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  • Raghav Sand

Fooled by Food

Packaged food has become a permanent feature of contemporary life. Everything from cookies, chips, instant noodles, juices and aerated drinks have loyal fans across the spectrum of common sense and income. Packaged food is a rare unifier in our world. It is extraordinary how, even after knowing all the adverse effects of these empty calorie foods, people cannot make the wiser choice. Healthy food may look or taste boring, but the choice between healthy life and lifestyle diseases can define the quality of a person’s overall well-being in their middle and old age.

Those who have been part of the formal education system and are currently engaged in professional pursuits, should at least make better choices in this regard. These individuals possess the basic know-how about nutrition, yet choose to ignore them. Consuming food items with high sugar content and trans-fat is being carelessly overlooked, and it is becoming a major cause of untimely death among healthy-looking individuals. A diet laden with trans-fat increases the risk of heart disease, a leading killer of adults. The more trans-fat you eat, the greater your risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

Habit Formation

Most children pick up eating habits from their parents, while others inculcate unhealthy eating habits on their own. Some children can be picky eaters and eat more of the things they like. This disregard for variety in the diet lays the foundation for worse eating habits in teenage and early adult life. Food habits are formed primarily due to proximity and affordability of food. If teenagers have easy access to a well-stocked pantry at home, then they tend to chew and gulp packaged food and drinks more often than someone who may not have the luxury of instant availability.

From Habit to Addiction

Addiction is repetitive behaviour people find difficult to quit. The tobacco industry acknowledged the ill-effects of nicotine after scrutiny from lawmakers and public. The packaged food industry executives should appraise the general public about the real contents in their products and declutter the jargon from their ‘nutrition facts’ label. Food addiction affects different people differently; it ranges from casual to hooked on the compulsion spectrum.

Marketing campaigns with slogans such as ‘bet you can’t eat just one’ add fuel to the fire and before one realises, they are hooked to the unhealthy food item. The people who ‘engineer’ packaged food items try to manipulate us with aroma and taste. They sprinkle just the right flavours to get our brain excited, thus enhancing the cravings for more of the same. Taking a cue from research, food engineers put emphasis on smell, as it is responsible for approximately 80 percent of the flavour.

Speed is Everything

Packaged food industry is all about speed. From procuring the raw materials, to manufacturing and packaging the food or beverage item, the pace is both swift and smooth. The success of any product is judged by how fast it makes the journey from shelf to cart, and this parameter is more relevant for packaged food industry than others.

Food packaging firms of all shapes and sizes, often get entangled in litigation. They have mastered the art of getting out of legal process quickly, by either paying a hefty fine or tweaking the ingredients or both. The lack of credible oversight over the multi-crore food packaging industry is a silent pandemic waiting to wreak havoc. Instant noodle, baby formula and sugary drinks have faced some music in the past, but it is too little, too late.

Healthy Food Items Playing Catch Up

Food is an emotional subject. People have a tendency to get easily offended if – even with the best of intention and spirit – they are requested to eat or not to eat in a certain way. The conversation about organic and healthy food has not been able to enter the mainstream because of the price skimming strategy deployed by the new age food firms. For far too long, the wellness centric food manufacturers have focussed on the aware and affluent consumer. Some firms are content with the niche consumer base and are trying to just mint money from the favourable trend.

How expensive can a basic healthy food item get? This question should be debated by nutritionists and the advocates of sustainable and equitable development. Free enterprise is great for the economy, but anyone who has the access and expertise, with respect to a scarce resource like food, should be made accountable for their choices and its subsequent consequences.

In the Interim

There is a lot we can do to regain control of our eating habits. If you are parent, then make sure kids can easily see and reach the fruit basket. For kids, the snacking choices between meals is dictated by visibility and accessibility. Also, you should try to lead by example, because kids imitate their parents’ eating habits. If you are an adult, living alone or with family, then apply common sense and will power to make the right food choices. Simultaneously, try to educate yourself with the basics of nutrition and the impact of food choices. Eating seasonal food is highly recommended and having the right amount of variety in food covers all the bases.

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