Note : This story was published in Vigyan Prasar’s prestigious magazine ‘DREAM 2047’ in May 2021.
Just imagine a pendulum in your mind oscillating between
What I would like to eat?
What I should eat?
And when you give it a thought, you know there has to be a balance in what you eat, and the pendulum must stop at the centre. But the pendulum almost always stops on the side where you decide to eat what you like to eat. Most striking part is that we know it is wrong but we fail to alter it. Sometimes you can listen to your heart when it comes to food but not always.
To help and guide you in the right decision making, here comes the ‘Aahaar Kranti’ for the well being of each one of us. It aims to create nutritional awareness in all sections of our society.
Objective of Aahaar Kranti
To promote better awareness, better nutrition and better agriculture.
Aahaar Kranti helps educate people about :
- values of India’s traditional diet
- healing powers of local fruits and vegetables
- miracles of a balanced diet
It is an indigenous initiative made by Vijnan Bharati and Global Indian Scientists’ and Technocrats’ Forum (GIST). They have come together to launch the programme Aahaar Kranti, with the motto – Uttam Aahaar, Uttam Vichaar.
Uttam Aahar is one that provides all nutrients in required amount and proportions for maintaining good health and general well being and makes small provision for extra nutrients to withstand short duration of illness. A balanced diet which provides all the nutrients is needed throughout our lives at all ages. They must be obtained through a judicious choice and combination of a variety of foodstuffs from different food groups.
The Dietary Guidelines for Indians as given by Indian Council of Medical Research – National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR-NIN) defines Balanced diet as ‘consumption of foods from all food groups in adequate quantities. It has to have all food groups namely milk and milk products, egg, fish, poultry, mutton etc, pulses, cereals, vegetables, roots, leafy vegetables and others), fruits, sugar and oil, etc.’
Aahaar Kranti initiative will help you understand the basic concept of balanced diet which includes macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and proteins and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Although required in large and small quantities respectively, these nutrients are necessary for the physiological and biochemical processes by which the human body acquires, assimilates and utilizes food to maintain health and activity.
Balanced Diet Mantra
Dr Seema Puri, Associate Professor from Department of Nutrition at Institute of Home Economics in University of Delhi gets in tune with balanced diet saying : “Balance, variety and moderation are the mantras for a balanced diet.”
These mantras must be inculcated in our lives with birth i.e. from early childhood. We all need nutrition, but early childhood needs nutrition investment. Dr Alok Kumar Agarwal, Consultant Paediatrician at Lal Bahadur Shastri hospital emphasises that “Proper nutrition in first 1000 days (270 days of pregnancy and 2 years i.e. 730 days of child’s life) have permanent bearing on the health of the individual throughout life. Exclusive breast feeding for first 6 months after birth followed by proper complimentary feeding is very crucial for developing brain. By one year of age, child should be eating around 250 ml, 4-5 times per day from family pot. This should provide around 1000-1200 kcal along with 15-20 grams of proteins. By 10-16 year of age child requires 2100-2700 kcal from diet which should include 54-78grams of proteins, 500-600 mg of calcium and 30-50 mgs of iron. This varies with age and physical activity level of the child. Children undernourished during this period, are far more likely to suffer from long-term health problems, poorer educational performance, and lower economic prosperity.”
It all begins even before the birth of a child when we take care of a would be mom. So, during pregnancy a woman should eat the best. Although it is said and believed that a pregnant would should eat for two. But, Dr Seema Puri, Associate Professor from Department of Nutrition at Institute of Home Economics in University of Delhi clarifies – “While nutritional requirements of pregnantwomen increase during pregnancy, the increase is not double and varies during the course of pregnancy. During the first trimester there is a greater need for proteins and micronutrients for development of organs. During the third trimester, emphasis is on increasing the birthweight of the baby, so the mother should have higher energy diets or foods like panjiri”.
She even laughs remembering an instance when one of her patient asked her about not having tea during pregnancy as the offspring will have dark complexion. She explained her that “obviously there is no connection between these two. Maybe it is a warning to women, as too much tea could provide substantial amounts of caffeine which is detrimental to the development of the baby”.
On the other hand, Dr. Alok Kumar Aggrawalstrictly warns that “Junk food including cold drinks, burgers, fries should best be avoided as they give empty calories in the form of carbohydrates and fats only, thus leading to obesity.”
Balanced Diet and gender
Making the right choice of food is most important. As a child always needs assistance of elders to understand and built good eating habits, it is our responsibility to guide them. But being an adult, what do we understand about our diet. Let’s start with the basics of what differs in diet of a man and woman. With inputs from Dr. Hemalatha R. Director of ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad let’s focus on Specialised Balanced diet based on gender. She explains – “The definition of balanced diet remains same for both genders. However, the nutrient requirement varies with age, gender, activity and physiological status. To meet this varied requirement the portion sizes of each food group needs to be changed.”
She also decodes the science of calorie intake based on gender. “A sedentary adult man requires 2110Kcal and a sedentary woman requires 1660Kcal. Though the calorie requirement is lesser for women, their micronutrient requirement may be higher. For instance the iron requirement for adult men is 11mg/day while it is 15mg for adult women and 21mg during pregnancy. Similarly, during lactation the calcium requirement of women becomes higher”.
Balanced diet and ageing
If we understand the concept of balanced eating, the purpose of Aahaar Kranti will be fulfilled. This revolutionary programme aims at well being of all age groups. Because, a healthy child develops into a healthy adult and in turn has a healthy ageing.
Dr. Hemalatha R. Director of ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad elaborates that “In elderly people metabolism is altered and also their food consumption is affected due to various environmental and physiological factors. Due to decreased food consumption their micronutrient status is compromised along with their muscle mass. Though the calorie requirement is less due to decreased physical activity, their requirement of protein and micronutrients specially Vitamin D and calcium remains higher.”
So, how they can meet these requirements. Dr. Hemalatha suggests – “To do so they should include flesh foods, fruits and milk in their daily diet. To make this practically feasible their diet should be made soft, easily digestible and palatable. In addition to the diet regular physical activity is important to retain muscle mass and utilize the micronutrients obtained from diet or supplements.”
Another aspect to concept of balanced diet is how it differs for a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian.
Dr. Hemalatha answers this query – “While the definition of balanced diet remains same for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, only the source of protein varies. The vegetarians can obtain protein from pulses, legumes regularly while non-vegetarians can exchange one portion of these with flesh foods or eggs or fishes. Fishes can be consumed 2-3 times in a week. Apart from these food groups, milk and milk products are rich sources of protein for both vegetarians and Non vegetarians.
UN General Assembly has designated 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV)… It is a unique opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, food security and health… Moreover, this will even lead the way in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals… At the same time, Aahaar Kranti initiative will renew the focus on nutritionally balanced diets – उत्तम एवं संतुलित आहार (Uttam evam santulit aahaar) replete in locally sourced fruits and vegetables.
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide nutrients for energy and health maintenance, and to combat disease… Describing the role of fruits and vegetables in our diet, Dr. Hemalatha R. Director of ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad deeply explains tha “Fruits and vegetables are essential sources of micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals) and fibre while being low in calories. Vegetables are a source of complex carbohydrates that makes them low Glycemic Index food that prevents spike in blood glucose level. The high fibre content improves the gut micro flora and aids the immune function. Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytochemicals that provide antioxidant functions and protect our body from degenerative diseases”.
Fruits and vegetables constitute one of the three food groups in the balanced diet. These are the protective food group i.e. these foods are rich in micronutrients and help in building immunity, maintain eyes, skin, lips, etc and protect from infections e.g. vitamin A, Vitamin D etc. The more colour more beneficial they are. WHO has given a simple message: Eat 5 a day. Dr Seema Puri, Associate Professor from Department of Nutrition at Institute of Home Economics in University of Delhi gives a simple message – “Eat 5 different coloured fruits and vegetables everyday”. She even discards the general belief of not eating fruits and vegetables at night. She says – “I feel fresh fruits can be taken anytime of the day but always in moderation”.
Experts even explain that while consuming fruits and vegetables variety is as important as quantity. No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Experts recommend Eat plenty every day. Although people at large are unaware of the benefits of having fruits and vegetables. Thus Aahaar Kranti has a pivotal role to play. And not only about fruits and vegetable, rather balanced diet as a whole.
Dr Alok Kumar Agarwal, Consultant Paediatrician at Lal Bahadur Shastri hospital prefers that whole fruit instead of fruit juices should be offered to the child for complete nutrition.
Eating a healthy diet is all about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood. India has the unique advantage of having the knowledge of Ayurveda. It is time to also apply this rich knowledge of Ayurveda-based nutrition to practice. Aahaar Kranti mission will work on this too. In corona times it becomes even more important to take care of our nutrition which ultimately helps in developing immunity and keeping us safe and secure. In the end, keep in your mind – Nutrition is subjective while Balanced diet is objective. Choose wisely and enjoy…
How to impart message of Aahaar Kranti ?
- In the form of `what’s and `why’s of nutrition.
- In the form of games.
- As instructions such as `how to’?
- Content will be provided both online and offline.
- Content will be in all vernacular languages besides English and Hindi to reach out to as many as possible.