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Understanding the Basics of the Food Pyramid (Part 2)


While the concept of a food pyramid originated in the United States, it has increasingly been welcomed and even strongly endorsed by health departments all over the world. What makes the food pyramid tick with people world over is its simplicity and focus on nutrition in a way that can be adapted to the needs of populations everywhere. In India, the food pyramid and dietary guidelines for Indians are issued by the National Institute for Nutrition along with a web initiative under the Centre for Chronic Disease Control. Given the diversity of a country like India, there will naturally be variations in the recipes, diet and food ingredients found in different parts of the country. The food pyramid has been adapted according to regions of India by the CCDC, and is based on the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) designed food pyramid.



Let’s have a closer look at the food pyramid given by the National Institute of Nutrition:


This is a very generic picture of the pyramid designed according to the older version, with horizontal slabs for the different food groups. But it serves the purpose of telling us the overall view of how much is to be consumed from each food group.

The pyramid in totality aims at telling us this:

Grains: these are an integral part of the Indian diet, especially in Northern India where the largest variety of grains are available ranging from rice, wheat, ragi, corn etc. According to Indian standards, half of the grains in an ideal Indian diet should be whole. Grains provide energy, fiber and essential macro nutrients which are needed in an Indian diet.

Vegetables: plenty of seasonal vegetables are available in every part of the country and must be included in a well balanced diet, with more emphasis on green leafy vegetables which are rich in iron. Fresh veggies must also be included, which have the maximum nutrient content. Specific attention is also given to cooking methods such as using less oil to retain the nutrient content of vegetables.

Fruits: Fruit are essential to an Indian diet, especially those rich in fiber and iron such as oranges and apples. They should be eaten liberally, atleast 5 servings a day of different fruits. Fruits of different colors have different nutritive capacities and add to your diet. Those rich in potassium can help decrease the risk of high blood pressure. Packed with antioxidants, fruits also help maintain weight.

Oils and Nuts: The fat requirements should be met with vegetable oils and nuts, however in moderation since oils are dense in calorie content. Go for zero cholesterol varieties found in the market, which have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, with zero trans fats.

Dairy Products: Milk and milk products should be consumed adequately, atleast 250 ml of pasteurized skim milk daily for an average individual. Your body needs calcium to maintain bone mass which if deficient, can lead to problems in later stages of life. Milk is an absolute essential for the whole family and for those who cannot have milk, it is important to include substitutes rich in calcium in your diet.

Pulses and Meat: Sources of protein are varied ranging from pulses to meat. Fish is widely eaten in India, and so is chicken while beef and pork are avoided. Dals form an absolute basic of the Indian diet, and are rich in amino acids. For vegetarians, dals are the primary source of protein in India.


The serving sizes and portions for average Indian males and females are as follows:


A sample menu for a typical North Indian diet would be –

Breakfast options

Sweet/salted dahlia, porridge, wheat bread sandwich, chidwa, roti, paratha made with minimum vegetable oil with (any dal/vegetable curry), sattu roti/ panni.

Salad options

Onion, cucumber, tomato, radish, cabbage, carrot, sprouted dal flavoured with lemon juice, spices and condiments, low fat curd instead of oil/cream based salad dressings.

Snacks options

Nuts like ground nut (roasted/soaked), almonds, walnut, dried figs, dates, puffed rice (bhel puri), roasted chana, any fruit, and baked samosa/pattice.

Fried snacks

Like home made pakoras, potato-chips, samosas, kachori, litti, fried namkeens to be taken occasionally.

Sweet meats options

All sweets to be made in low fat milk without addingcondensed milk. Sweets made with ghee to be taken occasionally, Sweets and with Vanaspati to be completely avoided.

A sample menu for a South Indian diet –

Breakfast options

Idli, dosa, sooji/semiya/avval uppma, brown bread sandwich, puttu, iddiappam, appam, boiled tapioca, wheat dosa, and raggi items.

Salad options

Onion, cucumber, salad tomato, raddish, cabbage, carrot, sprouted dals without Salad dressing.

Snacks options

Nuts like ground nut (roasted/soaked), almonds, walnut, dried figs, dates, puffed rice, roasted chana, any fruit.

Fried snacks

Like home made bhajji, banana/jackfruit/tapioca chips, murruku, vadas to be taken occasionally.

Sweet meats options

All sweets to be made in low fat milk with out adding condensed milk. Sweets made with ghee to be taken occasionally, sweets and with vanaspati to be completely avoided.

There further regional variations found in Western India for example where there is a difference in Gujrati and Maharashtrian diets as well as in the North Eastern states. Detailed menus for different regions of India, complete with serving and portion sizes can also be found at www.foodpyramidindia.org .

Special attention in the Indian food pyramid is also paid to the different spices found in the country as well as the traditional methods of cooking and preparing ingredients. The practice of using the tandoor for cooking meat is perhaps one of the best ways to prepare non vegetarian dishes or for instance, oil-less pickles which are flavored with condiments and spices. In Southern India, drinking butter milk is an age old practice which is a delicious thirst quencher. The practice of using home-ground spices is also encouraged as opposed to buying packaged spices in the markets.

The Indian diet, especially in North India is a heavy diet with the use of ghee, oils and butter in cooking to bring out the best flavor in dishes. While these make preparations better in taste, they also increase fat content and can pose health risks. Hence, balancing these out with fresh fruits and vegetables is essential.