Some Unconventional Greens For Nutritional Security
Wheat, rice, maize, and soybean are the four major crops feeding the world. By 2050, the global population will reach 10 billion. At the same time, 24.8 percent of the Indian population is food insecure and 194.4 million people are undernourished.
Out of 600 species of vegetable crops only one fourth is utilized and rest are underexploited, underutilized, or unconventional. Unconventional greens are underutilized greens that are not part of a normal diet nor grown commercially on a large scale. Consumption of such vegetable greens is confined to the people living in areas where they grow. Unconventional greens are micronutrient dense nature’s gift to mankind that provides vitamins and minerals along with antioxidants. In nature, there are many underexploited greens with promising nutritive value, which can nourish the ever-increasing human population. Many of them are tolerant to adverse climatic conditions. India is blessed with diverse agro-climatic conditions with a vast resource of vegetable greens, many of which are still under-exploited. Unconventional greens are inexpensive but high-quality nutritional sources for the poor segment of the population, especially where malnutrition is widespread. The nutritive potential of some less commonly used and inexpensive vegetable greens has not yet been adequately studied.
Leafy greens of legumes and vegetables such as chickpea, beetroot, carrot, cauliflower, colocasia, radish, turnip, etc., are the examples of unconventional greens. These unconventional greens are easily available in the vegetable market at no cost. These are not utilized by general masses rather used for cattle feed due to lack of awareness about their nutritional value. These greens are packed with phytochemicals such as phenols, flavonoids, carotenoid, ascorbic acid, and chlorophyll, which contribute enormously to their antioxidant activity in the diet. They are inexpensive sources of micronutrients such as vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, tocopherols, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and essential fatty acids along with high fiber content.
The inclusion of unconventional greens provides diversity in daily food intake and adds taste and flavor to the diet. Various value-added products can be developed by incorporating unconventional greens in various forms. Nutrient-dense vegetable powders from unconventional leafy greens developed by dehydration technique are concentrated source of micronutrients and bioactive compounds, therefore, can be used to supplement traditional recipes as well as commercially available convenience foods. The value addition of food products with dehydrated vegetable greens can be used as a feasible food-based strategy for improving the quality of diet and preventing nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition. Indian recipes such as mathri, chakali, bhujia, namakpara, kurmura, dhokla, idli, sevian, puri, parantha, saags, burfi, chapati, etc., can be enriched with unconventional leafy greens to increase their nutrient density. Biscuits, cookies, chocolates, noodles, instant soup mixes are the range of products that can be fortified with unconventional leafy greens with high consumer acceptability. The developed products will provide an alternative way to increase the consumption of unconventional greens with good consumer appeal and varied use.
Unconventional leafy greens are the rich source of minerals and vitamins such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, β-carotene, folic acid, vitamin K, etc. These leafy greens can be
incorporated into the meals to improve the quality of food provided under the Mid Meal Scheme. This strategy will help in fulfilling the micronutrient requirements of the children and protect them from hidden hunger. This will increase the school performance of the children with improved learning outcomes along with increased immunity against infectious diseases.
The unconventional greens are the powerhouse of essential nutrients and phytochemicals and had tremendous potential to help people overcome the deadly diseases owing to their significant antioxidant potential. In India, where both malnutrition and poverty are widespread despite the availability of various types of nutritious and cheap green leafy vegetables, there is a need for the exploration of unconventional and underutilized vegetable greens to overcome nutritional problems. The appropriate use of unconventional vegetable leaves can be an effective effort towards achieving the nutritional security of masses at low cost. Increasing the consumption of unconventional greens in our diet can be a food-based approach for treating micronutrient deficiency. Thus, it is recommended that the various value-added products from unconventional greens if incorporated in regular dietary patterns can be a healthy option for the general masses
(The author is a research scholar (Human Nutrition) in the Department of Food and Nutrition at G .B. Pant University, Uttarakhand, India.)