National Nutrition Month (previously called National Nutrition Week) is celebrated in India every year during September to spread awareness about nutritional needs, deficiencies and malnutrition. Heralding the beginning of this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about new initiatives and campaigns the Indian government is looking to undertake during the recent Mann Ki Baat episode on Sunday.
While an initiative like the creation of an agricultural fund that spreads awareness about crops grown in each district and their nutritional values is much needed, it’s the PM’s idea of nutritional report cards that is more striking.
Calling for nutrition cards that work like report cards in schools, he said that this move would help spread nutrition awareness among students. Though it might just do that, school kids in India aren’t the only subset of the population who need exposure to such knowledge.
Why everyone needs a nutrition report card
Nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition are prevalent among all sections of the Indian population and a report card detailing individual deficiencies, their effects and how to overcome them would be handy for all. “A blood test, urine test, stool test, your BMI, waist circumference, waist-hip ratio – these are the true subjects of anybody’s basic health report card,” says Akanksha Mishra, a nutrition and wellness expert associated with myUpchar. “All of these tests may help you get an idea of which micronutrients your body lacks.”
“Micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals, are some of the most important components of the human diet,” Mishra says. “Vitamins and minerals are not automatically produced by the body, so it is important that a person should get them from their diet. Unfortunately, the majority of the Indian population do not know the value of these nutrients and do not know the sources that will fulfil the need for these nutrients.”
As per a study published in Nutrition in 2019, Indian studies conducted among children and pregnant women have consistently shown pandemic proportions of micronutrient deficiencies in the subcontinent, but similar deficiencies in apparently healthy adults are seldom recognised. The same study then goes on to describe how urban adults with no health issues to report had a high prevalence of deficiency of vitamin A, vitamin D, and B vitamins like B2, B6, B12 and B1.
A 2018 study in the Indian Journal of Medical Research underlines the fact that despite advances in meeting nutritional requirements since 1947, especially where micronutrients like iodine and vitamin A are concerned, iron-deficiency anaemia affects 50-60 percent of the Indian population. Another study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care in 2018 shows that 80-90 percent of the Indian population of all age groups and high-risk groups alike are vitamin D deficient, which is simply alarming.
Nutritional deficiencies and how to deal with them
Micronutrient deficiencies pose a huge burden on the Indian population but let’s not forget that macronutrients also matter. “Protein is an essential macronutrient that is required to carry out many body functions,” Mishra explains. “Called the building block of life, protein helps build muscle and facilitates many hormonal functions. But protein deficiency is more prevalent in India than you think. The reason behind this is that the Indian diet is rich in carbohydrates rather than protein, and we do not know about the importance of this essential macronutrient.”
But that’s not all, because overnutrition – the type of malnutrition people rarely focus on unless the need to lose weight is impressed upon them – of certain nutrients is also becoming persistent in India. “Meals that are high in calories, full of simple carbs, saturated fats, sugar and high sodium are being chosen over healthier options because of easy availability and time-saving benefits,” Mishra says.
“People have been steadily moving towards simple carbs or easily-available junk and processed foods. Ready-to-eat and frozen foods are taking the place of homecooked chapatis and rice, homemade healthy snacks are being replaced with packaged snacks and jaggery as a sweetener has almost disappeared from our diet.” She adds that junk and processed foods, and joints that offer them, are now easy to get in small towns as well, leading not only to a major dietary shift in the nation but also nutritional deficiencies due to it.
You might think taking dietary supplements can help you overcome these nutritional deficiencies but prevention is better than cure – and the only way to do that is by following a balanced and nutrient-dense diet. “A balanced diet contains all the nutrients in a balanced way. Your diet should have complex carbohydrates, good amounts of protein-rich foods, such as pulses, legumes, milk and milk products, eggs, chicken, fish, and a lot of fruits and vegetables to complete the requirement of vitamins, minerals and fiber,” Mishra recommends. “Add good quality of healthy fats in your diet by adding nuts, seeds, olive oil, sunflower oil, etc and a sufficient amount of water should be consumed daily. This type of diet can fulfill all the nutritional requirements of your body without any supplementation.”
Following the ritucharya diet according to Ayurveda may also help create nutritional balance. The government’s initiative to launch a nutrition report card can also help this adoption of healthier diets and nutrition awareness along. Such a document that takes all forms of malnutrition – micro and macro-nutrient deficiencies as well as overnutrition and obesity – into account at the individual or grassroots level could definitely be handy for all Indians wanting to lead their optimum, healthy lives.
For more information, read our article on Nutritional deficiency.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.