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Food Jargon 101

Nutritional science is a relatively new science. To find which vitamin or mineral relates to the body or which element in food corresponds to which part of the body is many times trial and error.There are thousands of nutritional studies being carried out all over the world. Add this with the world’s obsession with health and savvy marketers and you are bombarded with more health news and jargon than you can digest.

Here we have a list of food and health terms that you keep seeing in the news or in ads but are not exactly sure of the relevance:

  1. Omega-3 – A fatty acid essential to the body so try and get plenty of it. Numerous studies have found that fish eating cultures such as Eskimos and the Japanese have reduced rates in cancer, heart disease and asthma and contribute this to the compound omega-3. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel should be eaten 2-3 times a week. Vegetarians can get ample omega-3 from flaxseeds, soy foods, wheat germ and walnuts.

  2. Trans fats – Hydrogenation or adding hydrogen to unsaturated fat such as some oils creates a new chemical configuration known as trans fatty acid. These trans fats help with the consistency of foods and ensure longer shelf life and that is why the food companies love them. Plenty of research has shown that this substance causes considerable harm to the heart’s arteries.

Whenever you see the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on the ingredient list of foods you know it contains trans fats. You see it everywhere in food products including biscuits, cakes, and chips. Even your local baker uses it in those lovely khari biscuits and cream rolls. Dalda is trans fat. There are strict regulations in the US and Canada for the uses of trans fats in food products however there is very little restriction in India so read food labels carefully.

  1. Antioxidants – This word is everywhere from shampoo to cereals. Simply put, antioxidants are nutrients in vitamins and minerals that protect other compounds from damaging reactions. These reactions involve oxygen by themselves reacting with oxygen. The major source of antioxidants is vitamin C, E, beta carotene and the mineral selenium. If you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables you get plenty of antioxidants.

  2. Gluten –Gluten is a special type of protein that is commonly found in wheat. All breads and wheat rotis contain gluten. It has come to the news because it has been found that a large part of the population may be gluten intolerant causing celiac disease. What was considered a bad stomach or irritable bowel syndrome may actually be gluten intolerance.

  3. Good and Bad Carbs – Atkins and low carbohydrate diets are out. Instead good carbs are necessary to a healthy body. Bad carbs are foods made with refined products like white bread, white rice and pasta. Consume good carbs like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread and other grains such as oats, jowar and bajra.

  4. Soy Protein – This is currently a hot area of research finding that certain soy properties help with cancer prevention and lowering of cholesterol. Adding some soy powder to your wheat flour and eating soy beans is a healthy way for vegetarians to include protein in their diet. Soy milk and tofu are also alternatives for the lactose intolerant.

  5. Resistant Starch – A buzz word for fiber and healthy beans. The body digests different starches at different rates. Potatoes and bread digest fast where as the starch in beans, long grained brown rice are digested more slowly, causing a much slower and lower blood sugar rise. If you eat a balanced Indian diet with legumes brown rice and rotis made with jowar and bajra you get enough resistant starch.

Published in Pune Mirror, March 7, 2011

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