising is specious but it just makes you feel better when you are wolfing down some junk food. Just as you will buy a toothpaste advertised by a star of sorts which promises you a germ free mouth. You know that this claim is codswallop but it makes you feel that much more virtuous using it.

Of course, this spurious advertising is totally wrong and some people could even be fooled by these claims. But, the answer to weaning people, especially children, away from junk food is not to ban them from schools as some of our food fundamentalists would like. Just like the aggressive anti-smoking campaign, there should be a high profile effort to educate the public about the negatives of junk food. And if people still want to eat such food, well, that's their look-out.

Many will argue that home-cooked food is the best option. But if we look at most Indian cuisines, there are few which we can call really healthy. Desi snacks like samosas are fearsomely oily and artery-clogging. Food cooked in most homes is anything but wholesome. Those who have eaten a Bengali kosha mangsho or a masala dosa will be able to tell you that they have been mired in a haze of oil or ghee for hours afterwards.

And then there are our Indian sweets all of which probably contain enough transfats and sugar to fell an elephant. Instead of advocating bans on any types of foods, it is much better to push for more comprehensive labelling, though how this can be done with street food we don't know, and for parents to be able to regulate consumption on the part of their children.

To put the fear of god into fast food giants is not going to solve the problem of the vast majority of Indians who may not necessarily be obese but are unhealthy due to lack of nutritious food. Adequate calories do not always mean better nutrition. But, then it is far sexier to bang on about multinationals conspiring to send us to early graves than to admit that our own knowledge of health and nutrition is not up to scratch. And by the way, an occasional nibble of junk food never really killed anyone.