Cereals like rice or wheat are an integral part of our diet, we can’t think of a meal without the either of the two depending on the region we come from. Except dietary patterns largely dependent on rice and wheat have led to widespread nutritional deficiency. The prevalence of micro nutritional deficiency even in the quite affluent population has become a matter of serious concern.
Food is the fuel that makes a human body work. Like an engine, when human body is working, it is expanding energy “energy is required to breathe, to walk, to stand and to think”. This energy comes from the food we eat. The cell takes from food the specific substance they require and there are at least 45 chemical compounds and elements which are needed by human cells. Each of these 45 substances (called essential nutrients) must be present in our diet, either directly when the nutrients itself is in the food, or indirectly as a raw material in the food that can be converted to bodily use. All nutrients are of vital importance and each one has specific job to perform in our body. The absence of any of them leads to illness and eventually morbidity. All these nutrients are abundant in the food items that are available everywhere in the world, yet there is no part of the world in which everyone getting the appropriate amount. As no single food has all 45 essential nutrients; therefore a balanced diet of different foods can give you adequate amount of the essential nutrients.
Nutritional deficiency in our diet can be tackled by: (i) by an appropriate increase in the production of common or most habitual foods of high nutritive value, (ii) by enriching of common foods with nutrients that do not alter the appearance or the taste of food and (iii) by the introduction of new or unfamiliar edible foods. The first two approaches although best, but can be time consuming & not viable economically. The third approach offers a greater opportunity. However, since it involves changes in the traditional dietary pattern, their implementation require educating and creating awareness in people about nutrition by taking into view their cultural, social & economic factors and existing food habits.
What we really need is to include different foods in our daily diet. The best means for this would be our traditional crops those were there in our cropping system but we are losing them either in ignorance or they have been replaced with cash rich crops. Traditional crops like amaranth, buckwheat, chenopod, millets, pulses like rice bean and kulth are nutritional powerhouses. These crops are also called pseudo-cereals.
The benefit of consuming these diverse foods is not only limited to removal of nutritional deficiencies but they also have medicinal and health promoting properties. They silently cure many impending ailments from the body and introduce certain ingredients which promote health and strengthen the immunity. There are innumerable examples where use of these food items have cured many health ailments. For instances, horsegram(Kala chana) consumption did not allow formation of kidney stones. Amaranth has high level of protein and lysine (generally low in the cereals) and also a good source oil (squalene), which is equivalent to whale or shark liver oil. Supplementing our cereals flour with amaranth can provide up to 70% of the diet energy and protein as its protein score is comparable to milk. Buckwheat contains important glucoside called `rutin’ which has the property of reducing increased capillary fragility associated with hypertension. Besides, it is also known for lowering sugar and cholesterol levels in the blood. Buckwheat also protects people in high mountains from the high intensity of ultraviolet rays. But the distressing fact is consumption of such grains has been on the decline.
Read more on importance of these food items in our daily diet in our upcoming posts.
About the Author:
Dr. J C Rana is a Scientist currently the heading the Division of Germplasm Evaluation, ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Pusa Campus, New Delhi. He has received several awards & honours few of which are:
Fellow Indian Society of Genetics & Plant Breeding
Fellow Indian Society of Plant Genetic Resources
Bharat Joyti Award -2013.