Healthier Than Thou

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 27, 2014 00:57 IST

As co consumers pay closer attention to product labels to make sure what they buy is safe and healthy, companies are doing everything they can to appear better, safer and "natural".

A few companies are riding the wave by making labeling simpler or giving out information in a lucid manner. Nestle, for example, has introduced a “Nestlé Nutritional Compass” on its product packs to introduce people to nutrition and help them understand the nutritional relevance of the product in a balanced diet.

“In it, the nutritional information is given in a standardised format and allows easy comparison of energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat in different products, and their place in a daily balanced diet and moderation,” said its spokesperson.

Some are just trying to appear healthier by giving out partial information. Though food-packages labels list the amount of salt, sugar or fat used, they often do not say how much of our required daily intake is present in one helping/packet of the product. For example, most people don’t know that one packet of chips contains half of our daily fat and salt intake; one bottle of cola has twice the daily added sugar allowance of adults and children.

Almost three out of four Indian packaged foods fail to display salt levels, found a survey of 7,124 products bought from supermarkets. The survey, done by The George Institute for Global Health, found only 26% of packaged food displayed sodium content on the label, which is non-compliance with the minimum labeling requirements of Codex, the international body governing food-labeling.

“The findings show consumers are eating progressively more processed foods generally containing higher levels of salt. This is not good for people in a country which is already projected to have an even larger non-communicable disease burden in coming future,” says Dr Vivekanand Jha, executive director of the institute.

In 2012, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) tested fast-food samples, ranging from instant noodles, chips and Indian bhujia to colas, chicken fries and burgers. They found some products, like Pepsi Lays’ chips and ITC’s Bingo chips, had trans- fat while the label claimed they were trans-fat free.

“These days we have information on packets; only thing lacking is awareness to read labels well,” says Ritika Samaddar, regional head- dietetics, Max Healthcare.The number of adverts against which complaints of making misleading, false or unsubstantiated claims were 74 in 2010, 73 in 2011, 422 in 2012, and 1,398 in 2013, shows advertising standards council of India data.

Now companies are paying “credible experts” to squash safety concerns. Vodafone paid oncologist Pulitzer-winning author Sidhartha Mukherjee to declare at a talk that WHO is wrong in classifying electromagnetic radiation from cellphones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” to stonewall any possibility of its regulation on health grounds.

“Look for FSSAI or ISO-approved marking on packaged food to ensure quality,” says Samaddar.

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