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The Sweet, Deadly Side Of An Airline Breakfast

Satyendra Garg totalled up the sugar content in an airline breakfast recently, and the result was shocking!

Satyendra Garg | Nov 16, 2020

It had been more than seven months since I travelled this year due to the ongoing pandemic. However, an official work made me take an early morning flight to Kolkata a few days ago. Nowadays, because of the prevailing dangers and the need to take precautions like wearing masks and face shields, travelling has become extremely difficult.

The airline staff serve you with a welcome drink when you enter the aircraft and get seated. It is mostly a soft drink, fruit drink or water. Having been weaned away from soft and fruit drinks because of its exorbitant added sugar content, I politely refused the drinks and settled for a glass of water. When the time for breakfast came, the crew served the breakfast nicely packed in a tray.

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Last one year has added to my nutrition knowledge and the ability to read nutrition information on the packaged food items. The served package contained a fruit drink, butter cookies, Indian sweet burfi, bun, patty and tomato ketchup, beside a bottle of water.

As I was in no mood to eat because of all the pervading added sugar in most of the food articles and had plenty of time, I examined every item for its nutritional contents. The mango drink was the first. It showed that it contained 60 calories, having 0.12 gram protein, 15 grams of carbohydrates of which 4 gram was natural fruit sugar and 11 gram was added sugar. It had 5 mg of calcium and 0.5 mg of iron. Ingredients were listed as water, Mango pulp, sugar and acidity regulator. So the fruit drink had 60 calories of which 44 calories in 11 grams was pure added sugar.

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The butter cookie showed 502 calories having 6.7 gram protein, 24 gram fats including 13.5 gram saturated fat, 8.4 gram monounsaturated fat and 1.5 gram polyunsaturated fat. There was 15 mg cholesterol in it. But the most harmful was that it had 65 grams of carbohydrates of which as much as 25 grams was added sugar. This means it had more that 100 calories from pure added sugar in the butter cookies.

Burfi, the Indian sweet, must have been full of added sugar. There was no information available as it was a loose item added to the pack. The tomato ketchup weighing 15 grams must have had a minimum 3 grams of added sugar. There was no way for me to calculate added sugar content in patty and bun. If we exclude sweet, bun and patty, the information provided on the labels of butter cookie, mango drink and ketchup had about 40 grams of added sugar. Burfi definitely must have had at least 20 to 30 grams of added sugar as the way Indian sweets are made, these have lots of added sugar. Collectively, there must be at least 60 to 75 grams of added sugar in just the breakfast that was served. I am not counting the added sugar in the welcome drink which generally is 100% added sugar.

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The World Health Organisation has said and India agrees that we must not have more than 50 grams of added sugar in the entire day, as calories from added sugar should not be more than 10% of total calories we take in a day. The WHO further added, for better health, ideally we should have only 5% of total calories in the form of added sugar which makes it only 25 grams of added sugar in a day. The American Heart Association also says that added sugar should be a maximum of 9 tablespoons, 40 grams, for men and 6 tablespoons, 25 grams, for women in a day.

Whatever little I know of added sugar is that there is absolutely no nutritional value in added sugar and there is no physiological requirement for added sugar for anyone. On the contrary, the excess added sugar causes obesity, diabetes, dental caries and diseases of heart, kidney and liver. The added sugar has association with incidence of cancer, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia as well. A prudent person will restrict added sugar to the minimum and may give it up totally also.

I gladly took out the water bottle from the package and enjoyed every drop of it during the flight and the entire breakfast which had mostly added sugar and carbohydrate, apart from some fat in the butter cookies was returned to the crew. I wanted to add some nutritional suggestions to be given to the management of the airline but decided against it as I knew it will be difficult for anyone to change so easily as to what is served in the airline catering.

Mostly on the days of travel nowadays I eat before I board a flight or take my food after reaching my destination. Having food served which has so much of added sugar is definitely very harmful for people who are consuming it.

(The author is an IPS Officer of 1987 batch)