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Not all biscuits are healthy for your child. Here are tips to read between the labels

A recent report states that the sugar and fat content on biscuit packets is often erroneous. We get experts to reveal the secret to knowing whether your biscuit is actually healthy or not.

fitness Updated: Oct 28, 2017 08:41 IST
Soma Das
Soma Das
Hindustan Times
Biscuit labelling,Transfats,Transfat
There is no such thing as a sugar-free, fat-free biscuit.(Shutterstock)

Nutritionist and food consultant Anjali Peswani recalls sessions with patients, where she had to convince them that their “oatmeal”, “wholewheat”,”light” or “digestive” biscuits were not quite healthy for them or their children. “Most biscuit brands psychologically target health-conscious people with smart labelling. It is not completely inaccurate, as most of them are within specified safety limits in terms of sugar or preservative content ,” she says. But there is still reason enough to look carefully at the labels.

Case in point is a recent report by the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) which states that the sugar in cream-based branded biscuits manufactured in India is usually above the prescribed 25-30gm per 100gm, and the fat content is 20gm per 100gm. Note that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended levels are less than 20gm for both. “While the sugar and fat content mentioned on the packet is for just 100gm of biscuits, a packet weighs around 250gm. So, if you end up eating a whole packet, you can do the maths,” says Peswani.

Cream biscuits are loaded with artificial flavouring and sugar. ( Shutterstock )

But are your “healthy” biscuits any better than sugar-rich cream biscuits. “There is no such thing as a sugar-free, fat-free biscuit,” says Mumbai-based clinical nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan, adding, “If you read on a label that the biscuit has 50% less fat or sugar, look at the label for the other ingredients and you will definitely find something unhealthy added to make it crispy, tasty or get it to blend well.”

A close reading of the nutritional chart, often presented in small font on the packet, will show you how even the healthiest biscuits are not so different from a regular flour-rich, sugary biscuit. We get Peswani and Patwardhan to give us some pointers to how to read and make sense of biscuit packet labels:

* The list of ingredients on the packet often mention sugar and carbohydrates separately. “Since carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugar, you will still end up eating excess sugar while thinking you are within limits,” says Patwardhan. Also, watch out for words like glucose, fructose, corn starch, and corn syrup which are all various forms of sugar.

Most biscuits are loaded with chemicals in the form of emulsifiers, preservatives, colouring agents, and acidity regulators to prolong shelf-life. ( Shutterstock )

* Biscuits are calorie-heavy as well. “There are almost 40 calories in one biscuit and one never stops at just one. Compared to that, a phulka which we think is unhealthy has 80 calories and is much more satiating,” says Patwardhan.

* Most biscuits are loaded with chemicals in the form of emulsifiers, preservatives, colouring agents, and acidity regulators used during processing to prolong shelf-life and preserve the product from bacteria. Check for sulphites, bromates and benzoic acid which can cause anything from low blood pressure to inhibition in the function of digestive enzymes.

* The sodium bicarbonate levels mentioned on the packet basically refer to salt, and biscuits are often heavy on salt as well as sugar. So, if you are supposed to be on a low-salt diet, or have blood pressure problems, you might want to give a miss to the packet of biscuits.

* Beware of sugar-free biscuits. They often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, which can affect your metabolism, gut bacteria and appetite. “A lot of sugar-free tablets are used in making biscuits. And we do not know the effects of bulk consumption, since the research is based on a limited consumption of artificial sweeteners,” says Patwardhan.

Peswani cautions that improper labelling could also be dangerous for diabetics who trust the “sugar-free” label without realising the generous use of sugar substitutes.

* Cream biscuits (fruit-flavoured ones) are loaded with artificial flavouring and not fruit sugars. “You cannot add acidic fruits like oranges to make milk biscuits,” says Peswani.

* The proportion of the healthy ingredient mentioned on the packet is important. “While the packet may claim the biscuit is “wholewheat”, “fibre-rich” or “oatmeal”, the actual proportion of wholewheat, fibre and oats may be just 5-10% (within limits prescribed by food safety regulator) while the remaining composition is of unhealthy refined flour,” says Peswani. Refined flour or maida is bad for you as it releases sugar into the bloodstream quickly and leads to an insulin spike; in the long-term it can even lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.

So how many biscuits a day should you eat? Peswani advises that people stick to not more than three Marie biscuits/two cream crackers a day or protein-rich biscuits like Threptin, while Patwardhan suggests that people avoid them altogether and opt for healthier options like nuts or poha.

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First Published: Oct 28, 2017 08:40 IST