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Indian snacks as bad as western fast food

March 13, 2007

I always thought so but had no research study to back up my gut feel that Indian snack food was as bad as western fast food. But now there is a research study to prove it. In fact it says that Indian snacks may well be worse! The findings of which were presented at a conference on “Fats and trans-fatty acids in Indian diet” at the Seventh Health Writers Workshop organised by Health Essayists and Authors League (HEAL) here by Anoop Misra, director and head, department of diabetes and metabolic diseases at the Fortis Group of Hospitals. Well, I hope this quietens down the rhetoric against western fast food in India.

TOI report:

…new research has found that Western food is a lesser evil than the Indian bhatura or parathas. Digest this — while the trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated oils and fats) in French fries (per 100 gm) is 4.2%-6.1%, it is 9.5% in bhatura, 7.8% in paratha and 7.6% each in puri and tikkis. The myth must go. While we blame Western food as junk, Indian food is worse. The presence of trans-fatty acids in our food is much higher posing a risk for development of diabetes and coronary heart disease in early 20s and 30s…this is, however, not to say that Western fast food is healthier. It is just less harmful than Indian dishes…the South Indian snacks of idli-dosa have won hands down in the ‘fat-battle’ …

Okay, so these studies were conducted on snack food that was fried in vanaspati (hydrogenated fats) and that is why the transfats in these foods are so high. But while some good hotels do use oil, many don’t. And how many of us check anyway? In fact the transfats in bhaturas came down to 3 percent when vanaspati was not used. But then the french fries which were also fried in vanaspati had lower transfats than the Indian snacks! Unfortunately the report did not have the trans fat content of french fries cooked in oil, but clearly, they would decrease too.

And in any case even if french fries and baked goods are bad for health, how many of our countrymen consume these on a regular basis? Our street food and all the canteens in schools, colleges and companies may stock these, but it is mostly Indian snacks like Samosas and Kachoris and Namkeens that are popular and certainly cheaper. These are the Indian snacks are what we consume on a daily basis and these are what we should worry about. Unfortunately, frying is ingrained in our psyche. We fry everything, not just snacks, but also our veggies, rice (pulao), our bread (parathas, puris) and non-vegetarian food as well. Poorer people use a lot of vanaspati (hydrogenated fat) as it is cheaper than oil. Many hotels use vanaspati to add that extra taste or mix it with oil. Right now the government is thinking of ways to regulate the Trans Fatty content in vanaspati (it varies from brand to brand) but I think vanaspati should be banned altogether.

Related Reading: What is the Indian government doing to control trans fats in our food?
Our food labeling laws are outdated
Faulty food packaging can poison us
Noodles are junk
Noodle companies misleading public
Ancient diets were the best
Destruction of essential vitamins due to cooking
“Healthy” soups are not really healthy.
Food and our moods
Indians susceptible to heart disease

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2007 4:41 am

    interesting post….~pondering now~…i am a foodie blogger…and I love street food but not bought from food stalls…I tend to make my own…so I know whats included…~smile~…

  2. March 14, 2007 7:02 am

    Nita – I am curious to find out why frying is the common method if cooking in India? Is there a practical reason for the prevalence of this type of cooking? I come from a Hungarian family, and our traditional foods are very heavy in the use of animal fats, particularly lard, and sometimes also chicken fat. Much food is pan-fried,and we even have a version of fried leavened bread – langos, that is so delicious but so bad for one. I really like pokoras and samosas and realize they are saturated in fat, but they are so yummy.
    You realize, fast foods are really vilified in North America, particularly of the fried variety.
    Potatoes are much better for one baked or boiled, rather than fried. Places like McDonald’s would lose customers if they sold mashed potatoes with their hamburgers – it just wouldn’t sell.

  3. March 14, 2007 8:03 am

    Yes you are right, there is a practical reason. Because of our hot weather, in fact searing temperatures in the summer, food spoils very quickly. People here will never consumer vegetables which are boiled or steamed, unless they are on some medical diet! Even the heavy use of spices in our food is because spices help preserve food for longer.
    So over the years we have developed a cuisine that is most suitable to our weather…ofcourse now there are refrigeraters so food can be preserved but traditional cooking methods remain. Also in those days there was no hydrogenated fat. Only unrefined oils or pure ghee (clarified butter) was used and these foods do not contain transfats. Besides, people were far more physically active in those days…so I guess the traditional methods of cooking were ideal. Lots of good fat which got absorbed and digested.
    But I wonder why Hungary’s traditional diet is a fatty one?

  4. March 14, 2007 9:33 am

    Thank you, Nita, for the explanation – makes clear, good sense. Traditional foods everywhere seem to be based on practical possibilities and limitations! As to why our foods may be originally so fatty, in post WW II, when I was a young girl, we had little access to butter and vegetable oils (sunflower and pumpkin) so the yearly pig slaughter was a way to ensure enough fat for the year’s cooking. Mother would render the fat into lard, and produce smoked sausages which would last till the following fall. The lardy sausages were helped to not spoil by the fat, salt and smoking. We have many sauced foods, started from sauteing and frying with lard, and then finished with sour cream (also heavy in fats). An agrarian and herding economy required women to be engaged in field labour, so foods were devised to be quickly started and then left to simmer for long periods of time, unattended except maybe for adding a bit of liquid from time to time, so stews are considered traditional dishes, generally spiced with sweet paprika. In modern times leaner cooking methods have been adopted, but give me lard-based stews, and I’m in heaven!

  5. October 7, 2011 3:51 pm

    Even if we were to reduce the trans fats, these snacks wouldn’t get any better. Take the samosa for instance, if you ignore the oil – what do you get? A crusty covering made of refined flour under which is mashed potatoes with a few spices. It is loaded with low GI carbs and very little protein, vitamins or other micro-nutrient. Basically, it is more of a junk food than the hamburger which has at least some protein, even if a low quality one. No wonder we are in a deluge of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and other lifestyle ailments.

  6. Rashminder permalink
    August 12, 2012 3:09 pm

    I would like to say that some of the Gujarati Snacks are really good alternatives to fried snacks as they are steamed and very lightly stir fried and use good ingredients and thus are tasty, filling and nutritious.

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