A new report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) suggests that Indian food brands are resorting to misbranding and misinformation to hide the real quantity of salt, sugar, and fat in their foods.
According to the CSE, this is the first comprehensive Indian study to have looked at nutritional claims made (or not made) by food makers and how they compare against our ‘allowed daily intake’.
“And the findings are pretty damning,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general, who also heads the Pollution Monitoring Lab that did the study.
“This study tells us that we need stronger regulations that will reduce the quota of fats, sugar and salt in junk foods, and ones that will force companies to provide information to the public mandatorily,” said Bhushan.
The CSE tested 16 major brands of popular food products, including Nestlé’s Maggi Noodles and Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujia.
The intake of even one serving of these food items threatened maximum recommended daily intakes (RDI) set by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The NIN maximum RDI for salt is 6g, while the WHO puts it at 5g. An 80g packet of Maggi noodles has more than 3.5g of salt.
However, Himanshu Manglik, communications manager for Nestlé India, told FoodNavigator-Asia that the company has been constantly improving its nutritional profile and has reduced salt, trans fats and other ingredients.
“In fact in the last few years salt in Maggi Noodles has been reduced by over 27% per serve and it is in line with similar light meals eaten during the day as part of a balanced diet,” Manglik said.
Targeting trans fats
Worse than salt, CSE said, are tans fats, which are seen as central to rising obesity rates.
The WHO recommends no more than 1% of total energy should come from trans fats in a balanced diet and an adult male, adult female, and a child can have 2.6g, 2.1g, and 2.3g of trans fats per day respectively.
“Tests show that many junk foods claim they have zero trans fats. Some don’t even bother to mention how much trans fats they have,” the report said.
Named and shamed
CSE found many labelling breaches. Top Ramen Super Noodles (Masala) claims zero trans fats in every 100g – but tests found 0.7g per 100g. Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujia claims no trans fats, but 2.5g per 100g turn up under analysis.
PepsiCo’s Lays (Snack Smart) was fingered for a high-profile advertising campaign claiming zero trans fats that ran until February 2012.
“When CSE checked, it found as much as 3.7g of trans fats per 100g of the product in March 2012 batch. PepsiCo never bothered to inform consumers,” the study said.
PepsiCo did not respond to calls.
Nestlé’s Manglik said the level of trans fats in Maggi noodles is below 0.2% of the product which is well within the recommendations of Indian Council of Medical Research, an Indian government body.
“Maggi Noodles do not contain any added MSG. MAGGI Noodles is a source of protein, calcium or fibre depending on whether you like Vegetable Atta noodles, or Multigrain noodles or Iron fortified Dumdaar noodles or Masala noodles,”he said.