- Food adulteration has reached epidemic proportions in India with many instances of food adulteration being reported.
- Dr. Neha provides tips to identifying food adulteration and safeguarding health.
- Buying good quality food is essential to safeguarding against ill effects of adulterated food
Food adulteration is when inferior materials are added to food to increase quantity with a view to improving profits. Adulteration leads to poor food quality and can affect the health of the individual. Some examples of food adulteration include:
- The addition of starch to paneer to make it thicker
- The addition of hydrogenated oil to ghee to make it yellow
- The addition of powdered bricks to red chili
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‘“Starch, food colors, dust, horse dung are some of the commonly used adulterants in powdered spices and can lead to serious health complications”-- Dr. Neha Gupta.’
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Speaking exclusively to Medindia, Dr. Neha Gupta, Chief Nutritionist at N-lite Nutrition and Health Consultancy Pvt Ltd, talks about food adulteration in India and provides some detailed tips to identify adulterated food. Neha Gupta is the co-founder of N-lite Nutrition and is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutritionist and a Diabetes Educator with over 9 years of experience in food science. She has been a diet and lifestyle coach for health enthusiasts in India and abroad. With specialization in diabetes and clinical disorders, she has worked in hospitals, advising people on obesity, disease and lifestyle-related issues.
Medindia: What is the nutritional status of people in India?
Dr. Neha: India is a country in developmental transition which faces the dual burden of pre-transition and post-transition diseases. Malnourishment, under nutrition, infectious diseases, lifestyle-related degenerative diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and cancer plague the nation. Indian diet in general is deficient in essential amino acids, and micronutrients such as vitamin A, folate, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium and zinc. The requirements of some nutrients are especially high in adolescents and during pregnancy. With a transition in eating patterns, especially with respect to availability of convenience foods, there has been a shift from staples like wheat and whole grains to more of refined grains in the form of biscuits, pasta, different kinds of breads, which carry less nutrition. The intake of whole fruits and vegetables is also low in both rural and urban sectors.
Medindia: Is it better to buy sealed and packaged food rather than buying based on weight?
Dr. Neha: While non-packaged food is fresh and healthy, there is always a high chance of infestation and adulteration at different levels. Packaged food, on the other hand, is manufactured in modern facilities that comply with strict quality and hygiene and packaging norms, thus the risk of infestation is relatively lower. Additionally food companies comply with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) rules and always detail out the ingredients that make-up the packaged product. Hence the consumer here makes an informed decision when purchasing a packaged food product, which will not be possible when buying a non-packaged item.
Medindia: Can you give our readers some tips to identify additives in food?
Dr. Neha: Indian cooking is incomplete without the usage of turmeric powder. However, a commonly used adulterant is the addition of lead chromate which gives it a bright yellow tinge and is insoluble in water. To detect the presence of lead chromate it can be mixed with water and placed in a beaker. If adulterated, it will immediately leak color. Red chili powder is the most commonly used spice in any Indian household and perhaps is also the most adulterated spice. The most commonly used adulterants in chili powders include presence of saw dust and brick powder. Add a teaspoon of chili powder in a glass of water and swirl it. Adulterated chili powder will dispel red swirl of color.
The presence of starch, food colors, dust, and horse dung are some of the commonly used adulterants in powdered spices and can lead to serious health complications. Immersing powdered spices in water will ensure that the adulterants float on the surface of the water while the remaining spices will settle on the bottom of the water surface.
Medindia: Once you find that the food is adulterated, what is the next step?
Dr. Neha: Once we get to know that the food is adulterated, there is an urgent requirement that such a product should be withdrawn from the supply chain. The adulterated product can be returned to the sellers and a complaint can be lodged with the consumer courts or the city Food and Drug Administration department.
Medindia:How does food adulteration harm the body?
Dr. Neha: The ill effects are innumerable. Nausea, intestinal and digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhea are most common. High doses of pesticides in these can lead to mental retardation and certain type of cancers.
Medindia: Does street food have a lot of additives?
Dr. Neha: Yes, we can associate microbial contamination with food adulteration, which degrades the food quality and sometimes makes it unfit for consumption. Major sources contributing to microbial contamination are the place of preparation, utensils used for cooking and serving, raw materials, time and temperature, abuse of cooked foods and the personal hygiene of vendors.
Medindia: How do we safeguard ourselves from buying adulterated food?
Dr. Neha: Indian food is incomplete without the addition of masala powders and spices but with this menace of contamination of spices, it can become a health hazard if consumed daily. The best way to avoid consuming spices which are adulterated is to buy them from a trusted source that packages them after being checked by food regulatory boards and carry either an ISI mark or an Agmark stamp.
- Top 10 Food Products Prone To Adulteration In India - (http://www.scind.org/183/Health/top-10-food-products-prone-to-adulteration-in-india.html)
- Prevention of Food Adulteration Programme - (http://www.archive.india.gov.in/sectors/health_family/food_prevention.php)
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