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A welcome set of dietary guidelines

A welcome set of dietary guidelines

Healthy dietary practices are key to individual and national health.

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Last Updated : 14 May 2024, 20:13 IST
Last Updated : 14 May 2024, 20:13 IST
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The new dietary recommendations for Indians released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) last week are a reminder of the inadequacies of our food habits and the need to improve them.

Our food habits are not just inadequate, many of them are bad and unhealthy. The ICMR has said that about 56.4 per cent of the total disease burden in the country can be attributed to unhealthy dietary practices. This should drive home the importance of eating the right kind of food and avoiding the wrong kind. Our body needs a balanced food but that is not what we offer it most days. A balanced diet would normally consist of no more than 45 per cent of the calories from cereals and pulses. Beans and/or meat should account for 15 per cent and the rest should come from nuts, vegetables, fruits and milk. Salt, sugar and oils should be consumed only minimally. 

The ICMR has issued 17 dietary guidelines which help people to consume foods with essential nutrients and limit or avoid those that contribute to lifestyle diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, which have been increasing. The guidelines note that healthy diets and adequate physical activity could prevent the incidence of type-II diabetes and coronary heart disease to a large extent. Our food is now carbohydrate-heavy and we eat a lot of snacks and desserts. Ultra-processed foods are the most common choices and many food items are high on oils and fats. New eating regimens and food cultures have been gaining strength and they are supported by a promotion and advertisement business which makes bad food normal, natural and classy. There is the need to take our food back from the hands of these interests because the consequences of eating bad and unhealthy food will be for us to bear. 

The guidelines underline the importance of traditional, nutrient-rich food. Fast food and ready-to-eat meals delivered by the gig industry won’t measure up to that. There is the problem of time and taste that takes families away from cooking to ordering food. There should be concerted efforts to promote healthy and nutritious food. Education on healthy food should start from schools and there must be strict enforcement of rules regarding making, classification, labelling and promotion of food products. There should be adequate public infrastructure which will facilitate physical activity. Everybody from policymakers to healthcare professionals to educators has a role in making our food healthy and popularising it but the biggest responsibility falls on ourselves.

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