In this section, we answer your questions about popular products, ingredients, habits, and any other food safety related questions.
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FOOD SAFETY AT HOME
Should I wash fruits and vegetables with purified water?
Yes you should, especially if you’re planning to eat them raw. For the same reason you only drink purified water. Unlike developed countries, tap water in India is not potable. Consuming even a few drops could result in you getting diseases like typhoid or cholera. It is also advisable use purified water while gargling as well, since you will end up swallowing a few drops every time you gargle.
Is it safe to use butter and ghee for cooking/frying?
Yes it is, especially for deep frying. In fact, it is probably safer than using vegetable oils, as some of them may contain Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which could be harmful in excess. Also, you should avoid using vanaspati ghee at all costs, as it is a source of transfats, which are toxic in even tiny amounts. In fact, cities like New York have completely banned the use of transfat in food.
How do I know if the fruits and vegetables I’ve bought are coated with artificial colours or wax? What can I do about it?
When you buy fruits or vegetables, you can never know for certain whether or not they have been coated with artificial colours or wax but it is quite likely that they have been. Some basic precautions that you could take are to avoid buying fruits or vegetables that look unusually bright or shiny. This is especially true with fruits like apples, plums, etc. You must also make sure that you wash fruits and vegetables properly before eating them. If the colour of the fruit or vegetable runs, it means that it has almost certainly been coated with synthetic colours.Are there any simple tests that I can do at home, to check if the food I’ve bought is adulterated?
Ans: Yes there are. In fact, the FSSAI has released a booklet of 41 simple tests to check whether products have been adulterated. Here is a link to the booklet of tests: https://foodsmart.fssai.gov.in/DART.pdf
Are upma, poha, idli, and dosa healthy breakfast options?
Not by themselves, especially if you’re having them most days. They are only acceptable as a small part (not more than 25%) of a meal. Dishes like upma, poha, idli, etc., are mostly just empty calories, and have very little nutritional value. The same is also true for noodles, cereal flakes, parathas, rice cakes, potatoes, etc. It is extremely unsafe to have these regularly as meal replacements, because it could result in nutrient deficiencies and metabolic diseases.
EATING OUT AND ORDERING IN
Is home cooked food always healthier than restaurant food?
Ans: Contrary to popular beliefs, in most households, this is not true. Unless You have a cook, in which case, you can implement and follow a healthy, nutritionally diverse, diet. Most urban Indians who cook their own food end up having diets consisting mostly of simple carbs, are extremely poor in nutritional diversity, and severely protein deficient. If you can afford it, hire a cook. If not, you’re better off ordering in from a good restaurant or meal prep company. There are some excellent options available.
I’m travelling and need to get a something to eat quickly. Where can I get safe, reasonably nutritious food?
Surprising as it may sound, McDonald’s is a good option. A paneer or non-veg burger or wrap, without the fries, drinks, or dessert, has a quite a good amount of protein and vegetables. McDonald’s staff are also well trained, and the food is prepared in an extremely standardised and hygienic matter, which makes it quite safe. A pizza with lots of cheese and vegetables from Dominos is also okay. Both are much better options than an Udipi restaurant.
I eat out/order in a lot. What factors should I consider while deciding where to go out to eat, or order in from?
Firstly, consider whether the restaurant has a good reputations as far as hygiene and food preparation practises are concerned. You should also ensure that whatever you order has sufficient protein (meat or vegetarian source) and vegetables. Make sure that you’re not getting food like fried rice, with a high simple carbohydrate content and low nutritional diversity. It’s also a good idea to skip sides like fries, cookies, or drinks (stick to water).
PRODUCTS AND INGREDIENTS:
Are all added flavours, colours and preservatives unsafe? Are there any preservatives, colours or flavours in particular that I should look out for?
No. not all additives are unsafe. Many are completely harmless. However, there are a few that, if you see them on the ingredients list, you would be better off not buying the product. For example, added colours like Tartrazine (IN102) and Sunset Yellow (IN110) and Amaranth (IN123), have been liked with some fairly serious side effects. Also, Some additives like caramel colour (IN150d), could cause allergic reactions in some people. Also, as a general rule, if the ingredient list only mentions that the product contains added flavours and colours, but does not specify which ones, it is advisable not to buy it. Click here to learn more about commonly used permitted additives.
What can I do to ensure that the meat and fish I buy is safe?
Meat and fish are products that begin to spoil almost immediately after the animal is killed. As far as possible, buy your meat and fish only from a store or supermarket which has a good cold storage system, and keeps it on ice or in the freezer. If that isn’t possible, and you are forced to buy from the local butcher, make sure that the animal is slaughtered right then, and ALWAYS immediately store it in the freezer. Since this is probably not possible with fish, ensure that you buy your fish only from a store with a cold storage facility.
Are jaggery and honey better alternatives to sugar?
No. Jaggery and honey, just like refined sugar, have the same safety issues associated with high sugar consumption. Excessive consumption of jaggery and honey will make you susceptible to the same lifestyle diseases, like obesity and diabetes, as excessive sugar consumption.
Are fruit juices healthier than soft drinks?
No, not really. Fruit juices, whether sweetened or unsweetened, contain high quantities of sugar. Drinking excessive quantities of fruit juice carries the same risks as consuming excessive quantities of soft drinks, chocolates, or any other high sugar product. Next time you buy a carton of fruit juice, make sure to check out the nutritional information. You will realise just how much sugar the product has.
Should I be giving my child things like cornflakes, Horlicks, Boost, Complan, etc., for breakfast?
No. You would be better off treating these products like desserts, just like chocolate or mithai. Cornflakes, is in fact, one of the worst, most nutritionally challenged, breakfast options out there, especially for children. Poor macro and micro nutrient profile and, if the cereal has added sugar, it is actually quite harmful as a breakfast option for children. The same goes for malt based drinks. They are high in sugar, have a high glycemic load, and have a low nutritional value. In fact, consuming large quantities of these products carries the same risks as consuming excessive quantities of soft drinks, chocolates, or any other high sugar product