New Measures to Help Healthy Food Choices

New Measures to Help Healthy Food ChoicesNew Measures to Help Healthy Food Choices

Cardiac arrest, brain stroke, diabetes, asthma, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases are the main causes of premature deaths which are closely linked to unhealthy lifestyles, said Ali Akbar Sayyari, deputy health minister at a recent press conference.

Unhealthy diets, smoking, lack of physical activity and alcohol are among the most important factors that contribute to the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the Persian-language weekly ‘Salamat’ quoted him as saying.

Pointing to the most risky dietary habits among Iranians, he said food high in salt, fat, and sugar and inadequate intake of fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods have led to NCDs which are responsible for 82% of deaths in the country, with 40% a direct result of cardiovascular diseases.

The likelihood of premature mortality from the four main NCDs between ages 30 and 70 years is 17% in Iran. Mortality rate in this age group is high with figures indicating that 25% of the total deaths registered are among people in this age bracket.

The daily recommended maximum amount of salt is five grams for people under the age of 50 and three grams for people older than 50. “However many people are likely to underestimate how much salt they eat, as much of it is hidden in basic food products like bread,” said Sayyari.

According to the Health Ministry’s estimates, consumers take in five to six grams of salt from bread each day; therefore limiting the amount of salt in bread can help reduce its intake, he added.  

Currently, 10 million Iranians suffer from high blood pressure and annually 83,000 people die of high BP, while the problem is completely preventable by reducing the high rate of salt consumption.

  Quality to Be Checked

A memorandum of understanding was signed recently between the Health Ministry and the Institute of Standards & Industrial Research of Iran, by which the quality of all kinds of traditional breads would be assessed and monitored regularly by both sides.

“We are responsible to improve and control bread production from farm to homes in cooperation with the ministry,” said Nayyereh Pirouzbakht, head of the institute.

“Our joint efforts won’t be limited to merely reducing salt amount in bread. We want to ensure that the fiber content of bread is increased by adding wheat bran to the product. A directive in this regard will be issued to all bakeries soon.”

Fortifying bread with vitamin D is also on the agenda. At present, an average Iranian gets only 15% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, she added.

While the institute is committed to improving the quality of bread, the ministry’s Environmental and Occupational Health Office is responsible to monitor work environment, workers’ personal hygiene, and also detect food frauds, said Khosrow Sadeqniyat, head of the office.

“Inspectors will be sent to all bakeries across the country with devices to check the amount of salt and baking soda in bread dough and thus there will no need to send samples to FDA laboratories.”

Sadeqniat pointed to another measure that would be implemented under the MoU – setting up the Consumer Complaint Hotline 1517 for people to make their complaints about bread quality. Both the ministry and the institute would be responsible to investigate the complaints.

According to official figures, Iranians consume the most bread per capita (160 kg per person) in the world after Turkey with 199.6 kg per person. European countries consume almost twice or three times less bread.  Different kinds of breads, traditional and modern, are baked in the country. Most of the Iranian traditional breads, known as ‘nan’ locally, are made of brown flour and are flat breads. Iranians are known to mostly prefer traditional bread.

Head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Rasoul Dinarvand had earlier warned that contrary to popular belief, traditional breads are not healthy as they contain high amounts of salt and baking soda.

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