Simplified Guidelines for Healthier Eating

Iranians’ intake of salt is high with men consuming 9 grams and women 7 grams of sodium per day, while the recommended amount is 1.5 grams for optimal heart-health
High consumption of trans fats is linked to abdominal obesity and breast cancer in Iran. High consumption of trans fats is linked to abdominal obesity and breast cancer in Iran.

A new plan to provide simple dietary recommendations to the public is under development by the National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences (SBUMS).

“Each year, many studies on nutrition and health are conducted in the country, of which several are published in scientific journals. However, since not all people read the journals, the studies alone cannot be helpful for improving people’s eating habits,” the Persian language newspaper ‘Iran’ quoted Hedayat Hosseini, head of the institute as saying.

In order to simplify the studies and their recommendations, a department has been established at the institute with the main goal of helping people make the most of the scientific studies, he said.  

“We should translate the results into simple words for public understanding. The information should be used in different ways to raise people’s awareness on healthy food choices which can be printed on posters and billboards.”

Three ministries, namely health, agriculture and industries and mines, besides the municipalities, Iranian Medical Council, NGOs, World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization and UNICEF will contribute to the plan implementation, Hosseini said.  

Pointing to a recent survey conducted by the institute he said, “Our research has revealed that the consumption of saturated oils, sugar, and salt has increased in the country compared to the previous years. High intake of trans fats is linked to abdominal obesity and breast cancer in Iran,” he noted.

“On average, Iranian men consume 9 grams of sodium per day. Iranian women consume 7 grams of salt per day. Cheese, traditional breads, and drinking ‘Ayran’ are three Iranian foods which have the highest levels of salt. (Ayran is a cold yogurt beverage with salt).”

  Salt Still High

Additionally, each Iranian on average consumes 160 kg of bread, 10 kg cheese, and 48 kg of yogurt and Ayran in a year. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has managed to reduce salt in food products by 10%, and bring down salt proportion in cheese and bread to 2% and 1.8% from 4% and 2%, respectively. However, as Iranians consume almost twice or three times more bread than other countries, the amount is still high.

Iranians consume three times more salt than the world average, and 40% of the problem is related to food intake and traditional breads.

By comparing various brands of the same food item people can find the one that has the lowest sodium content. Currently, almost 60% of the food products have ‘traffic light’ food rating tags on them, he pointed out.

Food labeled with a traffic light rating shows how much fat, saturated fats, sugar, and salt are in the product by using the traffic light signals for high (red), medium (amber) and low (green) percentages for each of these ingredients. Foods with ‘green’ indicators are healthier and to be preferred over those with ‘red’ ones.

The survey further showed that 30% of Iranians (14% of women and 36% of men) add salt to food even before tasting it. Also 90% of Iranians add salt to food during the cooking process, said Dr Marjan Ajami, a board member of the institute.

Carbonated drinks, soft drinks and kitchen sugar are three main culprits for high rate of sugar consumption in the country, she said adding that, “Although many eating habits are established during childhood, it doesn’t mean people cannot change their wrong eating habits in adulthood.”

According to a study, salt preference is an acquired taste that can be unlearned. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt, but once it’s done, it’s actually difficult to eat foods like potato chips because they taste way too salty.