As a family, we became more aware of packaged food labels some years back- it was my husband who drove that consciousness, especially with my daughter, who was then on the heavier side. In order to help her curb her tendency to indulge in what we loosely call “junk food” he trained her to look for the calorie and fat content. Also, being a compulsive reader, he came by articles on the net which made us understand that what you see/what you read is often now what you get! That means, no added sugar is not always as healthy as it seems- they may have added corn syrup- which is worse! Also, many times, what you don’t see is what you get. For example, in India, it is not mandated that you explicitly mention if an item has transfat unless you want to make a claim. So, if we read a label and find no mention of transfat, it does not mean anything at all.
There’s more and it does not all have to do with snacks- even staple food like bread needs to be examined carefully- I was told recently that not all brown bread is made from whole wheat! Some bakers just add a dye to get the colour- so please check the label carefully. I must confess I never did this as diligently, till I found this out.
The other day I was watching a program on a news channel which was discussing a related topic- false claims made by companies in food advertising. They were specifically talking about the so called health beverages and how often the promises made by companies are way off the mark. It turns out that the legal framework to guard against such occurrences is rather weak in India. And clearly, companies are exploiting the desire of parents, especially mothers, to do the best for their children. It’s quite concerning isn’t it? And what I notice whenever I am at the supermarket is that most parents with young children are loading their shopping carts with packed snacks. Good time to reflect and redefine some shopping rules perhaps? Here are some tips drawn from our own experience, and my conversations with nutrition experts:
- Become nutrition label literate as a family
- Read the label and then pick up an item instead of being impulsively putting things into your cart. Don’t assume that reputed brands are safer! Do your independent checking. Believe me; this takes a lot of restraint and conscious change to behavior even for adults!
- Read avidly. Be well informed. With growing consciousness, the net , the newspapers and magazines are good sources of information
- Try and avoid stocking so called junk at home- instead, once in a while, just buy what you want and have it outside.
- As a family, draw a line on how much packed / ready to eat food you will include in your diet
- Start early with children- they can be trained and if good habits are inculcated early, they stay with you
- Have a sense of balance- don’t deprive your family of occasional indulgences!