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Surviving the fast food times

Rohini Diniz

Idlis: Are a popular South Indian breakfast and snack item and are prepared from a batter of rice and black gram dal (urad) that is fermented and steamed. The fermentation process increases the nutritive value and digestibility of idlis.It is better to avoid coconut chutney served along with the idlis as it is a raw food item and may be prepared and stored under unhygienic conditions. Have idlis with a double serving of sambar or with a pulse curry like alsande, green peas, chawli, etc.

Dosas and uttappas: These are other fermented South Indian breakfast and snack items prepared from rice and urad dal that are available in many variations. Unlike idlis which are steamed, these are shallow fried on a hot griddle. Compared to other fried snack items, these are much healthier as the amount of oil used for frying is less. In order to keep calorie count in control, avoid the masala and cheese variations and have either a plain dosa or one with dry chutney powder and a double serving of sambar. Alternatively try variations with paneer filling or a sprouted pulse.

Pastries and cakes:  A variety of these are available at the various pastry outlets and bakeries. These are made from maida, sugar, shortenings (butter, margarine or vanaspati), cream, chocolate, cocoa, artificial flavourings, colours, fruits and dry fruits. Cakes and pastries are best consumed as once in a while treats because they are high in calories from fat and sugar and low on other nutrients. Depending on the type of fat used in the preparation, cakes and pastries contain saturated fats or trans fats both of which are bad for the heart when consumed in excess.

Patties: Are a popular baked snack item available in wide varieties and consist of a coating of flaky pastry prepared from maida and shortenings with a stuffing. Although the stuffing is nutritious, they are high in fat and calories and hence should be eaten in restricted amounts.

Pizzas: Pizza is a popular fast food that is made up of a bread base with a variety of toppings and garnished with grated cheese. The nutritive and caloric value of a pizza depends on the size of the pizza, thickness of the base and type of toppings, and the amount of cheese that is added. As a rule order a regular sized pizzas instead of a large one, choose thin crust pizzas instead of large deep pan pizza and those with extra cheese. Restrict yourself to two slices. Ask for the sauces and other accompaniments to be served on the side.

Sharwama: Is an Arabic dish and a type of sandwich prepared from sliced lamb or chicken, vegetables, and often tahini (herbed sesame seeds paste) or mayonnaise wrapped in pita bread. Sharwamas are a relatively healthy snack as chicken or lamb is grilled while the pita bread is roasted. As compared to mayonnaise which is rich in saturated fat, tahini contains monounsaturated fatty acids, but both are rich in calories. To reduce the calorie count, ask for less mayonnaise and limit yourself to one sharwama. Also skip the French fries and ask for green salad instead.

Deep fried snacks: Deep fried snacks such as samosas, batatawadas, mirchi, pakodas, kachoris, sweets buns, French fries, chicken strips, chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, vegetable fingers, etc, are all time favourites.

Deep frying is an unhealthy cooking method as it increases the fat content of the food which in turn can lead to weight gain, high blood cholesterol levels and obesity when consumed in excessive amounts.

Most of the oil used for deep frying is repeatedly reheated and reused causing the oil to break down forming toxic compounds that are irritating to the digestive system and possibly cancer causing. There is also the production of trans-fatty acids in the oils which are detrimental to the heart. When carbohydrate rich foods, such as potato slices, are fried at very high temperatures, production of acrylamide may arise leading to cancer. Hence deep fried foods should be eaten in restricted amounts.

The consumption of fast foods is incomplete without beverages. Popular beverages include tea, coffee, soft drinks, milkshakes, cold coffee and falooda. Most of these are sweetened with sugar and hence provide a lot of calories which contribute significantly to the total caloric intake of the meal. Along with calories, milkshakes, cold coffee and lassi provide protein, vitamins and minerals and are a better option to soft drinks especially if consumed with less sugar and without the scoop of ice cream. Falooda is a high calorie nutritious beverage food that is a snack item by itself and should be consumed on its own and not along with other fast foods.

(The writer is a consultant nutritionist with 18 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on

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