There is no doubt the Indian diet is the most versatile because it is filled with a variety of ingredients. Across the country, there are diverse types of cuisine, each with traditional ingredients promoting varied health benefits. While some of these are well known, others are not. In the era of fast foods and instant noodles, however, people from all walks of life are generally prone to major deficits of essential micronutrients that act as the building blocks for human cells. As a result, any micronutrient deficiency is akin to a hole in the wall that makes it structurally weak. Even though we add multiple ingredients in making a single recipe, some important nutrients are still missing, which could make the food nutritionally wholesome.
Currently, more than 50% of Indian women and children are afflicted with chronic anaemia. It may be noted that anaemia is classified as a serious health concern if more than 40% of the national or state-level population is afflicted with it. The problem has persisted for decades despite myriad measures being implemented to supplement diets and address micronutrient shortfalls.
Ongoing nutritional shortfalls indicate that most people are inadequate in meeting widespread needs for micronutrients. These include vitamin B12, calcium, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, selenium and molybdenum in indigenous diets. Adding these micronutrients is crucial as their shortfall is creating a hidden hunger that triggers degenerative, depressive, metabolic and psychological problems as well as maternal and foetal disorders. Besides, prolonged deficiencies can cause higher morbidity and mortality rates.
Nonetheless, one can make daily recipes super-nutritious simply by adding a spoonful of sesame, sunflower and flaxseeds, mint leaves, almonds, peanuts, paneer, dark chocolate, coconuts and roasted Bengal gram powder, among other nutrient-dense foods. These ingredients can be bought from your local kirana stores and even online platforms. Also, adding cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger to daily cups of tea could instantly enhance calcium, magnesium and iron intake.
Even simple fare can be made more delicious, nutritious and appealing by adding beautifully-cut boiled eggs, curd, paneer or mint chutney as a topping. This period of prolonged lockdown is the best time to try some of your grandmother's traditional recipes. These could comprise greens soup, adapradaman, drumstick leaf adai, kadamba sambhar, macher jhol, handi biryani, puranpoli, oondhiyo and such dishes that are tasty, nutritious and filling.
Moreover, rather than discarding orange zest, lemon zest, grape seeds, pomegranate peel, cauliflower greens and similar edibles, it is best to use them in gravies, raita and sauces, boosting the flavour and nutritional values of food.
(Also read: 10 Must-Have Foods During Pregnancy To Stay Healthy)
Besides adding such superfoods to the diet, another major strategy is food fortification. It is being practised at the agricultural level as bio-fortification to increase the micronutrient density of the crops. At the industrial level, fortification of common salt, milk, oils, biscuits, and breakfast cereals has been adopted to help meet the micronutrient demands. These products are easily available in the local market. Apart from all these macro measures, if deficiency persists, then a convenient choice comes in the form of home food fortifiers such as Human milk fortifiers, Vitamin-D fortifier, Vitamin -A wheat/ rice fortifier, Nu-Shakti Powermix for rice and atta etc. to name a few. The latter can be safely added to daily staple foods or their derivatives such as wheat flour and rice, augmenting the micronutrient status and absorption.
Going by the alarming micronutrient deficiency rates, the current lockdown offers a great opportunity to eat delicious and nutritious meals, which may not be possible when consuming outside fare. Eating the right foods and if having any deficiency, adding appropriate food fortifiers and supplements can be an excellent way of combating micronutrient hunger. Thereby, we will be ensuring our bodies are as healthy and disease-free as possible.
About the author: Dr. Varsha Pramodh is a registered dietician, research scholar and metabolic nutrition consultant.
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