Busy lifestyle and rapid industrialization have boosted the food industry with abundance of food choices. A wide variety of processed food available in supermarkets, restaurants and streets, equipped with attractive packaging, enticing smell and efficient services, triggers unavoidable temptation. Aggressive advertising, diet fads, vested business interests, etc adds to this. Every day we hear news about food poisoning and poor nutrition in our diet. This disturbs us and we are left wondering whether we are consuming the right food or not? So it becomes important for us to learn how to make the right choice about food.
Here comes the role of education. If we educate ourselves about various aspects of food, we can stay healthy and can guide our future generation to make good choices regarding healthy intake of nutrients.
THE LUNCH BOX TREND
Bread jam, parantha with potato vegetable, noodles, bread toast, pakora, sandwich, etc, have been observed as a common lunch box trend. This type of lunch is not only rich in one type of nutrient i.e carbohydrates but also lacks various other nutrients. Several schools have introduced fruit break and weekly menu system to increase the intake of fruits and green vegetables in the diet. Some of the government aided schools introduced mid-day meal programme to improve upon physical growth of the children. In metro cities, where the parents are busy with fast life-style trends, the lunch box is often replaced by cash to be paid in the canteen.
Pastry, chips, crunches, burgers, patties, pakora, ice-cream, pizza, cold drinks, etc, are the most common items available in any canteen within the school or near the school premises. Teenagers are especially more attracted towards the canteen culture. Many a time there are no proper storage units in the canteen and hygiene is not maintained. In such cases, food contamination leads to food borne infections and food poisoning by bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. This is the right time to think about the quality of food we are offering to the younger generation. Food that is low in hygiene and nutritive qualities – is this food or junk?
Calorie rich and nutritionally poor food is called junk food. It is rich in carbohydrates and fat with hardly any proteins, vitamins and minerals. In today’s scenario, junk food has created a niche in our society by replacing traditional cooking. This has undoubtedly led to diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other health ailments. Junk food has an addictive tendency and provides enough taste that you don’t even bother to chew your food but swallow packets of chips and cookies and still are ready to eat more. Junk food lacks fibre and is thus consumed in higher quantities to satify the appetite. After consuming junk food one is not likely to eat healthy food like fruits and vegetables.
Food that looks very attractive in the market is actually chemically processed with a number of food additives such as flavouring agents, colouring agents, taste enhancers and preservatives. New techniques are emerging day by day to make food more aesthetically pleasing because of market competition. The chips and crunches contain a chemical called Olestra that has a tendency to block the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. This leads to prevention of essential functioning of these vitamins in the body and as a result the physical and mental growth of a child is affected. Sugary drinks, candies, ice-creams, sweets and cake toppings contain artificial chemical colouring agents. These chemicals are associated with hyperactivity in children along with asthma. The flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate used in soups and other foods are responsible for nervous disorders if consumed in high amounts. Canned food, tomato sauce and nonvegetarian food available in the market are laced with preservatives such as sodium nitrate to prevent bacterial growth and fast decaying of food. Over a period of time, the chemicals transform to nitrosamines which are highly carcinogenic.
The oil used to cook various items is actually partially unsaturated fat. This produces trans-fat. Sometimes repeated use of oil for frying also creates trans-fat which is dangerous as it gets deposited in arteries causing cardiovascular diseases. Also the oil when stored for a long time in contact with the atmosphere becomes rancid and releases free radicals which have the tendency to damage body cells. Providing food which is rich in artificial substances can lead to insulin resistance and poor health in future.
It is aptly said – A healthy mind resides in a healthy body. If we continue to eat food low on nutrition on a daily basis, our immunity will automatically decrease and we are likely to suffer from health ailments. Inculcating healthy eating habits will help a child to remain physically and mentally active and to do well in studies. This will also ensure a bright future for the child.
WHY AND HOW OF FOOD CONSUMPTION
Consume fresh juice, instead of packaged juice as it contains high amounts of sugar. The fresh juice intake is an easy way to get high doses of vitamins and minerals which are protective food. Although juice lacks fibre but it provides adequate minerals like magnesium, zinc, potassium etc.
Whenever possible, eat unprocessed food as some of the chemicals that are naturally present in the vegetables act as antioxidants, anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic agents. These chemicals are carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene and polyphenols. Therefore, they provide extended protection to the body. These chemicals are active against free radicals, inflammation, allergies, microbes and tumours.
Whole grain should replace refined cereals such as white flour, semolina etc. The consumption of whole grain raises the blood sugar levels slowly leading to lesser hunger pangs. Fermented food such as idli, curd, cheese, dhokla etc. are always healthy because during fermentation, bacteria add useful ingredients to the food such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, etc. This helps to improve bowel health, aids in digestion and improves immunity. So the food quality is improved. Another healthy food is soaked and sprouted seeds. Sprouts are rich in active enzymes and functional proteins that help in body building.
To inculcate the practice of healthy eating and healthy cooking, St. Kabir’s School organised cooking sessions during the Annual Summer Camp – Summer Hoopla in which senior students participated enthusiastically. The students were taught how to satisfy their temptation by eating healthy food without using any food additives. We focused on squashes such as plum shake, raw mango and ripe mango shake, lemon coffee, cumin sip, fennel sip, etc. The snacks were all fermented products such as whole wheat bread buttermilk, idli, uttapam with various types of salads. For cooking purposes, students made efficient use of solar cookers, especially for cookies and cakes. The objectives of the project were:
- To understand the biochemistry of cooking.
- Cooking with less fat.
- Intake of all essential nutrients in a diet.
- To know more about food aesthetics.
- To minimise wastage of energy and food.
This experience induced lots of learning and awareness in cooking and eating habits among students, teachers and parents.
Rashmi Prabha is vice-principal of St Kabir’s School, Hisar, Haryana. She holds MSc in Biotechnology (MS University, Baroda). Rashmi applies scientific principles of research in teaching and learning process based on observations, analysis, predicting hypothesis, experimentation and formulating theories. She has a great passion for environment and engages in projects and activities on environmental awareness and conservation involving students, teachers and parents.