Preservatives, trans fats used in popular processed foods have major health risks
Research suggests that most preservatives have some harmful effects on your health, partially hydrogenated oils are nothing but industrially-produced trans fats, which are associated with cardiovascular diseases, increased risk of strokes, heart attacks
From tastemakers to preservatives and attractive colours, processed foods contain dozens of ingredients that can be harmful to health, albeit in large quantities
Research suggests that most preservatives have some harmful effects on your health
Partially hydrogenated oils are nothing but industrially-produced trans fats, which are associated with cardiovascular diseases, increased risk of strokes, heart attacks
Ketchup goes with everything, sandwiches, fries, pakoras. We have even seen people eat it with instant noodles and parathas. But have you ever spared a thought to what goes into your ketchup? No, we are not talking about the simple substitution of tomatoes with pumpkins to make ketchup sweeter and lower the ingredient cost for manufacturers.
From tastemakers to preservatives and attractive colours, processed foods contain dozens of ingredients that can be harmful to health, albeit in large quantities. We did a simple check on the food labels of commonly found foods in urban Indian kitchens, to see what else is in your food.
Food labels: an overview
The nutrition table on packaged foods provides all the information about the ingredients that go into it. It also tells you the amount of each ingredient, so you can make informed choices while buying any product. But have you ever taken a good look at those tiny nutrition charts?
Sure, most of them print ingredients like more fibre or added vitamin D in bigger letters on the front of the packaging, but how many explain the “added preservatives” or “hydrogenated fats” in fine print in the ingredients list at the back (or in the fold, where you can barely read it)? Hydrogenated fats are basically trans fats, the most harmful type of fat you can add to your diet.
The Food Safety Authority of India regulates the use of every ingredient that goes into any food and has permissible limits for all chemicals and additives. But that does not mean these ingredients are completely safe. It just means they are safe as long as they are taken in permissible limits in an otherwise balanced diet.
We decoded some of these ingredients on five of the most common packaged foods in your kitchen. Here is what we got:
Processed meat and cheese
A preservative is any substance that prevents air and moisture from spoiling the food. Preservatives check the growth of microbes, so the food does not go stale or mouldy. In home-cooking, we use oil, salt and sugar in pickles, jams and murabbas.
In industrial production, though, preservatives usually contain salts of sodium, calcium, potassium or benzoates, or organic acids such as acetic acid or sorbic acid. Research suggests that most preservatives have some harmful effects on your health.
Sanjay Sharma, head of the chemistry department at a college in Amritsar, India, listed some of the most common food preservatives along with their harmful effects in his 2015 article published in the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publication, which included – nitrites and nitrates, used as a curing agent in meat. Once they get into your system, these additives get converted to nitrous acid which can cause stomach cancer.
Sulphites, the most common preservatives added to fruits. They can cause anything from palpitations to headaches and allergies. Sorbic acid, commonly added to wine, cheese and bakery products like bread and biscuits, sorbic acid prevents the growth of mould for a very long time. Though not as harmful as nitrites, long-term exposure can cause skin conditions like contact dermatitis or urticaria.
Bread, biscuits and chips
This is probably one of the biggest lies perpetuated by the packaged food industry. Partially hydrogenated oils are nothing but industrially-produced (artificial) trans fats, which are associated with cardiovascular diseases and increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Partially hydrogenated oils are present in vanaspati ghee, margarine, and vegetable shortening (which is present in most store-bought desserts). Almost all baked foods contain some amount of these oils. This includes bread, biscuits and chips, and ready to make products.
Even if a food label shouts “trans-fat-free”, make sure to read the ingredients because manufacturers are allowed to use the logo until the food has 0.5 grams of trans fat, the daily recommended allowance is up to 4 grams.
Mayonnaise and bread
An emulsion is an oil-water solution. The two liquids are not miscible, they do not mix with each other but can exist in emulsion form. Emulsifiers are used to give an even consistency to foods such as ice creams, chocolates and mayonnaise.
They also ensure that the bread you buy is fluffy and has an even consistency. However, recent research shows that the most common emulsifiers, especially Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate, 80 negatively affect gut bacteria and promote low-grade inflammation and weight gain. Emulsifiers are also found to increase anxiety.
Ketchup and cornflakes
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the most common artificial sweeteners present in candy, soda, and frozen and prepacked foods. It contains 50 percent glucose and an equal amount of fructose, a simple sugar that is also naturally present in fruits.
Your body cannot metabolise glucose to make energy. Excess of this sugar goes into the liver and gets stored as fat, eventually causing fatty liver disease, which manifests as metabolic disturbances and obesity. Studies suggest that HFCS makes your body resistant to insulin, leading to diabetes. Overconsumption of this sweetener also increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
All things sweet and colourful
At home, we use natural colourants like saffron to give colour. Commercially, dyes and colouring can make food look interesting. Candy, sodas, some baked goods and ice creams all contain attractive colouring to appeal to the eyes.
The FSSAI permits seven different synthetic food colours, Erythrosine (pink), allura red (red), sunset yellow (orange), tartrazine (yellow), brilliant blue (blue) and indigotine (dark blue). Researchers have found that almost all of these colours have potential negative effects on multiple organs of the body.
For example, brilliant blue may cause liver and kidney damage and tartrazine orange is associated with an increased risk of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Regular use of almost all the dyes can affect liver function and reduce the total haemoglobin and red blood cell (RBC) count.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Foods to control blood pressure.
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