Written by Sola Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria
A lot is going on in the food world and you need to be aware of certain things, if only to guarantee your health and that of your family.
From food colouring, to food additives and fraudulent labels that present bad foods as good ones, the average consumer is exposed to many food manufacturing gimmicks that might make the very act of eating look like another means of attempting suicide.
What are the things to beware of? Read on.
In general, nutritionists tell us that it's beneficial to the body if we eat whole grains foods regularly. This is because whole grains contain fibre, a healthy plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and a variety of phytochemicals that will improve your health.
Consultant nutritionist, Dr. Simeon Oladimeji, explains that in food terminology, 'whole grains' have all of the parts of the original grain in balanced proportions; whereas by the time the same food is processed and bagged, they become 'refined' grains, meaning that the essential nutritional parts have been stripped away in the course of manufacturing.
"Therefore, when you are buying what you thought was grain, once you see 'multigrain' as the primary ingredient, know that it is not a healthy choice. What it means is that several kinds of grain were used, with none of them being whole," Oladimeji says.
When it comes to food flavouring, nutritionists say, how much of flavours you eat will determine your state of health.
"In general, food colouring (such as tartrazine or cochineal), liquid extracts, essences, and flavours are added to foods to enhance their taste and visual appeal. The awful truth is that convenient, processed foods that are usually available in the supermarkets contain at least one or two additives/preservatives," the expert says.
He adds, "Foods such as ice tea, cookies, chocolate, and gums contain incredible numbers of additives, as do canned foods, since they have to be stored for a long period. The additives and preservatives are used to retain their quality and flavour."
Professor of Human Nutrition and an ex-president of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Ignatius Onimawo, warns that many of these preservatives can give health problems.
"They can cause different allergies and conditions such as hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder in some people who are sensitive to specific chemicals.
"Again, the foods containing additives can cause asthma, hay fever and certain reactions such as rashes, vomiting, headache, tight chest, hives and worsening of eczema. They may affect RNA and thus cause tumor growth; they may also affect the thyroid and enzymes," he submits.
Nutritionists say these additives and flavours may not affect your health if you only eat bagged or canned foods once in a while and eat more of home-cooked foods that are devoid of all these questionable elements.
"Problem will only arise if everything you eat comes from a box, a can or a bag; as you may be taking too much of these additives. However, if you eat variety of foods, especially home-cooked foods, you have nothing to worry about," Oladimeji says.
Foods that are rich in dietary fibre such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes help us to maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
According to experts, dietary fibre, also known as roughage, includes all parts of plant foods that the human body can't digest or absorb. Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates which the body breaks down and absorbs, fibre is not digested. Rather, fibre passes relatively intact through the stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body.
"Dietary fibre normalises bowel movements, helps maintain bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar levels, and aids in achieving healthy weight.
"However, when you see packaged foods that come with the label 'high fibre,' be wary, because we might as well be looking at laboratory-grown fibre!" Oladimeji says.
He warns that many so-called high-fibre foods are full of fake fibre that comes under various names such as chicory root, maltodextrin, and polydextrose, among others.
"Unlike real fibre that actually increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it, the fake fibre may cause gas, bloating and other gastrointestinal discomfort," he says.
What this means is that don't be taken in by grandiose ingredient list that is only meant to bamboozle you.
Imported sea foods
There's no how you could shop for your sea foods in supermarkets without running into health troubles. In fact, nutritionists warn that imported sea foods sometimes contain unhealthy drug residues and contaminants, all of which could negatively affect your health.
The worst of these imported sea foods are shrimps, as they have been found to contain chemicals, pesticides, and even chloramphenicol, a powerful antibiotic that has been banned in food because it is a suspected carcinogen that may cause anaemia and leukemia in humans.
So, if you must eat shrimps or any sea food whatsoever. Buy from the local market.
Pastas are foods certainly loved by the majority of children and adolescents, while some adults also splurge on it once in a while.
Typically, pasta is a noodle made from unleavened dough of durum wheat flour mixed with water and formed into sheets or various shapes. It can also be made with flour from other cereals or grains.
When pastas are made with refined wheat flour, the nutrient-rich outer bran shell and inner germ layer are removed from the grain, leaving just the starchy endosperm. This process strips the wheat of much of its fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, leaving you with a less nutritious food.
And though some nutrients such as iron and a handful of B vitamins are added during manufacturing (enriched flour), they represent only a fraction of what has been removed from the grain.
Meanwhile, nutritionists say too much of pasta can spike up blood glucose and cause weight gain because it is mostly carbohydrate. That's why it's better eaten with vegetables such as green peas, sweet corn, carrots and green pepper; and condiments such as curry and thyme.
The bottom line: Eat what you cook, and eat less of processed foods.