Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Avoid processed food to fight high blood pressure

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According to the latest WHO data published in April 2011, hypertension deaths in Malaysia reached 1,251 or 1.22% of total deaths. Studies have shown that 1 in 3 or about 32.7% of Malaysians aged 18 years and above are suffering from hypertension.

Hypertension is a condition associated with increased risk for stroke, cardiac failure, renal failure and peripheral vascular disease.

Several factors and conditions may play a role in the development of high blood pressure including being obese, lack of physical activity, stress, smoking alcohol consumption and  consuming too much sodium in the diet.

In a recent study it was found that Malaysians consume 8.7 grams daily of salt which is 1.7 times higher  than the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 5 grams a day. Table salt (sodium chloride) is the major source of sodium in the Malaysian diet. One teaspoon or 5g of salt provides 2,000 mg of sodium.

alt There are various reasons why Malaysians are consuming too much sodium

-- Unhealthy modern eating habits which greatly rely on convenience foods (canned foods, instant foods, fast foods, hawker  foods) and processed foods (salty snacks, commercially prepared breads).
-- Hidden sodium additives in processed foods. Some examples of these ingredients are monosodium glutamate or MSG (a flavor enhancer), sodium saccharin (a sweetener), sodium phosphates (emulsifiers stabilizers, buffers) sodium caseinate (a thickener and binder) and sodium nitrite (a preservative). There are over 40 types of sodium-based additives allowed in processed foods.
-- Salty or hidden high-salt seasoning  added to food during cooking.
-- Habitual and excessive intake of some local high salt foods like salted fish, salted eggs and salted vegetables.
-- Modern food processing methods. Salt is sometimes added to canned and frozen fruits to prevent darkening of some fruits and to add to the flavor. For example canned and bottled citrus drinks are sometimes buffered with sodium citrate.

Excessive sodium intake has also been associated with a number of health conditions other than raised blood pressure. It also increases the risk of stomach cancer, it increases the rate of deterioration in kidney function of patients with renal disease; it is associated with urinary stones; and it may aggravate asthma and osteoporosis.

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Although it is important that consumers are advised to consume less salt or choose low-salt foods, the widespread use of sodium in processed foods and foods prepared away from home or eaten outside is a major barrier to achieving any meaningful reduction in dietary sodium intake. Therefore there is a need to reduce the sodium content of processed foods and drinks.

As May 17 has been dedicated as World Hypertension Day and in view of the escalating number of hypertension cases among Malaysians  the Consumers Association of Penang calls on the government to:

-- Make it compulsory for food manufacturers to label the amount of sodium on the labels of food products.
-- Stop the advertisements of food products that contained high levels of sodium  such as instant noodles  during children’s television viewing hours.
-- Launch a massive campaign to encourage consumers to engage in physical activities to avoid  being obese.

Meanwhile consumers are advised to:
-- Avoid consuming processed food.
-- Use less salt and seasonings in cooking at home, instead  use various natural herbs and condiments to add flavour to the food.
-- Choose  food with less salt and sauces when purchasing foods away from home, either as takeaways or when dining out.
-- Read the nutrition information panel (NIP) and find out the amount of sodium in foods intended to be purchase.

Press release, 16 May 2014