Vitamin Deficiencies – India’s Health And Nutrition Crisis
India is like the rising sun – it is a nation that has started to showcase its potential, its development. Our country and its people are, however, facing a crisis that must be addressed before we proceed any further. In 2016, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) reported that approximately 38.7 percent of Indian children under the age of five years suffered from malnutrition and stunted development.
Changing Face of Malnutrition
Traditionally, lack of adequate food has been equated with poverty and lack of macro nutrition. Though the early years of India’s independence this is the sense in which we have been understanding malnutrition. Today, however, lack of quality (micronutrients) is a major challenge in our country. And it has nothing to do with poverty. Vitamin deficiency is a major cause of malnutrition due to lack of micronutrients and is caused by improper dietary habits.
Vitamins are organic compounds which are an important part of proper nutrition and are also essential for normal growth. Vitamins are required in small quantities and are derived from plant and animal sources (and partaken through a balanced diet) because they cannot be synthesized by the human body. Vitamins lend the body the strength to fight off diseases and hence form a very important part of our diet.
Types of Vitamins
There are 13 Vitamins that are essential for a healthy life. Nutritionists classify Vitamins based on the medium or the vehicle used by the human body for their absorption from the diet. Vitamins are, thus, classified into –
- Fat soluble vitamins
- Water soluble vitamins
The Fat Soluble Vitamins :
- Vitamin A is derived largely from orange colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots, butternut squash, and sweet potato and also from dark leafy greens such as kale.
- Vitamin D can be synthesized by the human body in the presence of sunshine. It is also found in fortified milk and in dairy products.
- Vitamin E is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, and in seeds and nuts such as peanuts, sunflower nuts, and almonds. It is also found in other sources such as shrimp and avocado.
- Vitamin K is derived from dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, mustard greens (sarson ka saag), parsley, kale, and lettuce. Some vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are also good sources.
The Water Soluble Vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 or Thiamin rich foods include liver, beef, pork, herrings, seeds (such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds), peas, mushrooms and nuts (pistachios).
- Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin is derived largely from dairy products (yogurt, cheese) and from beef liver, lamb, almonds, and spinach.
- Vitamin B3 or Niacin is found in foods like turkey, chicken breasts, tuna, mushrooms and peas, peanuts and sunflower seeds.
- Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid comes from meat and poultry (chicken liver), salmon, sundried tomatoes, and avocadoes among other foods.
- Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine is found in foods like soy products, turkey, pistachios, tuna, sesame and sunflower seeds, and molasses.
- Vitamin B7 or Biotin is derived from organ meat (chicken liver), egg yolk, yeast, soybean, and other seeds and nuts.
- Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid (Folate) is mainly found in leafy vegetables such as spinach and in legumes (all kinds of dals) and in foods like chickpeas (kabuli chana), pinto beans (rajma), black-eyed beans (rajma).
- Vitamin B12 comes from fish, poultry, meat, and dairy products and cannot be found in plant sources. Beef, fishes (sardines, salmon, mackerel), lamb, cottage cheese (paneer), feta cheese, and eggs are good sources of B 12.
- Vitamin C is derived from citrus fruits and juices (lemon, oranges, and sweet lime or mousambi).
India’s Vitamin Woes
According to a research study undertaken last year, about 75 percent of Indians suffer from deficiency of Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid). These are alarming statistics.
Vitamin D deficiency is reaching epidemic proportions in the country. Low Vitamin D levels interferes with the absorption of calcium and is of great importance for bone health. Deficiency of Vitamin D is directly linked with diseases such as rickets, osteoporosis diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This vitamin is also called the Sunshine Vitamin since the body is capable of synthesizing it in the presence of sunlight. Now despite the tropical sunshine, about 70 percent Indians are found deficient. A deficiency of either vitamin B12 or B9 can lead to megaloblastic anemia. B12 and B9 deficiency too is alarmingly common in India.
Increase in consumption of fast food, tinned and canned or precooked food, reduced intake of fresh vegetables and fruits, increase in sedentary lifestyle are causes for such vitamin deficiencies. Awareness and action on the part of government agencies and the people are necessary to address this crisis.