Women’s diet quality in India could be improved by forest foods

06/22/2023 - Wild foods from forests and common land play an important role in improving the quality of diets among Indian women, a new study finds. The harvest of wild, nutritious food, especially during June and July, is of vital importance to vulnerable women in India, where more than 80 percent are estimated to be micronutrient deficient and suffer from poor health.
Women’s diet quality in India could be improved by forest foods
Young leaves and buds of wild paat saag (Corchorus olitorius) are harvested from an uncultivated agricultural field during the monsoon season. The leaves can be used fresh and dried in vegetables and broth. Photo: Nirali Bakhla.

Published in the journal Nature Food, the study shows that the dietary diversity scores of women who consumed wild foods were 13 percent higher in June and 9 percent higher in July—in comparison to those not consuming wild foods. These women are also more likely to consume nutrient-rich, leafy green vegetables like chakwar and jute leaf.  According to the scientists, the addition of dark green leafy vegetables to a typical staple-based diet can fill critical nutrient gaps in the diets of Indian women diets during certain times of the year, especially among those who have the lowest levels of dietary diversity.

The international research team, which includes researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), South Dakota State University, the University of Michigan, the Indian School of Business and the University of Copenhagen, collected diet data from women across one year in two rural districts in eastern India to determine the contributions wild foods had on their diets. Wild food consumption was highest in June and July, which coincided with the "lean" season in India, when crops are planted but not ready for harvest. The study shows that this is a time period when wild foods are not merely a diet supplement but a necessity for people in this region.

“Our study results show the importance of policies that safeguard people’s access to forests and other common lands for food,” co-author Nathalie Lambrecht from PIK states and concludes: “As climate change threatens to make the poorest even more vulnerable to food insecurity understanding how people can improve their diets is crucial”.


Jennifer Zavaleta Cheek, Nathalie Lambrecht, Bowy den Braber, Nirali Akanachha, Dhanapal Govindarajulu, Andrew Jones, Ashwini Chhatre, Laura Vang Rasmussen (2023): Wild foods contribute to women’s higher dietary diversity in India. DOI: [10.1038/s43016-023-00766-1]


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