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Gaps in understanding of quality protein requirements in India’s daily diets
Friday, 24 July, 2020, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
Right To Protein, a nationwide public health awareness initiative, released the findings of a study that uncovers a paradox in India’s daily protein consumption habits. Leading research agency, Nielsen surveyed 2,142 mothers across 16 Indian cities revealing a worrying trend where due to a poor understanding of protein as a macronutrient, Indians consume inadequate levels of proteins.

The study shows that although 95 per cent of Indian mothers surveyed claim to know protein as a macronutrient, only 3 per cent of the population really understand the prominent functions of protein or why one should consume it daily.

Across cities, 82 per cent mothers residing in mini metros such as Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad were unable to correctly associate protein with its functions and attributed low importance to its consumption as a part of balanced meals.

Therefore, while eight out of 10 mothers believe protein as ‘important’, protein may not adequately be included in their daily diet. Majority of the mothers (91 per cent) are not able to relate to protein with its crucial functions such as repair of tissues in the body, muscle health and long-term immunity.

Key findings
•    Over 70 per cent Indian mothers strongly believe in common myths such as ‘protein is difficult to digest’, ‘it leads to weight gain’, and ‘it is only for body-builders’.  
•    On an average 85 per cent mothers incorrectly believe that protein leads to ‘weight gain’ and mentioned that they would prioritise the consumption of vitamins and carbohydrates over protein for their families including for children. Most disturbingly, nearly 80% hold the view that lack of protein does not impact overall health!  
•    Majority of the mothers do not know the most common sources of plant-or-animal-based protein and failed to correctly identify 8 of 11 protein-richfood items presented to them. Furthermore 81 per cent of mothers incorrectly believe that just a regular Indian diet consisting of roti, dal, rice is enough for daily protein needs. As a result, only dairy and pulses are considered as the sources of protein in majority Indian households.

The above myths and beliefs coupled with an inability to identify the correct functions and sources of protein may lead to low protein consumption, despite 85% of Indian mothers believing that protein is very important for health. This underlying ‘protein paradox’ i.e. high importance vis-à-vis low understanding could ultimately become a major factor in the gradually declining rate of quality protein consumption.
Mothers from India’s metros, mini-metros and urban towns are perceived to have differing food preferences but their distorted understanding of protein emerged a shared attribute, impacting the quality and quantity of protein intake. The study reveals that their basic understanding of protein is heavily coloured by myths. 

Dr Jagmeet Madan, eminent nutrition expert, professor, principal, Sir VithaldasThackersey College of Home Science (Autonomous) SNDTWU, Mumbai and national president, Indian Dietetic Association, supporter of the Right To Protein Initiative, said, “In our country, adequate protein consumption has been a rather under-debated issue when it comes to general discourse on food and nutrients. Very few studies have been published recently that provide insights about the consumption patterns about this ‘major building block’ of our lives. This study is, therefore, an insight in terms of highlighting our knowledge gaps and misconceptions that plague adequate protein consumption.”

Dr Suresh Itapu, nutraceutical expert, and director, NutriTech India, said, “The Protein Paradox study, reiterates the importance of building a general protein understanding and awareness in India. Any individual or entity can benefit from these insights and take corrective measures to improve quality protein intake, course-correct and eventually reverse the decline in protein consumption, especially among kids.”

The study hopes to set the ground for protein conversations, highlight areas for action such as mass education and initiatives around protein accessibility, that help lead the way to accelerate reduction in protein deficiency in India.
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