New Delhi: Over half of all Indians, especially women, eat an unbalanced diet devoid of fresh fruits, green vegetables, pulses, meat and milk products that are needed to lead a healthy life, new figures show.
The recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 by the health ministry revealed that fewer than half (47%) of all women consume dark green, leafy vegetables daily and another 38% eat them only once a week.
A well-balanced diet is one that contains enough proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
The NFHS-4 showed that only half (45%) of women eat pulses or beans daily and an equal percentage consume them weekly. Milk or curd is consumed daily by 45% of women and weekly by 23%. Seven percent never have either milk or curd and 25% consume these dairy products only occasionally.
Poverty and discrimination against women are responsible for women’s poor diet in India, said Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research.
“In India by and large, food habits are discriminatory in terms of gender. There are two classes in India—those who can’t afford vegetables, fresh fruits and milk and the others who can afford them but discriminate between male and female children. Women in India are trained to eat less and their dietary requirements are not understood, so most of them suffer from anaemia," Kumari said.
“Also, the market trends have changed in recent years and the market is pushing junk food. More and more women, especially young women, are eating unhealthy food..," she added.
Experts say eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, every day can reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
In India, however, more than half (over 54%) of women do not consume fruits even once a week. Very few women consume chicken, meat, fish or eggs on a daily basis, and about a third of them consume these foods weekly, the survey report revealed.
Fried foods and unhealthy beverages are major triggers for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity that are growing rapidly in India.
The findings of NFHS-4 indicate that the eating habits of Indians, especially women, are not healthy and have not changed much in the 10 years since NHFS-3 (2005-06).
“Around 10% of women consume fried foods daily and 36% weekly. Aerated drinks are consumed daily by 5% of women and weekly by 20% of women. The pattern of daily food consumption has remained more or less the same since 2005-06 except there has been a decrease in the daily consumption of dark green, leafy vegetables among both women and men, and an increase in the daily consumption of milk or curd," the survey report said.
The pattern of food consumption by men is similar to that of women, but men are slightly more likely than women to consume milk, curd and fruits regularly. Men are also less likely than women not to eat any chicken, meat, fish or eggs.
“Low intake of fruits and vegetables is linked to heart disease in Indians. Green vegetables and fruits intake, which provides good fibre content and essential vitamins, could prevent diabetes, obesity, liver disease and cancer as well," said Anoop Misra, chairman at Fortis-C-DOC, Centre for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology.
The survey showed an even dietary pattern across the states. However, more women eat dark green leafy vegetables at least once a week in Rajasthan (61%), Kerala (63%) and Uttar Pradesh (73%) than in the rest of India.
Women’s consumption of other types of food at least once a week varies widely across the states, particularly of milk or curd (from 24% in Mizoram and 30% in Odisha to 91% in Haryana, 93% in Karnataka, and 96% in Sikkim) and fruits (from 19% in Odisha to 83% in Kerala).