Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why the secrecy about salt? Sodium could kill you

By Syed Akbar

Hyderabad: "Zero cholesterol. No added sugar. No trans fat", proclaim manufacturers of food products. But when it comes to the salt content, they deliberately keep it under wraps. They simply make a mention of salt in the list of ingredients, but do not disclose the percentage or quantity of salt used in the preparation. Percentage of many of the ingredients including carbohydrates and fats is, however disclosed.
The consumer does not know how much salt he or she consumes when eating biscuits, pastries, fried snacks and potato chips. Salt is a daily use product and important item in the kitchen. But what prevents
manufacturers from declaring the salt content in their food products? The answer is quite simple. They know salt is a silent killer. Excess salt will lead to a number of health complications including heart attacks
related to hypertension. And the most common health problem related to salt is hypertension or high blood pressure.
Declaration of salt content will only open the Pandora's box, particularly in India where people consume in foods prepared at home two to six times the recommended quantity. Processed foods, snacks and junk foods will only increase the quantity of salt intake, health experts warn. In many States in India salt in excess of 30 grams is used per day while 40 per cent of Indian families consume at least 10 grams
of salt, as against the WHO's maximum recommended quantity of just five grams. Manufacturers add excess quantity of salt to keep their products crispy and tasty and to preserve them for longer periods.
Potato chips get their crispiness thanks to salt, which is largely a flavour enhancer. Salt is also a curing agent.
"Many people do not know that salt is as beneficial as harmful. In minute quantities, salt is good for proper functioning of various organs in the body. It becomes a lethal potion if consumed in excess quantity. Moreover, people look for cholesterol, trans fats, and carbohydrates, glucose or sugars. They are least bothered about the salt content. Publicity campaigns of various food products talk about cholesterol and sugar content, but strangely enough do not discuss about salt. May be, they want to keep consumers ignorant about the salt and the harm its excess intake will cause," says consumer rights activist PV Rama
Worse, some manufacturers do not want to tell consumers at all that salt is one of the ingredients in their products. They hide salt behind technical nomenclature like sodium chloride or just sodium. "Some companies also use the term natrium, Latin for sodium. Sodium chloride is the scientific name of common salt used in kitchen. It is the sodium content in sodium chloride that will increase or decrease the
blood pressure in the body. It also regulates the blood flow to the heart. Faster heart beat is often blamed on the high sodium content in the food," observes nutritionist MA Taher.
Sodium makes up 40 per cent of common salt, the rest 60 per cent being chloride. This means if a person takes 10 grams of sodium chloride, he consumes four grams or 4000 mg of sodium. Nutritionists say the body needs a minimum of half a gram or 500 mg of sodium per day. The maximum level for a healthy life is two grams or 2000 mg. Epidemiological studies document certain populations, which are habitually on very low sodium intakes lived a healthy life, points out a document of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Primitive people reportedly did not use much salt and thus were free from hypertension.
The note on the new recommended dietary allowance or RDA for Indians points out that almost one-third of salt is present in food before processing, one-third is added during cooking and another one-third is
added at the table. The salt content of natural diets, predominantly plant-based foods in India, does not exceed 300 to 400 mg of sodium or one gram of salt. The diet provides 90 per cent sodium from salt and
only 10 is from natural foods. This means while there's no problem from natural foods, one should keep a watch on manufactured or processed foods like snacks, potato chips, pop corn, grilled or tandoori
chicken, bakery products, pizza and samosas.
"The body does not require much sodium. Just 1.1 to 3.3 grams of sodium or 2.8 to 8.3 grams of salt per day is safe and adequate for healthy adults," observes nutrition scientist Dr Narsing Rao.
According ICMR, in India, 10 per cent of the attributable deaths are due to hypertension and this appears to be an escalating disorder. Chronic disease risk factors are a leading cause of death and disability
in all countries and the important risk factor is raised blood pressure. Around 71 lakhs deaths occur every year as a result of hypertension.
Unfortunately, there's no regulation in India that the salt content should be disclosed. In the absence of official guidelines, manufacturers tend to make the salt content as secret as possible. But as people are 
obsessed with fat and cholesterol and to some extent the carbohydrate content, manufacturers take pride in declaring that the food product is free of bad fats.
Box item
A healthy human needs a little over a gram (1000 mg) of sodium daily. This he gets through an intake of just 2.5 grams of common salt. The ICMR recommends that sodium up to 2300 mg per day may be taken,
while the American Heart Association suggests that Americans take less than 1500 mg of salt per day. This quantity should be from all food sources including drinking water.
But most the food products available in the market contain high salt content and yet they do not disclose it. However, laboratory tests conducted by independent organisations reveal the average sodium content. The actual sodium content may vary.
Aloo mutter (per serving)                                          -   420 mg
Pav bhaji (per plate)                                                  -   670 mg
Salt biscuits  (100 grams)                                          -   950 mg
Salted nuts, moongal (100 grams)                              -  1400 mg
Potato chips (100 grams non-branded)                       -    500 mg
Potato chips (100 grams branded)                              -     200 mg
Pasta sauce (per serving)                                            - 1320 mg
Achaar (pickles 100 grams)                                        -    400 mg
Chicken noodles (one cup)                                          -     850 mg
French fries (large serving)                                         -  1120 mg
Chicken sandwitch                                                       -  970 mg
Fried chicken  (per serving)                                         - 1120 mg
Pan pizza                                                                       - 1180 mg
Stuffed crust pizza                                                        -  2850 mg
Popcorn (large serving)                                                - 450 mg
Fried savouries/snacks (100 grams)                            -  400 mg

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