ABC Prescription: A Fistful Of Almonds

Updated: Sep 19 2003, 05:30am hrs
There is a new healthy alliance in the offing. The Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre (EHIRC), Ranbaxy-promoted Fortis and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) may all be part of an advisory group being contemplated to promote almonds as a healthfood in India along with the Almond Board of California (ABC).

With the festive season looming, it is interesting to note that India is the fourth largest importer of almonds (our very own badam) from California, the almond bowl of the world. Thousands of boxes of the stuff cross hands during Diwali, Christmas and a dozen other major festivals.

The purpose of the advisory board: to create a medium through which almonds may be promoted as a healthy food supplement across the country. And the process: to provide nutrition information through Indian healthcare professionals.

India has a cultural heritage of almonds that centres on tradition and belief. It is something that is recognised even by ayurvedics, says Julie Adams, ABCs director of international affairs.

In the last one year, growth of Indian almond imports has touched 10 per cent to 53 million pounds (in weight), over China, which imports about half of that. The countries that import the most are Spain, Germany and Japan.

Indians consume a large amount of saturated fats, especially through ghee and dairy products. We need to try to convince Indians that almonds, though high in fat, have no cholesterol and actually have cholesterol-lowering effects, says ABCs director of scientific affairs Karen Lapsley.

ABC plans to fund research into nutrition and food in India in the next year or so. The higher incidence of heart diseases and diabetes are also considerations that has convinced ABC that India is a market to look seriously at. The commercial issues, evidently, are considerable.

Sure, thats one of the important issues too, though ABC administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the American department of agriculture. Commercial growth is definitely an important part of all of this, says Ms Adams.

ABC plans to publicise the effort through conferences and seminars at the grassroot level through school workshops. While it is going to be difficult to break through the snacking habits of Indians, Japan has been a success story for the board consumers and healthcare professionals there are particular that any food promoted should contribute to the development of the brain!

One of the things we are learning in India, and plan to take with us to other countries is the role of vegetarianism in a healthy diet, says Dr Lapsley. Indian cuisine is huge worldwide it has replaced Chinese food in the UK.

Considering financial constraints, ABC might not have a publicity campaign on the scale of the hugely successful Indian Have you had an egg today or the American Got Milk food industry campaigns, but traditional media is set to be used to the maximum extent possible.

In America already, almonds are looked at as a healthier food, considering that the No 1 source of Vitamin E used to be mayonnaise. The thing is, we do not pretend that almonds are the only thing one needs in a diet, or that it is all good just that it could effectively replace a lot of other foods to make up a truly healthy diet, says Dr Lapsley. She adds, Even now, women give their children a handful of almonds everyday a traditional belief that it is full of nutritive goodness.

That may just be what ABC wants for India. For every Indian, a handful of almonds.