I have observed (although I cannot substantiate it with any complete research data as such, except for a few articles) that, an average Indian diet, especially in the rural parts of India generally consists of more carbohydrate and less protein or other nutrients. Although there are exceptions, based on geography for example, yet, on an average too, it is far less diversified in terms of all the nutrients one should consume to nourish the body well.

There could be a number of reasons why there is such a norm generally prevalent in Indian diet, but I would like to also know, whether such a change in food habits had its origins in our history of long centuries of oppression of the peasant and labor castes or in the historical caste-ism prevalent in India from times immemorial, where a significant chunk of the population sustained on bare minimum means for their sustenance

Here are some examples to narrow down my question:

1) Eating 4-6 rotis/chapatis with some dal(parts of Central and north)
2) Eating a bowl of rice with some sambar(parts of South India)


  • 1
    Excellent question topic. Although broad in time and space, it also touches opinion based twice. The 'why' is less so but the 'better diet' part more so. The two articles are not reprensentative of all opions and generalise generously. India is big and food habits not uniform at any time. I really wish that answers will be either purely descriptive or really reference well their opinions about diet quality. If Sushant could either narrow it down a bit time-wise or give an example of assessment of a more traditional diet (before processed food and sugar), still considered 'deficient' by some? Jun 9, 2019 at 9:17
  • 4
    One can argue that carbohydrate-rich (and protein/fat poor) diet was rather the norm than an exception throughout history in pre-industrial agricultural societies. The relative scarcity and monotony of food and the starch-rich nature of basic staple foods were important factors everywhere.
    – Greg
    Jun 9, 2019 at 11:10
  • @Greg, thanks for your comment... could you please cite a source for your statement "carb rich was norm in pre-industrial societies"... interesting observation
    – Sushant
    Jun 9, 2019 at 14:50
  • @Greg: I don't think you really need to limit that to pre-industrial societies, as even in contemporary western societies we find groups with diets heavy in carbs - though technology has allowed the addition of fat and sugar to that. Also consider the effects of refrigeration technology on the availability of meat.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 9, 2019 at 17:44
  • I don't think there can be a simple answer to this, as India is historically many cultures, not one. Western-influenced Goan cuisine en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goan_cuisine is much different from Begali cuisine en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengali_cuisine and both are different from the Muslim-influenced cuisine of the northeast.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 9, 2019 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


Until India became independent, the question wasn't so much whether the diet was balanced than it was whether there was enough food to not starve. There have been a few famine threats since, but thankfully nothing like the 1943 Bengal famine, which resulted in an estimated 2.1-3 million deaths from starvation or malnutrition.

As to the evolution of the diet itself, it seems to have changed somewhat since independence, in that consumption of produce, eggs, and diary have increased. There was a study published a few years ago by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAOSTAT) to flesh this out. It analyzed the consumption patterns of countries across the world between 1961 and 2011. (The data apparently resides here, but I can't seem to get the page to finish loading.)

This article on results for India give a summary of the findings:

In 1961 the average Indian had a daily calorie intake of 2,010. Their daily diet consisted of 43% grains (378g), 23% produce (199g), 12% dairy & eggs (108g), 12% sugar and fat (108g), 2% meat (17g) and 8% as other (68g).

In 2011 the average Indian had a daily calories intake of 2,458. Their daily diet consisted of 34% produce (450g), 32% grains (416g), 18% eggs and dairy (235g), 10% sugar and fat (129g), 2% meat (29g) and 4% as other (58g).

National Geographic put those numbers in helpful charts.

This is the gram per day breakdown in 1961 and 2011:

Grams per day, India (1961)

Grams per day, India (2011)

This is the calorie per day breakdown in 1961 and 2011:

Calories per day, India (1961)

Calories per day, India (2011)

The charts unfortunately don't break things down in enough detail to determine whether the assertions in the article you cite are correct or not. Still, they do hint at the notion that India as a country could be eating more, and more diversely. Or put another way, that the local staple foods are still the basis of what people eat day in day out. This leaves plenty of room to increase gram and calorie intake from the nutrients that the article you cite mentions are lacking. Thus, I would hazard the suggestion that this is all due to, to quote your own words, "a significant chunk of the population sustained on bare minimum means for their sustenance" - while leaving the question of who one should attribute that state of affairs to open.

  • 1
    Note that many Indians avoid meat for religious reasons, so that sliver of the pie is much less related to wealth than the others.
    – user15620
    Jun 9, 2019 at 16:50
  • @StevenBurnap: Oh totally. I did not mean to imply at all to make a judgement call and say that they should be eating more of this or that, merely state that the article OP quoted suggested that they should eat something different. Jun 9, 2019 at 17:14
  • I don't think this is really responsive to the question. The difference between 1961 (or even immediate pre-independence) and contemporary doesn't really count as long centuries of history. I would expect any change in diet there to be down to economics and creeping westernization, rather than purely cultural differences.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 9, 2019 at 17:53
  • @jamesqf: I'm not sure I agree. The reason I posted this is that, in 1961, India was consuming 3 times less food, both on a amount and calorie basis, than modern western nations. And they still consume about a lot less on average, with a disproportionate amount of grain (aka rice) thrown in. That basically says that large swaths of the population are still eating rice or bread day in day out with whatever they get their hands on. Jun 9, 2019 at 18:29
  • @jamesqf I agree with you when you say that the answer doesn't really count as long centuries of history. Assuming natural calamities to be a universal phenomena, I was rather expecting more causes in the way the Indian empires and their politics and economics to also play a generous role in the evolution of our food habits.
    – Sushant
    Jun 10, 2019 at 2:55

an average Indian diet, especially in the rural parts of India generally consists of more carbohydrate and less protein or other nutrients.

From a larger historical perspective, this is exactly what's "normal". In traditional societies, starches have dominated while protein has been relatively scarce. As Denis de Bernardy's answer shows, the Indian diet in general has changed in recent decades, as it has all over the world. Higher consumption of protein, fat and processed sugar is a relatively new phenomenon beginning in the wealthiest parts of the world and made possible by "modern", industrialized forms of agriculture and economy more generally. So what the observation in the question illustrates is that rural India has been less thoroughly impacted by these global changes than some other places.

Here is a highly relevant paragraph about the more general pattern of diet in human history from anthropologist Sydney Mintz (Sweetness and Power, p.9):

Most great (and many minor) sedentary civilizations have been built on the cultivation of a particular complex carbohydrate such as maize or potatoes or rice or millet or wheat. In these starch-based societies, usually but not always horticultural or agricultural, people are nourished by their bodily conversion of the complex carbohydrates, either grains or tubers, into body sugars. Other plant foods, oils, flesh, fish, fowl, fruits, nuts, and seasonings-many of the ingredients of which are nutritively essential-will also be consumed, but the users themselves usually view them as secondary, even if necessary, additions to the major starch. This fitting together of core complex carbohydrate and flavor-fringe supplement is a fundamental feature of the human diet-not of all human diets, but certainly of enough of them in our history to serve as the basis for important generalizations.

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