Meat of the matter: Protein, health and social media

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Photo: fitnessguide.pro

By Raghavan Sampathkumar

Is our generation healthier than our parents or grandparents? The question seems ubiquitous among the millennials as they come across loads of scary things about food every day such as Whatsapp forwards, Facebook posts etc. You might be a regular customer of a cafe at the corner of your street that serves tasty chicken burgers or you might be enjoying sumptuous traditional fish or chicken curry at home in weekends. If so, you probably know how important protein is for your body. It helps keep your muscles strong and healthy. Every cell of your body requires protein and it is a vital for cognitive development also.

According to a new report by the Health Foundation, millennials may become the first generation ever to suffer from poorer health than their parents due to a host of physical and mental issues. Of course, with increase in lifestyle related diseases, the future may seem bleak and gloomy as propagated by some groups. Over 36% of the children in India are malnourished in one or other way such as underweight and wasting and 21% of the children are stunted. India’s diabetics count has already crossed 70 million and is going up at a scary pace. Hence from individual choices to national-level policies, our focus must be on holistic nutrition and balanced diets.

But how can I get enough protein from my food? What are the recommended levels and right sources of protein? How much is too much or too less? Aren’t protein supplements a rage not only among fitness freaks or sports persons but are increasingly becoming part of the daily diet of average Urban Indians? How can I make my diet healthy and balanced?

These are some of the questions mainly the internet-savvy, time-starved urban millennials’ have in their minds. Not only millennials but almost everyone who are not familiar with nutrition and health aspects of food too feel so. According to the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), an average Indian adult (of 60 kg weight) needs about 60 g of protein a day for building, maintenance, and repair of tissues in the body. But the “right” amount of protein depends on many factors, including activity levels, age, muscle mass, and current state of health. Of the 20 amino acids, the building blocks of protein, our body can only make 11 and other 9 essential amino acids, must be obtained from the diet. Along with vegetarian (pulses) options, meat, fish, milk and eggs are some of the most affordable and easily available sources.

Traditionally, meat is an integral part of India’s glorious culinary lineage and there is an enviable array of cuisines with unique flavors in every region Chettinad chicken to Malabar fish curry. In Indian context, culture, traditions, customs, and taboos influence consumption of meat to a great extent. Yet, chicken remains the most popular meat and without any religious constraints. Indians eat about 5 kg of chicken meat and just over 60 eggs a year. But these are way below the recommendations by the nutrition experts. For example, the NIN recommends 180 eggs a year.

A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is the most preferred combo of today’s weight-watching, time-starved, highly-demanding millennial consumer. Affordability, taste, convenience, choice and quality are what millennials want when it comes to protein. As the country is fast urbanizing, overall demand for meat products is also rising. Millennials are driving changes in food consumption patterns faster than their previous generations ever did and are putting the onus on the food industry to raise upto the challenge. All these are driving enormous changes in India’s dynamic livestock sector.

You, like many Urban Indians, are probably unaware how the tasty nugget is actually produced and that India’s livestock sector contributes close to 4% of the GDP, a number which might seem miniscule compared to sectors like software, automobile or manufacturing. But it provides direct and indirect employment to hundreds of millions particularly, rural Indians. India is one of the most efficient producers and exporters of meat and eggs globally. Yet the industry lacks glamour and remains quite a low profile one.

Healthy living is indeed very easy if one is aware of the basics of nutrition and does not get swayed by falsified and unfounded claims floating on social media. While we all appreciate that balanced diet is the foundation of good health, our perceptions are influenced heavily by the unfounded and unscientific claims linking meat with corollary diseases, obesity and cancers of various types. We must understand the essential role of meat, milk and egg in our diets through reliable and competent professionals such as physicians, dietitians, nutritionists and fitness experts. Nothing can then stop us from leading a healthy life including enjoying the traditional chicken curry or egg omelette without any concerns. For that we must seek the truth behind the propaganda and learn the science behind balanced diets.

(Raghavan Sampathkumar is the Executive Director of CLFMA – Compound Livestock Feed Manufacturers Association of India. CLFMA is the apex association that represents India’s meat and livestock sector industry and works mainly on policy advocacy, consumer education and promoting awareness about positive aspects of animal protein.)

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