Why India is in urgent need for nutrition security

Dr B Sesikeran MD, Former Director, ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition & a supporter of the ‘Right To Protein’ initiative

With India celebrating ‘Rashtriya Poshan Maah 2022’, it is an opportune time to relook at the food on our plates and assess whether we are fulfilling the nutritional requirements of our bodies. It is of course well-known that the need for nutrition is not uniform. For example, women have different nutritional needs than men; women require fewer calories than men but have a higher requirement for nutrients such as iron, calcium and protein. The food habits of children differ from those of the elderly, with the former needing a higher intake of carbohydrates than the latter. Therefore, the quality of food being consumed often becomes more important than quantity.

Indian diets have traditionally been heavy on carbohydrates such as rice and wheat, sidelining other nutritious foods as sources of proteins, vitamins and minerals. A survey of 2100 Indian mothers in a Right to Protein Study in 2020 found that 84% believed that it is more important to include carbohydrates rather than protein in the diet for energy. Surveys by the National Nutrition Monitoring Board show that Indian diets derive almost 60% of their protein from cereals which have relatively low digestibility and quality.

Such programmes are crucial considering that even today, nearly 190 million people in India are undernourished. While distributional inequality and low agricultural productivity play their part in this sorry state of affairs, one cannot ignore the stark nutrition poverty of lack of protein, vitamins and minerals that plague the vast majority of India’s populace.

It is thus time to reimagine the future of food. India has come a long way in its efforts to attain food sufficiency. The next frontier for India is to ensure the availability of healthy, nutritious foods for a balanced diet.

In the face of challenges like climate change and pandemics, India needs a more secure, sustainable, and just food system. The impending shortages of clean water, erosion of topsoil and changing season patterns are likely to impact how food is grown and eaten which could further be a setback to nutrition security.  Experts suggest that the use of technology, emerging innovations in the field of agriculture, gene-editing and genetically modified food can help India achieve nutrition security, build public health resilience, and augment the quality and affordability of nutritious protein, vitamins and minerals.

Here are some steps India must take to ensure nutrition security:

Food Science – Technology and developments in the food processing sector have the potential to significantly increase agricultural output while assuring a huge portion of the population’s nutritional security.

Genetically modified food may help India achieve its protein sufficiency, but attention must be paid to providing it in an affordable fashion for the underprivileged. A crop’s nutritional value can be increased by using genetically modified technologies to help accomplish desirable features in the crop. One of the most popular genetically modified foods in the world, GM soybeans have been found to fulfil a variety of health demands by providing high-quality, lactose-free and cholesterol-free protein. In addition, GM crops are also credited to use fewer pesticides and being more sustainable.

Agri-tech – We must move from traditional structures to technologically advanced agricultural operations to facilitate dynamic transformation. Agritech startups must use the power of cutting-edge technologies like data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the IoT to stimulate a digital and automated agritech landscape. Rapid food quality assessment technologies can be used to effectively address the customer demand for high-quality meals free of dangerous adulterants and pesticides at every stage of the agricultural supply chain.

Accessibility to quality healthcare– The government should design cost-effective nutrition care programmes and invest in human resources to expand nutrition services within health services and ensure that everyone has access to high-quality nutrition care. It is also critical to develop an all-encompassing strategy that will handle the various fields and facets of nutrition.

A healthy and productive population is the bedrock of a strong nation. As India inches closer to 100 years of independence, it is up to each of us to take steps toward being better informed about nutrients and choose high-quality sources of food in our homes to empower the next generation to make better food choices and harness a life of good health and well-being.

Image credit- shutterstock

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