Q. With healthy food alternatives being all the rage these days, people are constantly looking for ways to
ditch maida, refined sugar etc. Hence we increasingly hear about cookies, cakes and other snacks,
made of oats, soy flour, almond flour, jaggery etc. These sweet treats are also said to be free of sugar,
additives and preservatives. But is it really possible to make them without sugar, additives and
preservatives? Would I get the nutrition of banana if I eat a banana cake? Do cookies and cakes made of all
these alternate flours contain the nutrients from these items?
A. With the threat of compromised health due to faulty eating looming large and the inability of many to
“cook healthy”, the Health Food industry appears to be the saviour to the population’s dilemma of eating
right! Bakery and snack items prepared from whole grain cereals (ragi, oats, bajra, quinoa), pulses (soy), nuts
(almonds, walnuts), sugar alternatives (jaggery, honey), artificial sweeteners, and the like are now being
propagated as the “healthier” choices, and the ones less likely to negatively impact health. One wouldn’t really
know how true the claims of these products are unless you learn the art of reading and analyzing food labels.
In theory, all the mentioned individual alternatives are healthy in their own right. But when combined to make
a processed food, would they really shine through nutritionally? For a food product to sell commercially, it
needs to meet consumer expectations in terms of taste. Sugar and fat are the two ingredients that lend
palatability to most foods, with salt and spices adding flavour to savoury items. A product that claims to be
“sugar-free” or “low in simple sugars” will often make up for taste value by the added fats in it…. which the
fine print does not dare tell you!!!! A product marketed as multi-grain fails to let the consumer know that the
grains used may actually be refined grains and not whole grains! By merely mixing together many (multi)
grains, a product does not necessarily become more nutritious! One also needs to be aware of the proportion
of the so-called healthy ingredient/s that is used in the final product and whether the quantities used justify
the indiscriminate consumption of the product.
The nutritional value of the final product is dependent upon the individual ingredients used to prepare the
same. Macronutrient value (total energy, carbohydrate, protein, and fat) remains unaffected by processing,
while micronutrient value (vitamins and minerals) would vary drastically dependent on techniques used in the
industry. Hence the (unwarranted and artificial!!) need for “fortification” in many products!!! And there is no
way that a processed food would give you the same (micro) nutritional value as a fresh food!
And to address your final question …. Commercial products need extended shelf lives, and this is generally
achieved by the use of preservatives or appropriate packaging environments. Products that do not rely on the
same will not keep well for too long! So, although the food processing industry is a bane for many, we do need
to exercise caution in the consumption of products doled out by them! While they do their best to meet the
physiological and dietary demands of the world, they may fall short as far as the nutritional demands of a
populace is concerned.
SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO)
HEAD/ASST. PROFESSOR (M.Sc.
FOOD TECHNOLOGY, CARMEL COLLEGE)