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No secret to healthy diets – clues are all over the pack

IF I can name it, I can consider it! Diacetyl esters of fatty acids; hydrolysed soy protein; humectant; I could go on. Where in your kitchen would you ever find these?

Today, do we need a science degree in order to understand what we are eating? What are these ingredients and do we need to avoid them?

Fat This is an ingredient most of us are very familiar with. Yet, how much fat are you eating when consuming pre-packaged and processed foods?

Are these animal fats, vegetable fats or hydrogenated fats?

What about restaurant or takeaway foods; how much fat is in such food; is it partially-hydrogenated fat that we unwittingly enjoy?

Sugar can be called everything from glucose, fructose, caramelised sugar, organic raw cane sugar, grape-juice extract, strawberry juice extract and so on.

Where in your kitchen do you keep your glucose-fructose syrup? Some labels report such doses of sugar (when you actually read them) that they can shock even me, a hardened, somewhat cynical, label-reader!

E numbers Call a spade a spade! When eating processed foods, we get dealt a huge load of preservatives, colourings, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, sweeteners and antioxidants.

While those that are used are always safe for consumption and have, as such, been passed for use and given an 'E' number ('E' refers to the EU which has deemed them safe for use), we do not benefit from them in nutritional terms, whatsoever.

They are added to food to increase shelf-life, food safety, and taste. They are not added to food for our nutritional benefit.

In fact, these can lead to over-consumption of calories because they taste so darned good!

Flavour-enhancers make foods out of a package taste a lot better than the home-made version.

Salt is added in the kind of amounts you see used by TV chefs, who seem to take no notice of healthy eating recommendations (the Barefoot Contessa comes instantly to mind).

We need to call a spade a spade when it comes to consuming pre-prepared pizza, pasta dishes, curry-in-a-hurry, sausage rolls, soups and the like.

We need to use these as rare treats that are luxuriously high in salt and flavour enhancers and an absolute exception to our normal daily meals.

Eating out When it comes to eating out, be it in a posh restaurant or a cheap takeaway, you will be given more fat, as well as salt, than you could, in your wildest imaginings, see yourself using at home.

You need to ask yourself, every time, can I name it? This applies to 'starters' more so than to any other part of the meal.

If you are looking down the barrel of a Thai fish-cake, then you have to understand that it will have been fried (possibly deep-fried) a number of times before it arrives on your plate.

What are its ingredients? Can you name them all? Most likely not!

Therefore, it is the starter you would be better off not choosing, if fat-loss is one of your goals, as it will be phenomenally high in fat.

Equally, let's consider a spring roll. What exactly is in it and how much of it is made up of fat?

Chances are it was deep-fried a handful of times; that's the reason it is crispier than any home-made equivalent.

Better to choose the chicken on a skewer (that, I can name), the prawns or the duck pancake (duck, bread, cucumber and a little sauce).

If you can name it, you can consider it to be an acceptable part of a balanced meal.

diets Never do you see less wholesome, simple ingredients in a foodstuff than when it comes to 'diet' or 'low-fat' foods.

When foods are unnaturally low in either fat or sugar, they tend to be unnaturally high in additives, which take the place of what has been taken out.

Can you name all the ingredients in your low-fat spread? I'm guessing not.

Name the two ingredients in butter, by comparison? Cream and salt!

A low-fat chocolate mousse tends to have a very long ingredient list; a poor sign of a product in most cases.

It will contain an array of impossible-to-pronounce ingredients in place of what you wanted in the first place, fat and sugar. As such, it will be nutritionally devoid of anything of value.

It will lead you to want another, and it will promise you fewer calories, but neglects to spell out its fewer nutrients.

Any promise of a svelte and healthy silhouette is nothing more than marketing magic.

Snackscrisps: When you allow your child to go to the shop to buy a treat, you will notice they come back, more often than not, with some sort of concoction, distantly related to a crisp or to what once was chocolate.

It would be one thing, in nutritional terms, to consume a potato crisp; made of potato slices, fat, salt and flavour-enhancers, as a weekly treat.

It is quite another to allow the consumption of reconstituted corn or potato flour products that are manipulated with such amounts of non-nutrient-based additives that they constitute 'empty calories', in other words, junk food, in the extreme.

chocolate: This is good for health, when relatively high in cocoa solids (over 50pc cocoa solids will suffice).

It is not extremely high in sugar, but has good quality saturated fat aplenty. Quite the opposite to this is what your kids will reach for, given the opportunity: some chewy, hydro-genated-fat containing bar that has little or no chocolate on it.

Can you name the ingredients in it? Can your children? Of course they cannot. Therefore, it does not constitute good food; neither a good treat, nor an appropriate snack for a growing child.

Chocolate, popcorn and old-fashioned crisps give some nutrient value for their high-calorie content.

When consumed occasionally (even weekly) they pose no threat to your child's health. You can name all of the ingredients and can consider each an appropriate snack for your kids or, indeed, yourself.


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