Don't buy packaged food without checking its salt content: Here's why

Reducing salt intake is among the most cost-effective strategies to handle non-communicable diseases. Photo: Shutterstock/XAOC

Chennai: Did you know around 80% of our salt consumption is from hidden food sources and not direct items? If our current salt consumption is reduced by 30%, there will be a reduction of at least 25% prevalence in hypertension, as per a recent initiative by IIT Madras, organised to boost the collective fight against high salt consumption. The programme was a collaborative effort between Sapiens Health Foundation, IIT-Madras (Department of Medical Sciences and Technology), the government of Tamil Nadu (Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine) and a New York-based NGO, Resolve to Save Lives.

Increased food delivery
According to Dr T S Selva Vinayagam, Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, "We all know that non-communicable diseases (NCD) account for nearly 65% of the fatalities/mortalities. To address this epidemic, we need to address the risk factors which are modifiable such as salt, sugar and related items." Unless these factors are addressed, it would not be sustainable for any country to manage the complications due to NCD. Reducing salt intake is among the most cost-effective strategies. Dr Selva Vinayagam said that almost 70-80% of the salt we consume is from hidden sources and not direct consumption.

This is due to the increased ease of ordering food at home and eating out. There should be a certain level of action that we as individuals can do and also certain actions which we need to do at a population level or community level that governments can take. People should be more discerning in what they eat. Whatever public interventions were taken up for tackling tobacco should be taken up for salt also as this is a bigger challenge." The returns to such interventions are manifold such as preventing mortality, and complications and prolonging healthy years. The official said consumption of processed food is increasing due to lifestyle modifications and an instant attraction to fast food is leading to 'over-consumption' that results in complications like mortalities. 

Children getting addicted
The industry is searching for new customers among children, according to experts. "We need to break this down at different levels to bring down the NCD problem. We have more ultra high-density products that are available resulting in children getting addicted due to easy availability and convenience. This, we need to address through people like you (doctors)," Dr Selva Vinayagam said. Dr Rajan Ravichandran, Professor of Practice at IIT Madras, and Chairman of the Sapiens Health Foundation underlined the importance of labelling and statutory guidelines on "salt/sodium contents in packaged foods, a key area of focus for all the stakeholders involved."

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