Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Wide prevalence of life style disorders like CVD, BP, Type II Diabetes, Cancer etc in the Western world has been attributed to drastic changes in the food consumption habits brought about by higher affluence, high purchasing power and sedentary living. Rapid catching up with the West by India during the last few years in terms of incidences of these diseases amongst its population, is again due to changes taking place in the diets as a result of wide exposure to Western dietary practices after the so called economic liberalization set in motion in early nineteen nineties. The undue predominance of IT Sector in the industrial landscape of the country has brought about significant disparities in the personal income levels. The inroads made by many global food companies into India offering a vast array of products with doubtful nutritional value, have impacted the eating habits of many youngsters, especially those with high disposable income which may have long term health repercussions.

It is unbelievable that by 2020, more than one third of the deaths in India will be from heart disease. There are 45 million heart patients to day and in a decade's time we will have the unenvious record of being the top nation as far as this disease is concerned! The revelation that the disease catches Indians at an age,10-15 years younger than their western counterparts, is indeed shocking. It is also painful to know that 6-8% of the urban population is afflicted by Diabetes mellitus while another 25-30% suffer from hyper tension. There may be many reasons for this transformation from a healthy country in 1947 to the status of the "sickest" country in the world within seven decades of "planned" development which is a telling reflection on our ability to manage ourselves.

Changes in dietary habits, to some extent, caused by the population increase and declining agricultural production and their consequences, were never addressed seriously and probably this may the root cause of rapidly deteriorating health conditions of the population. Pulses are considered a vital food component in the diet of a typical Indian as it provides a major portion of the daily protein needs and the recommended daily intake (RDI) is 70 g a day. As against this the per capita availability stands at 27 g a day and the actual consumption varies from 14 g to 140 g a day depending on the economic status of the consumer.

Legumes which include soybean and peanut are considered health protectants as their regular consumption at the RDI level confers protection against diseases like heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer and osteoporosis for normal healthy population. Pulses, a sub-category under legumes are annual leguminous crops, yielding 1-12 seeds of variable sizes, shapes and colors within a pod and there are 11 types of primary pulses which include dry beans (Phaseolus spp) like kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, black gram etc; dry broad beans (Vicia faba) like horse bean, broad bean, field bean etc; dry peas ( Sativum spp); dry cow pea or black eyed pea (Vigna spp); chick pea or garbanzo bean or bengal gram(Cicer spp); pigeon pea or toor or cajan pea (Cajanus spp); lentils (Lens spp) earth pea(Vigna spp); vetch (Vicia spp); lupins(Lupinus spp) and some minor pulses. In India major pulses consumed are toor, bengal gram, mung, black gram and moth bean.

In 1949-50 pulses were grown on 20.7 million hectares (mh) of land producing 8.16 million tons (mt) with an average productivity of 405 kg per hectare when the population was less than 500 million. In 2000-01, 23 mh of land was cultivated to produce 13 mt of pulses with average yield of 572 kg per hectare when the population touched 1 billion mark. The per capita availability declined from 45 g a day in 1949-50 to a mere 27 g a day by 2000-01. The abnormal price increase for pulses during the last 5 decades have made it a luxury item for most of the population. While the availability in 1949-50 itself was not enough, being only 65% of RDI, the situation must have considerably worsened by now. It is a pity that only 17% of the land under pulse cultivation received irrigation while the rest depended heavily on rains.

One of the most significant aspects of Indian diet is that pulses provide the much needed essential amino acid, methionine in a predominantly cereal menu making it a balanced one. Meat eating population does not suffer from this handicap as it is a very balanced food with all essential amino acids in right proportion. Besides pulses provide valuable dietary fiber and being low in glycaemic index (GI), they also ensure balanced metabolism in the body without unnecessary glucose stress on the system. In some African countries 65% of the calories are derived from pulses in the diet with apparently no ill effects. Probably high pulse consumption makes them sturdy and disease resistant ensuring active life. In nineteen eighties, GOI Mission on pulses and oil seeds made an attempt to boost the production of the two commodities but with very little success as judged by the sorry situation vis-a-vis pulses that exists to day. Unless massive investment is made to increase productivity of pulses by expanding the irrigation infrastructure, mobilization of more inputs and systematic injection of new agriculture technology, the country will never have the capability to provide its citizens with the wherewithal to fight modern day diseases.


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