OPINION

Apples and oranges are the meat of the matter

Is the adult Indian population getting its basics wrong in terms of eating healthy and ensuring that diet-related diseases are kept at bay? Researchers presenting their latest findings on the subject note that Indians — even from the relatively better-off sections of society — aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables to get the preventive health-care benefits from this food group.

Though it is the world's second-highest producer of fruits and vegetables, India doesn’t seem to be able to turn this to its advantage, notes a recently released research study titled ‘A snapshot of fruits and vegetable consumption: availability and implications for phytonutrient intake’, which has tried to understand the actual consumption patterns of fruits and vegetables in India vis-à-vis global recommended levels for adults.

The World Health Organization (WHO) panel on diet, nutrition and prevention of chronic diseases recommends a daily intake of at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables (five daily servings of around 80 grams each), excluding potatoes, cassava and other starchy tubers, to prevent diet-related chronic diseases and micronutrient deficiencies. The study notes that we fall terribly short of the recommendation.

This finding is part of the India’s Phytonutrient Report brought out by a Delhi-based think tank, the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), which conducted the study across five cities — Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata covering 1,001 individuals from the upper and middle income groups. “The worst eating habits [on these parameters] are of youngsters and working adults,” says Arpita Mukherjee, one of the authors of the report.

The study notes that while Chennai tops the list in terms of servings of vegetables and fruits, Kolkata is the worst. Hyderabad, Delhi-NCR and Mumbai occupy the second, third and fourth positions respectively. “On average, the Indian diet pattern is skewed towards cereals with fruits and vegetables accounting for only nine per cent of the total calorie intake. The rise in prices of food items has played a major role in rising household expenditure,” explains Ms. Mukherjee.

The study found that the average intake of fruits and vegetables is 3.5 servings per day [of 80 grams each], with the average intake of the younger generation even lower — 2.97 servings per day and 3.42 servings per day for the age groups of 18-25 and 25-35 respectively. “Income plays an important role — the average daily intake is higher for the higher income group. We found that housewives do better in terms of fruits and vegetable intake with an average of 3.65 servings as compared to a working person who has 3.5 servings a day,” adds Ms. Mukherjee.

The study also found variation across diet types: intake of fruits/vegetables is 3.97 servings for a person on the so-called “Jain diet”, 3.87 for a vegetarian, 3.43 for an eggetarian and 3.2 for a non-vegetarian.

bindu.p@thehindu.co.in

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