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Is a burger better than a samosa? If packed potato chips are junk food,what is aloo tikki? The recent debates over junk foods sidestep the fact that Indians eat unhealthy food every day without labelling it as junk.

Written by Shantanu David | Published: April 6, 2012 12:28 am

Did you ever ask for the vital statistics of a samosa? According to Delhi-based nutritionist Aditi Mehrotra,a medium-sized one has 250 calories,30 gms of carbohydrates,13.2 fats and just five grams of proteins. The samosa lives a busy life messing up our nutritional balance,yet,like other delicious-but-dangerous foods such as papad parantha,malai-maska bun,bread pakora,dhabeli sandwich or vada pav,it is seldom brought to book in a case against junk foods.

The last week saw such concerns mired in controversy after a report published by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) hit out at fast foods. McDonalds,Maggi,Subway,Lays and such maybe household names but in India’s growing fast-food industry,Haldiram,Bikanervala and others are not far behind,say reports.

Indian snacks are a part of the CSE study,yet the non-packaged,fast and fried ones are allowed to walk free. In this war between nutritious and unhealthy foods,there is yet another angle. Where Indian snacks and packaged foreign foods coexist with roadside Chinese food or oily egg-and-meat rolls. It is a vicious circle with few exits. So is aloo tikki better than a plate of fries? Are two-minute noodles healthier than roadside Chinese meals? Or does “anything

with anything” put Indians at a bigger risk?

“From samosas,kachoris and chhole bhature in the North to fried banana chips,vadas and papdis down South — junk food in India has a huge western influence,” says Mehrotra. She argues that combined with foods from other countries such as burgers,chips,fries,fried chicken,pizzas,and even the starch-filled Chinese cuisine,which has become a part of street food,the umbrella of ‘junk food’ is full of high trans fats and saturated fats.

Junk food,defined as “any food,low in essential nutrients and high in everything else”,is essentially recognised by the presence of carbohydrates,fats,trans fats,

salts and excess refined sugars. Indian street food is full of these. Paneer-egg rolls,vada pav,kachoris and aloo bondas are cheap,visible and accessible.

They are habit-forming too. “People are addicted to certain foods because they make them feel good for a short while,” comments Naini Setalvad,a Mumbai-based nutritionist and food writer.

In the CSE report itself,the total salts found in Indian snacks were highest among all junk food studied,next only to instant noodles,and the total fats the absolute highest — over and above burgers,fries,pizzas and potato chips.

Now,consider the cumulative effect of packaged fast food,plus pizzas and burgers,plus Indian fried snacks,plus roadside Chinese and street paranthas — the entire repertoire of what constitutes junk food in India. Shouldn’t that be the core of new nutritional concerns?

Chef Ananda Soloman,executive chef of Vivanta-Taj President,Mumbai,says the issue must be argued more realistically without forgetting about the traditional values of Indian food. “Jalebi and milk,for example,is a common breakfast item that keeps blood pressure in check while samosas,originally,were influenced by the Iranis who cooked it with minced meat and vegetables,making it balanced food.” He adds,“So long as these items are correctly cooked and are eaten at the right time of the day,they needn’t be dismissed as junk.”

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