Saturday, June 22, 2024
Editorial

Awakening

As reported in the local dailies on June 8, Nagaland Government has requested the Centre to provide 5 Basic Food Laboratories and 5 units of Modified Food Safety on Wheels (MFSW) in order to help check the sale of adulterated food products in the State. As things stand, Nagaland currently has only one each of food safety lab and MFSW. Obviously, they are less than adequate to perform surveillance, monitoring of food products in the market, schools, hotels, etc. In the words of an official of the Health Department, Nagaland is not a dustbin for adulterated and sub-standard products from within and outside the country. Strong words ~ hopefully, similar conviction of the Department officials will be visible when building safeguards against said threats. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning regarding the use of artificial sweeteners or non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) in various food products. This recommendation, based on a systematic review of available evidence, challenges the notion that NSS offer long-term benefits in terms of reducing body fat or controlling body weight. It also raises concerns about their potential negative health effects. The findings of the review indicate that the use of artificial sweeteners does not contribute to effective weight control in adults or children. On the contrary, the results suggest that consumption of NSS may be associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even mortality among adults. According to Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, NSS should not be considered essential dietary factors as they lack nutritional value. Instead, he says that people should reduce the overall sweetness in their diet from an early age to improve their health. This recommendation applies to both artificial and naturally derived non-nutritive sweeteners, which are commonly found in a range of manufactured foods and beverages or are sold independently for consumer use. The WHO’s guideline encompasses a variety of low or no-calorie synthetic sweeteners, as well as natural extracts, which may or may not undergo chemical modifications. These include familiar names like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and Stevia, among others. While Stevia and monk fruit are perceived as more “natural” options due to their plant origins, the evidence suggests that they function similarly to other sweeteners and share the same physiological mechanisms. It is essential to highlight that the WHO’s warning does not extend to personal care and hygiene products containing NSS, such as toothpaste, skin cream and medications. Similarly, low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols), which contain calories and are not classified as non-nutritive sweeteners, are not subject to this recommendation. Overall, the WHO’s guideline serves as a reminder that we should prioritise healthy eating habits and make informed choices about our food and beverage consumption. While artificial sweeteners may provide an appealing alternative to sugar, their long-term efficacy and potential health risks warrant careful consideration. It is hoped that the WHO’s recommendation will be integrated into existing and forthcoming guidelines on maintaining healthy diets. By promoting long-term healthy eating habits and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases, we can create a healthier global population that makes informed choices for their overall well-being. That being said, the regulatory bodies in the State have remained ineffective and non-functional for decades. The COVID pandemic has also highlighted the continuing issues of food adulteration. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) research found that, on average in the past five years, one out of four food samples tested by the nodal agency was not conforming to standards. Food counterfeiting has also become an issue. Without proper safety-checks and necessary infrastructure, we can only imagine the scenario for Nagaland. All these issues, along with persisting challenges related to supply chain, make food safety practices implementation a Herculean task. According to WHO statistics, food-borne diseases in Southeast Asia, including India, are a leading cause of mortality, and more than 40% of the cases reported are among children younger than 5. In India, households have an alarming 13.2% prevalence of hazardous food practices. Well then, it has taken a very long while, but the State authorities finally seem to have woken up!

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