Urbanization of eating habits and NCDs

Over the past century, there has been an unprecedented rise in the proportion of total population living and working in the great cities (https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/46420/WH_1991_Jul-Aug_p28-29_en.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y). The search for better working opportunities and living style has led to this never halting shift from rural to urban areas. This shift has shaped not only the living working life but also the eating habits of the people. Unhealthy diets and the resulting malnutrition are major drivers of NCDs (Non Communicable Diseases) like Cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, cancer, and calcification around the world. Cause of NCDs has been driven by shifts towards calorific and fatty foods, eating out, and an increase in food portion sizes, combined with a lower intake of fruit, vegetables, and high-fiber foods.  

According to the National Health Portal of India, “Non Communicable Diseases kill approximately 41 million people (71% of global deaths) worldwide each year, including 14 million people between the ages of 30 and 70. In India, nearly 5.8 million people (WHO report, 2015) die from NCDs (heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer, diabetes, mental illness) every year or in other words 1 in 4 Indians has a risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70.” 

Urbanization brings together a large number of people within a confined area where each household is no longer dependent on its own produce like the Rural household. 

Urbanization has caused an increase in demand for processed food or eating at restaurants or dining places, to fit their dining in the busy schedule. This has rendered people susceptible to the development of poor eating habits that promote weight gain and NCDs.

Our conscious, collective, and repetitive behaviors in response to social and cultural influences lead us to select, consume, and use certain foods or diets, creating our food habits. In the urban setting it has become difficult for people to take care of their food habits. Taking care of our food habits is related to checking the risk of having NCDs. It is not a difficult task to do, food habits can be improved by practicing healthy dieting and regular exercise. A variety of foods, which are available and are within the reach of the common man, can be selected to formulate nutritionally adequate diets (DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR INDIANS- A Manual, National Institute of Nutrition). We can do a little editing in what we eat the whole day without actually hindering the day to day schedule. It can easily be achieved by including all of the four basic food groups in the plate viz. 

1. Cereals, millets and pulses

2. Fruits and vegetables

3. Milk and animal foods

4. Oils, fats and nuts

To make sure  that we provide all the nutrients to our body in a balanced form it is important that we consume food from all the 4 food groups in an appropriate manner.

The quantities of foods needed to meet the nutrient requirements vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity. A balanced diet should provide around 50- 60% of total calories from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates, about 10-15% from proteins and 20-30% from both visible and invisible fat.

Balanced diet for a Sedentary Adult

The major sources of energy in all human diets are Carbohydrates. They provide energy of 4 Kcal/g. In India, 70-80% of total dietary calories are derived from carbohydrates present in plant foods such as cereals, millets and pulses. Fruits, vegetables and honey, sucrose in sugar and lactose in milk contain simpler forms of carbohydrates, while the complex polysaccharides are starches in cereals, millets, pulses and root vegetables and glycogen in animal foods.

The other complex carbohydrates which are resistant to digestion in the human digestive tract constitute the dietary fibre component. Adding fiber in the diet gives a way for the absorption of other macro and micronutrients(vitamins and minerals) in the gut. Fiber is the food for good microflora of our gut that helps in the absorption of nutrients we consume.

For muscle building, bone health and skin, we need protein. Animal foods like milk, meat, fish and eggs and plant foods such as pulses and legumes are rich sources of proteins. Protein requirements vary with age, physiological status and stress. More proteins are required by growing infants and children, pregnant women and individuals during infections and illness or stress. Recommended dietary allowance of protein is 0.8g/kg/day for individuals of sedentary lifestyle(Indian Council of Medical Research, RDA guidelines,2020)

Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables and fresh fruits are a treasure trove of several minerals and vitamins essential for protection from diseases. The Indian Council of Medical Research recommends that every individual should consume at least 300 g of vegetables consisting of 50 g Green Leafy, 200 g Other vegetables, 50g of Roots & Tubers in a day. In addition, 100g of fresh fruits should be consumed regularly to get the required dose of minerals and vitamins.

Plant and animal based fat should be used in very moderate  amounts in the preparation of food for meeting some of the nutritional needs like essential fatty acids (linoleic n-6 and alpha-linolenic n-3). Fats are a concentrated source of energy providing 9 Kcal/g. Excessive intake can lead to elevation of blood lipids which get deposited in the veins causing risk of heart related diseases. Improperly managed lipid intake also results in obesity which further becomes a cause for several chronic NCDs including heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers. The total fat (visible + invisible) in the diet should provide between 20-30% of total calories. Adults with sedentary lifestyle should consume about 25 g of visible fat, while individuals involved in hard physical work require 30 – 40g of visible fat.

With the Knowledge of right pre-cooking processes and appropriate cooking methods, we can minimize the use of processed foods and so the intake of salt, sugar and fats.

We must ensure that our body is always hydrated, for that water, fruit juices, milk, buttermilk can be added along with food. Regular exercise and physical activity are a must to regulate body weight. Also, combats health conditions and NCDs. A minimum 30-45 minutes brisk walk/physical activity of moderate intensity improves overall health. Include ‘warm-up’ and ‘cool- down’ periods, before and after the exercise regimen. Forty five minutes per day of moderate intensity physical activity provides many health benefits (Dietary guidelines for Indians, National Institute of Nutrition).

It is very important that we take a few steps for ourselves in taking care of what we put on our platter and physical health can save us from falling in the grip of chronic diseases and NCDs.

Article By

Disha Kaushal
Coming from Himachal, she is a food technology PG who wishes to take nutritious produce from Indian farmers to every household and palette

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