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Seven super unhealthy foods for kids and their smart swaps

A smart swap could be an intake of fresh juices using lemon drop and honey. Milk with turmeric, basil and a pinch of cinnamon (golden milk) gives a sweet taste.

Healthy and junk foodWith increased unhealthy food consumption, health of kids is rapidly deteriorating.(Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

By Seema Khanna

Healthy eating for children is important for proper growth and development. A common perception is that healthy food is not delicious and unhealthy food is tasty and palatable. Commonly considered unhealthy foods are pizzas, burgers, deep fried foods and packed juices.

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It’s not the food that is unhealthy but the content of these eatables, which are as follows.

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1. Simple sugars:

These are simple sugars, which are added as flavours to canned fruits / eatables. Excessive intake of canned juice or simple sugar may leave the body dehydrated, decrease gut motility and most importantly increase weight. They also adversely affect kids’ dental hygiene resulting in caries.

A smart swap could be an intake of fresh juices using lemon drop and honey. Milk with turmeric, basil and a pinch of cinnamon (golden milk) gives a sweet taste. At times, jaggery can be added as a sweetener, which results in an increase of haemoglobin levels.

2. Sodium (common salt):


Frozen fast foods, like frozen pizza or toppings used for pizzas, processed bacon or meat reduces the nutritive value as  during the  processing lot of sodium is added in various forms. Extra sodium leads to high blood pressure, fluid retention in body tissues resulting in increase in body weight.

A smart swap could be adding drops of lemon to enhance the taste even by adding a small amount of salt.

3. Refined flour:

Refined flour has negligible fibre content and is  simple carbohydrates, which are readily absorbed leading to high blood sugar levels and increase in body weight.

Whole grains have three components.


* Germ: The reproductive part  is the rich source of vegetable proteins , and also contains micronutrients like Magnesium, Zinc, Thiamine, Folates, Potassium and Phosphorus  which are important in growing years.

* Bran: The hard outer layer is fibre and Thiamine’s ( B- complex Vitamins).

* Endosperm: This is the innermost starch portion of the grain.

In the process of making refined flour, bran and germs are treated leaving behind the starchy endosperm which is pulverised as flour.

The high starch content of refined grain produces a sudden increase in blood sugar levels. Additives like flour strengthening agents (Potassium Bromate) and bleaching agents (Benzoyl Peroxide), which gives the white colour to flour are hazardous to health.


A smart swap could be wholegrain flour, which is a bit coarse, with bran and germ.

4. Fats:

Fat is an essential part of our diet as proteins and carbohydrates. They are the fuel to the body’s energy requirements. Many body functions depend on the presence of fat. There are certain vitamins (Vitamin  A, D and E) which are fats dissolving and are better absorbed with oil.


There are two types of unhealthy fats – saturated, which should be used sparingly and trans fats, which should be avoided. Most saturated fats are animal products found in dairy products and fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb. Too much saturated fats increases bad cholesterol i.e LDL (Low Density Lipids).

Trans fats appear in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They are the worst fats as they result in an increase of LDL and also suppress HDL (Good Cholesterol). They also increase triglycerides in the body.


Essential fats, which are important for the body, are polyunsaturated fats that are plant-based. They decrease the risk of heart diseases lowering blood cholesterol levels.

A smart swap could incorporate plant-based fats judiciously in your daily diet.

These are rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts can also be included in a daily diet regime.

5. Processed cereals or ready-to-eat foods:

During transformation of natural food products, many nutrients can be destroyed or removed. Heating or drying of food can destroy certain vitamins and moisture in food, especially Vitamin B and C as they are heat sensitive. Peeling the outer layer of fruits and vegetables and whole grains may remove plant-based nutrients and fibre. Cereal bars, granola bars, flavoured and coated nuts, microwave-ready meals, instant noodles are some ready-to-eat foods. Artificial sweeteners and preservatives are also added while processing many foods to enhance taste and make them an attractive corner of departmental stores.

Not all processed foods could be a bad choice. Some foods need processing to make them safe, like milk needs to be processed to remove harmful bacteria.

A smart swap could be eating fresh fruits, veggies with peel and fresh lean meats. Processed foods should always be purchased after reading the label of the food product carefully.

6. Carbonated Beverages (sparkling water) or soft drinks:

These include drinks containing carbon dioxide, sweeteners and taste enhancers. Most common added sugar is table sugar or sucrose (a form of simple carbohydrates). Few carbonated beverages are combined with phosphoric acid as a taste enhancer of soft drinks. This interferes with absorption of calcium resulting in calcium deficiency, further resulting in frequent fractures. High concentration of simple carbohydrates reacts with oral bacteria leading to fermentation producing acids that dissolve or erode our tooth enamel and induce dental decay. Empty calories without any nutritive value is directly associated with obesity and other metabolic syndrome issues resulting in diabetes with cardiovascular risk. They also contain caffeine, which is addictive leading to anxiety disorders.

A smart swap would be plain sparkling water (soda) with fresh lemonade or fresh sweet lime juice.

7. Chewing gum:

It is a gum-based food that is indigestible if swallowed and remains in our stomach for years. Other ingredients are sweeteners, flavourings and preservatives. Regular use of chewing gum is associated with headaches and painful jaws. Sugar-free chewing gum can lead to digestive symptoms in children suffering from IBS (Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome) and tooth decay as well.

A smart swap could be chewing amla candy, cardamon or pinch of carom seeds (ajwain) or 1-2 cloves.

The bottomline is that adequate consumption of any foodstuff is advisable but excessive usage may be hazardous to health.

(The writer is a dietician.) 

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First published on: 08-08-2022 at 07:33:35 pm
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