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The Tranquil Way | How healthy are instant foods?

Published:Tuesday | September 27, 2016 | 12:00 AM

A number of products, touted as 'instant foods' or 'convenience foods', have been introduced to our market over the past few years. This is probably due to the 'instant culture' that we have developed, plus the limited personal time that we have in our packed schedules.

We, therefore, have limited time to cook and to teach our children to cook. But are we sacrificing our health in the process?

Convenience foods require limited preparation, such as frozen and tinned foods that require just heating (such as in a microwave), and noodles, porridge and rice, which require just adding hot water. Some of these foods facilitate our mobility in that you can literally have them on the go, thus fitting into our fast-paced lives.

There is a saying that let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food. Having proper well-balanced meals can literally help to cure and prevent certain ailments. Many chronic diseases and cancers are related to our lifestyle (lifestyle diseases).




Our foods should contain components that should assist the body in warding off these conditions, and convenience foods generally don't. In order to prevent spoilage, they are usually preserved with salt, sugar and/or other preservatives.

Now, preservatives conserve the food, but they certainly don't preserve us! Another aspect of preserving them involves processes that remove nutrients that will attract microbes which cause spoilage. Unfortunately, we also need those nutrients! So, we are eating what the germs refuse!

We know that food should ideally be prepared just before consumption. Over time, food spoils (germs take over) and they also lose nutritional value. It is also best that food be consumed as close as possible to where they are grown. This is, however, often impractical as foods are often consumed in countries where they are not produced, but as much as possible this should be practised.

Another downfall of convenience foods is that they tend to prioritise taste, so they are often laden with saturated fats and sugar and low in fibre. This does not spell well for heart health at all. Some producers have seemingly healthier alternatives like 'low-fat', 'no cholesterol', etc, but the process to achieve this might lead to reduction in nutritional value as well.

What we should do is make the healthiest choice we have available and limit the consumption of instant foods to 'emergency' situations and not 'live' on them.