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Look beyond proteins and carbs

Deficiencies of vitamins A, C, B2 and B6 along with iron, zinc, iodine, cobalt, chromium, manganese and selenium affect one in two of the affluent who, when it comes to food, have a problem of riches. Sanchita Sharma writes.

health and fitness Updated: Sep 05, 2010 01:46 IST

Having stumbled upon the miraculous dengue diet plan this week — someone close to you gets dengue, recovers without transfusion and you lose 2 kg in a week — I had reason to be cheerful. All it took was a careless glance and an unnecessarily remark to wipe away my smile.

"Why do you have these deep, dark circles around your eyes? Get tested for micronutrient deficiencies, you seem to have plenty," I was told by a candid expert on nutrition. Making a mental note of dealing only with those who gave advice they were being paid for, I popped a multivitamin and decided to find out more about how micronutrient — dietary minerals needed in small quantities — shortfalls affect the human body.

The data I came across seemed as alarming as the H1N1 outbreak last year. Deficiencies of vitamins A, C, B2 and B6 along with iron, zinc, iodine, cobalt, chromium, manganese and selenium affect one in two of the affluent who, when it comes to food, have a problem of riches. Simply put, even people with a healthy weight can be deficit in iron or iodine, which together can make both the body and mind sluggish.

The problem, say experts, is that those deficits have no symptoms and go though life without a clue about the dietary shortcomings. Most of us start life handicapped. It begins with picky eating in childhood, continues with weight watching through the teen years, and becomes a part of adult life because of indifferent and limited food options.

Even when we eat healthy, we tend to focus on the carbohydrates, protein, fats and sugar balance, with little though to nutrients and absolutely no thought to micronutrients. There's clear evidence that these deficiencies start young. Two in three healthy middleclass schoolchildren (66 per cent) between 6 and 16 years were found to be deficient for vitamins B2 and B6, 60 per cent for vitamin C, and 33–55 per cent for vitamin A and iron by a study done by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.

If you include the malnourished, the numbers shoot through the roof. One-third of the world's 2 billion people have micronutrients deficiencies live in India, where almost 1,000 children — over three lakh a year — die of these deficiencies every say. Iodine-deficiency alone puts 6.6 million newborns at risk of mental impairment, reducing intellectual capacity by an average of 15 per cent. All you need to counter this deficiency is eating the cheap and widely-available iodised salt, which is still not being used by half of India's population.

As many as 79.2 per cent children and 56.2 women in India are have iron-deficiency anaemia, according to the National Family Health Survey-3. iron is found in almonds, dried apricots, broccoli, dates, kidney beans, peas, spinach and chicken breast. Zinc-deficiency is a major reason why 38 per cent children are stunted, while inadequate folic-acid tablets during pregnancy causes birth defects in 2 lakh children.

Since these deficiencies are accentuated by stress, insomnia and pollution, all of which lower immunity, a good way to include micronutrients is to eat a wide variety of foods. If that's not possible, go for supplementation in the form of pills and fortified foods. With the many viruses and infections gong around, you're going to need it.