Not everything you eat is of nutritional value. Here we reveal certain foods that are best avoided, especially if you want to move to a healthier lifestyle.
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As we celebrate our 71st year of freedom, what does Independence Day mean to each one of us? 

For most of us, Independence Day is all about celebrating our freedom to think and follow our dreams and passions, travel, stay and work freely. To make a difference this Independence Day, gain freedom from an unhealthy lifestyle, from unhealthy foods and habits, and take a pledge to eat better and healthy food. Trying to be healthy or sticking to a healthy lifestyle can get overwhelming at times, especially if you are a die-hard foodie. While you will find a lot of information on healthy food available on the internet and diverse recommendations pouring in from health and nutrition experts from all corners of the world, the hitch about healthy food is that they keep changing every now and then. For those of us who aren’t nutritionists, it’s hard to get a good sense of what’s genuinely healthy food or just a passing fad. 

Luckily, we’ve got Rasika Parab, Head of Department, Nutrition Therapy, Fortis Hospital, Mulund to help us here, recommending a list of foods that are best avoided and the healthy food you can opt for instead. We’re not saying that you can’t indulge or give in to your cravings (because what’s life without a few extra French fries?), but it’s best to cut down on their consumption for your long-term wellness.  

Processed or Canned Meats and Veggies
As much as you love your cold cuts in salads and sandwiches, processed meats—sausages, salamis, bacon, hot dogs and other cold cuts—are not always healthy food. They go through various processes such as salting, curing, smoking, drying, etc in order to maintain a longer shelf life. But, if the livestock that you’re grilling up on the fire is fed with chemicals, it means that these meats barely have any nutritional value, explains Parab. Not only do these ready-to-eat meats contain small amounts of poor quality meat and trans-fats, but they also come loaded with preservatives, salts, artificial sweeteners and colourings, which are all detrimental to human health and cannot be considered healthy food. Fresh and organic meat, on the other hand, has a lower sodium content and generally contains a greater amount of protein making it healthy food. Besides, Parab adds, “Canned veggies, on the other hand, are stripped of their nutrients and are deficient in water-soluble vitamins and minerals. They are often loaded with sodium, making them again a poor choice for your supper and not the best healthy food.” She, therefore, recommends eating healthy food which is fresh, locally and seasonally available fruits and vegetables as they help fulfil our daily dietary requirements by providing a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which your body will thank you for in the long run. 

Sauces, dressings and condiments
From your favourite sauces to mayo and even your store-bought salad and sandwich dressings, have you ever given a thought to how many calories and artificial flavours these foods pack in? If you’re a ketchup person, you’d be surprised to find out that what you’re actually consuming is nothing but overcooked tomatoes, water, sugar, loads of it obviously, and corn syrup. Many brands also add ‘natural flavourings’, which are nothing but flavour-boosting chemicals, one being MSG. One tablespoon of store-bought ketchup typically contains four grams of sugar, and if you’re one of those who tends to literally drink ketchup, you’re actually building up your daily sugar load. Apart from ketchup, sugar is added to nearly all other condiments namely your sauces, dips, etc along with a lot of sodium and other flavour enhancers. Ketchup is an easy condiment you can make in your own kitchen, giving you the advantage of controlling the amount and type of sweeteners, salts and other ingredients. Parab recommends healthy food options such as freshly made salsa or tomato chutney, pudina-dhaniya chutney to be served alongside your boring meals.

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Cereals and Ready-to-use Oats
If you like to have a bowl of cereal or warm oats in the morning, make sure to read the nutrition label the next time you go grocery shopping. Don’t start your day on the wrong note with these foods as apart from sugar, your morning meals are at times even loaded with salts, which give you a near-instant energy crash. These sugary cereals cannot be called healthy food as they are responsible for raising the levels of glucose in your bloodstream, which results in a temporary burst of energy, keeping you pumped up, but only for a short period of time, and then leaving you feeling sluggish by noon. Moreover, these ready-to-eat breakfast options also tend to be missing on fibre and protein, and therefore, it’s best to opt for healthy food such as fortified cereal or whole grain oatmeal instead. In case you do reach out for these sugar-laden breakfasts, it's best to stick to the serving size suggested on the box to avoid the risk of consuming more calories and carbohydrates than necessary. When switching to healthy food, say no to instant flavoured porridge packets and yes to rolled or steel-cut oats. If you don’t have the time to cook oats in the morning, you can prepare your oatmeal at night instead. Give your breakfast a tasty yet nutritional boost by topping it with some freshly cut fruits, nuts or a swirl of honey for a touch of natural sweetness. Check out these recipe ideas for more ways to include oats in your diet.

Between oats and muesli, which is the better cereal for breakfast? If you're confused and don't know which cereal to choose for breakfast, let this story help you decide. 

Packaged Chips
A piece of caution to pay heed to is to cut back on your fries and chips intake. While potatoes in their natural form are considered healthy food, the same cannot be said of fried potatoes. Fast foods such as French fries and potato chips are high in calories, and acrylamides, or carcinogenic substances that are formed when potatoes are fried, baked or roasted. Parab adds, “Junk foods made from potatoes such as French fries or potato chips are not only high in sodium but also contain a good amount of bad fats, called trans fats. Excessive consumption of these fats increases the risk of heart diseases and can also lead to weight gain and obesity. For healthy food, potatoes are best consumed boiled, not fried. If you crave for crunchy or fried carbs, replace potato chips and French fries with carrots, radishes, etc. When it comes to packaged chips, the nutritional value of potato and corn kernels is ripped completely once you coat them in partially hydrogenated oil and are nothing more than just ‘empty calories’, adds Parab. Adding to hydrogenated oils (which means hidden trans fats), are the flavouring agents. More the MSG (Monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancing food additive), more the addiction to flavour that makes want to keep munching on chips. 

Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are nothing but artificial ingredients that end up leaving you with empty calories, as opposed to any actual nourishment. Known for causing weight gain, artificial sweeteners are best consumed under expert supervision. Recommended at times by doctors, Parab explains, “Artificial sweeteners like Stevia or Aspartame can be used only for diabetics as per the recommendations by a registered dietician.” The use of Sucralose and Saccharine, she says, is still questionable due to its ill-effects on health. To stick to healthy food, it is best to consume natural sweetening agents such as jaggery, sugar and honey, however in restricted amounts. She suggests limiting the sugar consumption to nothing more than 2 to 3 teaspoons. 

Diet Soda and Healthy Snacks
Food labels with buzzwords like “diet” or “for health-conscious” tend to lead consumers to believe they are eating foods that are healthier than they really are. However, while it may read “diet” on the soda label, the artificial sweetener used to boost the taste doesn’t mean good news to your health. Parab explains, “While it may be true that diet sodas are low in calories, but they still have a huge amount of phosphoric acid which is detrimental for your bone health.” Diet snacks like veggie chips or farsan are often marketed as ‘healthy’ alternatives to otherwise ‘unhealthy’ products like potato chips. However, the bad news is that most of this alleged healthy food is actually deep-fried, high in sodium, fat, refined carbs, and other artificial ingredients that serve no good purpose to your health. While healthy protein bars do contain a good course of protein and fibre, they are still high in sugar. Instead, you can make your own sugar-free energy bars at home. Parab says, “Reading the nutritional labels on each and every carton of packed food before buying, is essential to make a healthy meal choice.” Instead of buying packet snacks at the store, bake your own chips at home using veggies such as kale, carrots, zucchini, radishes or sweet potatoes. Opt for other healthy snack alternatives such as roasted chickpeas, foxnuts, homemade popcorn or toasted pumpkin seeds to satisfy your snack time cravings.

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Sugary Beverages and Aerated Drinks
Contrary to popular belief, store-bought ready-to-drink fruit juices contain just as much sugar as aerated drinks, at times even more. It’s a no-brainer that most of these sugary drinks are all calories and no nutrients thus cannot be considered healthy food. Parab adds, “Aerated beverages contain phosphoric acid which is responsible for rendering a tangy flavour. However, it is the phosphoric acid in these carbonated beverages that make them unhealthy, as it tends to leach calcium out of the bones, thereby increasing the risk of osteoporosis in the long run.” Moreover, sugar, when consumed in large amounts, drives insulin resistance, thereby increasing the risk of fatty liver disease, and is also associated with Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, fat gain and obesity. What are the healthy food alternatives then? Vacuum packed fruit juices can be definitely considered as a better option over aerated beverages, says Parab. However, she warns, “the presence of preservatives and an excessive amount of sugar does not make it suitable for all age groups. Therefore, fresh lemonade, coconut water, buttermilk or ice tea make for good healthy food options. However, these should be considered as supplements or replacements that you should be sipping on from time to time to quench your thirst and not as nutritional additions.

Images: Shutterstock 

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