The operational efficacy of police personnel and professionals in the armed forces depends on both physical and mental fitness and the ability to adapt to situations. Physical fitness comes with regimental exercise and a balanced diet. Mental fitness is also augmented by diet. Operational efficacy demands good eye hand coordination, perfect spatial orientation and immediate response to stimuli. Often the challenges faced by those who are protecting us are circumstances where they need to avoid collateral damage and swiftly counter situations that threaten our security. Mostly low intensity conflict environments challenge our warriors physically and mentally due to constant need to adapt and perform in excellence. Optimum endurance and cognition means the difference between life and death on the battle ground.
Good cognitive performance comes from healthy brain chemistry. Omega-3 fats is key in developing good brain function and protect one from depression and other conditions induced due to mental stress. Omega-3 fats are building blocks for the large number of neurons in our brain and helps in protecting neurons from the physiological responses to stress. Precursors to omega-3 fats viz. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are critical in our diets. DHA and EPA help protect our neurons from oxidative damages etc. Adequate EPA and DHA in our diet helps reduce cellular sensitivity to stress.
Physical endurance is built by regular exercise and scientific diets. Endurance activities have a strong demand on our muscular wellness and strength. Omega-3 fats along with dietary proteins have a beneficial effect on function and quality of lean body mass. It also helps improve enzyme activity and muscle regeneration when consumed with adequate proteins and other nutrients. Having a diet rich in omega-3 fats also helps reduce exercise induced muscle damage and muscle soreness after exhaustive physical demands. Being on the field during operations may not give personnel opportunities to replenish their nutrient needs and often results in exercise induced stress which can be ameliorated by adequate omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are known for their cardio protective effects.
Omega-3 fats are rich in fish and a few plant produce. It is not easy to have access to seafood in field scale rations and often even in peace scale rations of the forces. Chia seeds; a Superfood is the richest source of omega-3 fats from a vegetarian source. Dating back to the era of Aztec Indians, Chia seeds have been a core part of the Aztec warrior rations. Yore has it that Aztec soldiers consumed Chia and had the endurance to run across mountains and had incredible stamina in battle. The crop was obliterated from traditional South American diets due to the vagaries of war; Chia however got new interest over the recent years with large production fields in Mexico.
CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysuru has developed agrotechnology for Chia to grow in Indian conditions. CFTRI has developed agrotechnology for blue flower, white seed chia lines which blend seamlessly into foods, which have a better market globally. Chia seeds do not require post-harvest processing and can be directly consumed after harvesting and cleaning. It is highly versatile, neutral in taste and can easily blend into our daily foods. Chia upon adding to water becomes a gel that is easy to drink. A solider on the move can simply add about 2 teaspoons Chia to a bottle of water, shake the bottle briefly and in about 10 minutes the seeds form a transparent gel that can be easily consumed. On an average, an adult needs about 1-1.6 gram of omega-3 fat daily (www.nutri-facts.org). Chia seeds have 30% fat content, out of which ~60% is Alpha Linolenic Acid that converts into EPA and DHA in our system. Up to 15 grams of Chia can be consumed daily. CFTRI has shared Chia seeds and agrotechnology for its production free of cost with farmers from across the nation. Chia can be easily grown in most agroclimatic conditions across India. Presently Chia which was prohibitively expensive when imported is becoming more affordable to the common man due to its production in India.
Prof Ram Rajasekharan is the Director of CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore. He is a world renowned Lipid Scientist and has developed avant-garde food products with advanced nutrition value suitable for all from paediatrics to geriatrics, sports personnel and those with special needs.