Updates from : The Hindu
For vegetarians, a south Indian diet enables higher absorption of iron, says study
Those with a weakness for south Indian food now have a legitimate reason to gorge themselves on idlis and dosas: these dishes help in the body’s absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc.
A large number of Indians have trouble absorbing iron and zinc from food. While this is mainly due to vegetarian food habits, south Indian vegetarians are better off: their food choices allow for better absorption of iron and zinc, says a study published last month in Current Science by scientists of the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research.
The article says the high content of phytates (anti-oxidants in cereals, legumes and oilseeds) in Indian foods slows down the absorption of iron and zinc. This causes deficiencies even in people whose diet may contain abundant quantities of these minerals.
“Despite sufficient availability of iron and zinc in the form of food, there is widespread deficiency of these minerals. We are mainly a vegetarian nation and the phytate content of vegetarian diets is high. This may be the main cause for the low absorption of iron and zinc,” says the article authored by A. N. Ganeshamurthy, D. Kalaivanan and B. L. Manjunath.
The paper suggests that research efforts should focus on bioavailability (absorption by the body) rather than biofortification, as food sources already supply enough iron and zinc. “Methods available for reducing the phytic-acid content of Indian foods…should find a prime place in nutritional programmes,” the research paper says.
Dr. Ganeshamurthy told The Hindu that the absorption efficiency of these minerals among most Indians eating phytate-rich foods was below 10%. It should rise to 25% and above, he said. This does not mean that people should quit vegetarian food, but they should adjust diets to reduce phytates.
The article said people who primarily consume south Indian vegetarian food, dominated by dishes such as idli, dosa and sprouts, can absorb iron and zinc effectively. This is because these have undergone fermentation, soaking, and germination, which reduces phytates, leading to enhanced bioavailability. The problem of phytates could also be overcome, the paper suggests, by eating fruits like guava and amla, and meat, poultry or fish.