NEW DELHI: Food items such as potato chips, burgers and noodles almost wipe out one’s daily permissible limits of bad fat, salt and sugar in just one serving, says a study that seeks stronger regulations and labeling rules for food products.
The Centre for Science & (CSE), which tested 16 popular brands including Nestle’s Maggi noodles, McDonald’s, KFC, Haldiram’s aloo bhujia and PepsiCo’s Lay’s potato chips, on Friday accused most of these companies of misleading the public through wrong claims and insufficient labeling.
PepsiCo, Nestle, McDonald’s and KFC denied the allegation and said their products were free of trans fats, the worst kind of fats. “Most junk foods contain very high levels of trans fats, salt and sugar, leading to diseases such as obesity and diabetes,” said CSE Director Sunita Narain.
“We need stronger regulations that will reduce fats, sugar and salt in junk foods, and force companies to provide information to the public mandatorily,” she said, opening a new front against multinational and Indian packaged foods companies almost a decade after the pesticides-in-cola controversy.
The CSE’s findings of pesticides in Coca-Cola and PepsiCo drinks in 2003, and again in 2006, had led to a drastic fall in sales growth of the two cola majors between 2004 and 2007.
According to the new CSE study, munching a 65-75 gm pack of Lay’s American style cream and onion chips will exceed one’s daily trans fat quota, while a two-piece KFC chicken meal will exceed both trans fats and total fat quota. Trans fats clog arteries and make them narrower. Combined with large amounts of salt, they increase blood pressure in the body.
The World Health Organisation recommends an adult male should ideally consume not more than 2.6 gram of trans fats per day. An adult female’s limit is 2.1 gram and that of a child of 10-12 years is 2.3 gram. A child who eats one McDonald’s Happy Meal finishes 90% of all his/her daily requirement of trans fats, the CSE study said, adding the company makes no mention of this dosage of trans fats.
Rajesh Maini, corporate communications GM of McDonald’s India (North & East), said the CSE study results are “most unusual” because the restaurant chain uses refined, bleached and deodorised palm oil in which trans fats are so low that they are virtually undetectable.
“We will certainly be examining them closely to see how these unexpected results have been arrived at, what testing methods were used, and comparing them with our own in-house testing,” he added. Spokesmen of PepsiCo and Yum! Restaurants India, which runs KFC and Pizza Hut chains, flatly denied the CSE report.
“We get our products regularly analysed at globally reputed and government-approved laboratories and these test reports clearly show that all our food products under the Lay’s, Uncle Chips, Kurkure and Cheetos brands continue to be trans fat-free as defined by Indian and other regulators,” a PepsiCo spokesman said.
ITC Foods CEO Chittranjan Dar said the company complies with all Indian labeling and nutritional laws for all brands. A Nestle spokesman said the level of trans fats in Maggi noodles is well within the international recommendation and the balance between protein, carbohydrate and fat is very close to the recommendations of the Indian Council of Medical Research.
A PINCH OF SALT
But trans fat is not the only problem. The CSE says a normal 80-gram packet of Maggi noodles has over 3.5 gram of salt, which is more than 60% of the ideal daily salt intake. So does a packet of Uncle Chips Spicy Treat.
WHO’s benchmark for maximum salt one person should have in a day is 5 gram, while the National Institute of Nutrition in the country puts it at 6 gram. But the CSE said more than 40% of India’s population consumes over 10 gm of salt a day.
One reason for rising hypertension is high consumption of salt. Diabetes is another big health concern. While the National Institute of Nutrition recommends 20 gram of added sugar, a 300-ml cola bottle has 42 gm of it, according to the CSE.
Other brands the CSE accused of misleading consumers include Top Ramen noodles (masala), which claims zero trans fats in every 100 gram but was found to have 0.7 gram in the study, and Haldiram’s aloo bhujia, which was found to have 2.5 gram per 100 gram.
The latest National Family Health Survey (2005-06) says at least one in every eight Indians is overweight or obese. WHO estimates that 2.8 million people in the world die every year due to obesity. Health and obesity concerns have triggered a global movement, forcing packaged foods companies to restrain from selling foods high in sugar, salt and trans fats.
In March last year, Denmark became the first country to levy a tax on fatty foods. The ‘fat tax’ is 16 kroner ($2.87) per kg of saturated fat.
(Findings of the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of Centre for Science & Environment) All Figs in grams