As per a WHO document titled ‘Marketing of Foods High in Fat, Salt and Sugar to Children – Update 2012-2013’, foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar are commonly termed as HFSS Foods.
Sugar: Sugar is empty calories with no beneficial effect and there is no safe level of its intake. High use of sugar, particularly fructose, is harmful. Studies have established a direct relationship between sugar intake and the problems of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Salt: Salt is added as a preservative and to enhance the taste of food. High salt content in diet is strongly associated with high blood pressure and related cardiovascular diseases. Evidence suggests that high salt intake increases the mass of the left ventricle, as well as stiffens and narrows arteries, including coronary and renal arteries. It increases the probability of stroke, severity of cardiac failure and tendency for platelets to aggregate. As per WHO, cutting down on dietary salt intake to a recommended 5 g per day has a major impact on reducing blood pressure and the incidence of cardiovascular diseases.
Saturated Fatty Acid (SFA): SFAs are widely used in packaged foods, including cookies, crackers, and snack chips. When consumed in excess of the recommended limit (less than 10 percent of total calorie intake), SFAs are known to clog arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Trans Fatty Acid (TFA): TFAs are formed during the process of hydrogenation of vegetable oils (PHVOs) to make it semi solid, and serves to provide longer shelf life, and better form and texture to food. Typically, they are found in high quantities in bakery products and snacks that are deep-fried in PHVOs. TFAs are well known to have an adverse impact on blood lipid levels as they reduce the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) and increase the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. Further, their consumption increases insulin resistance and promotes obesity. WHO recommends that less than 1 percent of calories should come from TFAs.
Besides the above key ingredients of concern, caffeine used in carbonated beverages and energy drinks is an addictive stimulant, which, if consumed in excess, can lead to impaired muscle and nerve functions, dehydration and a host of other disorders. Consumption of caffeine, particularly among school children, is a matter of concern and needs to be strictly regulated in compliance with the Food Safety and Standards Act (2006) and the regulations made there under.
HFSS Food Consumption in India: Consumption of ‘HFSS Food’ is rapidly increasing, both in urban and rural areas. The ease of availability, superior taste, low cost, aggressive marketing and advertisements, and peer pressure make them popular with children. The most common (60.4 percent) result of skipping meals, as found in the WHO study, was the consumption of foods such as potato chips, chocolates and carbonated drinks. HFSS food replacing balanced diet is a key issue; as per NIN dietary guidelines “the shift from traditional to ‘modern’ foods, changing cooking practices, increased intake and intensive promotion of HFSS foods and beverages have affected people’s perception of foods as well as their dietary behaviour.” Irrational preference for energy-dense foods and those with high sugar and salt content pose a serious health risk to people, especially children.
Most Common HFSS Foods:
Chips and fried foods, e.g. Kachori
Sugar sweetened carbonated beverages
Sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages, e.g. Juices
Ready-to-eat noodles, and pizzas and burgers
Confectionery items, e.g. Gulab Jamun
Fatty Acids May Have:
– No double bonds – which is the case in saturated fatty acids (SAFA), and is considered to be bad for health.
– One double bond – as in the case of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA); and many double bonds – as in the case of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA); both are normally termed as being good for health.
Each type of oil has some percent of SAFA, MUFA/PUFA, and TFA. Some oils are good for frying where as some oils are used elsewhere. A very good source of MUFA/PUFA is freshly made homemade ‘ghee’ or butter oil. We used to blame ghee for the incidence of obesity in humans because, in ancient times, we used to eat products made in ghee or freshly pressed oils. However, the proportion of obese humans, then, were less as humans were doing manual work at that time, more than what we do today.
The TFA present in oil used for frying a samosa on a street cart by a vendor will be much higher than fresh oil used for frying items at home. Industrially, oil usage is restricted based on the amount of free fatty acid (FFA) present in the oil. In industrially processed food, where ever frying is done, the oil is replaced by fresh oil once it reaches an FFA level of approximately 2.0 percent. Thus, Industrially processed food is still far better than what we eat at street vendors.
See the examples of various oil compositions for their SAFA, MUFA and PUFA
Need of the Hour: –
The need of the hour is to get more money to provide your family with good food and shelter. The lack of time and money in life is one of the reasons why people feel the need to buy and eat processed food, or what is commonly referred to as easy food. People often find time to only have a quick bite as everyone is in a hurry to get to and from work or home. Many restaurants and hotels have opened up in recent history, both in India and the rest of the world, to meet the needs of a growing base of customers looking for quick food. However, it is imperative for all of us to be conscious of the negative effects of the compounds and chemicals present in processed foods and other products we consume from outside. Cooking food at home, using ingredients you trust, is still the best way to maintain superior health.