While malnutrition and under nutrition are old problems in India, there has been no solid data focusing on the deficiencies of specific micronutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, iodine, zinc, folate, iron etc. This has come into light owing to the ongoing pandemic that has exposed failings within the food and health systems of India.
As a result, a shift in the dietary pattern of the Indian consumers has been observed which could also be driven by the fear and anxiety many people around the globe are experiencing due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, Indian consumers are now more focused on the products with nutritional aspects which could help in boosting immunity and in providing an overall better health.
Recognizing this, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) organized an insightful session on ‘Consumer Health & Wellness- Exploring health benefits of micronutrients and nutraceutical products’ with participation of key industry experts.
Pointing out that since the daily micronutrient intake is necessary to support the immune function which is required to fight COVID-19, Dr Jagmeet Madan, National President, Indian Dietetic Association, Mumbai said, “Due to the pandemic, we have now started looking at micronutrients at the cellular level. Vitamins C, D and iron are some of the key nutrients which have now come into focus. We should move ahead in this direction and diversify our diet in the long run.”
At present, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is addressing this concern by promoting food fortification through various means but the real question is what more needs to be done to counter the problem of micronutrient deficiencies in our country.
“FSSAI is considering to make it mandatory to fortify edible oil with vitamins A and D so that people of India can enjoy better immunity with good health. Over the years, food fortification has helped some states better than the others. So, there is a need to exchange capabilities with different states so that the entire country can get benefited by food fortification”, said Tarun Vij, Country Director- India, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), New Delhi.
Besides putting the much needed focus on micronutrients, the ongoing pandemic has also shifted our attention to the protein content in our diet. “The role of nutrition during this crisis is critically important for all age groups. As per the recent ICMR report on the recommended dietary allowances, only 5 per cent of the rural population and 18 per cent of the urban population of India gets the required protein which is an alarming fact”, mentioned Arun Mishra, Head, Global- Health & Wellness, Regulatory Affairs, Unilever.
In sync with this thought, Dr Vikram Kelkar, Joint Managing Director, Hexagon Nutrition, Mumbai pointed out the importance of protein in the diet. “Consumers should have informed choices of the protein content in various foods. Due to lack of awareness, protein energy malnutrition has become a major public health problem in India. Thus, a multi-sectorial partnership along with mandate staple food fortification and providing micronutrient-rich food coupled with awareness of complementary feeding is required”, he said.
The webinar also looked into the growing acceptance of Ayurveda within the country, owing to the current health crisis. Although Ayurveda is being fully explored for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, there lies a knowledge gap somewhere.
“Ayurvedic remedies are now being fully explored in prevention and treatment of the coronavirus disease due to their immunity boosting properties. But we also need to focus on imparting knowledge on the doses and consumption of various natural ingredients in our diet. This is a very critical factor of knowing how to strike a balance”, shared Dr Bhavna Sharma, Head- Nutriton Science Division, ITC, Bengaluru.
The way forward indeed lies in the collaborative efforts by the industry and the government in providing wholesome and affordable nutrition to the consumers, as well as increasing consumer awareness on the right and critical ingredients of a healthy diet.
This session was a part of FICCI's Exclusive Future of Nutrition Webinar Series on "Exploring the Health and Wellness benefits in the Food Ingredients ecosystem" under FICCI’s Centre for Nutritional Excellence, with NuFFooDS Spectrum as Online Media Partner.