Food

Food safety: Dangerously high levels of salt and fat in Indian junk food

CSE tested 33 foods which included 14 packaged foods such as chips, namkeen, noodles, and soup; and 19 fast foods such as burgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, sandwiches and wraps

 
Last Updated: Wednesday 18 December 2019

A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found dangerously high levels of salt and fat in Indian junk food.

CSE tested 33 foods which included: 14 packaged foods such as chips, namkeen, noodles, and soup; and 19 fast foods such as burgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, sandwiches and wraps.

What's dangerous is that labelling regulations that warn consumers about high salt, fat and trans fat are delayed in India by almost six years. A Food Safety and Standard (FSSAI) committee in 2014 had recommended Front-of-Pack (FoP) labelling for all junk food. FoP labels present nutritional information on the front in a way that is much easier for consumers to understand. FSSAI did come out with a draft regulation on FoP in 2018 that would have warned us of high levels of salt, total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat.

It proposed that if these nutrients exceed a defined threshold in a 100 grams of food, it would be coloured red. Thresholds for all the four nutrients were defined for different food categories. But in 2019, FSSAI came out with another draft which watered down the 2018 regulations. It replaced total fat with saturated fat, total sugar with added sugar, and salt with sodium. This was due to industry pressure opposing FoP and red coloured labels.

But this new labelling system will be of little value to consumers. Most consumers know that excess salt in their diet causes hypertension. But may not be able to link excess sodium to hypertension. Added sugar and saturated fat are only a subset of bigger problems ie. total sugar and total fat. Industry opposition continues and the draft has not been notified yet. To make reading labels easier, these should be symbol-based rather than text or number centric.  

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