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Building blocks of immunity: Are Indian women getting enough protein?

This article is authored by Dr. Dharini Krishnan, an award-winning Consultant Dietitian, she believes that for a healthy body and mind, we must combine modern medicine with native Indian practices which are proven to benefit us.

Living in the shadow of a pandemic, many of our conversations have suddenly turned to the question of a healthy immune system. While we hear a lot of talk about nutrient-rich superfoods, one of the basic issues that gets ignored is the amount of proteins we eat on a daily basis.

Proteins are the basic building blocks of immunity. Importantly, proteins form the antibodies that help fight bacteria and viruses that cause infections. When bacteria and viruses enter the body, antibodies tag them for destruction and elimination.

What data shows

It’s alarming to know that Indians are now eating less protein than they did in the 1990s. Some data show that while rural Indians ate 60.2g of protein daily in 1993-94, this number dropped down to 56.5 g by 2011-12. In the same period, urban Indians dropped protein consumption from 57.2g to 55.7g

What’s more, these numbers are even more worrisome for women, because they eat far less than men. Women often eat less protein because they are conditioned to feel they have to feed everybody else, and so they sacrifice their share. In a 2017 survey based on 60 million food logs by over 1.5 million people, it was found that found that women consume 13% less protein less than men.

Cooking proteins properly

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One of the main barriers to women eating enough protein is the bad rap that legumes (dals and beans) have got recently. I often hear patients complain that legumes give them gas. But that happens because people often do not take the trouble to cook them properly.

The kind of legumes we consume also makes a difference to how our digestive system reacts to them. Nowadays when we think of eating legumes, most people automatically think of chana. However, our staples have been dals like toor dal, urad and moong dal, while legumes like chana were eaten more occasionally.

Previous generations also better understood the importance of properly combining together carbs and proteins. With dishes like sambar-rice or dal-rice, proteins, carbs, fats and the many micronutrients of vegetables are brought together. Similarly, dishes like idli combine carbohydrates and proteins to deliver the complete mix of amino acids, which makes it a complete protein, and that may not be present in either one alone.

Vegetarian proteins for all

Getting this mix of amino acids is somewhat difficult for vegetarians as this needs a careful combination of cereals, pulses, beans, nuts, and dairy products. While meats are a more-ready source, non-vegetarian Indians aren’t spared of protein deficiencies either. This is because there’s far more focus on creating rich tasty foods that are heavier on fats and carbs. And meat eaters often tend to neglect other important sources of protein.

The signs that women and girls are eating less protein are apparent. So many women talk about hair fall these days. In most cases, that’s because of lack of protein. Other common symptoms of protein deficiency include lack of bone and muscle strength and excess fatigue. Proteins are needed everywhere. So, if you are not eating enough protein, the effects show on your body.



DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.



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Diet, exercise and sunlight: Three factors women shouldn’t ignore for good bone health

Dr. Dharini Krishnan

Dr. Dharini Krishnan
11 January 2021

This article is authored by Dr. Dharini Krishnan, an award-winning Consultant Dietitian, she believes that for a healthy body and mind, we must combine modern medicine with native Indian practices which are proven to benefit us.

Barring a significant injury or fracture, we rarely tend to think about bone health. Yet, for women, particularly those who are middle-aged or older, this is a vital concern because of the risk of osteoporosis.

In 2013, it was estimated that there were 50 million Indians who were osteoporotic or having low bone mass. Some studies have found that the prevalence of osteoporosis could be as high as 42.5% in women over the age of 50.

Osteoporosis and health complications

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Osteoporosis comes from the Latin for “porous bone”, and is a condition where bone tissue loses its density, and becomes weaker and more fragile. Such bones are easily susceptible to breaks, resulting in pain, disability and loss of functionality in everyday life.

Bones, which form the primary supporting framework of the body, grow from birth till our early twenties, which is the period of peak bone mass. Bone is an active tissue that undergoes regular replacement in conditions of health.

In osteoporosis, however, bone formation is outpaced by bone loss, leading to porosity or thinness of bone tissue and brittle bones. Such bones could easily be fractured even in the absence of significant trauma. Such fractures tend to reduce mobility and lead to increased hospitalization and dependence on others.

Why osteoporosis affects women more

Women are particular at risk for osteoporosis because they have lesser bone mass to start with. The geometry and structure of bone have also been increasingly recognized as important risk factors for fracture.

The risk of osteoporosis significantly rises during menopause because of the hormonal changes women undergo at the time. This is because estrogen plays a significant role in maintaining bone health, and the secretion of this hormone falls drastically during menopause.

The importance of protein and calcium in the diet

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For some time now, awareness of the importance of calcium for bone health has been growing. Hence, women are advised to consume sufficient amounts of dairy, green leafy vegetables, soya products and nuts.

What many don’t realise is that sufficient levels of protein are just as important for strong bones. After all, protein makes up roughly 50% of bone volume and about one-third of its mass. Daily intake of protein is also necessary to provide the raw materials for bone formation. Unfortunately, research shows that the levels of dietary protein consumed by Indians are actually reducing.

For non-vegetarians chicken, fish and eggs are good sources of protein. For vegetarians, pulses are one of the primary sources of protein, along with dairy products. Daily intake of protein in at least two major meals of the day, particularly in healthy forms such as sambhar or dal is, therefore, vital.

The role of exercise and sunlight

Eat Breakfast

Bone health also requires good muscle health. This makes it necessary to undertake moderate exercise as often as possible. A 45-minute walk six days a week as well as resistance training using the body weight, such as surya namaskaras, can go a long way to building muscles. Importantly, the body also requires Vitamin D to mobilize calcium for bone health. Hence, exposure to peak sunlight between 11am and 3 pm at least twice a week is also vital for bone health.

Osteoporosis can be a serious health problem that disrupts life and limits mobility, particularly for women. However, a healthy diet, rich in calcium and protein, together with exercise, can go a long way in maintaining bone health.



DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

 

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