There are probably very few things in this world that are more comforting than a bag of potato chips, a luscious piece of pastry or a bottle of soft drink. Well, comfort can wait, for these very things could pack you off much sooner than you would want. In this age of instant gratification, fast foods have emerged as the number one cause for serious lifestyle diseases, says Vidyadhar Kawalkar, Executive Director of Shefocbint Health, Food and Nutrition Technology Institution, Bhopal.

Blood sugar levels

He was speaking at a workshop ‘Fast Food Trap' organised by the Department of Home Science, St. Teresa's College. The craze for fast foods has almost become an epidemic which will have far reaching consequences, he says. Maida (white flour), which is the chief source of cereal in most fast foods, does not contain any dietary fibre or healthy fat and results in increased blood sugar levels. That means your everyday burger or a pizza has very high salt, enough to fulfil the daily bodily requirement. Besides salt and sugar, junk food also contains baking soda and monosodium glutamate, which can lead to headaches, a feeling of tightness in the chest and burning sensation in the forearms. In the longer run, these would certainly lead to obesity, heart problems and even cancer.

A sudden shift from traditional foods to processed and semi-processed foods has revolutionised our eating habits. Dr. Varsha, Consultant Clinical Nutritionist, does not advise complete abstinence from fast foods, as that would lead to cravings and binge eating. “If you watch your body clock, you have nothing to worry,” she says. The human body is adjusted to follow the Circardian rhythm—based on sunlight. Our eating patterns are tuned to the sun. At sunrise, a milk-based beverage is ideal, as it activates the body.

Two-to-three hours later comes the first meal of the day, also the most important, as it is from this meal that the body gets its energy. “If you look at the traditional Indian breakfast, you will always find a cereal (rice in south India), combined with dal and chutney. It is always better to have a wholesome breakfast than imitate the Western concept of having oats or cornflakes,” she says. Unfortunately, most people have the oats with little milk and no sugar and in effect, starving the body of what it requires.

Fat intake

Restricting fat and oil intake will not just prevent obesity but also heart diseases and cancer, Kawalkar says. Total fat intake should not exceed 30 per cent of the total calorie intake. Saturated fats should not account for more than 10 per cent of the total energy provided by the food, he says.

As per a study conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition, Rs 800 crore worth junk food was consumed by Indians last year. The problem is most common among adolescents. Part of it is because their parents bribe them with junk food, says K.S. Kumari, Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, Pondicherry University.

“A majority of health problems faced by young people today, including infertility and depression can be attributed to fast foods. Studies have proved that the adolescents and children who consume fast foods have a lower IQ than those who don't,” she says.