New India exerts less, must eat less

New India exerts less, must eat less

In the old city of Hyderabad, pharera khana is a popular cooking technique for biryani. Once you cook the rice, you throw away the starch—as in many Indian homes. But this may not be wise.

“What this does is throw away the B-group vitamins because the top layer of rice contains all B-group vitamins. When you cook rice in a pressure cooker, you retain these because all the excess water gets evaporated, leaving behind all the vitamins," says D. Raghunatha Rao, assistant director and convener, Dietary Guidelines Revision Committee, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.

Also Read India may switch to new dietary regime in Sep

Some of these tips on “healthy cooking" come ahead of National Nutrition Week, starting 1 September, and form part of the advice that will be issued along with the new recommended dietary allowance (RDA) that is now being finalized.

The guidelines, reported in Mint on 11 August, will cut down on the nutritional requirement for Indians since the latest research shows that men and women in all work groups, be it sedentary, moderately heavy, or heavy physical labour, are now exerting themselves less and must, therefore, reduce their calorie intake.

The new RDA is an attempt by the food and nutrition industry to create a local understanding of dietary patterns—based on the local public distribution system, government spending and population data.

A step in the right direction

Nutritionists say it’s a step in the right direction. “The nutrition scene has changed vastly in the last 10-15 years, especially in urban areas, and this revision has been very timely and apt," says Sheela Krishnaswamy, director, Board of International Confederation of Dietetic Associations, Bangalore.

The attempt at localization is commendable since most nutrition policies have traditionally been a copy-paste of Western medicine, says Shikha Sharma, wellness consultant, Delhi. “They usually only focus on the energy requirement and leave out the other aspects of food such as digestive and medicinal properties," she says. “The current RDA, however, does make an attempt to incorporate the digestive aspect. There is, for instance, a separate section on antioxidants (antioxidants available in fruits and vegetables are rich in enzymes and aid digestion). Just energy and protein are not the only important components of nutrition," she says. “It would be more helpful to incorporate the medicinal aspect."

What you need to know

The energy requirement for men will be 2,320 calories in sedentary work; 2,730 calories in moderate work; and 3,490 calories in heavy work. For women, it will be 1,900 calories in sedentary work; 2,230 calories in moderate work; and 2,850 calories in heavy work. “All values have been based on the ideal adult male (20-39 years with 60kg body weight) and female (18-29kg with 55kg body weight)," says B. Sesikeran, director, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, the nodal agency for the RDA project. “The standards followed in the last 10 years have basically been based on old data, and some of the energy requirements needed to be corrected. The current RDA is based on the lifestyle changes recorded in the last 10 years. People in all types of jobs, whether desk-based, or those engaged in heavy physical labour, show a decrease in physical activity," says Sesikeran.

Interestingly, the only age group where the energy requirement will be going up is the 13-17 category. “The earlier requirement was not optimum for this age given the higher levels of physical activity they show," says Sesikeran.

The calcium requirement will be raised from 400mg per day to 600mg for both men and women. Vitamin D will be added to the list. Moderate use of salt will be recommended, down from 10g per day to 6g, from all sources. “Excess salt alters metabolism and causes high blood pressure. Avoid consuming things like pickles, as these have a high salt content," says Rao.

Don’t cut and wash the vegetables—reverse the order to preserve the nutrients. While cooking green leafy vegetables, lightly sauté them in oil, because these contain fat-soluble vitamins which can only be consumed when there is oil. “Also, use some lemon juice with green leafy vegetables, it binds the iron, and promotes the absorption of iron," says Rao.