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Did you read the label?


Today's supermarkets offer us with variety; from cookies to frozen snacks we can find a huge variety of processed foods that have preservatives, sweeteners, colours, or hydrogenated oils. These additives are used in order to extend the food's shelf life (extend expiration date), delay spoilage, preserve flavour, enhance taste and make the food visually appealing.

The demand for longer shelf life is for consumer's convenience as we are addicted to quick and easy choices where we do not need to “cook” or “prepare” but merely open a bag of snacks to pop it in our mouths.

Due to this fact, foods are produced on a large scale to supply food chains and they need to stay fresh until they are transported and stored before consumption. Just to make readers aware these additives have an estimated $23 billion market worldwide.

According to a consumer's dictionary of food additives, “Additives are food substances, or a mixture of substances, other than basic foodstuffs, that are present in food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage or packaging.”

Apart from preservatives, colourings and flavours, other food additives are bulking agents such as antifoaming agents, anti-caking agents, acids, colour retention agents, gelling agents, emulsifiers, glazing agents, stabilisers, thickeners and the list goes on. Majority of the additives have “zero” nutritional value and can cause distress to the body.

There is a lot to cover when it comes to food additives. Therefore I will only be focusing on some of the ones that are used in almost all packaged foods such as colourings and sweeteners.

Colourings in our foods
There are both natural and artificial colours found in our foods. Natural colours are found from fruits, vegetables or spices. For example from carrots we get carotene, which is used to colour margarine.

However some food companies add “un-natural” colours to make profits regardless of the health effects of the consumers. Colourings are easily found in candies, ice cream, fruit juices, cakes, cereals, soups etc.

Coal tar and petrochemicals are the sources of artificial colours. More than 90 percent of the food colourings are manufactured from coal tar colours.

To help you understand the health impact I want to let you know that more than one artificial colour has been banned and pulled off the market over the last several decades because it was ultimately found to be causing cancer.

These also contribute to all sorts of health issues such as Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder [ADHD], learning disabilities, hyperactivity or violent behaviour in children. Imagine why the artificial colours or dyes used in foods are also used in cosmetics and clothes?

My advice as a holistic nutritionist would be to stay away from processed foods that have “artificial colours” added to them. Pay attention to drugs and vitamins as well for they too contain artificial colours.

Commonly used sweeteners
There are both natural and artificial sweeteners used in your processed foods. Fructose (derived from fruits), lactose (from milk) and maltose are natural sweeteners, derived from real foods. These sweeteners contain 4 calories per gram. Commonly used natural sweeteners are honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, fructose, beet sugar, molasses, barley malt and rice syrup. Stevia that comes from a plant (leaf) is a sweetener that has zero calories and does not have adverse health affects.

There are also non-nutritional, artificial and chemically derived sweeteners that are added to our processed foods, such as aspartame, Splenda and saccharin. These are used as sugar substitutes in our foods and beverages.

Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sucrose and has no nutritional value. The safety of aspartame has been the subject of several political and medical controversies. This chemical may be a nerve system irritant and may affect some people adversely much like MSG (mostly used in Chinese cooking). Note that Neotame, another sweetener in the market, is actually aspartame that has been hydrogenated and linked with another chemical.

One of the biggest offenders is High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS. It is not the same as fructose in fruits. It has no nutritional value and causes the body to lose minerals. This synthetic food additive is made by subjecting corn starch to complex process using genetically engineered enzymes.

The sweeteners are marketed as weight-loss products, but they do not really help to reduce weight unless the person is already on a low calorie diet. Many people consume this merely as sugar replacement so that they can enjoy their favourite desserts.

You can certainly eat sugar by eating naturally sweetened foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Not only do they offer a sweet taste, these foods have high fibre content, vitamins and minerals which will help to absorb and metabolise foods properly.

Sweeteners are used in cookies, cakes, chips, pop, fruit juices and commercially sold yoghurt.

Read the label
Food has the most intimate connection with your body. It can build you and it can break you depending on what you choose to eat. Anytime you put something in your body that is pre-packaged and processed you should make an educated choice by reading the label.

This is true for cosmetics and daily self-care products shampoos, toothpastes, lotions, creams and deodorants. If you cannot pronounce an ingredient why accept it? In today's world there is really no excuse for “not knowing”. Google any unfamiliar ingredient and decide if you really want to introduce these additives to your diet. Natural additives are not toxic; but how much of your daily additive intake is natural?

There are several concerns with additives used in foods such as toxicity (including allergic reactions), liver stress from metabolising these chemicals, and potential carcinogenicity. Food and beverage companies use additives so that they can make you crave the taste of their foods. These additives will cause your nerve cells to cry out for more and make you buy and consume more.

If you give up processed and packaged food for just one month you will feel more energetic, think more clearly and will be able to focus easily. You body will have time to detox from all unnatural substances. If additives are coming between you and your health then lose them! Reintroduce yourself to wholesome, fresh and seasonal foods. If you have weight issues or hormonal imbalance you will benefit from eating fresh.


Images through a theodolite VIII: The Secret

17 July 2002
The Past

"We need to talk."

The secret that remained hidden in the darkest corners of my heart had by then become malignant -- dark, unsightly and unbearable. I could not care for the consequences it would bring; this secret that I had hidden from him would eventually consume my soul, I felt. I had to come clean.

"Ai shuncho? Are you listening? I need to talk you."

- "Yes I am. Bolo," he said without looking at me. His stare directed towards the white ceiling and the roving fan.

I had been practising the lines for the last few weeks; arranging the words in a logical sequence so that he might understand the pain I had been feeling. I didn't expect to be forgiven easily and only hoped that as time went by he would understand my decision. I was not sorry for what I had done as I believed it was the best thing to do.

For the three of us!

I looked at him. Lying on the bed he was still staring at the ceiling. I could easily see that he was engulfed by his thoughts. This was not the right time but I had already opened Pandora's Box.

"Sit up." I said.

- "Why? I am listening baba"

He chuckled as I pulled him by his hands and pushed him on his shoulders from the back.

"Wide awake and at her Majesty's Service," he humoured.

I felt a pain in my heart. I could only hope he would understand my decision. I could only hope. "There is something that I need to talk to you about. Something important."

I didn't know how to begin. All my practising sessions came of no use; when the time came I had lost all words.

"I am listening", he said with a smile.

"Have you taken any decision about the book that you had been asked to write?" I got straight to the point.

He was asked by a Professor at college to write a book. The payment, the professor promised, would be handsome.

"I told you. I can never, with the right conscience, write a book that will be printed in someone else's name. Besides, I am already working on a fiction…I need time to write." His jaws tightened as he uttered the last words.

"The one you have been writing for the last few years?"

I made no effort to hide my mockery.

"Do you have any idea how this household is being run? If we had to pay house rent we would have hit the streets by now. Yet you are so choosy about every work that you get." I blurted out.

"I am telling you. This book will be a hit. More than "Clavicle….".

"How are you kidding? Clavicle sold 200 copies. People don't read your work. Don't you get it?"

- "I do."

He was visibly hurt. And completely unprepared for what was about to come next.

"You know" I sighed…"I was pregnant."

I made no effort to hide my rage. I was bleeding in my heart and I wanted him to share the pain. I felt suffocated. I needed to breathe freely.

"Come again. You are pregnant?" There was a glow of pleasure and surprise in his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

"I was pregnant. I had an abortion." Determined to hurt him, I spoke without compassion.

"When did this happen? Why didn't you tell me before that you had a miscarriage?"

"It was an abortion."

"What…?" He seemed surprised and outraged.

"I had no right to bring in a life into this world when we will not be able to give her proper care and ensure a proper upbringing. And more so, I don't want to raise a child alone. You are never there for me, let alone for another life. It was the best decision for the three of us."

My words jumbled up. These lines came from within, mixed with the rage and hatred that I had recently learned to feel about him.

He looked at me. Directly into my eyes and lowered his gaze. I could see his body shake. There was an awful silence in the room. Only the overhead fan made a noise of slicing the air as it moved.

He looked at me, again. For a brief second. He loved children. And I had denied him the right of having one of his own. I had hurt him, crashed his ego. Although I said it was best for the three of us, I knew that deep down I couldn't bear the thought of bearing his child. Although our existence was a mutual understanding, I had no desire to take it further. I was accustomed to his nature, but felt no love. Our existence had been devoid of love and one of simple tolerance.

"I can't look at you Nina." He looked at my eyes again and again lowered his gaze. "Leave Nina. Please leave."

"I will. Tomorrow." I didn't tell him that the bags were already packed.

"No Nina. Now! Get out of my house."

And then rage got the better of him. He grabbed my left arm and pulled me out of the bed and on the floor.

"How could you do this to me? You murderer…get out…get out before I kill you." He was screaming at the top of his voice. Throwing punches in the air, kicking the walls. He had got himself in his fit of rage. I felt scared and begged him to stop. But he wouldn't. I knew he wouldn't.

"I loved you Nina…you killed my child…you killed him." He got hold of my arm again and pulled it to make me stand. I tried to free myself but couldn't. He opened the door of the room; threw me out and locked the door from behind.

As I sobbed on the floor, I heard the sounds of the mirror shatter, and punches on the door. Repeatedly…one after another.

(to be continued)

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif


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