The Telegraph
Friday , March 21 , 2014
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Glare on salt silence in packaged food labels

New Delhi, March 20: Nearly three-fourths of packaged and processed food products sold in India do not display salt content on their labels, suggests a survey aimed at capturing reliable data on salt consumption in India.

Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health India, a non-government public health organisation, say that about 73 per cent of the 7,124 food products they sampled failed to show their levels of either salt or sodium on their labels.

While displaying salt or sodium content on labels is not mandatory under India’s food packaging rules, public health researchers say that knowledge of sodium content in packaged or processed products would help consumers regulate their salt consumption.

Excess sodium levels have been linked to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The World Health Organisation is encouraging nations to achieve a 30 per cent cut in salt consumption by 2025.

India’s health ministry too had last year signalled its intention to explore policies to reduce national salt consumption.

“Without labels showing salt levels, even those who want to reduce their salt intake won’t know how much they’re consuming,” said Pallab Maullik, a public health specialist and head of research and development at The George Institute.

The researchers involved in the survey selected a variety of food products — from bread, bakery products, sauces and snack foods to juices, cereal products and processed vegetarian and non-vegetarian products — sampled from supermarkets in Hyderabad. They picked samples of products sold across the country.

The WHO recommends about five grams of salt — the equivalent of one teaspoonful — or about 2,000mg sodium per day. The survey of salt labels on the food products is part of an ongoing larger study to find out how much salt an average Indian adult consumes daily.

“We currently don’t have reliable measures of salt consumption,” said Dorairaj Prabhakaran, a cardiologist and executive director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Control, New Delhi, which is collaborating with The George Institute on the study.

The existing figures — ranging from 12gm per day to 18gm per day — are based on indirect estimates calculated through studies that questioned people about their eating habits. In the new study, Prabhakaran and his colleagues plan to measure sodium excreted by 3,000 adults from three states in India — Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana.

Nutrition scientists suspect that India’s condiments such as pickles and chutneys may be contributing to excess salt consumption. “Labels would help people regulate their intake,” Maullik said. A person who has consumed 2.5gm salt in a single meal at the start of the day, for instance, could try and reduce salt during subsequent meals.

India’s Food Safety and Standards Regulations, set in 2011, require that the labels of packaged and processed food display their energy, protein, sugar, fat and carbohydrate contents.