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How to eat without feeling guilty this festive season

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-09-2017 Sapna Agarwal

The festive season has arrived. And if you are like me, in the past couple of weeks, you would have gorged on sweet modaks during the 10-day Ganesh festival; meethi sevaiyan or sheer khurma on Bakr-Id; and payasam or ada pradhaman during Onam. And these do not even cover half the sweets that you would have indulged in.

Over the next four months through Navratri, Dussehra, Diwali and Christmas, there will be a number of occasions to buy, gift and even make at home traditional sweets and savories like besan ladoos, chakri and mathris.

This represents a dichotomy between our love of eating and the need to eat healthy. Every time we eat festive sweets and savouries, it is accompanied by a feeling of guilt. It’s fried. It’s loaded with sugar. It’s high on carbs. It’s not healthy.

Over the last few years, though, it has become possible to indulge ourselves without feeling guilty. At least that’s what retailers and marketers would have you believe.

Health and wellness is one of the fastest growing categories in India. Go to any supermarket store and look at the shelves. There are rows after rows lined with healthy food and beverage options. They include cereals, juices, low-fat dairy products, low-carb snacks, diet colas, dark chocolates, baked chips, sugar-free sweets, baked chakris, roasted crisps, multigrain biscuits and breads, oats, quinoa, ragi and other cereals.

About a year ago, I followed a gluten-free and vegan diet for a month. After a few days of eating moong dal khichri and jowar and ragi bhakris with vegetables, I started to look for alternatives that met my new dietary requirements. I found zoodles, a pasta replacement, and chocolate cake made with quinoa flour and almond milk for dessert. Everything that I was avoiding from breads to pasta to dessert and dairy was available in an alternative format suitable to my diet. Needless to say, I indulged.

Even traditional sweets and savouries are available in a new avatar as diet chips, diet chivda and baked chakri at any large super market or specialty food stores. These alternatives claim to reduce, replace or limit either the sugar or oil used in making them.

In retail stores like Neelam Foodland in Khar, Mumbai, diet, baked and roasted savouries like roasted baked besan sev (gram flour crips) and low fat makai (corn) chakri make up 25-30% of overall sales. The category accounted for just 5% of its overall sales three years-ago, says Manoj Gaikwad, 32, a member of the second generation at the 37-year-old family business, which caters largely to the urban rich and claims it can deliver its products all over the world.

According to Gaikwad, three years ago, there were less than 100 units that made up the category. Today there are close to 700 items and the list is steadily growing.

So, how healthy are these emerging alternatives?

Although marketers claim that their products are healthy, they may not be telling the whole truth. For instance, not all diet and baked items are oil-free. They could be semi-fried. “It’s not possible to make a baked chakri,” says Prabhod Halde, president-elect, Association of Food Scientists and Technologists, explaining that the technology to make oil-free food is not yet being used.

Also, something that has less oil could instead have high salt content. Even the kind of artificial sweetener used presents its own share of complexities. If it’s low on carbs, it could be high on preservatives.

So, what’s the solution? The key is awareness—reading labels. Make sure to buy products with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) certification. “If the FSSAI certification and the nutri-table is missing, then it’s best to avoid such packaged items, no matter what the claims,” says Nandan Joshi, head, health and nutrition science, Danone India.

The labelling, which is usually different from the claims made on front of the pack, will tell the whole truth, says nutritionist Sheryl Salis, who has written and spoken about food fraud at various forums.

Some of the common claims made on mass produced breads and biscuits which are marketed as healthy include oat biscuits and multigrain breads. The percentage of oats or whole cereals in such packaged foods is usually 4-12%. Even flavoured yoghurt and packaged fruit juice considered to be healthy are usually high on sugar. Likewise flavoured makhana will need to be sprayed with oil to absorb the spices.

May be it’s time to revisit our beliefs. After years of being told that ghee consumption was a cause of high cholesterol, we now hear that it is good for health. Likewise for egg yolk.

So instead of falling prey to research studies and marketing claims, maybe it’s time to return to our roots. “Home food is better than processed food which comes with preservatives to enhance shelf life,” says Sulakshana Mane, a professor at Sir Vithaldas Thackersey College of Home Science’s department of food, nutrition and dietetics at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

Follow a balanced diet and practise moderation during the festive season. Go ahead and celebrate. Eat a gulab jamun and make chakris at home. But make sure you keep away from second helpings.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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