Jul 24, 2017

Pack tiffin without ketchup

Thank you for your support and encouragement for my earlier posts on packaged foods. Some of you had suggested me to do the ingredients analysis for a few more products. One such product is the most commonly used Ketchup. It has become a staple ingredient in many urban kitchens. Having established the product category in the past decade or so, the profit-chasing packaged food manufacturers now want consumers to consume more of ketchup. If you are buying say one bottle of Ketchup every 3 months, the brands want you to buy a bottle every month. Towards this goal, there have been rigorous promotions happening with the support of prominent chefs and food bloggers. One such initiative that made me furious is “Kissan tiffin timetable - 200 tiffin recipes for 200 school days”. 

For parents who are reading this, you can easily pack healthy and yummy tiffin for your kids WITHOUT any ketchup. Please don’t get caught into this mess, just because a model-turned-chef cooks pretty looking dishes that pretend to look healthy. Our kids don’t need cute-sa-pyaara-sa dishes, they need “real” food that helps them to stay healthy and strong and live a long life.

I just saw one episode of her show where she makes “oothappam sandwiches”. All you health-focused moms out there, please watch. If your BP raises, I’m not responsible ;-)

To the oothappam batter, the “chef” adds some vegetables and then adds “magic ingredient which will enhance the flavour”. She generously adds 3 tbsp of the ketchup and the reason she gives - "ketchup helps to keep the oothappam nice and moist". 2 minutes into the video and I couldn’t take it any longer. 

Now why am I against ketchup? I have a bottle sitting in my fridge too. Let me list down the reasons:
1. Whenever I open the ketchup bottle, my 5-year old gets super excited. I rarely serve ketchup along with a meal. Only on days when I make a veg fried rice or fry some bhajjis, ketchup is taken out. When we go out to eat, my daughter orders French Fries, just so that she can lick some ketchup that comes in the sachet. Clearly, there’s something addictive in it, that makes kids go gaga over it.
2. I tried making ketchup at home a few times by myself. I did use fresh, ripe and juicy tomatoes but couldn’t get that deep red colour or the thick consistency.

I went to the store and looked at the pack of a Kissan Ketchup bottle. There was this statement (all capital letters) that grabbed my attention - “CONTAINS PERMITTED CLASS-II PRESERVATIVE”. 

I was curious to know why such an emphasis was given, since we all know that most packaged foods contain preservatives. As I researched this topic, I learned that there are two classes of preservatives.

Class I preservatives
- natural preservatives such as salt, sugar, edible oil, vinegar, spices and honey.

Class II preservatives
- chemical preservatives such as benzoates, sorbates, nitrites and nitrates of sodium or potassium, sulfites, glutamates, glycerides and the like.

The food standards regulations require that not more than one class II preservative to be used on one particular food item.

In this pack, Preservative 211 - Sodium Benzoate is being used.
- Used in a variety of foods, beverages, condiments and cosmetics (shampoos, mouth wash, deodarant)
- Helps prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria in acidic products
- FDA permits its use upto 0.1% of product weight
- Extremely dangerous as it can cause severe damage to the DNA
- Research has also shown that E211 in combination with artificial colours increases hyperactivity in children, resulting in ADHD
- When mixed with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), sodium benzoate transforms into benzene, a known carcinogen and DNA damager

I panicked and rushed to my fridge to reconfirm that the ketchup brand I’m using doesn’t have such preservatives. Thankfully, none were listed. But I decided that this is the LAST ketchup bottle I’m buying, irrespective of whether it contains E211 or not. My daughter will have to learn to eat her bhajjis with coconut chutney.
Let’s quickly take a look at the other ingredients:

Tomato paste (28%)
Acidity Regulator - 260
Stabilizers - 1422, 415
Preservative - 211
Onion powder
Garlic powder

As per the nutrition table, 1 serving (1tbsp - 15 gms) contains 4.8 gm of sugar (little more than 1 tsp). Compared to other junk, the sugar quantity is relatively low.

As per the nutrition table, 1 serving (1tbsp - 15 gms) contains 136 mg of sodium. And it says it is 6% of GDA (Adult’s Guideline Daily Amount for a 2000KCal diet). If ketchup is adult’s food, then why is the model-turned-chef making tiffin timetable for kids?

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, the adequate intake (AI) of sodium for kids in the age bracket of 4-8 years is 300 - 600 mg/day. If we take the average (450 mg/day), then 1 tbsp of ketchup will be 30% of their AI. So that’s exactly the reason why kids get addicted to ketchup - TOO MUCH SALT. 

Acidity Regulator
260 - Acetic acid
Helps to control the acidity or alkalinity, so the required pH level can be maintained which prevents the growth of bacteria in the product.
Main component of vinegar, synthetically produced from wood fibres 
The main side effect of this additive is that it can trigger asthma. 

1422 - Hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate / Acetylated distarch adipate
Usually produced from corn or potato starch. If it is corn, then highly likely that it is GMO. 
It is used to maintain the consistency, necessary uniformity and strength of the food product

Though it is not extremely harmful in small quantities, it is is the list of potential allergens.
Excessive use disturbs the functioning of gastro-intestinal tract

415 - Xanthan gum
Wrote about this in my earlier post on ready-to-eat soups.
Though not very harmful, it aggravates food intolerances and allergies. 

My main concern with this pack is that E211 preservative. And the excess salt. 
Let’s teach our kids to eat their parathas with curd, bhajjis/pakoras with chutney, dosas/oothappams with molagapodi. 

I’m sure all of us have a Ketchup bottle at home. Do check out its ingredients list and see if it contains any Class II preservative. Let's think of healthy, homemade alternatives to use in place of ketchup.


Jul 19, 2017

Eat fresh breakfast, not Kelloggs Chocos

Saved the “worst” for the last. In my not-so-humble opinion, Kelloggs Chocos is the WORST junk food of all. You want to know why?
- Because of the simple fact that kids eat this on a DAILY basis
- It is not a once-in-a-while treat but an everyday staple
- It is given the special privilege of being a kid's “meal” 

Ask any urban school going kid what he/she had for breakfast. Most likely, you’ll hear “I ate chocos”. Once, I got a reply that stunned me - "I ate moon&stars”. It took me a while to figure out that it is one of the variants of Chocos.

I had earlier written about the rise of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals in India, more on the lines of how they are being marketed/promoted. In this post, let’s look at the ingredients of regular Kelloggs Chocos and nutritive facts breakdown.

Before we do that, if you have Chocos at home and a weighing scale, please measure the usual quantity you’d normally give your child. Does it come to 30 gm or more than that? Please, please do share the quantity in the comments below. The recommended serving size is 30 grams and the nutrition profile is given for the same. But I have a suspicion that 30 gms is too small a serving size and our kids are eating more than that. I truly hope that my suspicion is wrong.


(1) Wheat solids (58%)
 - Whole wheat flour (29%)
 - Wheat flour (29%)

See, this is the perfect example of a product that has both whole wheat flour and maida in equal proportions. Though the package claims “with whole grain”, it is not fully whole grain.  

(2) Sugar
For a serving size of 30 gm, it contains 10.4 gm of sugar, which is a little more than 2.5 tsp of sugar. Starting the day with a sugar rush, aren’t we? I sincerely pray that additional sugar is not added on top of it while serving with milk. I know many kids want to add sugar to the regular corn flakes and milk.

(3) Cocoa Solids (5.4%)

(4) Edible Vegetable Oil (Palmolein)
Though the fat content is relatively low compared to other junk foods, we need to be aware of the source of the oil. Palmolein is the cheapest edible oil available on the planet. It has caused severe environmental degradation, rapid deforestation and habitat loss, especially for orangutans.

The Human Food Project claims that palm oil causes low-grade inflammation, that is linked to insulin resistance and obesity.
According to this source, oxidized palm oil induces reproductive toxicity and organotoxicity particularly of the kidneys, lungs, liver and heart.  

(5) Minerals
If the brand claims that Chocos is high in calcium and iron, where do you think such minerals come from? Not from wheat flour, sugar or oil. Synthetic minerals are added separately, in order to make the brand promise more health-focused. It’s a different question whether such minerals are actually absorbed by our body and if yes, upto what extent. 

(6) Malt extract

(7) Iodized Salt
When you see sodium as 0.1 gm, it looks so minuscule, isn’t it? But sodium requirement is measured in mg/day. The adequate intake (AI) of sodium for kids in the age bracket of 4-8 years is 300 - 600 mg/day. So with a chocos breakfast, the kid has already exhausted nearly 1/3rd of sodium requirement in a day. What’s the need for salt in a sugar-laden breakfast cereal? One reason that I presume is that salt increases addictive property. Another reason could be to enhance the taste. If you had observed how our grandmothers made payasam/kheer, they would usually add a tiny pinch of salt along with jaggery. The reason being salt brings out the sweet flavour more prominently. 

(8) Colour (INS 150d)
Commonly called caramel colour, this specific colour INS 150d is called Sulfite ammonia caramel. It is also used in carbonated drinks like Coke.

In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reviewed the safety of a group of caramel colours (150a, 150b, 150c and 150d). 

The Panel points out that adults and children who are high consumers of foods containing these colours could exceed the ADIs established for three of these colours (E150a, E150c, E150d) if they are used at the maximum levels reported by industry. 

The maximum permissible intake is up to 200 mg/kg body weight for E150c and E150d. Side effects are manifested from the use of IN150c and IN150d, where intestinal problems may occur after ingestion of large amounts.

The manufacturing process of caramel results in the production of 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), which is carcinogenic. Food manufacturers hide under the argument that the quantity consumed has to be extremely high in order to face the side-effects of this chemical. 

(9) Vitamins
Similar to the point on minerals. Synthetic vitamins are added, so the brand can claim that the pack is high in B vitamins. Again, to what extent such vitamins are absorbed by the body is something to think about.

(10) Anti-oxidants (INS 320)
No, these are not the “good” anti-oxidants found in fruits and vegetables that are good for our body.
Rather, these are chemicals that protect a food from deterioration caused by oxidation.

INS 320 - Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a petroleum derivative. It is banned in Japan.
According to this source
"Serious concerns about carcinogenic and estrogenic effects, asthmatics and aspirin sensitive people should avoid, causes metabolic changes and accumulates in body fat.”

The US National Institutes of Health states that BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” 

This is present in almost all breakfast cereals of Kelloggs, including Special-K which many from the elite class perceive to be good for weight loss.

It is also present in Soulfull brand of breakfast cereals, which tags along the goodness of “ragi”. Looking at its ingredients, it is as unhealthy as Kelloggs, with the use of hydrogenated vegetable fat, stabiliser, emulsifiers etc.

Comparing the ingredients list of other Kelloggs Chocos products and Soulfull:

Let’s be conscious that adding good ingredients like ragi doesn’t increase the nutritive quotient in such packaged foods. Processing, preservation and packaging DOES REQUIRE the use of various food additives. One can’t escape from this simple fact. 

If you want to include ragi in your daily diet, make
- ragi idlis and dosas with wholegrain
- ragi porridge made with ragi flour / sprouted ragi flour
- ragi rotis made with ragi flour
- add ragi flour to your regular wholewheat atta to make chapathis
- bake cake at home with ragi flour

Let’s not rely on these packaged brands to give us the "goodness of ragi".

If a kid is eating Chocos every single day for breakfast, it means that he/she is also ingesting harmful chemicals like INS 320 and INS 150d on a daily basis. Not to forget the sugar and palmolein. 

As I was reading these side-effects, it felt so disturbing to me. What did our kids do wrong? Why did we introduce such harmful foods in the first place? If we reason ourselves saying “My kid eats only Chocos for breakfast and nothing else”, the kid is not at fault here. Rather, it is us as parents who introduced such junk to them and who ought to take the responsibility. My intention is not to judge or make anyone feel guilty. I have bought such packaged foods for my daughter too. Though she doesn’t eat them on a daily basis, she has tasted them. 

Please let’s get back to making fresh home-made breakfast every single day from now on. Let’s take complete responsibility for our kids’ health and not rely on these profit-focused food corporations. 

Indian cuisine is so vast and varied, with so many different recipes. Why opt for such homogenous, ready-to-eat junk that are totally unhealthy, ridiculously expensive and causes various environmental issues? 

I had shared a few breakfast ideas in this post. I've also been sharing my daily menus on Instagram. I’ll be more than happy to share recipes/tips/meal planning/hacks etc. 

I started this exercise when I noticed popular food bloggers promoting packaged foods big time. It made me feel angry to see such irresponsible posts. As I started diving into the ingredients, food additives etc, it felt like I’m going into a rabbit hole. I took a few popular junk food brands and planned a 2-posts-per-week project. After 4 weeks(and 8 posts), I have only covered a handful of the popular, packaged foods. Reading about the additives and their side-effects is disturbing and alarming. This is the concluding post and I thank everyone who supported me with their kind words of encouragement. If you want me to write about any other packaged food in similar manner, please do let me know. 
I have only scratched the surface through this analysis. There are plenty of artificial additives and chemicals that all of us are consuming unknowingly. Let’s be aware of them. The next time you go shopping, please make sure to read the ingredients list. Do a quick google search if you come across any jargon. Think twice before adding a packaged food to your shopping cart. The same applies when you shop online too.


Jul 17, 2017

3 reasons to stay away from Kinder Joy

I’m nearing the end of my analysis of a few popular packaged, junk foods. I sincerely hope that these posts helped you familiarize a little bit on the ingredients and additives used in such foods. One more post coming up later this week, after which I’m done with this project.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that there are a few junk foods that are on top of my “hate” list. One such kids’ favourite treat is this egg shaped Kinder Joy.

From a nutrition perspective, it is loaded with sugar and fat, like most other junk foods. But I hate this particular product for two other reasons:

1. The sheer amount of waste that this product generates. The two outer shells with individual wraps, a plastic spoon, couple of instruction papers/stickers and plastic toys/knick-knacks. The child is excited about the toy for a few seconds, after which it ends up in the garbage bin. How ridiculous this concept is! How much of plastic waste is thrown! Atrocious is the word.
2. The gender prejudice the toy advocates. I’m a mother of a daughter. Even if I choose to overlook the pink/blue packaging differentiation, the toy inside is unbearable. Boys get vehicles/blocks etc while girls get pendants/rings/bracelets with pictures of dolls. Don’t girls have anything better to do other than wear these knick-knacks or play with dolls? What sort of messages are we sending to our girls AND boys? Heights of idiocy!

I had to buy this junk to show the EXACT stuff inside a "for girls" pack. And while you are at it, do take a look at the amount of waste generated.

Given the oddly shaped product, it isn’t so easy to read and decipher the ingredients. Here’s the list as mentioned in the pack:
  1. Sugar
  2. Edible vegetable oils and fats
  3. Skimmed cow milk powder (19.5%)
  4. Low fat cocoa powder (4%)
  5. Wheat flour
  6. Toasted wheat germ
  7. Wheat starch
  8. Powdered barley malt extract
  9. Emulsifier (Lecithin - INS 322)
  10. Whey proteins
  11. Raising agents (INS 503ii, INS 500ii)
  12. Salt
The top 2 ingredients make it clear why it is a child’s favourite treat and why it should be thrown out of the shelves. Check out the product’s nutritional Information (per 20 gm):
Energy - 109 Kcal
Protein - 1.6 gm
Carbohydrate - 11.3 gm
- Sugar - 10.2 gm
Fat - 6.4 gm

In simple terms, each Kinder Joy contains a whopping 2.5 tsp of sugar and around 1.38 tsp of fat. Do we even need to worry about the rest of the ingredients, given that the high amounts of sugar and fat is a big enough concern?

It has the same ingredients profile like any other junk foods - wheat flour (maida), lecithin, raising agents etc.

The price point is Rs.40 - for what? 
For spoiling our kids’ health
For destroying our planet
For creating idiotic, gender prejudices

If you are affected by even one of these three issues, then let’s stop buying and supporting such products. Kids will understand, if we sit down and explain to them. 

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