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How packaged food might be doing more harm than good

High Fructose Corn Syrup, sodium nitrate, palm oil - watch out for these chemicals on food labels when at the grocery store, writes Dr Shikha Sharma.

brunch Updated: Sep 06, 2014 19:43 IST
Dr Shikha Sharma
Dr Shikha Sharma
Hindustan Times
packaged food,Monosodium Glutamate,Bleach

Part II

Last week, we looked at the ways in which chemical substitutes were influencing the price, flavour, texture and colour of our packaged foods. Watch out for these chemicals on food labels when you’re at the grocery aisle. (Monosodium Glutamate):

Found in both natural and artificial varieties, MSG is tasteless on its own, but when combined with natural flavours, it makes their flavour stronger. This makes MSG perfect for packaged foods. But the compound has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and may cause migraine in some people.


Bread and maida look white because of a chemical process called bleaching. Long-term consumption of bleached flour and bread can lead to intestinal and digestive problems.

High fructose corn syrup:
Yes, that mango juice tastes sweet, but it isn’t because of sugar. It’s because of a lab-created product called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This compound is made from genetically modified corn, which is still being investigated for its possible role in causing genetic defects.

Plus, HFCS is linked to childhood obesity and diabetes. Still, the food industry is reluctant to let go of its dependence on HFCS because, in America at least, it’s cheaper and adds weight and sweetness to thousands of beverages, making packaged foods profitable.

Palm oil, soya oil, partially hydrogenated oil:
These are found in ready-to-cook cake mixes, butters, ready-to-eat foods and quick-cooking foods (the kind you need to “just add water” to or microwave for a quick meal). Oils are a real problem, not just because they are fattening, but because of several other reasons like increased blood pressure and cholesterol.

Artificial sugars:
Saccharin, aspartame and fructose all come from laboratories. They are easy and cheap to manufacture in bulk and their “sugar free” tag makes them attractive to dieters and diabetics. But an overdose of artificial sweeteners has been shown to cause cancer.

Sodium nitrate:
This compound is used to increase the shelf life of meat products like bacon and salami. Consumed over long periods, sodium nitrate can lead to skin allergies, headaches, tummy troubles and even hair fall.
(This concludes the series)

From HT Brunch, September 7
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First Published: Sep 06, 2014 19:12 IST