Aug. 17 : COVER STORY Â
Instant soup: Recipe for health problems
Our tests show that sodium and sugar levels have risen over the years
Do you think a packet of tasty, easy to prepare instant soup is a healthy option for a snack or a meal? You couldnâ€™t be more wrong. Not only are packaged soups poor in nutrition, some of their ingredients have adverse side effects. To make matters worse, our tests found that many brands have high salt (sodium) and sugar content.
We tested packaged soups in 2010 and 2013 as well. There seems to be no improvement with respect to formulation over the last seven years. In fact, as can be seen from the table below, the salt (sodium) and sugar levels have risen. It should be noted that we tested for sodium, the component of salt that can have adverse health implications.
We tested three popular brands of packaged soup for sodium and sugar content. The brands were â€“ Knorr, Reliance and Chingâ€™s. We tested three variants in each brand â€“ mixed vegetable, tomato and sweet corn vegetable, making a total of nine brands.
Mixed vegetable soup: Chingâ€™s had the highest amount of sodium per serving (787 mg) followed by Reliance and Knorr. Chingâ€™s also had the highest amount of sugar per serving (3.5 g) followed by Reliance and Knorr. (See table for details)
Tomato soup: Reliance had the highest amount of sodium per serving (696 mg) followed by Chingâ€™s and Knorr. Chingâ€™s had the highest amount of sugar per serving (6.48 g) followed by Knorr and Reliance.
Sweet corn soup:Â Chingâ€™s had the highest amount of sodium Â per serving (659 mg) followed by Knorr and Reliance. Chingâ€™s also had the highest amount of sugar per serving (4.1 g) followed by Knorr and Reliance.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is a maximum of 2400 mg of sodium. At 659 mg, one serving of Ching’s Secret Mix Veg. Instant Soup contains nearly one-third the RDA! The Food Standard Agency (FSA) of UK has set a target of an average 600 mg in a single serving of soup for manufacturers. By this guideline, four of the nine brands exceed the limit.
The RDA for sugar as per the latest norms of the World Health Organization (WHO) is 25 g (six teaspoons). At 4.1 g, one serving Ching’s Secret Tomato Instant contains more than 25% of the RDA!
Sodium is the harmful component of salt. Excess sodium is bad for health as it can cause high blood pressure which triples the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is also harmful for people with osteoporosis and kidney diseases.
Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. Sugar is the leading contributor to obesity and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Also, packaged soups may contain ingredients that have side effects:
- Thickening agents like corn flour and maltodextrin â€“ Corn flour increases blood sugar levels and leads to fat deposition in the body. Maltodextrin can cause allergic reactions, unexplained weight gain, bloating and flatulence.
- Colouring agents (masked as flavor enhancers) â€“ Some are toxic and damage the kidneys and liver.
- Yeast extract â€“ It increases the bad bacteria in the body and causes acidic conditions.
- MSG (monosodium glutamate) â€“ It is known to trigger headaches, rapidÂ heartÂ rate, chest pain and cause nausea.
- Preservatives such as sulphites â€“ Sulphites can cause rashes and itching, restricted breathing and even asthmatic attacks.
Sources: Mumbai Mirror, www.practo.com, www.livestrong.com
Claims vs facts
100% real vegetables: The fact is that packaged soups contain a small quantity of dried or dehydrated vegetables which lose their nutritional value (vitamins and antioxidants) during the process of storage and preparation.
No added preservatives: As this is a dehydrated product the addition of preservatives is not required.
Manufacturerâ€™s response: We shared the results on the basis of mg/100g of the product (for sodium) and g/100g of the product (for sugar) with the manufacturers. They responded asking us to send them the results based on serving size, which we did. Subsequently, there was no response from them till the time of going to press.
Best buys:Â Our Best Buys in the three categories were decided on the basis of Overall Score and Price. In the mixed veg. soup category, Knorr Classic Mixed Veg. Soup is our best buy. Though it is much costlier than the other two brands, it is way ahead in the score. In the other two categories, the Reliance variants â€“Â Reliance Healthy Life Farm Tomato and Reliance Healthy Life Golden Sweet Corn are our best buys as they score better and are also less in price.Â Â Â
Urgent action needed
- Manufacturers should make a conscious effort to gradually reduce the level of sodium and sugar in soups.
- FSSAI should set limits for sugar content in packaged soups and other processed foods.
- To make it easy for consumers to understand, manufacturers should have a uniform serving size.
- FSSAI should ensure that manufacturers give nutritional information on the label as per a standard format.
Tips for consumers
- Make your packaged soup more nourishing by adding some freshly cooked vegetables, beans or lentils.
- For brands with high sodium content, use less concentrate to prepare soup.
- Some people are sensitive to preservatives/additives so read the food label if you are.
- Look out for MSG if you are sensitive to it. It may be listed as INS 621 among the ingredients.
Grahak Sathiâ€™s conclusion:Â Affordable and cleverly marketed, packaged soups are becoming increasingly popular in urban India. Consumers are made to believe that they are healthy and nutritious. In reality, though they may be low in fat, they are loaded with salt and sugar making them anything but a healthy choice. In general, processed foods are not healthy and it is better to go for homemade soup made from scratch.