In this age of packaged and processed foods, do we have to compromise on nutrition? A recent study by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) found that while Indians consume carbohydrate-rich cereals in large quantities, the consumption of high-protein and micronutrient-rich foods like pulses, legumes, fruits, vegetables and meat is much lower, which puts many Indians at the risk of lifestyle diseases.

In a talk titled ‘Balancing Convenience and Nutrition,’ organised by NIN and Tata Sampann, four eminent nutritionists discussed how we can keep the level of nutrients high in food. Saying that our traditional techniques to process food goes a long way in enhancing their nutritional value, Kumud Khanna, who is the former director of Institute of Home Economics, said: “Processes like pickling, germination and fermentation have been part of our food preparation for ages.

Germination reduces the cooking time of ingredients, which means that the food will have higher retention of nutrients. It also increases the bio-availability of food molecules. Fermentation increases the vitamin content of food, while mustard, fenugreek and other seeds in pickles aid digestion.” Dr Jamuna Prakash, who is a professor at Department of Food Science and Nutrition in University of Mysore, said: “The extent to which nutrition can be retained in food items is dependent on time and temperature.

Carbohydrates, proteins and minerals are not affected by cooking, but vitamins are partially destroyed at high temperature. Browning of food might break some amino acids like lysine. Conventional cooking and steaming are the best ways to retain the useful molecules.” Kavita, a holistic health consultant and author, said: “Everyone should eat two raw food items every day to get maximum nutrients. We should also understand the difference between processed and packaged food.

Food is altered in the former process, but packaged food can have the goodness of nature inside a packet. We must choose a brand we trust. We should also buy quality spices in which the oils are intact.” However, the sure-shot way to get all those good nutrients is growing our own food. Dr Veenita Kumari, deputy director at MANAGE (Centre for Gender in Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Security, Urban Farming) , said that it is easy to grow leafy vegetables in a balcony or even on a window sill.

“Vegetables like spinach and amaranthus are easy to grow in homes. You can grow microgreens too and add them to your salads and smoothies. They can be grown in water medium, and even on tissue paper. If you want your body to absorb all nutrients, eat food in a positive frame of mind.”

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