The startling report that one out of 8 people in Great Britain never eats vegetables is a shocking revelation as to the irresponsible life style spawned by modern living. As meat eaters, due to easy availability of these foods which often are cheaper than vegetables, they may be depending on meat, fish and egg to attain satiety without giving any thought to the consequences of such unbalanced diets. While such anomalies in rich nations are more due to ignorance about basics of food and nutrition, in a country like India the problem must be more acute since reliable data are scarce on this aspect. But consumption of fruits and vegetables must be very low considering the horticultural scenario in the country. According to knowledgeable officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, GOI, a whopping 72% of fruits and vegetables go waste, though it is not clear from where they got this startling data. Probably this must have been the basis for starting the jumbo program called Horticulture Mission for which an astronomical sum of Rs 150 billion was allotted an year ago. Looking at the ground realities, the annual production of fruits and vegetables,in the country could hardly register an out put of around 120 million tons (mt) and if 72% is wasted what remains for consumption is grossly inadequate to provide the minimum nutrition to the people. The projected annual requirement is estimated at 150 mt by 2010 but if wastage is kept in mind it could be double this figure. Why some people are so much obsessed with fruits and vegetables(F & V)? There are very strong reasons based on good science.
Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, do not have cholesterol, are rich in potassium that controls blood pressure besides other critical minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium, have plenty of dietary fiber guarding against GI tract diseases, contain critical vitamins A, E, Folic Acid and a variety of phytochemicals which are considered most protective chemicals for human beings against all diseases. It is no wonder that the westerners have realized the value of F & V as a survival mode and are taking up massive campaigns to persuade their population to eat these protective foods five servings a day to save them from the modern day life style disorders which are assuming epidemic proportions.
The phytochemicals that are present in F & V are a group of health promoting chemicals with properties of antioxidants, blood sugar regulation, anti carcinogens, immunity boosters, antibacterial, anti fungal and anti viral, lowering of cholesterol and anti inflammatory. These include carotenoids, phenolic compounds, glucosinolates, saponins, sulfides, phytosterols, phytoestrogens, mono terpenes and protease inhibitors. The sheer variety of these phytochemicals in F & V is staggering and combinations of different vegetables/fruits consumed regularly in high quantities can insure human life from any disease known to man! In India there are more than 60 varieties of vegetables, 40 types of green leaves and 50 varieties of fruits grown wildly as well as cultivated. The relative immunity of rural population against modern day diseases probably can be attributed to the easy access to fruits and vegetables in rural areas. In contrast urban population depends on only a few items that stand the rigors of transportation and reach the city markets in reasonably good condition, for their supply.
Is the slogan " five a day" relevant to India? A serving is about 120 gms and five servings will add up to 600 gms. With prices of fruits going through the roof, will it be possible for a family of 4 to buy almost 2.4 kg of fruits and vegetables every day? What will be the cost factor? What are the priorities for the family? Such questions cannot be wished away easily. But those who can afford to buy them, they must do it without losing any more time. Fruits and vegetables guarantee a life without ever entering the portals of an hospital!
What can the food technologists and the Governments do to promote more and more consumption of fruits and vegetables in the country? There is an urgent need to develop cut fruits and vegetables, preferably different blends, ready to eat with reasonably good shelf stability since preparing them at home is tedious and time consuming. On an average it will take 2-3 hours to prepare the materials ready to eat and this is a disincentive for the consumers with limited time for the kitchen. Reliance Fresh started this trend but seems to have faltered on the way, probably due to logistical and economic reasons. New products development based on F & V, which can be palatable and attractive to consumers, especially youngsters.must get priority at GOI R & D Institutions and Universities. Governments must encourage such operations by the industry by liberal financial incentives and if necessary even subsidizing the products similar to the grain and milk subsidies in vogue. In Bangalore at leas diced and preserved vegetables with 21 days life were available for some time but the concept did not seem to have caught on significantly. This agenda must be pushed at any cost for the sake of a secured future for the country.