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Healthy Living


The Best and Worst of Processed or Prepacked Food

A change in lifestyle and the commercial possibilities in preparing and marketing food stuffs have led to a boom in factory made and packaged food. These foods indicate nutrition patterns different from those in fresh or homemade food. Since all of us consume biscuits, noodles, chips, bread, and other ready made foods it is important to be aware of the highs and lows of such food.

Convenience Foods

Convenience foods are also known as Ready-to-Eat foods.


  • Saves time
  • Do not call for culinary skills
  • Are tasty and appealing
  • There is an emphasis on taste rather than nutrition. Convenience foods are manufactured commercially and on a large scale, and consequently are low in nutrition.
  • Unsuitable to diet plans. Their energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate content, as well as their sodium and potassium content make these foods unsuitable in therapeutic diet plans requiring complex manipulation of the nutrients such as energy, protein and/or electrolyte.
  • Additives like preservatives, colorants and sweeteners may be harmful. Ready made foods contain ingredients that are added to increase the shelf life. These ingredients may not be listed in the label and could be harmful.

Complementary Foods

Foods are consumed in combination. Rice is taken with sambar, rasam, or curd; chappati with dhal, iddlies with sambar and chutney and so on. These combinations are not accidental. Certain foods are nutritionally complementary. Traditionally combinations have been effectively used to include all nutrients in the diet.

Carbohydrate and fats must be consumed with protein at each meal. Food combinations are more important for vegetarians as they must aim for a balanced protein intake and must get adequate amino acids.

Pay attention to food combinations. Avoid eating chappaties with only chutney. Vegetables and dhal are essential. Similarly iddlies with just sugar or ghee do not make for a balanced diet.

Fast Foods and Junk Foods

Fast Foods

Fast foods are foods already made or cooked to order within minutes for consumption. Beef/ham/cheese-burgers, fried chicken pieces, fried fish, milk shakes, chips, salads, pizzas, stuffed baked potatoes and sandwiches are some of the universally available fast foods. Iddlies, vadas, dosas, poori potato, samosas, vegetable puffs, muruku, and chats, are examples of Indian fast foods.

Many of these are nutritive and are acceptable as part of a balanced diet, if freshly cooked. If these foods are eaten frequently and become substitutes for the regular meal, they may result in a high intake of salt, energy and fat, and a low intake of folic acid, biotin, pantothenic acid and iron. They may however provide adequate protein, thiamin, riboflavin, ascorbic acid and calcium.

Junk Foods

Junk foods are foods that contain little or no nutrients apart from energy. These are feel-good foods like chocolate, artificially flavoured aerated drinks, and crisps.

If sugary drinks and confectionery are consumed in large amounts, it can cause marginal malnutrition and create a Thiamin deficiency. This deficiency is caused because more of this B complex vitamin is required when more energy is consumed. Sugary drinks do not contain it even in trace amounts.

Persistent consumption of junk foods will lead to severe malnutrition.

Young children have a tendency to make a meal out of these junk foods, as they taste good and therefore are addictive. Though consumption of biscuits occasionally is good, the substitution of these for meals can be harmful, as they do not form a balanced diet.

Enriched and Supplementary Food

Vitamins, minerals, or amino acids are added to certain foods, to increase the level of the nutrients originally present.

Fortified foods are those to which the additions are legally imposed. Some foods have to be fortified with certain nutrients to a legally specified level to replace nutrients lost in food processing. For example, white flour has to be fortified with thiamin, niacin (both B complex vitamins), and iron (mineral). Foods also need to be fortified if they are replacements for a staple food that normally contains certain nutrients. For example, vanaspathi (margarine) needs to be fortified with vitamins A & D.

Sometimes fortification is done for both genuine nutritional purposes (such as in infant formulas, or in salt that is iodised), and as a marketing ploy. In some foods, the added ingredients are harmful such as in scented betel nuts (supari), and pan masala. These additions are injurious to health and cannot be considered enrichment or fortification.

Supplementary Foods or Food Supplements

These are concentrates of important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fatty acids and of herbs and other food substances. They are presented generally in tablets, capsules or elixirs. They are used to remedy dietary deficiencies, and provide extra nutrients for those with special requirements caused by physiological conditions or a way of life. They are also used as safeguards to ensure an adequate intake of essential micro-nutrients.

Supplementation also implies the use of two food types together, thus giving supplementary value to the foods. This is possible because of the nature of the foods to make good each other's limitations. Most plant proteins have markedly limited amino acids. Many traditional vegetarian food combinations contain complementary proteins, for example, iddlies, dhoklas, pongal or khichidi, that have a judicious combination of rice and pulse (dhal).


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