Watch: What does an ideal diet look like according to new ICMR nutrition guidelines?

Indians should derive macronutrients and micronutrients from at least eight food groups for their daily meals

India is witnessing a rapidly changing food landscape in the context of lifestyle changes, food habits and scientific findings. New estimates show that 56.4 per cent of the total disease burden in the country is due to unhealthy diets. Food systems are also responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Thus, sustainable eating helps address the problems with our food systems, by consuming foods that are produced in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Set against this, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR-NIN) has issued 17 dietary guidelines to meet the requirements of essential nutrients and prevent non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes. The guidelines also advocate for healthy eating habits and lifestyles, and avoiding ultra processed and packaged food. These comprehensive recommendations were created by a diverse team of specialists under the guidance of Hemalatha R, the Director of ICMR-NIN. 

So, what does an ideal diet look like? According to the ICMR’s diet booklet, Indians should derive macronutrients and micronutrients from at least eight food groups for their daily meals. It recommended vegetables, fruits, roots, and tubers to compose about half of the daily food intake with the remaining portion consisting of cereals, millets, pulses, flesh foods, eggs, nuts, oil seeds, and milk or curd. Similarly, vegetarians should eat foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, etc., as there is a challenge for them to get enough B12 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

According to ICMR, the World Health Organization is considering revising its recommendation and reducing calories from sugar to less than five percent kilocalories a day. Hemalatha R told Down to Earth (DTE) that if you consume sugar, at least try to restrict it to around 30 grams a day. She said that sugar should be avoided, as much as possible, especially for children younger than two. If consumed long-term, ICMR-NIN authors said that sugar substitutes such as sweetening agents like aspartame, and saccharin, can lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other non-communicable diseases.

The scientists who drew up the dietary guidelines also advised against consuming high quantities of protein, especially in the form of protein supplement powders due to various risks like kidney damage, dehydration, and nutrient imbalances. According to Hemalatha R, the guidelines would “facilitate the attainment of the goals stated in the National Nutrition Policy and the guidelines are consistent with the goals set in the National Policies on Agriculture and Health.”

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