18) World Heart Day: ICRISAT calls for sorghum and millet based health foods to help tackle India’s rising lifestyle diseases (29 September 2011)

29 September 2011, Hyderabad. At last week’s UN assembly India announced the launch of a nation‑wide programme to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) from April 2012.

In 2008 in India, over 5.2 million people died of NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes and cancer. These diseases caused more than half of all deaths with cardiovascular diseases accounting for 24% of all deaths.

No wonder there is a sense of emergency. The latest WHO report on NCDs shows that cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are rising rapidly. With an estimated 50.8 million people, India has the world's largest population of diabetics
in the world and of all deaths.

In addition to this alarming public health issue, this is also a significant economic burden for India. These diseases progress slowly and affect people over a long period, severely affecting their earnings.  WHO has assessed that unhealthy lifestyles and diet caused a loss of almost $237 billion between 2004 and 2015 in India.

The change in life style and diets especially for the urban population is largely to blame. With rising incomes, people tend to eat more but not necessarily better. Consuming empty calories and more processed food, the average Indian citizen eats more refined grains and products that contain  high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates (not diabetic friendly), in addition to consuming foods  having high fat and salt content.

Today being World Heart Day, ICRISAT wants to promote the message of healthier food.  The booming snack food market, estimated at 2 billion$ a year, is where ICRISAT sees the potential to turn a new leaf.

You can’t imagine being invited for a cup of tea in an Indian family house without being offered some fried ‘namkeen’
or other tasty snacks. Made of refined cereal flours, and deep fried in saturated and trans‑fat containing fats and oils, these snacks are definitely not good for the heart and hazardous for your body.

NutriPlus Knowledge Programme (NPK) part of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) has tackled the challenge of producing healthier, more nutritious snacks. First, instead of deep frying, they use extrusion technology. Pressure and heat are combined without oil to cook crispy balls or sticks resulting in a light, crunchy and tasty product.

But most importantly, these snacks are made with flour from sorghum and millet; cereals with a higher nutrition value than rice and wheat. Sorghum and millet have plenty of qualities: they are rich in dietary fibre especially resistant starch and hence are diabetic friendly, are gluten free, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and in nutrients such as iron and phosphorus.

In addition to introducing better, healthier and safer fast food for consumers, sorghum and millet snacks will create new markets for these crops. Given they are only grown by small subsistence farmers; this exciting market opportunity could help link poor farmers to the dynamic Indian agro-food industry, ultimately increasing their incomes and reducing poverty.

ICRISAT’s food technology researchers are also looking into partnerships with the private sector and development organizations to find solutions for post-harvest issues and explore new markets for dryland crops such as sorghum
and millet. Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar is the leading scientist for ICRISAT’s NPK Program. “In addition to the health snacks, we are looking at several other exciting possibilities to raise the value of these nutritious grains to have an impact on smallholder farmers who grow these crops,” said Mazumdar. “We would like to research the possibility of sorghum or millet-based enriched biscuits for school feeding programmes in Asia and Africa. We could also develop
and promote simple processing technologies and innovations for mothers to prepare nutritious baby foods in families where malnourishment is an issue,’ Mazumdar added.

ICRISAT’s Director General Dr William Dar highlighted the value of this food technology research for reducing rural poverty. “By tapping into the health promoting properties of dryland crops like sorghum and millet we can help
address an urgent public health issue at the same time as creating new markets for these subsistence crops,
which are produced mostly by smallholder farmers,” said Dar.

For media enquiries, contact: Showkat Nabi Rather, Senior Media Officer, +91 40 3071 3187, R(dot)Showkat(at)cgiar(dot)org.
or Cristina P Bejosano, Head, Science Writing and Media Relations, Tel: +91 40 30713236, C(dot)Bejosano(at)cgiar(dot)org
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