ECOLOGIC : Smart food choices don’t always come with a price tag

14-Jul-2020 : Pavitra Sriprakash, Director and Chief Designer at Shilpa Architects Planners Designers writes a weekly column on Sustainability for The New Indian Express titled “ECOLOGIC”. This week’s article talks about smart food choices and micro-nutrients in our diet during the pandemic.

Full article below: (Also available at The New Indian Express Website)

Smart food choices don’t always come with a price tag

The focus has shifted to food during the pandemic with Prime Minister Narendra Modi-announcing the largest food security scheme to benefit 80 crore people across the country. The PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) was extended from the initial three months starting from April to eight months ending in November. The scheme provides for 5kg of rice or wheat per month per person and 1kg of chana per month per family free of cost to NFSA beneficiaries over and above their regular entitlement through the public distribution system. This combination of rice and chana that is being provided is part of a nutritious and immunity-boosting diet.

This announcement comes around the same time when many experts around the world have called for wider efforts to ensure food security and access to nutrition amid the pandemic. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has urged governments to work together and increase the resilience of food systems. During a pandemic and belt-tightening times, smart food choices can bolster immunity; the key is to have a diverse diet and use your calories wisely by selecting micronutrient-filled foods.

Even without the threat of COVID-19 infection, eating well helps keep the immune system running efficiently. Diets have a direct impact on health and the body’s ability to ward off or recover from illnesses. It is well-established that poor diets are linked to chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Further evidence also shows that people with these pre-existing conditions fare worse and have a higher risk of dying when they contract COVID-19 and other infections.

A rule of thumb for healthy eating is to have a well-rounded, diverse diet filled with nutritious foods from local sources, said food and nutrition experts. It is all the more important now (in the midst of a pandemic) to minimise intake of empty calories — junk food with little nutritional value — as much as possible.

It is best to fill up on micronutrient-filled foods. Micronutrients can be defined as vitamins and minerals that are not produced by the body, but are required in small amounts. Those scientifically proven to support the immune system include vitamins A, B-vitamins, C, D, E and folate as well as trace minerals such as iron, copper, zinc and selenium. There is also emerging evidence that links gut health to immune response. Consuming fibre and probiotics could therefore be helpful in boosting the immune system too.

But barriers such as affordability, lack of access to nutritious foods and poor nutrition awareness can stand in the way of a nutritious and diverse daily diet. In many households, rice accounts for 70 per cent of the daily energy intake. Relying mainly on staples like rice, wheat, and maize, do not offer a lot of micronutrients in the diet and is not optimal. Smart food choices need not always involve a hefty price tag. For instance, rice, dal and legumes (chana and rajma) are one of the most affordable yet healthiest food combinations available in the region.

Legumes are rich in protein, fibre as well as micronutrients, folate, iron, and copper. Together with rice, they provide a complete source of essential amino acids. They also incur a much smaller carbon footprint than meat. So go ahead, focus on your food and work towards a healthy body and planet!