Greater awareness about proper diet has given birth to a new category of munchies – “healthy” packaged snacks. A lot of people today, especially mothers, are very conscious about the calorie count of the food they or their kids consume. While fast food still remains a big hit among kids, parents now veer towards healthy eating, aiming to provide a balanced diet to their children. But for kids and adults, there is no escaping the temptation of a quick snack, which often comes in the form of munchies like potato or tortilla chips or twisted sticks. All fried, all starchy and all unhealthy.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • For kids and adults, there is no escaping the temptation of quick snacking in the form of packaged munchies.
  • Rise in awareness about calorie intake has created a demand for “healthy” packaged snacks.
  • Plant or lentil-based snacks which are usually baked, not fried, have gained a lot of popularity now.
  • There are a lot of things which can make a snack unhealthy, apart from being fried or starchy.

The ensuing guilt and demand for healthy snacking options in the last couple of years have seen a rise of munchies in form of plant or lentil-based snacks which are yummy and healthy too. Baked, not fried. Free of trans fat and contains no added sugar. Finally, there are packaged snacks people can eat without feeling guilty. Or so their ads and wrappers would like us to believe. These snacks have indeed attracted attention and made a lot of people believe that they are a much healthier substitute to your traditional potato or corn chips or rice crisps. Most promise a low-calorie count since they are baked, but we should be reading their nutritional chart more closely because there are a lot of things which can make a snack unhealthy, apart from being fried or starchy.

For example, the tomato flavoured multigrain chips, whose brand ambassador is a health-conscious cricketer in our country, contains 899 mg of Sodium per 100 grams of chips. According to US Food and Drug Administration, ideally, children above four and adults shouldn’t consume more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Which means if you’ve had 100 gm of the baked multigrain chip of this flavour, you’ve already met with 39 % quota of your daily sodium intake. Not to mention that a 100 gm serving also contains 475 Kcal of energy. While the same amount of a popular Tomato Tango potato chips,contains 540 Kcal and has 687 mg of Sodium. So while multigrain chips are low on calories, their sodium content appears to be higher than that of potato chips.

Nothing can beat home-cooking

Packaged food is after all just that; packaged and processed to taste tempting and to last longer on the shelf.

Parents need to remember that nothing can beat freshly prepared home-made food. As parenting blogger Prerna Sinha told us, “While I cannot say this for all the snacks that are available in the market, but we all know that if it is packaged or refined, it is not exactly healthy. They might have some healthy content like nachni, etc. But usually there is nothing that can replace fresh homemade food. However, with the kind of lifestyle that we are leading, we hardly have any time. A lot of us cannot cook each meal, each time. So sometimes we do slip in those packaged snacks to kids and if you do it in a moderate quantity it’s okay. It is not going to really push the kid off the mark on his health chart.

If we compare the health quotient to freshly cooked food at home, there is no comparison, it’s simple as that. – Prerna Sinha

So you’ve to see your convenience as well. For example, when you are travelling, these packaged snacks help a lot, because you cannot cook or carry perishable food all the time. But if we compare the health quotient to freshly cooked food at home, there is no comparison, it’s simple as that.”

Look for other options, preferably local

When it comes to nutritional values of a packaged food, most people only look at two things, the number of calories and amount of trans fat it contains. Very few pay attention to added sugar or what class of preservatives has been used. In fact, the process used to manufacture or refine packaged snacks also makes a difference in whether or not it is healthy. But how many of us even think about that?

Dietitian Mansi Jarare Sathe, who is based in Pune, advises that people should go for locally made snacks like khakhra and jowar puffs instead. Mansi says, “I consider those things as a healthier option, even calorie content wise. A lot of people have an affinity  associated with certain brands, but what is the process behind that? Do they know what chemicals or preservatives are being used to make these branded packaged snacks? On the other hand, snacks made by small-scale industries, which are often run by women from their homes, are cheaper and much healthier. They are perishable, with a lower shelf life, because they do not have many preservatives.”

Snacks made by small-scale industries, which are often run by women from their homes, are cheaper and much healthier. They are perishable, with a lower shelf life, because they do not have many preservatives. -Mansi Jarare Sathe

Ruchita Dar Shah, entrepreneur and creator of First Moms Club says that there is a rise in awareness regarding nutritional values of packaged snacks among mothers. “I think the so called “healthy” snacks just make you feel a little better as a mom, as you feel you are not giving unhealthy stuff to your child. But at least the urban moms today are aware, and they are reading the labels much more than say our parents were, or say someone like me who has a fourteen year old now, was.

So one should not go completely crazy with healthy snacks. You should keep a balance. Fresh home cooked food is definitely going to be the best for your child, but a little bit of junk food in form of packaged food is also okay, because kids have to learn to adapt to different surroundings, and they should be able to eat and digest everything. Meanwhile, there are a lot of mothers who are writing a lot and spreading awareness about what is good and what isn’t. There is also this whole awareness of going local, which I think is a good thing because instead of getting excited about superfoods which come from international markets, it is a good idea to go back to our culture look out for foods that are healthy and experiment more with them.”

There is also this whole awareness of going local, which I think is a good thing because instead of getting excited about superfoods which come from international markets, it is a good idea to go back to our culture look out for foods that are healthy and experiment more with them. – Ruchita Dar Shah

So while it seems like “healthy” packaged snacks may be a good alternative to fried crisps, one needs to pay more attention to their nutritional value. Besides home cooked snacks are always a better option, but we all know how difficult it is to keep kids from packed munchies. Even we can’t resist indulging ourselves every once in a while. So opting for multigrain chips with lesser calories does make sense. However, just because they have lesser calories, doesn’t mean that we can binge on them. The quantity as well as the kind of snacks you opt for makes a big difference as well.

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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