Sedentary India must eat less. The combined assault of globalized food and little physical activity has altered the eating requirements of the country across sectors, and to meet these changes, a new Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) was announced on 27 July. The latest RDA, a revision from its 1998 version, charts specific calorie intake for separate categories of men and women—sedentary, moderately heavy labour, or heavy physical labour. Overall the verdict is that new India is exerting itself less, and must, therefore, reduce overall calorie intake.
Prepared by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad, the nodal agency for the plan, this RDA attempts to localize the understanding of dietary patterns. The current RDA is based on the lifestyle changes recorded in the last 10 years and also takes into account the local public distribution system, government spending and population data.
“The change in traditional to modern foods, changing cooking practices, increased intake of processed and ready-to-eat foods, intensive marketing of junk foods and ‘health beverages’ have affected people’s perception of food as well as dietary behaviour,” says the report.
While these processed foods have penetrated deep into urban pockets, they’re not far from the rural population either, says D. Raghunatha Rao, assistant director and convener, extension and training division, NIN. “Carbonated beverages are common in villages, and a lot of the rural population has shifted from heavy farm labour to other jobs that are not as physically intensive. So their diet remains more calorific, but is not matched by output,” he says.
In addition, a lot of traditional foods, such as millets, that used to be a staple for many areas, are not being consumed or cultivated. Millets such as jowar, bajra, etc., give essential fibre and micronutrients, he adds.
Basing the guidelines on the ideal adult male (20-39 years with 60kg body weight) and female (18-29 years with 55kg body weight), the energy requirements are thus: For men in sedentary jobs, 2,320 calories; for men doing moderate work, 2,730, for men performing heavy work, 3,490 calories. For women in sedentary jobs, it is 1,900 calories; for those in moderate work, 2,230, and for women doing heavy work, 2,850 calories.
“Although overall people from all these groups show a decrease in physical activity, the only category where the calorie intake has been increased is the 13-17 category,” says Rao. The calcium requirement too has been raised, from 400mg per day to 600mg, for both men and women. Vitamin D will be soon added to the list.
Salt, used more generously in India than globally, has been flagged for causing hypertension. The requirement has been brought down from 10g per day to 6g, from all sources. “Excessive salt has become a way of life because of all the processed and junk foods being consumed nowadays. But excess sodium causes hypertension and the only way to prevent this from happening is, control the intake of salt,” Rao says.