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GS 1 –Social Issues


A lab study by the Centre for Science and Environment has found extremely high levels of salt, fat and trans fat in junk foods responsible for obesity and non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart ailments.


The shocking study

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy non-profit, had shaken up the country in 2012 when it found high amounts of salt, fat, trans fat and carbohydrate in foods people love to eat. Seven years later, where exactly do we stand?

To understand this, between July and October 2019, CSE’s Environment Monitoring Laboratory again tested their content in 33 popular packaged and fast foods marketed by Indian and multi-national companies and available across the country. The samples were collected from grocery stores and fast food outlets in Delhi. The lab used internationally accepted testing methods listed by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC). Carbohydrate in these foods was tested by the widely used colorimetry method.

The lab results were used to understand how much of each nutrient contributes to the recommended dietary intake for the Indian population. It corelated the results with the serving size or weight of the products to understand the actual intake. The results, to say the least, were shocking. Chips and namkeens had way more salt and fat than one should consume in a snack. Instant noodles and soups had too much salt.

The study’s revelation on salt and transfats

The analysis was based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), derived after reviewing the recommendations of World Health Organization (WHO), National Institute of Nutrition-India, ICMR and the scientific expert groups of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The RDA for salt was reached at 5g, 60 g fat and 300 g carbohydrate for one person in a day. The trans fat limit was 2.2 g. The calculations were made taking into account the accepted 2,000 kilocalorie that a healthy person requires in a day.

Considering we have three meals in a day and two snacks, our mealtime consumption of these nutrients should not be more than 25 per cent of RDA, and the two main snacks of the day must not add more than 10 per cent of RDA.

All the chips tested either had high salt or high fat, or both. Lay’s India’s Magic Masala, Uncle Chipps Spicy Treat and Haldiram’s Chips Pudina Treat exceeded 10 per cent RDA of both salt and fat. One-fifth of the day’s fat RDA gets blown away if one consumes one serve of Haldiram’s Chips Pudina Treat.

Worse, there are chips packets that mention 30 g as the serving size — the amount allowed for consumption — but are not available in that size only. For instance, the Rs 20 pack of Lay’s American Style Cream and Onion that weighs 52 g, mentions 30 g as its serving size. In effect, it offers more chips than one can consume in one go.

CSE’s lab tested four varieties of namkeens. All but one had high salt and fat content, but Haldiram’s Classic Nut Cracker had criminally high salt, exhausting almost 35 per cent of RDA — much higher than one should consume in one full meal. It mentions the 35-g serving size only on its website. Checking this online before tearing the pack open is a difficult proposition. Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujia exhausts more than 21 per cent of the salt RDA. But there’s no way consumers can know how much salt they consume from these namkeens and chips.

A medium McDonald’s fries accounts for almost one-fifth of the daily fat need. The combo has an astounding 103 per cent salt, 72 per cent fat, 13 per cent trans fat and 33 per cent carbohydrate.  Unsuspecting vegetarians are not any luckier. A vegetarian Cheese Whopper from Burger King will leave you with just over a fourth of the daily salt quota and less than half of that for fat. As its regular fries accounts for almost one-fifth of the daily fat need, adding it to a combo meal, stuffs you with just too much nutrients.

Problems associated with junk food

  • High fat content: Junk foods such as hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken and chips usually loads of saturated fats, too much saturated fat in diet will cause people to put on weight and obese being overweight is a risk to the health of heart and causes other disease.
  • High salt content: Junk often have too much salt there is a lot of salt already in food such as bread, breakfast cereals and biscuits. So people are getting more salt than they need when they eat junk food too much salt is unhealthy for health.
  • High sugar content: Soft drinks, cordials, biscuits, cakes and lollies also have loads of sugar that’s what makes them taste too good but too much sugar makes people fat, rots the teeth, is bad for the blood and may cause other disease.
  • Lack of energy: This is known as short term adverse effect resulting from eating junk food as junk food don’t provide the essential nutrients [like vitamins, protein and fibers] even though they can very much sufficing, people feel weakened.
  • Poor concentration: This is another result of junk food habit. These are traced to effect in immediate and medium term periods when peoples have a sumptuous junk meal rich in oil they feel drowsy and fail to concentrate. Over sustained periods of junk food eating blood circulation drop due to fat accumulation, lack of vital oxygen, nutrients and protein particularly can stale their brain cells temporarily.
  • High cholesterol: Apart from forming plaques and constricting arteries cholesterol also affects liver where it is metabolized. High cholesterol due to junk food and diet strains liver damaging it finally. This is long term effect.
  • Heart diseases: Junk food diet is a major cause of heart diseases (Myocardial infarction) due to plaque formation in arteries which demands heart to put in extra effort to pump blood on the downstream, on the upstream there is lack of returning blood to heart, this causes two damages to heart – heart fatigues due to continuous extra effort and it suffer in oxygen supply.
  • Highly addictive: It is well known fact that fat and sugar are as addictive as heroin and cocaine, they stimulate the same receptors in the brain that make feel good due to increased dopamine level. Junk foods have a lot of hidden sugar and fat to make it addictive and also enhance the taste.
  • High chemical additives: Junk food have lots of chemical additives which are not useful to body, things are like artificial coloring and preservatives. MSG and tartrazine is in almost all type of junk food and all sorts of medical studies have revealed that MSG causes obesity and of other nasty things. All the techniques used to process the junk food – canning, dehydrating and freezing, virtually destroy the flavor of food so chemicals under the guise of ‘natural flavor’ have been added to enamel the flavor, while color additives are added to make food fresh. It might make the food look and taste better but it is harmful to our bodies.

Consumption of the junk food invites various health problems. The habit of the consumption of junk food is continuously increasing in young generation especially in children. The main problems with junk food are increasing childhood obesity, which further leads many health complications in children. The attracting advertisements are largely responsible for the mind make up of children to consume junk food. Multinational companies are attracting the new customers by attractive and aggressive marketing strategies.