Those no-effort instant foods that come in attractive packets are delicious, but often laden with not-so-healthy ingredients

Chocolates that bring romance, chips that promise fun, fruit juice that’s healthy and delicious... sounds good to be true? Supermarket shelves are spilling over with brightly coloured, tightly-sealed plastic bags promising instant gratification through no-effort foods, some of which can take a serious toll on your health.

Sugar baddie: Aren’t cornflakes fun? Pour them out of a pack, add milk and sugar, and voila! Instant breakfast! And your breakfast müesli, bursting with oats, nuts and dry fruits, should surely take care of the day’s nutrition. Except for the fact that most breakfast cereals have far, far, more sugar than is good for you. Strawberry and chocolate flavoured cornflakes are quite obviously doused in flavoured syrup and sugars, but even regular cornflakes have quite a bit of extra sugar, so choose your breakfast cereal wisely!

Typical packaged cereals contain sugar syrup, fruit crush (yes, the same stuff that’s sold as soft-drink concentrate), sugar, glucose and crystallized fruit. That’s two kinds of syrup, two kinds of sugar and fruit preserved in sugar — not counting the raisins or in ‘special’ variants, the honey that goes into them. Does anybody really need that much sugar?

Salt assault: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily salt intake of less than 5 gms a day, roughly equal to one teaspoon per day per person. Many people carefully regulate the amount of salt that goes into their food. What they don’t take into account is all the hidden salt in packaged foods. Salt is a preservative that helps to prevent food from going bad, so you’ll find it in chips, fried snacks , processed meats, instant noodles, and even in (gasp) biscuits. A bag of savoury snacks will typically have you inhaling approximately 500 mg of salt in every mid-sized bag — a tenth of the magic ‘5 gms a day’ figure. Instant noodles are the worst offenders, with anywhere between 700 mg and a whopping 1.6 gms of salt (over one-fifth of your daily 5 gms) in a single serving.

Calorie catastrophe: Okay, so you know that a pack of cream biscuits won’t do your figure any good. But did you know that some supposedly healthy whole-wheat biscuits pack an equal amount of calories? Yup, those kiddie special strawberry-cream biscuits and your fibre-enriched whole-grain ‘diet’ biscuits both have about 500 calories in a single pack! You do the maths.

Fruit juice may seem healthy, but packaged juices have even more calories than soft-drinks. The amount of vitamins you get are pretty much negated by the fact that a small 200 ml glass has nearly 200 calories. So forget about sucking down a large glass of juice post-workout, because in calories, that’s the equivalent of a full meal.

If you eat things that are bad for your body, you’re throwing away a small part of your life with every plastic wrapper that you empty. Pretty packaging and persuasive promotions are no excuse — what you eat is your choice. You decide.