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PROFILE

M. YOUSUF SHAIKH

COLUMN FOR THE RECORD
SOCIETY 1- HIGHER EDUCATION
2- FAST FOOD IS IT SAFE FOOD?
POLITICS & POLICY POOR DELIVERY OF SOCIAL SERVICES
SPECIAL REPORT DOMESTIC REGULATION AND DIPLOMACY IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS
 
FAST FOOD IS IT SAFE FOOD?
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Fast food rich in meat products, which should only be taken once or twice a week


By PROF. DR. RASHIDA ALI
H.E.J. Research Institute of Chemistry,
University of Karachi

Mar 15 - 21, 2003
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The safety of fast food from the health point of view is evaluated on two different fronts, i.e. from the angle of hygiene standards and, secondly, by evaluating its nutritional status. The fast food available from the well-known international franchise organizations, as well as the good quality local restaurants, is quite safe as far as the hygiene conditions are concerned; however, the nutritive value of such foods is debatable. The grilled food served on street corners is also safe, if consumed while hot, but the doubts about the cleanliness of the utensils used and the extent of environmental pollution in areas where the food is prepared cannot be dismissed. Moreover, the grade of raw materials such as meats, vegetables, fats, spices, flour, etc. is often of low quality. For instance, if the same fat is used repeatedly for frying, it becomes unfit for human consumption for several reasons. Firstly, the oil consisting of unsaturated fatty acids gets converted at high temperatures into transfatty acids (TFAs).

The TFAs may cause a hardening of the arteries, leading to a variety of heart diseases. Repeated frying in the same oil also results in chemical changes, such as polymerization, which produces a variety of toxic substances. Food should not be sold or served in highly unhygienic surroundings, where there are garbage heaps, stinking open gutters or stagnant water, because the air here is full of pathogens and flies carrying various bacteria are in constant contact with the food. So the fast food service should be carefully chosen.

During the last few decades, fast food has faced a lot of controversy as a result of the increasing incidence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity, overweight etc. among regular consumers of fast food. The epidemiological data has confirmed that the constant intake of imbalanced fast food is a major risk factor. This does not mean that fast food should not be eaten at all; it is only a note of caution that it should be modified and the frequency of consumption of fatty food should be reduced. Let us briefly evaluate the nutritional plus and minus points of the common fast foods so that we can modify the meals ourselves and perhaps pass on good suggestions to fast food suppliers as well.

Frenck fries, if consumed in large quantities at every meal, are harmful even for growing children. We often forget that diseases such as heart attack, diabetes, cancer etc., which mostly appear at a later stage of life, are often the result of an imbalanced diet. French fries supply fat and potato starch; the latter raises the blood sugar level rapidly as compared to a cereal product, i.e. bun, stick, biscuit, cracker, bread etc. The fat used for frying is not only in excess but is also rich in saturated fatty acids (SFAs) that adversely affect the serum lipid profile. SFAs raise LDL (low density lipoproteins) and cholesterol dramatically.

 

 

Fast foods generally contain fair amounts of cheese. Dairy fats contain SFAs and it is advisable to consume these only in limited amounts, although their protein and calcium are badly required by the body. Nutritionists have therefore suggested consuming low-fat cheese yogurt and milk products. Fast foods are usually rich in meat products as well. and it is recommended that red meat should only be taken once or twice a week because it contains SFAs, and the RDA (recommended daily allowances) of protein (meat is rich in proteins) is only 10- 12% of the total energy required by the human body and even that amount of protein should contain a majority of plant proteins.

For the last few years, it has been emphasized that the above-mentioned chronic diseases are the result of low consumption of the dietary fibers that are abundantly present in fruits and vegetables which are usually deficient in fast food items. Fruits and vegetables are a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals.

HOW CAN FAST FOOD BE MODIFIED TO MAKE IT SAFE?

A salad bowl as a starter or an appetizer before the fast food and a fruit yogurt (low fat) or fresh fruit as a substitute for a sweet dish, with a glass of fruit/vegetable juice instead of a soft drink, can make a major difference in balancing the daily requirement of nutrients. Some soft drinks are a rich source of caffeine. One cup of coffee or tea produces 137 mg or 46 mg of caffeine respectively, while one glass of a carbonated drink produces 36 mg of caffeine which apart from other drawbacks also lowers the body's ability to absorb calcium and is a contributory factor in heart diseases. Although it imparts alertness to athletes it should not be consumed in excess. Pizzas, burgers and sandwiches are complete foods, as they provide fats, carbohydrates and proteins, the three energy providing macro-nutrients or three-in-one, as they are known, however, the intake proportion should be balanced by the suppliers and the consumers both by decreasing the fats and by adding vegetables and fruits either in the product itself or in the meal. However, such changes in food habits and fast food supplies are only possible if the food processors/consumers are well aware of the basic concepts of a balanced diet. A good knowledge of nutrition is the first step towards leading a healthy life.

Knowledge about good nutrition should be imparted at an early age. It was with this in mind that United Registrar of Systems (URS) and a leading biscuit manufacturer English Biscuit Manufacturers, makers of the popular Peek Freans brand of biscuits, have joined hands in a noble initiative to create awareness among leading schools and canteen contractors about food standards and the importance of serving wholesome and safe food to children; the project is known as "Safe Food at School". A pilot project is shortly to be launched at a leading school in Karachi.