How much salt is in that papadam?

‘This much salt goes into your papadams,’ says CAP president SM Mohamed Idris, seen here with researcher Hatijah Hashim.

GEORGE TOWN: A consumer group today revealed dangerous levels of sodium in at least 10 brands of papadam or crackers which are a staple part of banana leaf meals.

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) said its lab had tested 11 samples of papadam in the Malaysian market and found them to contain at least 1,000mg of sodium per 100g of papadam.

Four other brands were found to contain more than 2,000mg of sodium per 100g.

This exceeds the 2,000mg daily intake limit of sodium set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

CAP said five pieces of papadam weighing about 13g each consumed in a typical meal would equal 1,300mg of sodium – 65% of the daily limit.

“With the sodium from other food items in a typical Indian meal, you would easily exceed that 2,000mg limit,” its president SM Mohamed Idris said at a press conference here.

“We would like to advise the authorities to pull these off the shelves as the excess sodium in these products is dangerous.”

He said the sodium benzoate used in papadams to preserve them was also hazardous to health.

The spices found in the crackers could also cause acidity, constipation, hyperacidity and excess gas or flatulence, he added.

Idris said papadams could lead to a high sodium diet which in turn could cause high blood pressure, kidney failure, strokes and water retention.

The crackers could also cause heart problems in the long run due to their deep-fried method of cooking.

Idris said even though roasting papadams was considered a healthier way of cooking them, research had found that this could cause cancer.

He said this was likely due to a carcinogen or cancer-causing substance formed because of the alkaline salt (sodium benzoate) content.

He also voiced concern about the way in which papadams are made.

“After being rolled out, they are sun-dried, usually in the open, where they are exposed to many air pollutants.

“Also, the surfaces that they are kept on while drying could have a large variety of microorganisms which can further contaminate them.”

Idris called on the health ministry to set limits to the sodium content in papadams and urged the people to stop eating commercially made crackers in the meantime.

He said the Customs Department should also check on all foreign imports of papadam and bar those with high levels of sodium from entering the Malaysian market.

“Papadam adds variety to the palate and gives the beautiful crunch that is loved by everyone, but it’s good to consume it in moderation.

“In view of this shocking find, we call on all to refrain from eating them until these manufacturers comply with the limits imposed.

“It’s funny how a small thing like a papadam can cause so many health problems.”

CAP researcher Hatijah Hashim recommended homemade papadams with reasonable levels of salt, saying this was a better option that those commercially available.

However, he said the busy lifestyles of people deterred them from making their own papadams as it was a labour-intensive process.

The health ministry estimates that the average Malaysian adult consumes 7.15g of salt a day, which is higher than the WHO mandate of less than 5g a day.