Ramesh Chaurasia picks up the baton for indigenous crops and traditional foods, wishes to fight nutritional deficiencies

Today we have a paradox that people have enough to eat and are still suffering from malnutrition. Those who do not have enough to eat suffer from undernutrition. This kind of malnutrition leads to deficiency of both macro and micro nutrients. On the other hand, over nutrition still has not been able to make people healthy and we see many Indians suffering from different micro nutrient deficiencies. This is why today we have a term called hidden hunger. It is surprising to imagine that people from wealthy families are also affected from nutritional deficiencies.

It is a common occurrence for people to take supplements in order to make up for poor nutrition. Supplements taken without medical advice can lead to adverse effects. Also, studies have shown that a lot of phytonutrients and other natural ingredients behave differently and many a times more effectively when taken in the form of whole foods. This may be attributed to the cumulative action and interaction of these substances.

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We talked to Mr. Ramesh Chaurasia, a social worker, entrepreneur and philanthropist who works selflessly for the upliftment of underprivileged communities in India. He is also the national president of the Akhil Bharatiya Adarsh Chaurasia Mahasabha.

The entrepreneur says, “Most people from middle- or lower-income families cannot regularly afford popular exotic foods and supplements. But even those who can afford these supplements and foods are not able to get quality nutrition because supplements are not a substitute for food-based nutrition. Even the food available today is not as nutrition dense as it used to be. We are used to preparing and eating our traditional foods in a proper way because it is knowledge that has been passed on to us. Many of these practices have been approved by experts. On the other hand, sometimes we are not even able to prepare exotic foods in the right way, defeating the whole purpose. For example, our culture has acknowledged since ancient times that lentils and rice are a great food combination which according to nutrition experts provide us all essential amino acids.”

Nutritional deficiency in India

There have been enough studies which hint that a large majority of our population suffers from zinc deficiency. It is both the males and females who have iron deficiency. Some statistics even point at around 80% of our population having vitamin D deficiency. Just imagine being this close to the equator and yet suffering from low vitamin D levels! The list of micronutrient deficiencies is quite long. Surprisingly, something experts always knew was coming, even those who have enough to eat have hidden hunger because of micronutrient deficiencies.

Mr. Ramesh Chaurasia believes that the reasons for nutritional deficiencies lie in food having become less nutritious, processed and packaged food with additives having found favour over traditional diets, largely unavailable indigenous foods, and high prevalence of digestive issues, etc. He also believes that to some extent, aggressive advertising, obsession with western lifestyle, and a few biased studies in the past, have brought us to this point.

Thankfully, experts from the medical field, nutrition scientists, government agencies, and food scientists around the world are now focusing on studying traditional foods and also reviving the foods that are being found to be beneficial. The focus today is on treating food as a source of nourishment as well as healing.

Many latest studies have found that our crops are losing their nutritional value. It was found that almost all food items including cereals, vegetables and even fruits are less nutritious than they used to be. The reasons vary from climate change, rejection of traditional crops, modern agricultural practices which deplete the soil of its nourishment, and use of high yielding seeds finding favour over more nutritious crops. Mr. Ramesh Chaurasia further suggests, “In order to increase the yield of crops, we have made our food calorie dense and full of starch. We forgot that food is supposed to be nutrition dense. The reason behind this was our neglect towards traditional crops and going for modernized farming which depletes the soil and requires excessive use of pesticides. This makes it even more important today to work on soil and water conservation along with organic farming.”