Nutrition is a basic human need and a prerequisite to a healthy life. A proper diet is essential from the very early stages of life for proper growth, development and to remain active. Food consumption, which largely depends on production and distribution, determines the health and nutritional status of the population. The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) are nutrient-centred and technical in nature. Apart from supplying nutrients, foods provide a host of other components (non-nutrient phytochemicals) which have a positive impact on health. Since people consume food, it is essential to advocate nutrition in terms of foods, rather than nutrients. Emphasis has, therefore, been shifted from a nutrient orientation to the food-based approach for attaining optimal nutritional status. Dietary guidelines are a translation of scientific knowledge on nutrients into specific dietary advice. They represent the recommended dietary allowances of nutrients in terms of diets that should be consumed by the population. The guidelines promote the concept of nutritionally adequate diets and healthy lifestyles from the time of conception to old age.
Formulation of dietary goals and specific guidelines would help in providing required guidance to people in ensuring nutritional adequacy. The dietary guidelines could be directly applied for general population or specific physiological or high risk groups to derive health benefits. They may also be used by medical and health personnel, nutritionists and dietitians. The guidelines are consistent with the goals set in national policies on Agriculture, Health and Nutrition.
The dietary guidelines ought to be practical, dynamic and flexible, based on the prevailing situation. Their utility is influenced by the extent to which they reflect the social, economic, agricultural and other environmental conditions. The guidelines can be considered as an integral component of the country’s comprehensive plan to reach the goals specified in the National Nutrition Policy.
The major food issues of concern are insufficient/ imbalanced intake of foods/nutrients. The common nutritional problems of public health importance in India are low birth weight, protein energy malnutrition in children, chronic energy deficiency in adults, micronutrient malnutrition and diet-related non- communicable diseases. However, diseases at the either end of the spectrum of malnutrition (undernutrition and overnutrition) are important. Recent evidences indicate that undernutrition in utero may set the pace for diet-related chronic diseases in later life. Population explosion, demographic changes, rapid urbanization and alterations in traditional habits contribute to the development of certain unhealthy dietary practices and physical inactivity, resulting in diet-related chronic diseases.
The dietary guidelines emphasize promotion of health and prevention of disease, of all age groups with special focus on vulnerable segments of the population such as infants, children and adolescents, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly. Other related factors, which need consideration are physical activity, health care, safe water supply and socio-economic development, all of which strongly influence nutrition and health.
In this document, food-related approaches, both in qualitative and quantitative terms, have been incorporated. Emphasis is on positive recommendations which can maximize protective effects through use of a variety of foods in tune with traditional habits. The higher goals set with respect to certain food items such as pulses, milk and vegetables/fruits are intended to encourage appropriate policy decisions. Suitable messages for each of these guidelines have been highlighted.
A variety of foods, which are available and are within the reach of the common man, can be selected to formulate nutritionally adequate diets. While there are only four accepted basic food groups, in India, there are a variety of food preparations and culinary practices. Different cereals/millets are used as staple food, apart from a variety of cereal/millet/pulse combinations in different regions of India. The cooking oils and fat used are of several kinds. The proposed guidelines help to formulate health promoting recipes and diets which are region- and culture- specific. It is difficult to compute standard portion sizes, common to all regions of India. Nevertheless, attempts are made to give portion sizes and exchanges.
Translation of knowledge into action calls for the coordinated efforts of several government and non-government organizations. The fifteen guidelines prescribed, herein, stress on adequacy of intake of foods from all food groups for maintenance of optimal health. Effective IEC strategies and other large-scale educational campaigns should be launched to encourage people to follow the dietary guidelines. Such efforts should be integrated with the existing national nutrition and health programs.