Oct 16, 2017

The state of Food labelling and Advertisements related regulations in India


 I recently stumbled upon this article “Obesity is not an issue” - why the Indian government is courting foreign junk-food makers. Before proceeding further, do take a few minutes to read it.

As more and more junk foods enter the supermarket shelves, it is all the more important to be cautious and aware of the ingredients and not succumb to the hype of "Brand XYZ coming to India”.

The 2016 report "Food labelling, Claims and Advertisements” published by “Centre for Science and Environment” highlights many important details and practices on packaged food regulations that are currently followed in India and how they are far behind as compared to other countries. Again, an extremely well-researched report. Do take the time to read it as well.

Here are some notes that I have jotted down for my reference.
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Labelling:

The Indian food labelling laws do not require labelling of salt/sodium.
One pack of Nestle’s Maggi noodles (70 g) has over 37 per cent of the RDA of salt.
Brands like Lays, Saffola Masala Oats, Quaker Oats Masala, SunFeast Yippee Noodles do not mention the amount of sodium in their labelling.

Information depicted as per 100 g or 100 ml does not help in easy understanding
on the quantity of nutrient in a pack and in a portion one typically consumes. 

Front-of-Pack (FoP) labels are aimed to limit the intake of one or more of salt/sodium, sugar, fat, saturated fat. They are indicated as traffic light, color-coded labels, warning, health star rating or symbols that are easy and quick to understand. There is no formal FoP labelling adopted in India.

Nutrition labelling of menus in chain restaurants with 20+ outlets is mandatory in many countries.

In India, there is no list of approved or non-approved health claims. There is no mention of  the need for an approval process, the approval process, or the kind of scientific substantiation required. There is malpractice because weak regulations. For example, the claim made by Bournvita lil champs, i.e. ‘Contains DHA known for brain development’ falls under the category of unacceptable health claims in Canada.


Advertisements:

There is no approval process for claims in food advertisements.  

The issue of delay in evaluation of any complaint and the decision by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) leaves a lot of room for the intended outcome of the food marketing campaign, which is anyway designed for a limited duration. 

Many countries (Norway, Sweden, UK etc) have banned or restricted advertising of unhealthy food and beverages targeted at children under the age of 12 during and before children’s programmes.

WHO's 2016 report on “Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world” states that Government should acknowledge the duty of protecting children from digital marketing of foods high in fats, salt or sugar through statutory regulation. 

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The recommendations proposed in the report seem to be well-thought through, but it will take atleast a few years for it to get implemented, IF (and that’s a big IF) they get approved by the concerned authorities.

From a consumer perspective, it is imperative that we read the packaging information - ingredients, nutrition information and promoted health-related claims. Let’s not blindly believe “high in iron”, “fortified with Vitamins”, “DHA for brain development" etc. 

I recently heard from an elderly person with diabetes and acute anaemia that she is drinking a particular variant of Tropicana because the packaging states “high in iron”.  That’s sadly the state of affairs with most people, who are well educated but blindly trust such tall claims.

Oct 13, 2017

Paper Boat drinks review


 Some of you had asked me to write about Paper Boat’s beverages. There is a general “perception” that Paper Boat drinks are relatively healthy. I’m not sure how this perception got created in our minds. My guess is because of their strong connect to nostalgia - a powerful emotion. Be it their product names, promotions, ads, visuals or their product launches linked to festivals - there’s nostalgia at their core. Aam Ras, Aam Panna, Panagam, Thandai and many such drinks take us back to memories from our childhood. 

Looking at their ingredients, they don’t seem to be adding any artificial preservatives or colouring substances. That’s a good thing, when compared to Tropicana or REAL fruit juices. 

BUT, the amount of sugar in Paper Boat drinks is as high as that of Tropicana or other packaged drinks.

Take a look at their popular drink - Aam Ras. It is a favourite at our home too, but we indulge occasionally.

The nutritional information table shows that 100 ml of Aam Ras contains 8.43 gm of sugar. So the pack of 250 ml contains 21 gm of sugar, which is equivalent to 5.25 tsps of sugar.
Let’s also look at the other variants and their sugar levels:

Aam Ras - 21 gms (around 5.25 tsp of sugar)
Jamun Khala Khatta - 22.75 gms (around 5.5 tsp of sugar)
Alphonso Aam - 31.15 gms (close to 8 tsp of sugar)
Aam Panna - 25.4 gms (around 6.5 tsp of sugar)
Kokum - 24.5 gms (around 6 tsp of sugar)

That’s a LOT of sugar and not “a little bit of sugar” as their website states. 

A pack of one of these Paper Boat juices is enough to exceed our daily allowance of added sugar.

It is okay to indulge in these juices once in a while but let’s not stock up our fridge with 4-5 packs every week.

There is a reason why mangoes and jamuns are seasonal fruits. Let’s embrace local and seasonal fresh produce. These all-around-the-year sugar-loaded beverages spike up our blood sugar levels and increase the load on our pancreas to produce insulin. We don't want to get caught in the diabetes net.

Oct 10, 2017

"Flavoured Greek yoghurt" sham


 Over the past one week, I have been vehemently searching for this one product in the supermarket but I couldn’t get hold of it. It was out of stock every time I was checking out the dairy section. The motive was not to buy and taste it but to check out the ingredients list :-) Yes, I’m talking about the widely promoted Greek Yoghurt.

It’s anyone’s guess how I came to know about this product….yep, yet another food blogger who was sharing pictures last week from a food blogger event to promote “Danone Greek Yoghurt”. Even after unfollowing many popular food bloggers, there are still a few lurking around in my Instagram timeline promoting such junk without any conscience. 

Anyway, what caught my attention was this hashtag - #thehealthyswap

When brands launch junk foods with taste as their promise, I don’t care much, but if they use “health” as part of their promotions, then I had to check out the ingredients and of course, I had to write about it.

First, what is Greek Yoghurt? Why there are so many brand launches in the past year - Nestle’s Grekyo, Epigamia and now Danone?

Greek Yoghurt is made using the similar milk fermentation process followed for making regular yoghurt. It is then strained to remove liquid whey, leaving behind a thicker, creamier yoghurt. 

Because of its thicker consistency, 
- greek yoghurt supposedly has twice the protein as compared to regular yoghurt

Given the “high protein” craze that has taken over the urban, “health-conscious" population, it is no wonder that so many brands of Greek Yoghurt are lined up in the supermarket shelves.

Let’s first look at Danone fruit flavoured yoghurt:
 

It is promoted as a high protein snack with real fruit pieces. What a pickup line for parents who wish their kids eat real fruit !!

Ingredients List:
Pasteurized Double Toned Milk,
Fruit Squash {(10%) - Blueberry (50%), Sugar, Water}
Sugar
Grape Juice Concentrate
Active Culture

Blueberry is only 5% of the total ingredients. Given the huge cost of imported blueberries, we can’t expect more quantity. The purple colour is from the “grape juice concentrate”. Unless you read the ingredients list in tiny font, you won’t be able to guess it.

Take a look at sugar that is listed TWICE. As per the nutritional information, it contains 12 gm of sugar per 100 gms, which means the 80 gm pack has around 2.5 tsp of sugar.

Let’s also look at the promise of "High protein" - The 80 gm pack has a measly 4.8 gm of protein.

100 gm serving of whole moong dal has 24 gm of protein (Source)
100 gm serving of horse gram (Kollu) has 22 gm of protein 

A typical Indian vegan meal provides us with enough protein. We don’t need such cleverly marketed sugar-loaded junk foods that cling onto latest diet fads. 

I also checked out Nestle’s Grekyo. The ingredients were hardly visible in the purple background. Listing them down here for a clear view:
 
Ingredients List:
Double toned milk,
Milk solids,
Fruit syrup {(10%) [Sugar, blueberry (2.2%), Apple Juice, Stabilizer (440), Preservative (202), Colour (163{ii))}
Sugar,
Culture (Contains Lactobacillus Lactis)

Apart from sugar being repeated twice, there are also additives such as stabilizer, preservative and artificial colour.

This pack is also loaded with sugar - 14.4 gm per serving size (around 3.5 tsp of sugar).

% GDA per serve shows 16% next to sugar.  

In fine print, it is mentioned:
“Guideline Daily amounts (GDA) of an average adult. Servings should be adjusted for children of different ages"
 
Who eats flavoured yoghurt mostly - our innocent children for God’s sake. Imagine the sugar overload on them, if they gobble up an entire pack. It’s not just with the recently launched Greek Yoghurt brands. Check out any flavoured yoghurt and you would notice the obscene amount of sugar - 13 gm in Danone mango flavoured yoghurt (which translates to 3.25 tsp of sugar). I have seen many parents loading their shopping carts with 6 packs of flavoured yoghurt every week. 

Let’s stop this craze towards milk and milk based products. Our children can get enough protein from cereals, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Oct 4, 2017

Book Review: A book of Simple Living by Ruskin Bond


Just like comfort foods, there are “comfort authors” - those writers whose books you seek out for comfort reading because of the familiarity and simplicity of their writing style. My go-to comfort authors have always been Ruskin Bond and R.K. Narayan. 

I picked up this book “A book of Simple Living" based on a tweet recommendation. One of the best books of Ruskin Bond I have read so far. It is a collection of moments from Ruskin Bond’s life - living in the hills, his study, long walks, interaction with nature - plants, trees, birds and animals, friendship, love etc. There were so many interesting lines and phrases in this book that I ended up highlighting so many of them in my Kindle. Simple prose, beautiful explanation, vivid imagery - these are the factors that keep pulling me back to Ruskin Bond’s books.

One of the ideas that I picked up from this book is this “Book of trivets” - a collection of happy moments and thoughts that one can jot down, and can later refer back to relive those moments again.

Let me share a few of the lines that I really loved (Quoted as in the book, all credits to the author):

“Happiness is as elusive as a butterfly, and we must never pursue it. If we stay very still, it may come and settle on our hand. But only briefly. We must savour those moments, for they will not come our way very often”

“Most of my life I have given of myself, and in return I have received love in abundance.”

“Somewhere in life
There must be someone
To take your hand
And share the torrid day.
Without the touch of love
There is no life, and we must fade away”

“It’s the simple things in life that keep us from going crazy. They contribute more to our general happiness and health than acts of passion and high excitement.”

“Forget and forgive at sunset, and then the day’s deeds are truly done. Then sleep.”

“Live close to nature and your spirit will not be easily broken, for you learn something of patience and resilience. You will not grow restless and you will never feel lonely.”

“Slow down, and listen. There are sounds that are good to hear”

“To be unconcerned about a desired good is probably the only way to possess it”

“Most of living has to happen in the mind”

“There are few comforts greater than the touch of a loving hand when your hopes have been dashed”

“In travel, as in life, give yourself plenty of time, so that you won’t have to rush - you miss seeing the world around you when you are in a great rush”

“To know one’s limitations and to do good work within them: more is achieved that way than by overreaching oneself”

“For most people loneliness is wrongly linked to unhappiness. Their minds are not deep enough to appreciate the sweetness and balm of solitude; they are afraid of life itself, of coming face to face with themselves”

“Fame is like the wind. It blows in all directions, then vanishes without warning”

If you like simple writing that is appreciative of nature and slow life, then you’d love this book. Do pick it up. It is available on Kindle Unlimited.

Sep 27, 2017

What to eat?

A few days back, my husband and I had this conversation:
Me: My next post is on brown bread.
Husband: WHAT? Isn’t brown bread healthy?
Me: Wait for my post. You’ll know. *laughs*
Husband: Because of your posts, I’m not able to buy anything from the supermarket. Please don’t write about Pringles, I beg you!

A friend remarked, “Why do you keep writing “don’t eat this, don’t eat that” always? What should we eat then?"

Someone who had read my post posted a comment - "At this rate we'll have to stop eating food altogether”.

In the last 20 years, our understanding of food is completely taken over by packaged stuff - the so-called edible material manufactured in a factory using numerous synthetic chemicals and eaten out of plastic packets. 

I’m sorry I cannot place such products under the category of “foods”.  Food is supposed to nourish us, give us energy, make us stronger and enable us to execute our life purpose. All that packaged foods have ever done is take us on a path of health destruction, driven by profit motives of food corporations and pharma companies. 

I’m an 80s girl and I have lived a small but significant part of my formative years in the pre-globalisation era in a small town. I'm so grateful to have experienced the other side, where fresh homemade food was the norm.

There are plenty of foods that you can eat, if you shift your focus outside the processed/packaged foods section.
Fruit Basket at my home
1) Take a look at your kitchen pantry. Make a list of all those packs/bottles/jars of packaged foods you have stocked up. What does the total number add up to? Do this exercise once in 15 days or once a month. Try to reduce this number every month.

2) Increase your fruits intake. Ever since I stopped buying packaged snacks 4-5 years back, my kitchen is always stocked up with fruits. I buy fruits atleast 2 times a week. Not the exotic kiwis or avocados. But the bananas, chikkus, guavas, pineapples, papayas, seasonal fruits such as Shimla apples, pomegranates, mangoes, Coorg/Nagpur oranges etc. My 6-year old daughter eats all fruits since she has started this habit of eating fruit every single day from the time she was a toddler.

3) Stock up on dry fruits and nuts. My husband loves cashews and whenever he feels like munching something, he grabs a handful of plain cashews. We don’t stock up on chocolates, cookies or namkeen anymore.

4) In each of my post on packaged foods, I try to list down healthy alternatives for the same. Here’s a handy compilation of such real foods that will help you get rid of packaged junk:


Aren’t there enough options available?

The next time you go shopping to a store or order groceries online, try cutting down on all ready-to-eat packaged junk. There are many people who lead happy, healthy and busy lives without relying on packaged foods. 

“Where there is a will, there is a way”. 

Options are aplenty if you consciously take a step towards a packaged food-free life. Please do share your ideas for healthy substitutes in place of packaged junk. Will add it to the table above.


Sep 25, 2017

Stay away from Bread and its complementary products

While researching about store-bought bread and the preservatives/additives/improvers added to it, I came across this 2016 report by “Centre for Science and Environment” that talks about potassium bromate and iodate being added to bakery products. Please do take a look. There are many brands that do not mention the use of these 2 toxic chemicals as flour treatment agent in their packaging. That brings us to an important lesson. 

NOT ALL ingredients that are used are listed in the Ingredients list in packaging. 

So far, I’ve only been sharing about the ingredients mentioned in packaging, which in itself is quite scary. Imagine what else goes behind the scenes in the factories!

By bread, I don’t mean only the loaf we buy from supermarkets. It also includes the pav buns, burger buns, pizza base etc. It also includes the burgers and pizzas we order from Subway, KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominos etc. The report on potassium bromate and iodate includes samples from these junk food brands too. Highly recommend that you take a look at the report mentioned above. Remember my earlier post on iodised salt and how iodine in excess is bad for our health. That’s exactly what’s being talked about in this report. 

We hardly eat bread as it is. It is always slathered with one or more of these processed foods - jam, cheese spread, mayonnaise, butter spread, cheese slice, ketchup, peanut butter, chocolate spread like Nutella etc.

So apart from the preservatives in bread, we are also consuming more toxic chemicals from these complementary products on a daily basis. Not to forget the copious amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.

Let's take a look at a couple of such complementary products:

Brittania Cheese Slices:

My daughter loves these cheese slices but I buy them rarely. I’m not falling for the “High calcium, goodness of cow’s milk” trap.  

Listed ingredients are
Cheese, water, milk solids, emulsifiers (331, 339), iodised salt, acidifying agents (330, 260), preservative (200)
Permitted natural colour (160a(ii))

This pack has 5 slices (100 gm). My biggest concern is the number mentioned next to Sodium - 1426 mg per 100 gm. 

One cheese slice contains a whopping 285 mg of sodium. 

In the last few years, cheese has become such a favourite snack for children, often perceived as healthy. Many parents pack cheese cubes in young kids’ snack boxes in order to increase their calcium and protein intake. But not many are noticing the numerous additives and the high amounts of sodium that are present in packaged cheese.

Nutella:
One of the favourite spreads enjoyed by both children and adults. Occasional indulgence is fine but a definite NO if consumed on a daily basis. Why? Because of the high levels of sugar. The brand wouldn’t highlight this piece of info. The tagline says “Start your day with Nutella” - edhukku? straightaa paralogam porathukka? illa sugar rush oda sutharathukka? (Why? to send us straight to another world? or to roam around in sugar rush?) 
As like every other junk food brand, the packaging encourages consumers to make it a daily habit by eating Nutella with rotis and dosas. Once we start the habit, kids would never touch their dal, chutney or sambhar. Rather, they would insist on having Nutella with every meal because of the addictive nature of sugar.

Sugar is the first listed ingredient. A single serving of Nutella contains more than 2 tsp of sugar (8.5 gm).

Edible vegetable oil is listed second. A single serving of Nutella contains 1 tsp of unhealthy fats (4.7 gm). 

Lecithins are extracted from soy (if the pack indicates vegetarian) and is likely to be genetically modified (if sourced from countries like US and Argentina). It is one of the most commonly used additives. The role of an emulsifier is to ensure better combining of oil and water. Emulsifiers can also be of animal origin, so if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you need to check the source of lecithin. 

If you (or your kids) are eating bread on a daily basis, then please do take time to learn about the ingredients of the complementary foods that you serve along with bread. Home-made tamarind chutney, green chutney or home-made peanut butter are better options. 

The best decision you can make for yourself and for your family is to avoid bread and its complementary products totally. Great for our health and for our planet too. Individual plastic wrap for each cheese slice! How ridiculous is that!

Sep 22, 2017

Why brown bread is unhealthy?


 One of the items I stopped buying this year was the loaf of bread. Over the past 3-4 years, it was featuring regularly in my weekly grocery shopping. Though I’m not a fan of bread toast and sandwiches, my husband and daughter loved to eat a slice or two with jam or peanut butter. We would invariably waste nearly half the pack every week since it would have gone past the expiry date. We stopped buying it primarily because of the wastage.

There are so many variants of bread available in the market. Milk bread and sandwich bread are made of 100% maida. Many of us buy whole wheat bread or brown bread on a regular basis, thinking that we are making a healthier choice for ourselves. But is brown bread actually healthy? 

The best way to check is to look at its ingredients. Here’s a brown bread pack from “Daily Bread”, one of the popular brands in Bangalore.
 
 

Ingredients:
Whole wheat flour (32%)
Refined Wheat flour
Yeast
Sugar
Edible common salt
Edible vegetable oil (Palm)
Class II preservative (282)
Improvers (1100, 1104,300)
Emulsifier (472e)
Acidity Regulator (260)
Vitamins
Flour treatment agent (510)
Permitted natural food colour (150a)

Brown bread has ONLY 32% of whole wheat flour and the rest is refined wheat flour or maida.
 
All packaged foods are made of palm oil, which is one of the cheapest edible oils that is bad for our health, environment and economy.

Let’s look at the list of 8 additives used in this product:

Class II preservative (282)
Called as Calcium propionate, a natural acid that acts as an antimicrobial preservative in food products, especially in bakery. It helps in the prevention of mold formation and extends shelf life. 
Linked to headaches, migraine, asthma and also aggravates food intolerances.

Improvers
1100
Amylase - Helps to break down complex starch found in flour. Causes the bread to rise. Derived from mould mushroom or pig pancreas.  
Amylase occurs naturally in yeast and so I’m not sure why there is a need to add it separately as well. 

1104
Lipases - it is used as an emulsifier and processing aid in the breakdown of fats and oils, and as a flour treatment agent in baked goods and bakery products.

300
L-ascorbic acid. It is an artificial additive that helps to retain gas in the dough, which makes the loaf rise more.

Emulsifier
472e
Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol.
Obtained from either soybeans (possibly GMO) or pork.

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.  

Flour treatment agent
510
Ammonium Chloride
Large amounts can cause acidosis - nausea, headaches, insomnia. 
Should be avoided by people with impaired liver or kidney function. 

Permitted natural food colour
150a
Caramel colour - so now we know what gives the brown bread the “brown” colour. 
Caramel colouring can be produced from sugar or glucose from plant starches, typically from corn (possibly GMO) 

Looking at these long list of ingredients, Brown bread sounds as unhealthy as a pack of cookies or any other junk food. If you like to eat bread on a regular basis, it is much safer to bake it at home. I have baked bread at home a couple of times…All I had to use was flour (a combination of maida and wholewheat flour), yeast, little sugar, salt and little oil. No chemicals/additives are needed.

Given the number of issues that arise out of excess gluten consumption, the best option would be to avoid bread completely and switch to other healthy breakfast/snack alternatives.

Sources:

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