The application developed by Hyderabad-based IT startup Macronel, was launched by India’s National Institute of Nutrition last month.
The application functions as a nutrition guide, where users can assess their nutritional status, required dietary allowance (RDA), daily food intake and energy expenditure, Dr Hemalatha R, director of National Institute of Nutrition, Department of Health Research told FoodNavigator-Asia.
The application provides information on the number of calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals present in common Indian food, in turn, guiding users’ dietary decisions.
Users can search for information in as many as 17 Indian languages. Information on dietary intake and energy expenditure of the user and two more sub-users can be retained for seven days.
Commenting on the state of nutrition in India, Dr SubbaRao M Gavaravarapu, deputy director of media, communication, and extension at the institute described that the country is facing a "health paradox", where both under-nutrition and obesity are prevalent.
“India is currently facing a paradox where problems of under-nutrition, obesity and associated non-communicable diseases are co-existing.”
"India’s problems as we all know are not just related to undernourishment. Non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases are also on the rise. In many cases, the same cohort of individuals or communities, that were once grappling with the issues of under-nutrition are today at the brink of nutrition transition," he said.
“Apart from malnutrition, many chronic diseases have been directly or indirectly associated with food intake, nutrition, and lifestyles. It is important to understand the optimal requirement of nutrients for good health and well being," Dr SubbaRao said.
The application which is available on Google Play store and IOS achieved 5,000 downloads during the first two days of its launch, and the number is constantly increasing, he revealed.
The health paradox
Elaborating on the state of the health paradox in India, Dr. Subbarao said that the nation is facing a "more insidious form of malnutrition" such as iron-deficient anemia and a lack of micro-nutrients intake, despite a declining rate of stunting and wasting.
“These are persistent problems in India. Over half of all women and children suffer from iron deficiency anaemia.”
The reasons for iron deficiency anaemia among women, adolescent girls and children are mainly due to low intake of iron-rich foods, and the difficulty of absorbing iron from certain vegetarian sources.
"Under-nutrition, coupled with menstrual blood loss among adolescent girls, are keeping them anaemic. If they get married early and become pregnant, the problem will persist," he said.
Other reasons include worm infection, the lack of vitamin C intake which is needed for iron absorption, and the lack of complementary food feeding in children.
On the other hand, the consumption of refined food high in calories and carbohydrates but low in nutritional value is causing "rich men diseases" in the country.
"Despite the availability of foods we, as a nation, are still unable to attain the desired balance in the diets of our people. Most of our diets are cereal-based and lacked adequate diversity to meet the protein and micro-nutrient needs," he said.
“Over 20% of the people are suffering from the diseases and the rate is as high as 50% according to one of our recent urban studies.”
To combat the problem of micro-nutrients deficiency, the government has launched the National Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation programme, which distributes free iron tablets to boys and girls between the age of 10 to 19 years old.
The Iron Folic Acid tablet distribution is also available for pregnant women, which Dr Subbarao said, is made possible due to the institute's research efforts.
Besides distributing supplements, the authorities have also introduced a food fortification scheme, where rice, oil, wheat, salt, and milk need to be fortified with vitamins, iodine and iron.
In the same vein, the institute has also developed technology to fortify common salt with iron and iodine.
While some manufacturers have worked towards food fortification, the scheme was slow to take off, due to concerns over possible regulatory changes and the differences in laws among states.
There were also companies that had been ignoring reminders from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to fortify their milk and edible oils.