September is celebrated as the Rashtriya Poshan Maah or the National Nutrition Month every year across India. The nostalgia of a freshly prepared meal, rich in local ingredients, can transport many back to their cherished childhood memories and tales passed down through generations yet, in today’s era flooded with vast nutritional information, many grapple with misconceptions surrounding our traditional dietary superheroes.
As National Nutrition Month draws to a close, Dr Neeta Deshpande, Chief Medical Officer and Rahul Maroli, CEO and Founder of Elevate Now, busted some misconceptions to celebrate the nutritious, pocket-friendly local gems:
- Imported Superfoods vs Local Legends: The allure of imported superfoods like berries and avocados is undeniable. However, while we keep hearing about the antioxidant properties of blueberries, little do people know that our local fruits like jamuns and guavas are even higher in nutritional value. Similarly, while quinoa is a superfood that’s been celebrated in recent years, Amaranth is a local ingredient that offers significantly higher proportions of protein, iron, magnesium and potassium, at roughly half the cost!
- The Carbohydrate Conundrum: The STARCH study (2014) in India found that the evaluated Indian population derived 64.1% of their energy from carbohydrates, notably above the maximum recommended limit of 60%. In a related finding, the ICMR-INDIAB national study indicated that by reducing daily carbohydrate intake by 15%, approximately 66% of participants experienced diabetes remission. However, when adjusting one’s diet based on these findings, it’s crucial to recognize that all carbs are not the same. While processed foods surge blood sugar levels due to their easily absorbable carbs, fiber-rich carbs from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are crucial for regulating blood sugar, cholesterol, and ensuring healthy digestion. These fiber-rich carbs have been consistently linked to healthier, longer lives.
- Fats: The Villain or the Hero? Fats, often viewed through a singular lens, are multifaceted in their roles.
- Trans fats, most found in processed foods, are detrimental to health, increasing the risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and elevated cholesterol levels.
- Saturated fats occur in a wide variety of foods and should be consumed in moderation, since these are also linked to increasing the LDL or the bad cholesterol levels.
- However, a balanced diet must include a good amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are found in nuts, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, olive oil, groundnut oil and fatty fish.
4. The Vegetarian Protein Puzzle: Contrary to the widespread belief, India’s vegetarian cuisine isn’t protein deficient. For instance, a cup of whole lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, nearly equivalent to the protein in 100 grams of chicken. Plus, legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans are both protein-rich and high in fiber. Including other protein rich sources like soya chunks, paneer, black chanas, and peanuts can be a great way of ensuring a well-balanced vegetarian diet. However, if one is on a low calorie vegetarian diet, then protein supplements may be required to meet daily dietary requirements.
5. Modern Lifestyles and The Vitamin Challenge: Though modern lifestyles pose unique challenges, it’s a fallacy that they invariably lead to vitamin deficiencies. Millets, like the iron-rich foxtail or calcium-laden ragi, have long been India’s silent health guardians. And how can we forget the humble spinach, a Vitamin K powerhouse, or bananas, those potassium-packed wonders? A skilled healthcare professional can help with personalising some of these choices to your specific health conditions – for example, in patients living with diabetes and obesity, one also must think about the glycemic index of these foods and consume them in moderation.
Our rich culinary heritage, when combined with informed choices, can pave the way for optimal health so this National Nutrition Month, let’s harness the power of local, nutrient-dense foods, grounding our lives in better health and improved quality of life. Remember, every individual’s health narrative is unique so, always consult with a certified nutritionist or dietician for tailored advice.