We all know that we have to eat in order to live and survive. We also know that sometimes we eat too much of one thing and thus we do not have a balanced diet which will make us unhealthy. Sometimes we have our favorite dish that we do not even know how it is made or what is it made up of. So what is food? What is food made up of? Why do we eat?
All foods can be classified in basically three main categories: proteins, lipids (fats and oils) and carbohydrates. 60% of the human body is water. A number of other essential factors are also important such as minerals, vitamins and fiber.
Proteins are obtained from meat, fish, beans, eggs, cheese and other similar foods. Fats are obtained either from animal or fish sources, while carbohydrate
Proteins are large molecules made from smaller units of amino acids. There are only about 20 different naturally-occurring amino acids and are the building blocks for proteins. However, each protein molecule has hundreds, or even thousands, of them joined together in a unique sequence and folded into the correct shape. This gives each protein its own individual properties.
The basic units of carbohydrates are simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, they are mostly digested as glucose and used in our system in order to obtain energy. These are also called monosaccharides. Glucose and fructose have the same molecular formula, C6H12O6. However, their structure is different. Sucrose is a disaccharide. It consists of two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose, joined together. Starch (found in plants) and glycogen (found in animals) are polysaccharides. They consist of many glucose molecules joined together.
Lipids are fats and oils. Lipids are large molecules made from smaller units of fatty acids and glycerol.
What is the processes of having food transferred from a farm to fork in a safe way? What is food safety, food handling, food processing and packaging? What does the food label tell us?
Years ago food came directly from farms, fishing from sea, by hunting or growing crops. Through the years and progress this a specialized profession. To give an examples years ago everybody had their own animals and vegetables and fruit so there was no need to buy there. Nowadays, most people need to buy these foods. Sometimes these are also sold in supermarkets and sometimes even imported or exported to other countries.
So as one can see from basic raw food, now things start to get a bit more complex. So let’s start with farming, agriculture and fisheries. What we put in our soil, water, air, feeds for animals and fish, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, pollutants etc will most probably end up on our tables and we will eat these too. So food safety is the term used so that a process is evaluated so that the final food product is safe for us. This include food processing ie cutting the foods and stored either fresh, fridge or frozen and a specific expiratory date has to be given to estimate till when the food is good for consumption and also to define different terminologies example fresh fruit. These are defined as food processing and packaging. During the packaging stage food labelling is also important and obligatory. In food labelling the nutritional content of the food has to be clearly labelled, date of production and expiratory date. Batch number and bar code is also important so that if something goes wrong and there need to be a re-call, there is traceability. If the food is biologically modified, so it contains genetically modified organisms (GMO) this has to be labelled as well. Also if allergens are present examples the presence of nuts this has to be clearly labelled too. The labelling has also to start the storage ideal storage conditions and temperature amongst others. The weight or volume of the food also need to be started on the label.
Food handling is another important process which defines what procedure are used in order to handle different food both in the packing stages as well and cooking and serving food to consumers. In Malta legal notice 178 of 2001 clearly states that all food handlers must be registered with the Superintendent of Public Health after successfully completing a course in Food Handling.
So is the food we buy safe and is good for us? How shall we read and interpret the nutritional information and health claims?
Through the packaging and processing processes a number of chemical are usually added to preserve the food better and even to extend the expiratory dates as well as for better tastes. These usually include Sugar, Salt and Saturated fats. All the big S products are very unhealthy and can lead to health risks if consumed in high amount. So when buying or consuming food products we need to read the nutritional information carefully to know what we are actually consuming.
We also have to be careful about health claims, false claims and advertising, consumer cheating, and terminologies used. To give some examples you can have a chocolate that states that it is made from 90% milk which might be true but it does not state that it is high is sugar too. So of these claims are: low in sugar, low in fats, high fiber, made from real fruits, improves the immune system, made with whole grains amongst others. So it is very important to read the nutritional label of the foods and use our intelligence and judgement of what we should buy or not.
Sometimes consumers are even cheated with the weight of the foods especially meats. Meats sometimes are injection with a solution of fats and salts so that the weight of the product is increased. Thus although the prices per weight may be cheaper, the quality is much inferior and in the end you will end up with less food. Locally I can use the example of Maltese bread which is sold by size not by weight. Thus a large Maltese bread can have million and one different sizes from different producers. This could be fairer if it is sold by weight rather than arbitrarily.
Another example of why it is important to read the label is in case of juices. Everybody know that fresh orange juice is good for us. Sometimes parents do not have enough time to do this every morning so they go to the nearest supermarket to buy their fruit juices. I am sure there will be a large selection all the different prices but most of the time they do not make a difference between fruit juice and fruit nectars. European Commission some years ago issued a clear directive in 2001, 2001/112/EC and amended in 2009, 2009/106/EC– The fruit juice directive to define the difference between the products. A fruit juice is made up from 100% fruit without anything added to it. A fruit nectar may be diluted (to a degree limited by regulations) with water and contain additives besides fruit juice, including natural and artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.
Dr Renald Blundell