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Packaged food items have high salt content: Study

29,June, 2016

Packaged food items including ‘papads’, sauces and spreads, sold in India have high level of salts which causes high blood pressure, increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks, the leading causes of death and disability in the country, a study said today.

The study on 5,796 packaged food products, by The George Institute for Global Health India, revealed huge difference in salt content in two similar products, with some even containing almost 10 times more salt than others, it said, adding less than a quarter of these products would meet the UK-2017 salt targets.

It was also revealed that no nutrition information was printed on the labels of food products, therefore, they failed to meet the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) national nutrition labelling requirements for processed foods (2011).

The research was conducted by George Institute for Global Health, Public Health Foundation of India and the Centre for Chronic Disease Control in India.

The study said two-third of the products do not list salt on the nutrition information panel and do not meet International Codex Alimentarius requirements.

Some products contain excessively high levels of salt like papads which have a mean sodium content of 1219mg/100g – with a range of 2-4000mg/100g.

This illustrates that papads can be made with as little as 2mg of sodium/100g, 2000 times less sodium than the papad with the highest sodium content, it said.

"The main problem caused by salt is high blood pressure which greatly increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. These are all now leading causes of death and disability in India," said Vivekanand Jha, Executive Director, The George Institute for Global Health India.

The research looked at 9 main food categories which contribute salt to the diet in India and revealed that many food groups contain excessively high levels of salt.

It found that cooking sauces, table sauces and spreads contained on average five-and-a-half gram of salt per 100g, with some containing 10 times that amount and others with almost no salt at all.

"This is particularly alarming as sauces and spread are often added to meals and with such high salt contents, it will add substantially more salt to the diet," said Jha.

Similarly, ‘papads’ contained up to as much as 5g salt/100g, whilst others contained no salt.

"These findings clearly illustrate that food manufacturers are able to produce these foods with much less salt," said Clare Farrand, Senior Project Manager for salt reduction strategies, WHO Collaborating Centre for Salt reduction at The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney.

She said that there is an urgent need for the government of India to develop a clear set of criteria or targets to reduce the amount of salt added to food by the food industry."

It said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends all member states reduce mean population level salt intake by 30 per cent by 2025.

"We think it is important that Indian consumers can easily see what is in their food; there is a clear need for better food labelling," said Prabhakaran from the Public Health Foundation of India and Centre for Chronic Disease Control, New Delhi.

He noted that it currently is not mandatory to display salt levels on food packaging but it is certainly something one needs to consider.

Talking about the implications, the research said that incomplete nutrition information makes it impossible for people to know what they are eating and hard to make a healthier choice while absent nutrition information makes it difficult to monitor amounts of salt, fat and sugar in widely consumed food products.

To help Indians make healthier packaged food choices and stay healthy, The George Institute India has launched ‘FoodSwitch’ – an nutrition mobile app.

The ‘FoodSwitch’ app will display a colour coded label coloured green (good), amber or red (limit) depending upon the amount of salt in the product while it will also show the same colour coding for fats and sugars, it said.

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