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Overeating home-cooked junk food amid lockdown caused lifestyle diseases

While the fast-food eateries were closed during the lockdown, people turned into master chefs and cooked all the high-colorific foods, beverages, and junk ranging from Dalgona coffee to Pani Puri at home.

The impact of Covid-19 has been far-reaching, and in ways, no one could have imagined. It impacted the health directly and in corresponding manners. One such impact it had was on the food and nutrition.

Coronavirus-led lockdown widened the health and financial inequalities and worsened food poverty among marginalized sections. However, most of the privileged population used this period for feasting and indulging in unhealthy eating habits leading to a low intake of nutrition and weight gain.

A significant number of people ate less nutritious food, binged on junk during the lockdown, and put on weight.

The nutrition experts said that they have started receiving complaints from people developing lifestyle diseases. The most common and alarming among these was weight gain.

"The sudden restrictions on physical activity, lack of exercise, increased intake of calorie-dense food, and sweets have pushed many people under the looming threat of obesity and related comorbidities.

"The majority of our patients are from the newly adopted 'Work from Home' culture," said Ushakiran Sisodia, Head of Dietary Department and Clinical Nutritionist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai.

Majority indulged into unhealthy eating practices, said Sandhya Pandey, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon, and estimated that around 60 per cent of the people would have gained weight due to unhealthy eating.

Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Nutritionist at Apollo Hospitals, said that the exposure and consumption to AGE (Advanced Glycation End) foods with high fat and sugar content, highly processed and prepackaged products, have been the highest during this pandemic.

"A majority had a lot of home-cooked unhealthy stuff right from ready-to-eat pasta or noodles to baking cakes and making sweet dishes such as jalebis, gulab jamuns, and Mughalai delicacies," she said.

Rohatgi added that the immediate impact was weight, higher oxidation in the body. "However, we are yet to see their long term repercussions," she said.

Doctors observed that over-eating was the primary factor behind weight gain among people during the lockdown. However, it was triggered by multiple factors like social media challenges and stress.

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"While the fast-food eateries were closed during the lockdown, people turned into master chefs and cooked all the high-colorific foods, beverages, and junk ranging from Dalgona coffee to Pani Puri at home. They were either influenced by social media challenges or indulged into emotional eating due to stress," she said.

Sisodia also said an abundance of instructive cooking videos on social media and the luxury of time had motivated those addicted to junk foods to cook oily, high-calorie food items at home. "Besides, the lack of physical activities as people were forced to stay at home during the lockdown period added to the weight-gain problem," Sisodia added.

Did home-cooked junk improve nutritional content in body?

While junk would have increased the weight among people, a common understanding suggests that home-cooked junk carried nutrition, which is relatively absent from outside junk edibles. However, doctors had varied opinions about this understanding. Sisodia said that the junk food cooked at home would have higher nutritional value than that consumed outside.

Himanshi Sharma, a senior dietician at Indian Spinal Injuries Center (ISIC), said that people could have maintained nutrition in their home-cooked junk depending upon several factors. "The ingredients, their quality, and cooking method play a crucial part in defining nutrition value in any recipe. If people had kept these things in mind, their food's nutritional value must have remained intact," she explained.

However, Pandey contradicted the observation of other dieticians. "In the initial shock of the lockdown, people stopped ordering food from outside due to fear of contamination. They turned to cook the same at home. While it definitely improved the hygiene quotient but whether it carried nutrition is still debatable," she added.

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