International Women's Day is a day significant for several conversations that encourage women to challenge gender biases and inequality, whilst empowering one and another to break the stereotypes and move beyond all barriers. As important as all these conversations are, there is one other that is often left out - equal access to nutrition for women. According to CNNS 2016-18 and NFHS4 2015-16 data, almost 53 percent of women of reproductive age are anaemic. This is an alarming fact because not only does this represent the poor state of health and nutrition among women but also puts a serious burden on the country's food security. Undernourished mothers can trigger cycles of undernutrition by passing on nutrient and vitamin deficiencies to newly born babies.
Under 'Eat Right India', FSSAI is focussing on promoting safe, healthy, and sustainable diets. A variety of foods are promoted considering the vast diversity in diet, culture, customs etc. for wholesome nutrition. FSSAI promotes a variety of whole grains ranging from wheat and rice, which are commonly consumed to millets and other indigenous grains for better nutrition, keeping the diversity of the population in mind. We also believe that protein is integral to our diets and should be consumed in appropriate amounts for balanced nutrition.
These days, a lot of youngsters do extensive workouts in gyms and use various kinds of protein supplements. As we all know that for any kind of sports activity or physical activity, right nutrition is perennial, hence, educating young people about the right eating habits and how to use various bodybuilding products especially is important. FSSAI has also notified the Food Safety and Standards (Health Supplements, Nutraceuticals, Food for Special Dietary Use, Food for Special Medical Purpose, Functional Food and Novel Food) Regulations. This Regulation provides for the general conditions for manufacture and sale of these foods, besides providing details of each type of above foods in individual chapters regarding essential composition, content of amino acids and other vitamins and minerals, requirements related to claims, labelling, permitted use of additives.
There are several myths prevailing around protein which poses a barrier to adequate protein consumption. At the same time, a lot of people are not able to identify easily available protein sources (primarily from plant sources) and avoid the inclusion of proteins in their diets as they consider it is available only through animal-based sources. We actively tackle this protein paradox in the minds of women and this needs to be eliminated as it will only continue to act as a deterrent for women when it comes to including proteins in their regular diets.
Various government awareness initiatives like 'Eat Right India' and 'Poshan Abhiyaan' have been increasing awareness about complete nutrition and balanced diets. Other industry initiatives like 'Right To Protein' have also been supporting by increasing awareness about adequate protein consumption. The citizens need to step up to consume and spread knowledge among their family and friends.
Why is protein important for women?
Women need protein, no matter what stage of life. Protein is really beneficial in improving overall health and appearance. Protein is good for healthy hair, skin, and nail because protein has keratin, which helps develop all of these. However, just besides feeling and looking good, protein consumption is essential for maintaining lean muscle mass. But that doesn't mean women become bodybuilders, no! By including protein in the daily diet women would look toned and fit; moreover, it will increase physical strength! In fact, lack of protein in the diet can actually cause osteoporosis and bone loss, an ailment that most affects women as compared to men. Protein contributes to adequate bone strength and density, making up about 50 percent of the volume of bone and about 33 percent of its mass. Eating enough high-quality protein contributes to the maintenance of sufficient muscle mass and function, which is critical for overall bone health.
What myths shall be busted right away?
- Everyone should eat the same amount of protein - No human body is the same and everyone is physically different, with different requirements, health goals and physiological build. Similarly, everyone's daily protein requirement is different. While the protein requirement for men and women vary with the base recommended daily the amount being 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women, these figures tend to vary from person to person, even within the same gender depending on one's weight, lifestyle, muscle mass and health status.
- Plant proteins cannot meet all your protein requirements - Living in a largely flexitarian nation - where people follow a diet cantered around plant-based foods with the occasional inclusion of meats due to health, ethical, cultural or religious reasons, plant proteins - play a critical role in meeting the daily protein requirements. However, a common and widespread myth is that one cannot get all the required proteins from plant-based foods, especially as they are considered to be 'incomplete proteins'. And while it is true that all plant-based proteins often do not contain the nine essential amino acids required by the body, having a balanced combination of multiple plant-based protein-rich foods throughout the day will help you meet your daily protein levels. Moreover, there are a number of 'complete plant proteins' such as quinoa, buckwheat and soybeans are often healthier than their animal-based counterparts.
What must be done to increase awareness about protein sources?
Proteins are an integral part of our overall health and wellness and their deficiency can have a long term impact on one's overall quality of life. Increasing awareness about common accessible and affordable sources of protein both animal and plant-based is essential. Everyone has a role to play, including media as they have the power to mainstream such discussions and influence people as well as their choices by showcasing various examples. FSSAI has recently initiated a 'Plant Protein Rich Breakfast Competition' on World Protein Day 2021 inviting people to participate by sending healthy plant protein-rich recipes. This is one such endeavour to raise more awareness about the role of proteins in our diets.
As we all know that women are major influencers of household food consumption and it is no surprise that a protein sufficient woman can make her entire house protein sufficient - leading to a protein sufficient India. This International Women's Day, all you beautiful, strong, talented women out there - take the reins of your health in your own hands and choose a protein-rich balanced diet for a healthy lifestyle.
About Author: Inoshi Sharma is the Director of Social and Behavioral Change at FSSAI, Eat Right India Movement and Supporter of the Right to Protein initiative.
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