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April 02, 2021 Friday 03:57:31 PM IST

Nutrition + Delicious = Nutrilicious

Cover Story

India faces the twin challenges in dealing with malnutrition on the one hand and dealing with a craving for junk food that lacks nutrients on the other. How can food technology, modern farming practices and cooking methods be used creatively to develop healthy food that is palatable and affordable as well?

India is now blessed with an abundance of food grains but has the paradox of dealing with malnutrition and hunger on the one hand in margnalised or lower-income communities and consumption of less nutritious ‘junk foods’ by the economically better off sections in society. A study by Macquarie University has shown that higher fruit and vegetable consumption not only prevents non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancers but it is also a key to good mental health. A review of studies done in the 15-45 ages across Europe, UK, US, Japan, Canada and Australia showed that eating enough fruit was associated with decreased risk of developing depression. Fruits rich in nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, E and folate promote better mental health. Found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, beans and citrus fruits, folate is important in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine, which all play a critical role in mood regulation.

Spicy Food

Why are masalas or spices added to food especially in hot countries across the world? Is it used in dishes to help stop the infection? Research on data of 33,000 recipes from 70 cuisines containing 93 different spices revealed that spice consumption is not primarily a cultural adaptation to reducing infection risk from food. It is, however, related to the risk of foodborne illnesses. Prof Lindell Bromham of Australian National University opined that because the spiciness of cuisines scales with many socio-economic factors, like gross domestic product per capita and life expectancy, it is difficult to tease apart the key causes. However, the researchers could rule out some possible explanations of why some areas use more spices in their cooking.  “Spicier foods are not explained by variation in climate, human population density or cultural diversity,” she said.

Mizo Way to Solve Malnutrition

Shashanka Ala, who served as District Collector of Lawngtlai district in a remote and backward area in Mizoram solved the malnutrition issue among children by making anganvadis and schools cultivate fruits and vegetables. Lawngtlai is a disaster prone area where villages are cut off during monsoon, making schools inaccessible. Lawngtlai had 35.3% stunted, 21.3% underweight and 5.9% severely-wasted (or low weightfor- height) children under the age of five years. The level of malnourishment has now come down to 17.93% from over 35% thanks to the project.

A Fridge of Kindness

In 2019 St John’s High School in Chandigarh started a project in which a refrigerator was placed within the school premises and is replenished by the staff and students every day with cooked food and fruits. Children were inspired to take up the project after seeing a video on this topic. Thus the project Cornucopia was born! The inauguration was done by the School captain placing a box of fruits in the fridge. Every day students of one class has the responsibility of filling the fridge with nutritious food. Thereby economically weaker Sections (EWS) children, the support staff of the school and students who have not brought their tiffins are able to have healthy food. Cornucopia is a Latin word that comes from Greek Mythology – ‘cornu’, meaning horn, and ‘copiae,’ meaning plenty. It is a symbol of abundance and nourishment.

Food Safety

Meanwhile, India Government has come up with Food Safety and Standards (Safe food and balanced diets for school children) Regulations, 2020. This regulation aims to encourage schools to adopt safe food and balanced diets amongst school children as per the guidelines issued by the National Institute of Nutrition. Further, foods which are referred to as food product high in saturated fat or trans-fat or added sugar or sodium(HFSS) cannot be sold to school children in school canteens/ mess premises/hostel kitchens or in an area within fifty meters from the school gate in any direction. Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Regulations, 2020 relating to the display of information in food service establishments: Food service establishments (restaurants) having central licenses or outlets at 10 or more locations will need to display the ‘calorific value in kcal per serving and serving size’ of food items on menu cards, booklets or board. Even e-commerce food business operators will need to get their restaurants' partners to display calorie information of food products on their digital platforms.

Nutrition Innovators

Among the food innovations the nation has seen in recent times, the Jackfruit Flour and Spirulina Snack stand out. Jackfruit flour was launched by Jackfruit 365 founded by James Joseph whose mission was to make jackfruit available throughout the year. It is made from 100% mature green unripe jackfruit and is ideal to control blood sugar. It can be added to idli, upma, roti and poor. Zaara Biotech, a Kerala based startup founded by Najeeb Bin Haneef, has produced delicious spirulina cookies that help regulate cholesterol, lower blood pressure and meet amino acid needs of our body. Named Blite, it is rich in dietary fibre, iron, and vitamin c. The project was seeded at Sahrudaya Engineering College, while Najeeb was a student of biotechnology. There is some notable grassroot food innovatiors India can be proud of. Padmashri Chintala Venkat Reddy, the Hyderabad farmer, has grown rice and wheat fortified with Vitamin D. Kamraj Bhai of Gujarat has made high yielding varieties of drumsticks and Urgain Phunstog of Ladakh who has been using innovative technologies to organically grow 20 crops in a cyclical manner.