There are more than 2.5 billion malnourished people living in the world; 800 million are undernourished, 2 billion are overweight or obese, and 2 billion have micronutrient deficiencies. Globally, poor diets are causing morbidity and mortality due to inadequate consumption of nutritious foods and excessive consumption of harmful ones. Modern food production poses risk to the planet as well.
In India, nearly 1.7 million people die every year due to diseases caused by dietary risk factors and obesity, according to the State of India’s Environment 2022: In Figures, a statistical compilation published every year by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down To Earth magazine.
According to the report, lifestyle diseases include respiratory ailments, diabetes, cancer, strokes, and coronary heart disease. In terms of diet, it refers to ones that are low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and high in processed meat, red meat, and sugary drinks. In terms of weight, it refers to being underweight, overweight, or obese. The report states that in India, 71 per cent of the population cannot afford a healthy diet — the lowest figure in the world and an average Indian diet lacks fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
Eat-Lancet reference diet
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Restructuring food systems to deliver better health and environmental outcomes is one the most significant global challenges of the 21st century. To assist in making changes, the EAT-Lancet Commission set out to identify a universal reference diet that is healthy for both humans and the planet, minimising chronic disease risks, and maximising human wellbeing.
EAT-Lancet’s reference diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, with protein and fat coming mainly from plant-based foods, unsaturated fats from fish, and carbohydrates coming from whole grains. With improved agricultural practices and less food waste and loss, the commission estimates this diet could meet the needs of the estimated 10 billion people by 2050. It, however, also points out that a healthy diet must be available and affordable to lower-income countries as well to make a real impact.
That brings us to the eight tips to make a diet more cost-effective and healthier.
Eating a balanced diet, according to Eat-Lancet, is the need of the hour. A healthy diet equates to affordability and accessibility. While India produces a variety of nutritious foods, the lack of nutrition education and financial resources leads to a lack of essential nutrients in the diet.
1. Include millets: Whole grains such as millets (jowar, bajra, ragi, nachni, etc.) are powerhouses of nutrition, packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. A variety of health benefits have been linked to whole grains, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Wheat flour and white rice can be replaced with millets for maximum health benefits. Additionally, millets are affordable, sustainable, and environment-friendly.
2. Include legumes: Indians consume varieties of legumes. They are rich sources of B vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. Consuming them can fulfill daily protein and fibre needs. Legumes are abundantly available in India with a reasonable price.
3. Eat eggs: Eggs are incredibly healthy, nutritious, universally-available food that provide all essential amino acids and micronutrients. A comparison of calorie-matched breakfasts shows eggs come out on top. Across India, the cost of one egg ranges between 4 to 6 INR, which is reasonable for most.
4. Eat peanuts: Nuts and seeds are an imperative part of a healthy, balanced diet. Dry fruits like almonds, walnuts, pecan, cashew are, however, costly. Peanuts are great alternatives to these nuts, packed with good fats, protein, and minerals.
5. Seasonal fresh produce: Buying seasonal fruits and vegetables is a smart strategy to ensure healthy eating and saving money. Fresh produce is more flavorful and nutritious. Procuring seasonal fruits and veggies from the local farmer’s market is cost-effective and generates a lower carbon footprint as well.
6. Cook more: Trying something new kills monotony, and can be a cheerful way to add more versatility to your daily diet. Making a new healthy recipe on the weekend is relaxing, a step towards making healthy choices, and an engaging activity shared between family members.
7. Avoid wastage: Wasting food has become a daily habit. Between harvest and retail alone, around 14 per cent of all food produced globally is lost. Reducing food loss and waste is essential in a world where millions of people go hungry every day. Additionally, reducing food wastage is important to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. Buy only what you need, store food properly, use leftovers, and avoid ordering large portions.
8. Avoid refined white sugar: Stay away from foods and drinks that are laden with refined white sugar. Added sugar is directly linked to noncommunicable diseases like diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, heart diseases, etc. They provide no nutrition except for empty calories.
In India, affordability of a healthy-balanced diet is a public health concern. Healthy eating, however, is possible with adequate knowledge on nutritional composition of different foods and combining them to fulfill individual dietary needs. Although poor economic conditions can be a determinant of eating unhealthy, lack of awareness is a contributor, too.
A comprehensive strategy including mass nutrition education, involvement of public and private stakeholders, and availability of safe-nutritious food is crucial to ensure food security for all.