Nestle was recently in the news for all the wrong reasons (again). This time it was because the company admitted that 60% of its products are unhealthy. While many people will now swear off Nestle’s products, unlike the West, packaged food isn’t that big of a food safety issue in India.
The REAL problem in India is a severe misconception about what constitutes ‘healthy’ food or a healthy diet. Indians consume far too many carbohydrates and not nearly enough protein, vegetables and fruit.
A 2020 study compared Indian diets to the EAT-Lancet Commission’s recommended diet. The study found that Indians get far more calories from whole grains than the recommended maximum. It also observed that Indians, across socio-economic boundaries, get only 6 to 8 percent of their calories from protein sources. Lancet recommends that 29 percent of one’s calories should come from protein sources.
Another problem is that, unlike the West, increasing prosperity appears to be leading to an increased carbohydrate and sugar intake without a significant increase in protein consumption. This can be found in a 2019 study that examined trends in the purchase of packaged foods and beverages in urban India. The study found that urban Indians are buying more processed food; the significant increase has been in purchasing products like biscuits, chips, ready-to-eat mixes, noodles, etc. The study concluded that if this trend continues without a corresponding increase in consumption of other food groups, it is likely to adversely affect the nutritional health of the populations and raise the risk of lifestyle diseases like obesity.
While we at foodnetindia are in no way saying that processed food is completely safe and healthy, India’s most prominent food safety problems do not come from products like Nestle’s. Our most significant food safety problems come from our understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet. Unless there is a fundamental shift in our definition of a healthy diet, no amount of demonising junk and processed food will solve the problem.