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Killing me softly-food: nourishment or harm

Killing me softly……………

Roberta Flack's haunting melody in the seventies should be modified, Killing me softly……. with food.

It is not a song or a weapon taking lives—it's food.

"If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have the safest way to health." – Hippocrates.

The Global Burden of Disease study has given us a snapshot of Dietary dangers. One in five deaths globally is attributable to poor diet—that's 11 million lives lost each year. According to the study, the culprits are excessive sodium intake, insufficient whole grains, and a shortage of fruits. Even affluent nations struggle to meet dietary targets. Countries like India, the USA, and Russia fall short on whole grain consumption.

The Impact:  Poor diet kills but also diminishes the quality of life for countless others. Over 5 million diet-related deaths occur in adults under 70, with 177 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost due to dietary risks. These numbers underscore the urgency of addressing our global food crisis.

The extent of Impact: 22% of all deaths and 15% of all DALYs above the age of 25 years are attributable to poor diet.   

Food is vital for human life, and apart from sustaining life, it is an essential aspect of every celebration or festival. There is immense diversity in the food habits of countries, even among different regions. Yet, no country has achieved all 15 food and nutrient targets, so there is a need to add healthier options. "Common Salt" is an exception, where less is more (better for health). 

India's Nutritional Paradox of undernutrition and overnutrition is a double-edged sword. Government policies have improved child undernutrition, but the rise in overweight and obesity rates is alarming.

Overweight and Obesity is higher in women than in men, but men are catching up fast! The age group affected most is children and adolescents. Without urgent action, we face a surge in lifestyle-related chronic diseases like Obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers, which already account for 70% of the disease burden.

A Revealing Survey by the ICMR and the National Institute of Nutrition survey, "What India Eats," reveals a preference for grains over the required amount. Yet, there is a deficiency in whole grains. The irony is stark: a nation consuming more carbohydrates than necessary, primarily in refined and processed forms. Delving deeper, we eat more refined grains, polished rice, Refined wheat, and many ultra-processed grains, even if they are good grains!

What do you eat, how much, and when do you eat? 

Quantity—Food must be adequate to maintain life, support physical activity, and maintain a healthy body weight. However, eating more than the required amount leads to weight gain. Quantity matters!!

Quality—A diverse diet provides essential macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Nutrient-dense foods from various groups, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc., are necessary for a good-quality diet.

We should focus on the whole meal plate and not on single foods or nutrients; we should not consume these in isolation. 

Meal timings: When we eat is important, following our gut's day-night or circadian cycles is vital.

Safety- Foods should be free from biological, chemical, and physical contamination.

 Industrialization has made food readily available and cost-effective, but at a cost to health. Processed and ultra-processed foods, stripped of fiber and nutrients and laden with preservatives, salt, and sugar, adversely impact physical and mental health. The addition of synthetic fibers and vitamins cannot replicate the benefits achieved by their natural counterparts.

The way forward is to know what, when, and how of nutrition.  

· Be aware of the right foods.

· Be aware of the right amount.

· Eating mindfully- no distractions like TV/social media/internet

· Impact of poor Sleep/high-stress levels can alter appetite and hunger levels.

· Exercise and physical activity can help in regulating appetite.

· Cultural factors- respecting our legacy, simultaneously embracing scientific information.

· Manage Social/ peer pressure.

· Non/easy availability of food (staying in a food desert)

The good news is that small steps lead to longer distances covered on the path to health and wellness. 

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