Are all packaged foods junk food?
What’s common between a bag of chips and a packaged tea-time cake? They’re both considered to be junk foods. Junk food is a term given to foods that have a low nutritional yet high calorific value. Junk food is often addictive in nature because of its flavour and colour, but it does not provide any health benefits. These foods are often loaded with fats, added sugars and excess salt. Hence, excessive consumption of junk foods can lead to weight gain, diabetes, increased risk of hypertension, and heart diseases too.
But, is it right to call all types of packed food items, junk food? The answer is no, as all packaged foods aren’t unhealthy. To know the difference between healthy and unhealthy junk food, you need to read and understand food labels.
Every food label has a serving size mentioned on it. While some types of packed foods have 1 serving, others might contain more than 1 serving. The rest of the information on the label is listed with respect to this serving size. For example, the nutritional facts listed on a box of juice might be according to a serving size of 100ml. However, the box might contain 200ml of juice. Thus, if you were to drink the whole box of juice, you would be consuming double the calories listed on the box.
Some healthy packaged snacks also mention the number of servings contained in each package.
Types of nutrients contained
Calories mentioned on a packaged snack are often categorised as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, sugar, vitamins, and minerals. Their amounts are usually measured in terms of grams. Carbohydrates are made up of starch, sugar and dietary fibre. It can act as a source of direct energy, but except for the fibre, it can also raise blood sugar levels.
Next, you need to check the fat content. To differentiate between unhealthy and healthy packaged snacks for kids, you should pay special attention to the saturated fat levels per serving. Pick foods that have low saturated fat content. If the snack has less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per serving size, it might be listed as containing no saturated fats. However, it’s important to note that if you have more than 1 serving, the saturated fat content will add up.
You should also look at the trans-fat levels of a packaged food item. These fats increase bad cholesterol levels, while lowering good cholesterol levels. So, pick foods that have less than 1 gram of trans fats.
Another element you should pay attention to is the sodium level. Sodium is the main component of salt. So, if the label mentions 100 mg of sodium, the snack contains about 250 mg of salt. To stay healthy, you should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Recommended dietary allowance
While shopping for packaged foods, it is essential to check the RDA values on nutrition labels as these indicate the amounts of fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and energy you need, based on your age, gender, lifestyle and activity level. So, you will be able to gauge if a certain food item, for example, has more fat per serving than what is appropriate for you.
For instance, according to FSSAI and ICMR, men who do sedentary work need 2320 Kcal of energy and 25g of fat per day. Women who do heavy work need 2850 Kcal of energy and 30g of fat per day. In children, boys between the age of 10 and 12 years need 2190 Kcal of energy, while girls of the same age need 2010 Kcal.
Your body needs proteins to build muscles and a combination of different vitamins and minerals. These include iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, B, C, D, etc. Picking snacks with high levels of these nutrients is hence the healthy choice.
Not all packaged snacks are unhealthy. After all, even whole-wheat and multi-grain bread can be bought in the form of packaged foods. To make a healthy choice, always read the food label carefully. If you need a special diet or suffer from conditions like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, understanding food labels can help you compare different snacks and choose the healthier variant.