We don’t think twice before stuffing ourselves with burgers, pizzas, colas and the other junk food items that are seductively displayed at malls and their food courts. These are often accompanied by attractive signs and innocuous looking mascots like a clown or a retired portly colonel. The urban youth including adolescents and kids are particularly enamoured with this fast food habit. A recent research conducted by the Delhi based NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) suggests that we are very blind-sided by misleading information about these food items’ nutritional values. Not only are they empty calories with no benefits but it seems that the fast food chains and leading MNCs aren’t very honest about the harmful effects of these foods either.
Most junk foods, including your favourite brand of noodles, burgers and aloo bhujia, contain very high levels of trans fats, salt and sugar, which inevitably leads to severe ill health and diseases like obesity and diabetes in young people in India, according to a study by the Centre For Science and Environment.
“The younger generation, hooked to junk food, are vulnerable to heart disease in the prime of their life,” says a junk food and nutrition study conducted by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.
“We all know junk food is bad, yet we still eat it. But, do we know how bad it is? Do we ever check what we are eating, and whether that packet of chips or Maggi noodles has what it claims it has? Our new study, which looks at the nutritional value of these foods, is to make people aware of what these foods really contain and what they will do to our health,” Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, told a press conference while releasing the new study here Friday.
She said that CSE lab tested 16 major brands of junk foods relished by people, particularly the young, including Maggi and Top Ramen noodles, MacDonald’s foods, KFC’s fried chicken and Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujia, among others.
“It was shocking that companies resort to large scale misbranding and misinformation. Many say their products contain zero trans fats, but CSE finds heavy doses of it, which is not good for health,” Narain said.
According to her, CSE’s study which tested a host of samples of popular foods such as potato chips, snacks like aloo bhujia, noodles, soft drinks, burgers, French fries and fried chicken, shows that having just one serving of these foods completely overturns our daily diet chart.
CSE, which is known for some ground-breaking studies on food and contamination, said this is the first comprehensive Indian study to have looked at nutritional claims made by junk food makers. “Our findings are pretty damning,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE, who also heads the pollution monitoring lab which conducted the study.
He said the normal 80 gram packet of Maggi noodles that many of us gobble almost on a daily basis has over 3.5 gram of salt, enough to take care of over 60 percent of our permitted daily salt intake as per the National Institute of Nutrition and the World Health Organisation.
“Which means for the rest of the day, we will be restricted to have food which should contain less than 2 gram of salt. Not a happy choice at all for us in the sub-continent who love to have our salt and eat it too,” Bhushan said.
He said that salt is not the real or only problem. The real problem is trans fats or the bad fats. “CSE’s study reveals a dirty truth of misinformation, misbranding, wrong labelling and obfuscation indulged in by companies, some of whom are on the top of the charts. They show that many junk foods claim they have zero trans fats, some don’t even bother to mention how much trans fats they have,” he said.
For example, Top Ramen Noodles claims there is zero trans fats in every 100 gram. But CSE study found 0.7 gram per 100 gram. Similarly, Haldiram’s aloo bhujia says it has no trans fats, but the study found 2.5 gram per 100 gram.
“CSE study found as much as 3.7 gram of trans fats per 100 gram in PepsiCo Lays (snack smart) in a March 2012 batch which is a dangerously high dose. But PepsiCo never bothered to inform consumers,” he said.
The CSE researchers said the heavy doses of trans fats, combined with that of salt, which comes from all so-called fun foods, work together to trigger ill health which can lead to death. “And there is enough global evidence to suggest that more and more young people are succumbing to problems of the heart at a much earlier age. At an age when they should have been at their productive best, they are losing productive life by eating this junk,” Bhushan said.
Several experts stated that traditional Indian foods are not only healthy, they are also free from toxins. More than 50 journalists from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan attended the meet. ”I strongly love traditional Indian foods, they are best in taste, flavour and healthy,” Syeda Hameed, member Planning Commission, told media persons.
A Pepsico India spokesperson, however, said all products manufactured by the company in India are fully compliant with all the regulations, including those on labelling, prescribed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
“We get our products regularly analysed at globally reputed and government-approved laboratories and these test reports clearly show that all our food products under the Lays, Uncle Chips, Kurkure and Cheetos brands continue to be trans-fat free as defined by Indian and other regulators, including those in advanced countries,” he said.