The food conundrumFood is closely associated with the culture and climate of a particular place. It depends on the type of air, soil and water that is available for a particular product to grow. .That product serves well to the people belonging to that particular country or area. Also, food preferences are passed on as a habit from the mother to the child in the womb itself. CulturaJly India has been a vegetarian country. Almost every meal consists of at least one plant-based food on the plate. When it comes to the consumption of non-vegetarian food, there are different scenarios observed in India.In the first scenario, the traditional diet consists of one portion of non-vegetarian in most of their meals. For example, in a Bengali or Konkani population, the traditional meal consistsof fish. It is regularly included in the diet as a staple.In the second scenario, a culturally vegetarian population who hardly cooks any non-vegetarian food at home consume it as a dine-out option or a happy food. They eat once in a while and push themselves into authentic non-vegetarian food because they eat it for taste and want to make it a special occasion.Here, non-vegetarian food is seen as a luxury and not as a source of nutrition.The third group comprises people who are health-conscious and believe that eating non-vegetarian food has a diversified impact, right from carbon footprint to health. These people are convinced that vegetarianism is the way ahead for good health and that it has its benefits. They want to shift from non-vegetarian to vegetarian food but are addicted to eating non-vegetarian food two to three times a week. In such a population, options like vegan meat or plant-based meat may serve the purpose well due to three reasons:• They experience a positive psychological impact of eating healthier options• They have an emotional satisfaction of getting the taste, flavour and connect with the food.• They are assured that they are giving back to the ecosystem and contributing to the reduction of the carbon footprint. Most of the time they feel responsible for the slaughtering part.Protein consumption in IndiaOne should look at both the quantity and quality of protein consumed. Here, education plays an important role to understand the nature of different food items in our diet and learn to balance the nutrition in a meal plate.The latest guidelines by the National Institution of Nutrition (NIN) 2020, modified by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) suggest protein intake of a minimum of 0.6-0.8 g per kg body weight. The guidelines suggest that one should focus on eating a good quality protein rather than the quantity. In the Indian vegetarian diet, dairy plays an important part in protein contribution. The guidelinesalso stress nutrition education among people to plan healthy meals. The recommended ratio for a meal is 3:1:1 (3 portions of grain, 1 bowl of pulse and 1 glass of milk).Protein intake in the dietAll food items, except cooking oils, have some amount of protein in them. The end product of proteins is amino acids and upon consumption, they reach the amino acid pool. These amino acids are then directed to different body parts based on the requirement. If we are exercising then it will reach the muscles and if we are sick then it will go to the immune system. The practice of fermenting foods in a vegan diet such as lentils, soy and dry fruits improves its absorption.The easiest way to achieve protein balance is by focusing on the quality of protein and its contribution to their diet rather than counting the proteins. Adding one animal source or one lentil source in every meal along with grains provides a balance ofuse of natural ingredients makes it a good option for people with Diabetes because it provides adequate proteins and fewer carbohydrates. This helps in improving insulin sensitivity.Managing fat intakeThe best fat is the invisible kind that is present in the food. That is where veganism scores over other diets because we derive the essential fatty acids (MUFA) from the stored fat of the foods. Every plant-based food has its fat and that is the best kind.Saturated fat is missing in a vegan diet because it constitutes plant-based foods and they do not have saturated fat. Plant based foods contain plant sterols whereas animal-based foods contain cholesterol. Plant sterols enhance the functioning of cellular health, gut flora andanti-inflammatory properties of the body. It is advised to consume fat from plant sources.Planning a sustainable dietIn every household, the family should participate in making the meal plan every week. The nutritional intake of the family should be boiled down to their daily intake, taste and preparation of food. If each member contributes to the menu planning, it will add more importance to the efficacy of the meals. If only one person is planning and buying the groceries, he or she willlook for options to minimise the ingredients or processed foods to replace the meals.Instead of consuming foods randomly, one should quantify the meals to match their body's energy consumption. Every meal should have a balance of nutrition and should include all three macronutrients.Also, one should include nuts and fruits in their daily diet. Adding a liquid-based protein such as dal or kadhi or rasam helps in balancing the meal plate. Blend your meal plate with different combinations of food and see to it that your meals constitute all five food groups - cereals, vegetables, fruits, oils and lentils. Every meal should have 10 g of protein and5-10 g of fibre in it. In a therapeutic scenario, the macronutrient proportion changes according to the person's health condition.Reading the nutrition labelsFood labels on packed foods state their nutritional value and provide a breakdown of different nutrients present in them. For any person who wants to make healthier changes to the diet, reading a food label is of great importance to assess its ingredients and their nutritional quality.Food products that are a part of the everyday diet (consumed 4-5 times a week) should be carefully read for their nutritional value as they contribute the most to your health.These are the things that should be looked for in a nutritional label:•\tServing size•\tAmount of calories (energy)•\thighlighted nutrients for which it is beingmade and its percentage•\tAmount of fat and trans fat•\tAdditives and saltIf a person uses packed foods, curries and condiments then it is highly recommended to read the nutrition label before buying. Dr Geeta Dharmatti (MSc, PhD RD) is a registered clinical dietician and the founder of Geeta NutriHeal Nutrition Consultancy. Dr Dharmatti is also associated as Chief Nutrigenomic Counsellor at Gene Support and Chief Bariatric Nutritionistat Diabetes Obesity Surgical Solutions. Dr Dharmatti is associated with the Indian Dietetic Association as its Executive Member. She is also the Associate Professor and PhD Guide of Nutrition at Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune and as guest faculty for CCIH, Ayush Department of Pune University. Her expertise lies in critical care, bariatric, nutrigenomics, wellness and lifestyle management.