Weight gain/loss: Leave aside food fads, eat nutritious food, says National Institute of Nutrition in its Dietary Guidelines for Indians
Syed Akbar Hyderabad: Superstitions are part of human culture, but when they gain control of food habits, the result is either ill health or malnourishment. The city-based National Institute of Nutrition has demystified the superstitious beliefs that surround the consumption of particular foods, after it found that intake of vegetables, fruits, cereals and even fat by many Indians grossly fall short of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). The concept of hot and cold foods is unscientific and has no nutritional basis, the NIN clarifies, urging people to shed the food fad that certain food items give hot or cold effect to the body. Exaggerated beneficial or harmful claims in respect of some foods, without scientific basis constitute food fads in the country. For instance, there's the myth that intake of curd in the night will affect marital life and consumption of pulses by people with wounds or injuries will delay the healing process. Another myth is that potato is bad for health. NIN deputy director Dr D Raghunatha Rao points out that all foods are good and nutritious. No particular food is good or bad for health. "The concept of hot and cold foods is widely prevalent. Hot foods are believed to produce heat in the body. Some examples are jaggery, sugar, groundnuts, fried foods, mango, bajra, jowar, maize, eggs and meat. Buttermilk, curd, milk, green gram, green leafy vegetables, ragi, barley flour and apples are considered as cold foods, which are actually nutritious," Dr Raghunatha Rao observes, adding that curd, which contains probiotics, is good for digestion. He also advises people not to let out the starch (ganji) while cooking rice. If someone is particular that the rice grain should not be sticky, they should use the starch let out for sambar, rasam and soup. It is rich in B group vitamins. Superstitions surrounding foods can often prove to be quite harmful. According to the NIN, most of the harmful beliefs and prejudices or taboos are associated with the diets of women and children, who are also the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Senior physician Dr B Vijay Kumar of Yashoda Hospital says papaya, a highly nutritious fruit, is strongly suspected to lead to abortion as it contains an enzyme called papian. But there's no scientific evidence. It does not act on the foetus and therefore, it's a myth that papaya causes abortion. "Curd is good for everyone except those who have allergy to milk protein. Boiled potato is good for all as it contains complex carbohydrates. Pulses do not cause pus. In fact, they help in the healing of wounds fast as they are rich in protein," he clarifies. During certain illnesses like measles and diarrhoea, dietary restriction is practised. This can aggravate malnutrition in young children. The only restriction according to Dr Vijay Kumar is eating banana in the night as the enzyme, catecholamine, may create digestion problems. Otherwise, it's a highly nutritious fruit when taken during the day. "Traditional practices are irrelevant often, like mango fruit as a diet is totally avoided for kids below five years and lactating mothers leading to deficiency of vitamin ‘A’ and energy contribution," says Suneetha Sapur, nutrition consultant of LV Prasad Eye Institute. But the irony of the day is, adds Suneetha "while we condemn traditional practices, which were probably relevant in combination with certain food and lifestyle habits at that point of time, we however, lack knowledge to substantiate their efficacy today". Even the modern practices are sometimes as bad. For example, in the name of safe drinking water, there is aggressive commercial promotion of reverse osmosis (RO) water, which is devoid of traces that are essential for good health, found in municipality-supplied water, stream or borewell water. The water from these sources can be made safe by simply boiling, and there's no need for RO processing, Suneeta adds. With many food fads prevailing it's no wonder that Indian households consume several foods far lower than the RDA. Regular surveys by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau reveal that the daily intake of foods including cereals and millets in Indian households is just 396 grams, which is lower than the RDA. The average consumption of pulses and legumes like green gram, Bengal gram and black gram, which are important poor man's source of protein, is 24 grams, which is 31 per cent lower than the RDA of 35 grams. Indian families seem to be poor eaters of even green leafy vegetables. They consume on an average just 14 grams, and other vegetables, 43 grams. Incidentally, green leafy vegetables are the rich sources of micronutrients like betacarotene, folate, calcium, riboflavin and iron. Intake of visible fat is just two-thirds of the RDA fixed by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Low intake of nutrients is reflecting on the energy inadequacy, which according to the NIN is about 70 per cent. Protein inadequacy among Indians is 27 per cent. "In the cereal/millet-based Indian dietaries, the primary bottleneck is energy inadequacy and not protein, as was earlier believed. This dietary energy gap can be easily overcome by the poor by increasing the quantities of habitually eaten foods," says Dr Raghunatha Rao. The Expert Committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research, taking into consideration the nutrient requirements, has recommended that every individual should consume at least 300 grams of vegetables (50 grams of green leafy vegetables; 200 grams of other vegetables and 50 grams of roots and tubers) in a day. In addition, fresh fruits (100 grams), should be consumed regularly. Since requirements of iron and folic acid are higher for pregnant women they should consume 100 grams of leafy vegetables daily. "We should consume fresh, locally available seasonal vegetables and fruits. They have more micronutrients and are tasty. However, no single fruit or vegetable provides all the nutrients you need. The key lies in eating a variety of and colours," emphasises the NIN's new guidelines on diet. ------------------------------- Weight gain/loss plan ================ * Do not believe in the myths surrounding foods. Avoid foods fads and strict to a nutritionally balanced diet. One can manage one's weight by regulating the intake and type of vegetables and fruits. * According to NIN, some vegetables and fruits provide very low calories, whereas some others are rich in starch which provide energy in good amount. Therefore, vegetables and fruits can be used to increase or decrease calories in our diet. * Fruits and vegetables with low calories (in kilo calories - less than 20): amaranth 19, celery 18, spinach 20, radish 16, ash gourd 10, bottle gourd 12, cluster beans 16, colocasia 18, cucumber 13, parvel 20, ridge gourd 17, snake gourd 18, musk melon 17, water melon 16, orange 9 and tomato 20. * Vegetables and fruits with high calories (in kilo calories - more than 100): colocasia leaves (dried) 277, curry leaves 108, rape leaves (dried) 297, tamarind leaves 115, arrow root flour 334, parsnip 101, sweet potato 120, tapioca 157, yam ordinary 111, beans 158, jack fruit, seeds 133, water chestnut (fresh) 115, water chestnut (dry) 330, apricot (dry) 306, avocado pear 215, banana 116, bael fruit 116, currants, red 316, dates (dried) 317, dates fresh 144, raisins 308, sitaphal 104, and wood apple 134.