It’s not uncommon for us to grab a cup of noodles, add hot water to it and end up slurping away in hunger. Packaged food has been a lifesaver (not literally) during late-night hunger pangs or when you’re too lazy to cook a meal. During the current lockdown(s), packaged food has come in handy. But what’s keeping your favorite mango smoothie still consumable months after its manufacture? Preservatives, of course. After all, they are the heart of the packaged food industry.
In India, since the lockdown of 2020, sales of packaged food have snowballed. With breakfast cereals showing a rise of 36 percent and salted snacks showing a 20 percent hike in their sales. But this can be damaging to the immune system. “As we’re stressing on developing immunity to fight the Coronavirus, consuming packaged food can destroy your immune cell proteins.
Every packaged food has preservatives. However, companies don’t disclose how much of it has been added to the product. Sometimes it can increase the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)”, explains Dr. Harish Shetty, Senior Physician, and Nutritionist, Blue Hearts Hospital, Lucknow.
Most of the packaged food that we consume contains a specifically harmful preservative known as tert-butylhydroquinone or TBHQ. This chemical is added to the packaged food for the sole purpose of increasing its shelf life. TBHQ destroys the immune cell’s proteins thereby decreasing the body’s ability to defend itself from pathogens like coronavirus. “Please strictly avoid packaged food as the preservatives also abrade the stomach lining. This causes ulcers, poor digestion which in turn decreases immunity, which is most important in today’s time”, advises Dr. Shetty.
Another preservative is known as PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ can migrate from the packaging or the wrapper, to your food. Once they reach your body, they suppress the immune system and decrease vaccine efficacy. “PFAS then masks the action of immune cells. Hence, in terms of COVID vaccine, your body’s ability to produce antibodies after vaccination is decreased”, says Akshay Pandey, HOD of Biochemistry, University of Allahabad. “Also these preservatives are extremely harmful to kids and pregnant women”, adds Pandey.
Instead of chomping on a packet of pre-cooked noodles or going for ready-to-eat packets of paneer, you should opt to either cook it yourself or order home-cooked food from a tiffin service. “And in times of desperate need, please always opt for fruits, juices, or milk”, says Dr. Shetty. With states going into lockdown again, it is advisable to consume home-cooked food and totally avoid packaged food, as most of these are not only harmful but are also artificial, like packed juices, soy sauces, and even multigrain biscuits.
The number of preservatives added is neither mentioned by the manufacturers nor asked by the authorities. Hence, it becomes a free choice. But these chemicals which can increase the shelf life of the products can decrease the shelf lives of the human body.