Sunday, November 15, 2009


When new knowledge is emerging in the crucial areas of nutrition and health having vital bearing on the well being of humans, there does not appear to be a realization still that all humans are not same and their needs can vary significantly depending on the environment, physical activity and many other factors. Only recently British authorities announced a revised guideline for their population based on the specific needs in that country and surprisingly a recommendation has been made to consume up to 16% more calories for male adults based on their daily physical activity. This is totally against the current trend universally to reduce calorie consumption to combat obesity related disorders. It is not clear as to the basis of new guidelines for Indians, published in some media recently, as no reliable data still exists regarding the nutrient requirement of a "typical" Indian. This country has been faithfully following the parameters that prevail in countries like USA and the nutrition labeling required to be followed by the industry is also based on foreign nutritional parameters.

So called new guidelines look like a tinkered version of a similar one brought out in 1998. A cursory look at the 'new' guidelines does not reveal any major deviation as if nothing much has changed in this country in spite of the explosive growth of GDP and ever increasing purchasing power of the citizens. Suggesting a cut down in the intake of carbohydrate marginally may not be significant because that is the only bulk energy supplier in the diet where as fat is not an accepted choice for making up the calorie need. The increase in protein intake, just marginally, does not make any sense at all. If total calorie need is still maintained at 2000 kC and if carbohydrates are to be reduced how can one derive the required energy? The crucial factor missing is the type of carbohydrate to be consumed and the guideline regarding sugar consumption may not be sound since, from 20-25 gm a day in the earlier version, it has been increased to about 10% of total energy, which amounts to 50 gm a day!. Sugar is increasingly being shunned universally for its adverse effect on health.

It is amusing to read about a recommendation calling for use of a combination of mustard oil and soybean oil which the pundits consider as the best. One cannot help feeling sad because all native oils available and popular in India have been sidelined. That the two oils named, Canola and Soybean are in the forefront in the GM food development platform, may not a coincidence and if GOI takes this line seriously, flood gate is going to be opened for increased imports of these two oils from the US and Canada in the name of good health! Guideline for salt intake, less than 5 gm a day, is very sound but how to go about to achieve this is a million dollar question. Present consumption level is estimated to be around 10-12gm per capita per day, though no one is sure about the real situation. Probably food industry must make an earnest effort to cut down on use of salt in packed foods voluntarily and catering establishment could take a conscious and collective decision to make their preparations with low salt. leaving the choice of adding it by the consumer, if necessary, on the serving table.

Why should a national diet guideline set a limit for alcohol consumption is baffling. Only recently some disturbing reports have come out regarding the harmful effects of alcoholic beverages like wine on women and it is a controversial area best to have been avoided leaving the decision to the individuals and the medical fraternity. In stead of coming out with a report which is neither scientific nor precise, it would have been more appropriate to compile ideal diets for different regions in the country based on the local food habits and availability of food materials in respective areas.


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