What’s on your plate?

Ambika Shaligram
Sunday, 3 September 2017

Nutritionist Kavita Devgan shares her thoughts on how to tackle vitamin D deficiency, which is rampant amongst Indians

We are in the midst of National Nutrition Week (September 1-7) and it’s time to take stock where we stand in terms of eating healthy. Those who are calorie conscious would be nodding their heads sagely at this statement. And, there would be another set of people who wouldn’t be bothered about taking their food habits seriously.

Says nutritionist Kavita Devgan, “I think we need a paradigm shift in how we look at the plate. Some of us aren’t bothered about what we are putting on our plate. While there are some of us who are very focused on our calories, some are not. Both the groups need to change their outlook, and, look at how many nutrients are there on their plate. Vitamins, good fats, minerals are necessary. If we manage to change our outlook, I think that would be our biggest takeaway from nutrition week.”

After having made her point succinctly, Devgan goes on to outline the challenges that Indians face vis-a-vis the Western world. “For the Western world, the problem is of surplus, abundance. For us, the problem is usually of deficiency. In Indian cities, we are faced with issues of deficiency and obesity. We have them because our food is not rich in nutrients; and like Western countries, our adults consume a diet rich in carbs, high fat food. So we have to fight deficiency and the excess intake of wrong kind of food,” she adds.

The biggest deficiency is of vitamin D, which is quite ironical, considering that India is one of the sunniest countries in the world. Enumerating the reasons, the Delhi-based nutritionist says, “Firstly, our genes are not able to convert the natural sunlight into energy. Ninety per cent of our energy comes from this and only 10 per cent comes from food. But unfortunately, we are conditioned so that we are unable to convert this efficiently. Secondly, we have a darker skin. That is because of more amount of melanin in our body. It is a natural sunblock, which protects us from skin cancer. But, it also hampers the vitamin D conversion. Thirdly, most of us are vegetarians, while Vitamin D is present in egg yolks and fatty fish.”

The deficiency makes us prone to diabetes. “Infact we have outpaced China and are soon going to become the diabetes capital of the world.  So we have to urgently pass on the message that ‘we are vitamin D deficient’. We need to send out a message that vitamin D levels have to be checked. Some people do go in for testing, but that number is negligible. We need to make changes at policy level,” she insists.

As far as making changes to dietary pattern and getting sunlight directly are concerned, the author of Don’t Diet, believes that small things add up. “Try and get more sunlight, don’t be covered up all the time. It’s very dangerous to run your body on low vitamin D. It is ideal to be in sunlight between 11 am and 2 pm. But if you can’t, because of your work hours, then get some sun in the morning. Drink your morning tea in the balcony, for example. Eat egg yolks regularly, and if you are a non-vegetarian, then include fatty fish in your diet. It’s important for pregnant women to take vitamin D supplements. People usually think that ‘we will be okay, if we consume calcium’. It doesn’t work that way. You need other minerals too,” she concludes.

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