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Dietary Guidelines for Indians

Source: National Institute of Nutrition (NIN)

With India on the verge of an obesity epidemic, the announcement of the New Dietary Guidelines for Indians comes as a much needed panacea to all in the field of nutrition. These guidelines were drawn up by a group of nutritionists and doctors keeping in mind the current dietary trends of majority of Indians living in big and small cities and the eating trends they seem to be following.

Did You Know? The first edition of ′Dietary Guidelines′ was published in 1998 by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), and since then there have been numerous socio-economic changes in India. The economic transition has changed the lifestyles of most Indians. These changes in lifestyles of people in the urban areas have also brought with them an increase in lifestyle related diseases like obesity, hypertension, heart diseases and cancer to name a few.

According to NIN, “The shift from traditional to ′modern′ foods, changing cooking practices, increased intake of processed and ready-to-eat foods, intensive marketing of junk foods and ′health′ beverages have affected people′s perception of foods as well as their dietary behaviour. Irrational preference for energy-dense foods and those with high sugar and salt content pose a serious health risk to the people, especially children.”

Our life style is changing rapidly.  Food habits are also changing.  Physical activity is reduced in current professional as well as domestic lives.  Based on these changes, daily food intake should also be changed.

Indians depend mostly on American studies and suggestions for confirming daily nutrition requirements.  Deciding nutritional requirements was started in 1944 for the first time in India.  Average weight of men and women in those days was 55kgs and 45kgs respectively.  Presently India is in a peculiar state where most of the citizens  are suffering from lack of nutritious food and the remaining are suffering from obesity due to consumption of high caloric food.  Changing life styles are causing cancers, blood vessel problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. It has been proposed in latest recommendations by ICMR and NIN that daily intake of calories should be reduced.

FYI The new guidelines, putting it in a nutshell has proposed a reduction in the total requirements in terms of carbohydrates, salt, sugar and fats. The transition is in the increase in protein intake to ensure good muscle build up.

The guidelines suggest: 

Carbohydratesshould be the main source of energy for our bodies. Choose from whole grains like semi-polished rice, whole grain atta/flour, ragi, broken wheat/dalia, jowar, whole grain breads, multi grisned breads, brown rice and more which are rich in fiber rather than white rice and refined flours (maida).

Protein : A marginal increase in protein has been recommended for building muscle. This can be obtained by including dals, whole pulses, skimmed milk and curd, lean meat like skinless chicken, fish and egg white. Protein also allows appetite fullness and prevents intake of further carbs.

Fats : The body requires very little fat/oil to provide the essential fatty acids. This can be got from as little as 3 to 4 teaspoons of oil in the food over the period of an entire day. Along with fried foods also avoid saturated foods (oils/fats that are solid at room temperature) like ghee, butter, cream and trans-fat like vanaspati. Experts have suggested using at least two varieties of oil in a day to get the best of each.

Sugar : Avoid excess sugar in the diets in the form of sweets, chocolates, cakes, candies, juices and other soft drinks. As a rule keep you sugar consumption under 6tsp/day. (Note: a bottle of soft drink has anywhere between 8 to 10 teaspoons of sugar).

Salt : Today almost everyone gets far too much sodium from salty foods like pickles, namkeens, ketchups, chips, chutneys along with that present in our day-to day foods. The recommendation is to limit total salt intake to just 1tsp (5gms) /day.

Alcohol : A small peg of not more than 30ml can have beneficial effects on the heart, but at the same time excessive drinking can cause harm to the liver and also add to the calorie intake.

Fiber : Including high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains and pulses in the diet on a daily basis will ensure that you get adequate fiber. Experts recommend at least 30gms of fiber in the day.

The idea is to reintroduce Indians to eating a traditional “thali” meal as far as possible and to eat smaller portions of the same. A simple thali meal that consists of some rice/phulkas with a sabzi, dal, salad/fruit and curd is any day better than having a meal of biryani or fried rice.

According, to Dr Anoop Misra who led the consensus group: “While these guidelines are applicable to Asian Indians in any geographical setting, they are particularly applicable to those residing in urban and in semiurban areas. Proper application of these guidelines will help curb the rising “epidemics” of the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease in Asian Indians”.

Shweta Uchil-Purohit, dietitian at DesiDieter says “We at DesiDieter have been following our own set of guidelines that are actually similar to the new guidelines. This is because we felt that most Indians today lead sedentary lifestyles and also tend to eat a lot of calorie rich foods that are not always nutritious. The publishing of the new guidelines now gives us the much needed backing”.

Divya Sanglikar, nutrition expert at DesiDieter feels, “The new guideline for Indians is not unique to us. The traditional Indian palette is always considered healthy, second best to Mediterranean meals. But, the fast paced lifestyle and the boom in food processing industry is responsible for people becoming “nutritionally lazy”. Preparation of wholesome well-balanced thalis is being replaced with instant take-aways and two minute noodles. Moreover, Indian food industry lacks the vigilant body to control the nutritional value of food processed. All of these factors have been responsible for us Indians forgetting “how and what to eat”. The new guidelines are surely a reinforcement of known facts and it is up to health experts to help people imbibe them to the best.”

Tina Khanna, nutrition expert at Healthji critically analyses the new guidelines. According to her, the new guidelines are actually tweaked version of the previous (1998) version. She feels that the new version needs to be a lot more people friendly and requires more layman interpretation. It doesn’t clearly define what measures people need to adopt for a overall healthy lifestyle. Moreover guideline for salt intake, less than 5 gm a day, is very sound but how to go about to achieve this is a million dollar question. Surveys indicate present consumption level is estimated to be around 10-13gm per capita per day. It is vital that the Indian food industry make an earnest effort to cut down on use of salt in packed foods voluntarily and catering establishment should take a conscious and collective decision to make their preparations with low salt. Ultimately, leaving the choice of adding more to the consumer, if necessary, on the serving table.

Hence, the nutrition teams at DesiDieter and Healthji have made an effort to interpret the new guidelines for their fellow Indians.

They preach that one needs to focus on achieving Nutritionally Best and Moving More for a healthy life.

So, what should you do to meet your nutritional goals?

Balance Your Calories

Know how many calories are required for you to maintain an ideal body weight : A diet expert will be able to assist you with this. You can also use the body weight calculator. Your present weight, lifestyle, bone mass will be taken in to consideration to identify your calorie requirements. Consume foods and drinks to meet, not exceed, calorie needs.  

Plan ahead to make better food choices : Prepare and pack healthy meals at home for children and/or adults to eat at school or work. Have healthy snacks available at home and bring nutrient-dense snacks to eat when on-the-go. Think ahead before attending parties: Eat a small, healthy snack before heading out. Plan to take small portions and focus on healthy options. Consider whether you are hungry before going back for more. Choose a place to talk with friends that is some distance from the food table.

Track food and calorie intake : Track what you eat using a food calorie finder.

 Check the calories and servings per package on the Nutrition Facts label : For foods and drinks that do not have a label or posted calorie counts, try an online calorie counter.  

Eat mindful : Eat only until you are satisfied, not full. If you tend to overeat, be aware of time of day, place, and your mood while eating so you can better control the amount you eat. Limit eating while watching television, which can result in overeating. If you choose to eat while watching television, portion out a small serving.

Limit calorie intake from solid fats and added sugars : Choose foods prepared with little or no added sugars or solid fats. Choose products with less added sugars and solid fats. Select products that contain added sugars and solid fats less often. When you have foods and drinks with added sugars and solid fats, choose a small portion.

 Reduce intake of sugar-sweetened beverages : This can be accomplished by drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and/or consuming smaller portions. Strong evidence shows that children and adolescents who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages have higher body weight compared to those who drink less, and moderate evidence also supports this relationship in adults. Sugar-sweetened beverages provide excess calories and few essential nutrients to the diet and should only be consumed when nutrient needs have been met and without exceeding daily calorie limits.

 Reduce portions, especially of high-calorie foods : Use smaller plates. Portion out small amounts of food. To feel satisfied with fewer calories, replace large portions of high-calorie foods with lower calorie foods, like vegetables and fruits.

 Cook and eat more meals at home, instead of eating out : Cook and eat at home more often, preferably as a family. When preparing meals, include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and protein foods that provide fewer calories and more nutrients. Experiment with healthy recipes and ingredient substitutions.


Monitor calorie intake from alcoholic beverages for adults : Because alcohol is often consumed in mixtures with other beverages and snacks, the calorie content of accompaniments should be considered when calculating the calorie content of alcoholic beverages. Reducing alcohol intake is a strategy that can be used by adults to consume fewer calories.

Watching your sodium intake : Ensuring that meals are cooked in minimum salt or preferably bland. Packaged foods should be compared for their sodium levels before consuming.

Eating iodized rich salt is essential : Purchase good packaged iodized salt only.


Increase intake of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits: Moderate evidence shows that adults who eat more whole grains, particularly those higher in dietary fiber, have a lower body weight compared to adults who eat fewer whole grains. Moderate evidence in adults and limited evidence in children and adoles­cents suggests that increased intake of vegetables and/or fruits may protect against weight gain.

Eat a nutrient-dense breakfast : Not eating breakfast has been associated with excess body weight, especially among children and adolescents. Consuming breakfast also has been associated with weight loss and weight loss maintenance, as well as improved nutrient intake.

Increase consumption of Vitamin A and Beta-carotene foods : Eat a dark green leafy vegetable on daily basis. Consume plenty of orange and red produce. Carrots, papaya, mangoes, pomegranates, tomatoes, water melons, plums should be eaten when in season.

Eat more fresh seasonal produce Half your plate should ideally be raw or steam vegetables.

Increase fruit intake : Eat atleast two seasonal fruits daily and a glass of fresh fruit juice without added sugar.

Vitamin intake needs to be increased It is important to consume foods rich in folic acid like green vegetables and brocolli, oranges. Research indicated that Indians need to increase their Vitamin D intake. Consume plenty of low fat or toned dairy products. Getting few seconds of sunlight is also recommended.

The emphasis is on super foods this season : Super foods are foods that build up your immunity from within. Herbs and natural foods that have beneficial properties should be acknowledged and consumed. Amla for its Vit C punch, Garlic for reducing B.P and anti-cholesterol effects, Methi seeds for anti-diabetic properties, Green Tea for weight management, Soya for hormonal imbalances and more.

Water is crucial : Drink plenty during the day at work and home. More than 1 ½ liters is suggested, summers or winters.

Move More

Getting as much as exercise as possible Physical activity is important for overall health for all age groups. Being physically active should be your goal.