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How To Beat India's Diet Paradox

Imbalanced diets and poverty are the scourge of our nation. Supplements could help.

Ramya Ramachandran | Dec 03, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is throwing up unpleasant surprises. For instance,doctors are warning that immunity from Covid-19 antibodies may only last a few months. Moreover, the economic downturn from lockdowns and allied restrictions is driving millions into poverty,which will end up exacerbating India’s nutritional crisis.

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What’s worse is that in a small section of recovered patients, symptoms are even persisting for months. Besides resulting in constant fatigue,it may even be leading to irreversible damage in the lungs, brain and heart. Since the novel coronavirus is a relatively new infection, one cannot predict how long these symptoms may persist – which could be for months or even years.

Multiple Threats from Malnutrition

In other words, we need to take a long-term perspective in managing Covid's aftermath. This is especially important to India, where malnutrition has been casting its long shadow for decades, driving lower productivity among the workforce and populace. For a nation, banking on its demographic dividend to make it among the community of developed nations, this is a risk it can't afford.

As is well known, malnutrition and hidden hunger have been causing a rise in wasting and stunting. According to the Global Nutrition Report 2020, In India, 37.9% of children below 5 years are stunted while 20.8% are wasted– whereas the Asian average is 22.7% and 9.4%, respectively. In stunting, alongside Nigeria and Indonesia, India ranks among the three worst nations. Moreover, the prevalence of stunting is 10.1% higher in rural regions vis-à-vis urban zones.Worse, 50% of Indian women in the reproductive age are anaemic.

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The Global Nutrition Report 2020 observes that there is a link between malnutrition and various types of inequity. These include inequities based on age, gender, geographic location, education, ethnicity and wealth, among others. Additionally, inequities related to food and health systems inflate inequalities concerning nutrition outcomes. In turn, these can cause more inequities, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

As the world is combatting the COVID-19 crisis, which has exacerbated and exposed different types of socio-economic inequities, promoting equity is imperative in tackling malnutrition, the report states.

But when it comes to combat malnutrition, this is easier said than done. To elaborate, Nu-Shakti’s recently released report, India’s Diet Paradox, emphasizes that unprecedented levels of awareness about health and nutrition are offset by a lax approach in embracing healthy practices. The survey was conducted among 1000-plus people across all age groups in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, highlighting the key role played by a healthy immune system in safeguarding people from ailments and infections,including the need for sufficient nutrition in building immunity.

Supplements and Food Fortification
Not surprisingly, the latest Global Burden of Diseases study has ranked India 118 on its global index as poor dietary habits cause 310 deaths per 100,000 persons. The Diet Paradox arises because people do not necessarily take the right action despite having high awareness levels regarding diet and proper nutrition habits.

In essence, the challenge lies in converting awareness into practical action by ensuring adequate nutrition in our daily diets. Insights regarding the gap between awareness and action in the Diet Paradox survey reveal that 60% of respondents rarely or never make any conscious effort in adding nutritive elements or extra supplements in their diet.

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Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in building a healthy immune system, thereby safeguarding people from ailments and infections. Therefore, dietary supplements can help in addressing daily nutritional shortfalls. Such supplements also aid in enhancing disease protection by 83%and immune function by 42% while raising energy levels by 31% .

Considering the ongoing threat of infection from Covid-19, dietary supplements and home food fortifiers can play a crucial role in providing the required amount of micronutrients in our daily diets.Under the present circumstances, where people face travel restrictions in visiting their physicians and nutritionists, home food fortification can be vital since it helps in increasing the micronutrient value of staple home-cooked foods.

Significantly, food fortifiers promote a healthier, more balanced diet without changing the taste and appearance of food or altering dietary habits. Containing more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, such food fortifiers can be mixed in rice, flour and beverages, among other items. Key micronutrients include zinc, selenium, vitamin C and other elements that build immunity.

Meanwhile, the WHO has warned that the coronavirus may never go away and could take up to two years to come under control. Under the circumstances, people must focus on building their immunity via supplements and home food fortifiers. When it comes to personal immunity, every effort will count in promoting better health outcomes.

(The author is a Clinical Nutritionist, Lactation Consultant and Diabetes Educator Chennai).