All You Need To Know About Hyper-Processed Food
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Food that has been through multiple processes - such as grinding, followed by coating and frying, etc. - with the addition of numerous ingredients is called hyper-processed food. You can think of it as the plastic surgery of natural foods. It’s not healthy or natural for the body.

How did hyper-processed foods enter the Indian diet?

Due to globalisation and our exposure to the western world, our diets have also changed. But we have to admit that we have looked up to their lifestyle and diets, assuming they are more modern. Thus, the shift was effortless. Western foods also entered the convenience food market way before Indian food, leaving consumers few options. Urbanisation further supplemented the idea - doors opened for everyone regardless of gender and social standing. And therefore, convenient food became the go-to for this fast-paced city lifestyle.

How does hyper-processed food impact our health and bodies?

Hyper processed foods lead to poor diet quality and increased risk of heart disease and obesity, as per studies. In children, hyper-processed foods lead to increased body weight and depression. It is also known to cause foggy brains, fatigue, mood disorders and decreased productivity, to name a few. Early consumption of these processed foods also causes diabetes in early adulthood- as the saying goes, compromised health at a young age creates a weak immunity as we age.

How has the Indian consumer evolved?

As there is more access to packaged food, the Indian consumer has reduced the frequency of walking into a new food store to purchase daily groceries or local sabzi mandis. While we may not be aware, we may be accidentally purchasing hyper-processed foods at a higher frequency. Our consumption occasions have begun to increase with more social activity centred on food consumption. What matters is to read labels - in the background of enjoyment and indulgence, taking a minute to watch (or rather read) what we eat is essential. Are there ingredients we may not know that may sound confusing or misleading? It matters to look the ingredients up or reach out to the brand to understand more.

How do we make a choice?

Come 2022, and brands have become more transparent by providing a traceability feature. This helps understand what ingredients go into the product and the entire process - from the farm to your kitchen table - providing proof with quality check reports, raw material reports, packing reports, ingredient sourcing reports, etc.

Apart from that, ensure you consider the following the next time you are in a store:

  1. While in the grocery store, turn the product around and read the ingredient information. If it reads too complex, purchase it only when you understand what it is made of.
  2. If the shelf-life of a product seems absurd, reach out to the brand and ask the right questions.
  3. If you wish to buy frozen food, do remember that these expire too and are surprisingly susceptible to spoilage (at some point). Finally, read the back-of-pack storage instructions and handle them safely and competently.

Brands that you can trust:

Avoid overly processed food by purchasing products from certified brands such as ‘Clean Label’ and ‘100% Wholegrain’. These brands put their products to the test - a ‘Clean Label’ ensures the products have no residue of pesticides while being as close to their natural state as possible; a whole grain certification would mean the ingredient is 100% wholegrain - nothing less or more. Thus, it’s best to rely on brands that provide food that does not lie to you and have evidence to prove it through their traceability feature.

(With Inputs From Food Tech Scientist at True Elements Pavitra K)