September is celebrated annually in India as Rashtriya Poshan Maah or National Nutrition Month. Nostalgia for freshly prepared food rich in local ingredients can transport many back to their cherished childhood memories and stories passed down from generation to generation, yet in this day and age of being inundated with a huge amount of nutritional information, many struggle with misconceptions about 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 debunk some misconceptions to celebrate the nutritious and 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, few people know that our local fruits like jamuns and guavas have an even higher nutritional value. Similarly, while quinoa is a superfood that has been celebrated in recent years, amaranth is a local ingredient that offers a significantly higher proportion of protein, iron, magnesium and potassium, all at about half the price!
- Carbohydrate puzzle: The STARCH (2014) study in India found that the Indian population assessed obtained 64.1% of their energy from carbohydrates, notably above the maximum recommended limit of 60%. In a related finding, the ICMR-INDIAB national study reported that by reducing daily carbohydrate intake by 15%, approximately 66% of participants experienced diabetes remission. However, when adjusting your diet based on these findings, it is crucial to remember that all carbohydrates are not created equal. While processed foods raise blood sugar levels due to their easily absorbed carbohydrates, fiber-rich carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are key to regulating blood sugar, cholesterol, and ensuring healthy digestion. These fiber-rich carbohydrates are consistently associated with a healthier and longer life.
- Fats: villain or hero? Fats, often viewed through a single lens, have multifaceted roles.
- trans fats, most found in processed foods, they are harmful to health, increasing the risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and elevated cholesterol levels.
- Saturated fats are found in a wide variety of foods and should be consumed in moderation as they are also associated with an increase in LDL or bad cholesterol.
- However, a balanced diet must contain a sufficient amount monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are found in nuts, eggs, cheese, yogurt, olive oil, peanut oil and fatty fish.
4. Vegetarian Protein Puzzle: Contrary to popular belief, Indian vegetarian cuisine is not deficient in protein. For example, a cup of whole lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, which is almost equivalent to the protein in 100 grams of chicken. Plus, legumes like chickpeas and beans are rich in protein and high in fiber. Including other protein-rich sources like soya chunks, paneer, black chana and peanuts can be a great way to ensure a well-balanced vegetarian diet. However, if one is on a low-calorie vegetarian diet, then a protein supplement may be required to meet daily dietary requirements.
5. Modern lifestyle and vitamin challenge: Although the modern lifestyle presents unique challenges, it is a misconception that it always leads to vitamin deficiencies. Millets, like iron-rich lichen or calcium-rich ragi, have long been the silent guardians of India’s health. And how can we forget the humble spinach, vitamin K or bananas, those miracles full of potassium? An experienced healthcare professional can help you tailor some of these options to your specific health conditions – for example, diabetics and obese patients should also consider the glycemic index of these foods and consume them in moderation.
Our rich culinary heritage, combined with informed choices, can pave the way to optimal health, so this National Nutrition Month, let’s harness the power of local, nutrient-dense foods and anchor our lives to better health and a better quality of life. Remember that each individual’s health story is unique, so always consult a certified nutritionist or dietitian for personalized advice.
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