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April 03, 2021 Saturday 10:46:14 AM IST

Appetite for Healthy Food

Rajagiri Round Table

India has now become self-sufficient in food grains and pulses and our warehouses are full. Despite the widespread availability of food, India is likely to miss global nutrition targets by 2025. Studies have shown that stunting among children under age-5 is higher while anaemia among women of reproductive age is high which leads to poor health conditions in families. In September 2015, 193 UN member states committed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including Zero Hunger by 2030.

In middle income to higher income group families, the food tastes have changed and led to high carbohydrate, fat-rich oily foods that elevate cholesterol levels and also cause the onset of lifestyle diseases in youth-driven by fast food and consumerist culture. India has become the diabetes capital of the world while heart ailments are also on the rise. 
The provision of mid-day meals programme in government schools was a motivating factor for sending children to school. Yet the quality and nutritive value of food served is not guaranteed. Good food is a predictor of good quality of life and happiness. We have biotechnologists, food technologists and world-class spice processing industries producing innovative ingredients that add to the taste, nutrition and medicinal value of food. India also has world-class cuisines and star chefs, who efficiently combine taste with nutritional value.  However, the policymakers now need to address issues with respect to malnutrition in low-income families as well as address the need for children in general to like nutritious and wholesome food.
#India is ranked  94th in Global Hunger Index (GHI) with a score of 27.2 and put in the category ‘Serious’.
# India is not on track to achieve the Global Nutrition targets as per the Global Nutrition Report.

In this scenario, the 69th Rajagiri Round Table Conference was held on March 10, 2021, Wednesday via Zoom Meet on the topic Appetite for Healthy Food and attended by food technologists, nutritionists, chefs, parents, teachers, and representatives from the agri-processing industry.

Since the mid-1980’ss and the onset of liberalization in the 1990s, the Indian food industry has seen the arrival of several major multinational players providing various kinds of appetizing foods that cause craving in children and youth. More junk fund is now consumed by children and adults. The lifestyle changes, sedentary living and fat-rich food consumption has led to newer kinds of health problems. “I come across a child of 9 years who is overweight by 28 kg and his blood pressure was also high at 130,” Dr Zareena Sultana, Associate Professor and soft skills trainer, ISL Engineering College, Hyderabad.  Girls are getting into puberty at the young age of 8 and look mature by the age of 10. “By the age of 12, when they should actually start menstruating, they are suffering from a polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) and Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome,” according to Manju Sarath, Consultant Nutritionist in Bangalore.  Most often children can’t distinguish between thirst and hunger. Mindful eating is not practised at home or while eating out. Children often watch TV or play video games while having food. In restaurants, family members are glued to their mobile sets as they wait for food or eat food. 

Adulterated Cooking Oil

As Indians consume more fried food and snacks, the quality of cooking oil has also become a cause for concern. Ubais Ali, Executive Director of Mezhukkattil Mills, dealing in coconut oil and coconut products pointed out that we had a tradition of using unprocessed virgin oils. Due to western influences, the market preference is now for refined oils while the global trend is virgin. “Refining in the case of oils doesn’t refer to its purity. It is a term to describe the three processes involved- neutralizing, bleaching and deodorizing. Neutralizing is done to remove the acidic nature and make it more alkaline while the bleaching is done to remove natural colour and deodorizing for removing the natural smell. When oil is processed at high temperatures and use of chemicals, it contributes to 8-10% trans-fat in the final product,” according to Ubais Ali. The human body can process natural fats but not man-made fats. The world is moving to a zero trans-fats culture and food safety standards in India are not updated as in the USA or European Union. The coconut oil standards presently followed were framed in 1976, Ubais Ali said. 

The acidic food consumed by us leads to metabolic acidosis. The excess acidity in the body is removed by the kidneys with the release of ammonia. “When blood pH levels fall due to rising in acidity, bicarbonate from the bones is utilized by the blood but it goes only with calcium. The excess calcium in the blood cannot return to the bones and gets deposited in the kidney or in the gall bladder as stone. The loss of calcium in the bone causes osteoporosis which is solved by taking more calcium supplements,” according to Dr Cijith Sreedhar, CMO at Prakriti Shakti-Clinic of Natural Medicine, CGH Earth Wellness.

Baking and Gourmet Food

Bakery products and gourmet foods served in star hotels are rich in trans fats, cholesterol and hence leading to lifestyle diseases. Biscuits, pastries, burgers, pizzas, pasta, French fries, sauces are all blamed for the obesity, gastro problems and several other ailments now reported.  “In families, I find children are bribed to do something by offering them chocolates and sweets,” Manju Sarath said. Parents are not leading by example and have parties at home where burgers and pizzas are served. And when children want to celebrate a birthday or have a celebration with friends, they expect parents to provide such food, she added. 

There is no policy to check the sales of nutrient-deficient gourmet food in the country. “ I have been a chef of 44 years and it was only in the past four years, I have transformed from a regular chef to wellness chef,” according to Jose Varkey, Corporate Chef at CGH Earth, Kochi. Safety standards are not followed from the farm to the fork. “Can you find any vegetable, fish or slaughterhouses to be hygienic and scientifically run in the country?,” asks Soju Philip, Executive Chef, Ramada Resort, Kochi. We are advancing in infrastructure, digital technology, science, industry but in the food sector we have to go back to basics or nature, he added. 
Healthy Nutritious Food
Despite the prevalence of unhealthy food habits, our food research institutions such as Central Food Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysore have been in the forefront in coming up with innovative technologies. Doctors now don’t recommend rice, especially to diabetes patients because it is high in glycemic index leading to an increase in blood sugar levels. “CFTRI has come up with rice that is rice low in glycemic index. Refined or polished rice loses much of the nutrients and hence CFTRI has also developed brown rice that is palatable and edible,” according to Dr A Jayadeep, Head of Grain Science Technology at CFTRI. Children have the habit of skipping breakfast when traditional food is given. CFTRI is incorporating multiple grains such as millets and pulses to instant food that meets the requirements of convenience, nutrients and improved shelf life, he added. “We are working on instant breakfast foods- for eg. upma mix, rice flakes which are traditional food with added nutrients and convenience,” he added.
Parents now prefer giving cookies with millets rather than maida to their kids. Pizza, noodles and burgers can be made nutritious by adding millets and pulses, according to Rekha Raveendran, a home-baker based in Coimbatore. Parents are also seeking millet cookies, ragi cookies for their children. “I have even made cakes with health mix, with carrots and dates, ”she added.
The need of the hour is to develop a taste for locally available, healthy delicious food, according to Dr Varghese Panthalookaran, Director of Rajagiri Media “We have developed a new programme titled Taste India and integrated into our Pallikkutam iSchool where home-based lessons for entrepreneurial learning called SELFIE (Smart and Sustainable Entrepreneurial Learning for Families in India and Elsewhere) has been initiated. We want children to cook food at home supervised by parents and chefs. If children cook themselves, they will love to eat food,” he added. 
Food as Medicine
Subroto Mondal, Pick N Serve, a Pune based company dealing in the export and import of fresh fruits and vegetables said that he was a living example of how eating more raw fruits, vegetables and salads can cure recurring ailments and allergies. Now he has been completely cured of allergic asthma that troubled him in the initial years after relocating to Pune and now is fully freed from taking any medicine.  

#Family members have to practice mindful eating and have meals together not distracted by TV or mobile phones.

#Eat at regular times, avoid eating after 8 pm.

#Make pizzas, burgers, pasta, noodles nutritious by adding more vegetables, millets or pulses.

#Consume sufficient water at intervals for the body to remain hydrated.

 #Avoid making cookies, paratha, and cakes with maida as it lacks dietary fibre.

#Train children to make fresh salads and juices at school.

#Nutrition, wellness clubs should be started in schools and colleges.

#Food safety standards for cooking have to be updated to prevent adulteration and blending of substandard oils.

#Refined oils should be replaced with virgin oils free of trans-fats.

#New technologies or innovation especially w.r.t to instant foods, fortification of foods with vitamins and minerals should be commercialized for wider use in the country.
#Allow children to cook at home under parental supervision or chefs. When children cook on their own, they will eat as well.

#Children should not be bribed to do something by offering chocolates, sweets or cakes.

#Reduce acidic content in foods, increase alkalinity.

#Organic farming should be promoted to reduce pesticide content in produce.

#Make children eat simple, inexpensive food, for eg. Ragi and millets are rich in fibre, proteins and minerals.

#Nutritionists should popularize recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner that confirms nutritional standards, use locally available millets, pulses and vegetables.