India has made massive strides in the health sector over the last few decades, which reflects in the country’s increased life expectancy (National Profile Report 2019), and significant decline in infant mortality rates (Sample Registration Survey 2019). However, India continues to face the triple burden of malnutrition with obesity, being overweight and hidden hunger with micronutrient deficiencies. This is even more pronounced with undesired dietary patterns, deranged circadian rhythms and unhealthy lifestyle adoption especially in urban environments, found more so among adolescents and young adults. A recent India Fit Report 2020, indicates that approximately 62% of Indians fall into the ‘unhealthy’ category. Among several possible reasons, the report highlights nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress, etc., as few key indicators of the problem.
While public health campaigns such as ‘Eat Right India’ are actively driving conversations aimed at behavioural change on a national level, it is imperative that each citizen also contributes to further the cause. The critical step is to identify measures to strengthen the quality of the diet within the desired quantity.
For instance, enhancing the intake of protein, which are hailed as the ‘building blocks of life’, can be one trigger of transformation which can be emphasized. Made up of 20 amino acids, thousands of proteins in our body are vital for our good health. Not only do proteins help in creating new cells and in the growth and maintenance of tissues, but they also are an integral part of the regulatory substances like hormones, enzymes that help with digestion and various metabolic reactions needed to derive energy and assimilate the vital nutrients. Additionally, in the form of keratin and collagen, protein is beneficial for good skin, hair & nail growth and for the strength of the muscles and bones. To be able to achieve all these functions, our bodies need to consume an adequate amount of proteins. Surprisingly, as a community, we dedicate very little time on the quality of food intake with a special emphasis on our family’s protein requirements. Additionally, our decisions get affected by our limited understanding, and the range of myths around protein consumption.
Published reports indicate that 90% of the Indian population is unaware of their ideal protein intake requirements. A recent IMRB survey claims that 73% of Indian diets are protein deficient. This is alarming! India needs a paradigm shift to be able to address this issue. There is an urgent need for sharp focus and national-level knowledge sharing to increase awareness and educate the people at large about the importance of incorporating adequate quantity and good quality of proteins in their daily diets.
Cause-based initiatives like Right to Protein which specifically champion the cause of protein sufficiency warrants more attention since these initiatives are increasingly working towards putting out information for people to learn more about protein intake. For instance, on 27th February 2020, the Right To Protein initiative observed ‘India Protein Day’, the country’s first, to drive awareness-led conversations about adequate protein consumption.
There is an effort by Right To Protein initiative to work towards standardizing tool kits to quantify the total amount and quality of protein in one’s diet. There is a need to identify locally available, sustainable Indian sources of protein-rich foods. It is also important to know the correct and scientifically validated way of incorporating these sources in the Indian diets so that we can maximize the quality of proteins from our mainly vegetarian diets. It is important to remember that adequate protein consumption means at least 25% of your plate in every meal, should consist of proteins. We need to empower people at large to achieve this in the most cost-effective manner across socio-economic strata and age groups.
It is crucial that each one of us comes together to create a vibrant ecosystem of nutritionally-aware citizens and bring about a change in our own lives first, by simply including filling 1/4th of your plate with protein in every meal, every day. This Protein Day, let’s join hands to address the challenge of protein awareness and sufficiency for all citizens in our country.
(Authored by Dr Jagmeet Madan, Eminent Nutrition Expert, Professor, Principal, Sir VithaldasThackersey College of Home Science (Autonomous) SNDTWU, Mumbai and National President, Indian Dietetic Association, Supporter of the Right To Protein Initiative)