March 12 – 18, 2018 is observed as the World Salt Awareness Week. The main purpose of the awareness week is to sensitize public about the high consumption of salt in our daily diets. This year the focus is on 5 ways to 5 grams – simple ways to control your salt intake.
A major source of salt in our diet is the intake of processed foods. Compared to the salt added to our home cooked meals, the processed foods contain higher amounts of salt. A wide variety of foods fall in to this category including canned foods, cheese, salted butter, salted nuts, bakery items, pickles, ketchups, sauces, savoury items (namkeen, farsaan), instant foods (soups, noodles), ready-to-cook foods, ready-to-eat foods and so on.
Most of us are aware about the foods with high salt content but seldom are mindful while consuming these foods. One way of sensitizing oneself is to read the food labels on the packaged foods before deciding to purchase them. Thanks to food labeling regulations, most of the packaged foods do carry nutritional information of the food. Usually, nutritional information is expressed in terms of nutrients per 100 g or nutrients per serve of the food or both. As you glance through this section, do make a note of the sodium content. Labels do not give the content of salt but express it as sodium (mg).
Below given are a few examples of nutritional labels of products –
Here, in the label above, the per serve of the food contains 862.5 mg of sodium. The American Heart Association (AHA) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommend not more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. AHA suggests an ideal intake of 1500 mg per day for most adults including those who do not have hypertension. One serving of the above food is equivalent to more than half (57.5%) of the ideal intake of sodium. This means that if you consume one serve of this product, you are consuming more than half your day’s allowance for sodium in a few minutes.
The above given nutritional label is of a cheese pack. A cube or a slice of cheese is 20 g. Accordingly, one slice of cheese would contain 287.8 mg of sodium. A typical cheese sandwich may contain 20 to 40 g of cheese or even more. This amounts to 19 – 38% of the whole day’s requirement.
Above given are just few examples for you to understand the labels. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recommends on a mandatory basis to display the sodium (milligrams), or expressed in salt equivalent as ‘salt’ (grams) on the nutritional label. However, not all abide by the FSSAI regulations. There are products without any labels and there are labels without the mention of sodium content.
According to FSSAI, a product with more than 600 mg sodium or 1.5 g salt per 100 g of the product would be a HIGH SODIUM OR SALT FOOD whereas a food with less 100 mg of sodium or 0.3 g of salt would be referred as LOW SODIUM OR SALT FOOD.
For the products with no nutrient information or sodium content displayed, one should scan the list of ingredients. Look for the terms such as ‘salt’, ‘iodised salt’, ‘edible common salt’ or ‘preservatives’. According to FSSAI, ingredients should be listed in the order of weight, so the main ingredients in the packaged foods are supposed to come first. So, you can judge based on whether ‘salt’ is one of the top ingredients. This, however, is a crude method given the fact that many do not follow FSSAI rules.
It is time that as consumers we know what we eat. So, choose what you eat wisely!