Plant-Based Nutrition In Indian Diet
Diabetes Health|August - September 2021
Dr Geeta Dharmatti explains how plant-sourced foods can be beneficial in fulfilling the nutritional requirement of Indians
Dr Geeta Dharmatti

The food conundrum

Food is closely associated with the culture and climate of a particular place. It depends on the type of air, soil and water that is available for a particular product to grow. That product serves well to the people belonging to that particular country or area. Also, food preferences are passed on as a habit from the mother to the child in the womb itself. Culturally India has been a vegetarian country. Almost every meal consists of at least one plant-based food on the plate. When it comes to the consumption of non-vegetarian food, there are different scenarios observed in India.

In the first scenario, the traditional diet consists of one portion of non-vegetarian in most of their meals. For example, in a Bengali or Konkani population, the traditional meal consists of fish. It is regularly included in the diet as a staple.

In the second scenario, a culturally vegetarian population who hardly cooks any non-vegetarian food at home consume it as a dine-out option or a happy food. They eat once in a while and push themselves into authentic non-vegetarian food because they eat it for taste and want to make it a special occasion. Here, non-vegetarian food is seen as a luxury and not as a source of nutrition.

The third group comprises people who are health-conscious and believe that eating non-vegetarian food has a diversified impact, right from carbon footprint to health. These people are convinced that vegetarianism is the way ahead for good health and that it has its benefits. They want to shift from non-vegetarian to vegetarian food but are addicted to eating non-vegetarian food two to three times a week. In such a population, options like vegan meat or plant-based meat may serve the purpose well due to three reasons:

They experience a positive psychological impact of eating healthier options They have an emotional satisfaction of getting the taste, flavour and connect with the food.

They are assured that they are giving back to the ecosystem and contributing to the reduction of the carbon footprint. Most of the time they feel responsible for the slaughtering part.

Protein consumption in India

One should look at both the quantity and quality of protein consumed. Here, education plays an important role to understand the nature of different food items in our diet and learn to balance the nutrition in a meal plate.

The latest guidelines by the National Institution of Nutrition (NIN) 2020, modified by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) suggest protein intake of a minimum of 0.6-0.8 g per kg body weight. The guidelines suggest that one should focus on eating a good quality protein rather than the quantity. In the Indian vegetarian diet, dairy plays an important part in protein contribution. The guidelines also stress nutrition education among people to plan healthy meals. The recommended ratio for a meal is 3:1:1 (3 portions of grain, 1 bowl of pulse and 1 glass of milk).

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