Hidden salt killing hundreds of thousands every year

Research from the George Institute, Public Health Foundation and Centre for Chronic Disease Control, India highlights the challenge faced by Indian consumers wanting to eat less salt. A survey of 7428 packaged foods showed that less than a third of products had the salt content on the nutrition label.  Almost a quarter of products carried no nutritional details at all.

‘Excess salt in the diets is responsible for about 600,000 deaths each year (Global Burden of Disease 2013) and is the 5th leading cause of death in India,’ said Dr Vivek Jha, Executive Director of the George Institute India.  This figure is approximately double that reported for 1990. 

Indians still add a lot of salt during cooking and salty pickles remain popular but as dietary patterns change, packaged foods are becoming a problem.  ‘In the West, hidden salt in packaged foods accounts for three quarters of salt in the diet and there has been a real push for better labelling’ said Dr Jha. ‘We think it’s important that Indian consumers can easily see what’s in their food’ he added. 

Dr Prabhakaran from the Public Health Foundation of India and Centre for Chronic Disease Control, New Delhi noted that ‘It currently isn’t mandatory to display salt levels on food packaging but it’s certainly something we need to consider.’ 

There has been a marked shift in the dietary habits of Indians from traditional home cooking towards more convenience foods particularly in urban areas.  More and more processed foods are coming onto the market.  Dr Sailesh Mohan, also of the Public Health Foundation of India, said that ‘World Salt Awareness Week provides us with a great opportunity to highlight the issue.  We need everyone to try and reduce the amount of salt they add but we also need the food industry to play its part.’

The main problem caused by salt is high blood pressure which greatly increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.  These are all now leading causes of death and disability in India.

To help Indians make healthier packaged food choices and stay healthy, The George Institute India has launched ‘FoodSwitch’ – an innovative nutrition mobile app.  Users can download the app for free from the iTunes store or Google Play and use it to scan the barcode of any packaged food product. 

The ‘FoodSwitch’ app will display a traffic light label coloured green (good), amber or red (limit) depending upon the amount of salt in the product.  It will also show the same colour coding for fats and sugars.   Underneath there will be a list of similar but healthier alternatives, making it easier than ever before to make a better choice.