NEW DELHI: Scientific "cut-offs" for salt, sugar and fats in processed foods is mandatory if India wants to prevent the looming crisis of the non-communicable diseases (NCDs), nutrition policy activists advocated on Saturday pointing that it was all the more necessary in the background of a raging pandemic.
In a meeting to discuss the need for a nutrient profiling mission for the country, experts and doctors attached with the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest and a few other organisations pointed out that it has to be developed with the key goals of reducing consumption of sodium, saturated fat and added sugar.
In India, analysis of sales data reveals that per capita sales of ultra-processed foods grew from about 2 kg in 2005, to about 6 kg in 2019 and is projected to grow to about 8 kg by 2024.
Similarly, per capita sales of ultra-processed beverages are up from 2 litre in 2005 to about 6.5 litre in 2019 and are projected to be about 10 litre in 2024. In the country, more than 5.8 million Indians die every year from NCDs such as cancer, diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
The first comprehensive nationwide survey by the ICMR and several other government institutions to assess the risk factors for NCDs whose results were released earlier this year had also shown that a majority of Indians are at a significant risk of developing lifestyle diseases.
The survey, for example, had for the first time estimated dietary intake of salt intake of population at a national level and found that adults in the country consume about 8 gm salt per day while higher than the recommended salt intake of 5 mg per day is considered a major risk factor for hypertension.
"An NPM that is able to adequately distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods can guide all food and nutrition regulatory policies, particularly related to correctly identifying foods with excessive amounts of potentially harmful nutrients such as sugar, fats and sodium, and help people make good food choices during these challenging times," said Arun Gupta of BPNI.
Regulators and policymakers must lay down mandatory thresholds which are within the limits as prescribed by the WHO, said former Union health secretary Keshav Desiraju.