New National Dietary Guidelines Advocate for Limiting Infant Sugar Intake and Recommending 500g of Fruits and Vegetables Daily After 13-Year Gap

Infants and toddlers under the age of two should avoid sugar entirely, according to the latest National Dietary Guidelines released by the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR-NIN). These guidelines, issued after a 13-year gap, also recommend limiting sugar intake to only 5 percent of daily calories. Additionally, the guidelines emphasize the importance of incorporating at least 500 grams of fruits and vegetables into daily meals.

Furthermore, the dietary recommendations advocate against the use of protein supplements to fulfill daily protein needs. A new addition to the guidelines is the introduction of ‘My Plate for the Day,’ a framework recommending the sourcing of macronutrients and micronutrients from a minimum of eight food groups. Notably, vegetables, fruits, green leafy vegetables, roots, and tubers are suggested to form half of the plate’s contents each day.

Cereals and millets make up the other significant portion of the plate, followed by pulses, flesh foods, eggs, nuts, oilseeds, and milk or curd. The guidelines also emphasize the inclusion of varieties of oilseeds and nuts in daily diets, highlighting their nutrient density and health benefits.

To optimize nutrient intake, the guidelines recommend limiting cereal consumption to 45 percent of total energy and allocating around 14-15 percent of total energy to pulses, eggs, and flesh foods. Additionally, total fat intake should be less than or equal to 30 percent of total energy, with nuts, oilseeds, milk, and milk products contributing 8–10 percent of daily energy.

Despite these recommendations, data indicates that cereals currently contribute to 50-70 percent of total energy intake, while pulses, meat, poultry, and fish together contribute only 6 to 9 percent. Dr. Hemalatha R, Director of ICMR-NIN and chairperson of the expert panel behind the guidelines, stresses the importance of promoting diverse, nutrient-rich foods to address various forms of malnutrition effectively.

Moreover, the guidelines underscore the critical role of dietary patterns in combating India’s growing disease burden, with unhealthy diets contributing significantly to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The upsurge in highly processed food consumption, coupled with reduced physical activity and limited access to diverse foods, exacerbates micronutrient deficiencies and overweight/obesity issues.

To encourage healthier dietary habits, the guidelines recommend including non-starchy fresh vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and fruits in every meal, as well as consuming at least 50 percent of cereals and other grains as whole grains. Additionally, individuals are advised to limit meal frequency to two-three times a day and avoid ultra-processed foods high in fat, sugar, and salt.

Overall, the guidelines aim to provide evidence-based recommendations to address the evolving dietary landscape in India, promoting healthier food choices and lifestyles to combat malnutrition and NCDs effectively.

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