Association between sustainable dietary patterns and body weight, overweight, and obesity risk in the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort (2020)

Seconda L, Egnell M, Julia C, et al. Association between sustainable dietary patterns and body weight, overweight, and obesity risk in the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2020; 112(1): 138-149. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz259

From the abstract: Improving the sustainability of current food systems may prevent future public health, environmental, and social concerns. Our objective was to investigate the associations between sustainable dietary patterns, assessed using the Sustainable Diet Index (SDI), and the risk of obesity, overweight, and weight gain in French adults, with a prospective design.

The construction of this index was based on the FAO definition of food sustainability. According to the latter, the SDI includes 7 indicators categorized into 4 subindexes: environmental, nutritional, economic, and sociocultural.

  1. land occupation, 
  2. greenhouse gas emissions, 
  3. primary energy consumption (grouped together in pReCiPe), 
  4. difference between energy need and intake in absolute terms, 
  5. probability of adequate nutrient intake (PANDiet), 
  6. contribution of organic food to diet, 
  7. proportion of income devoted to diet, place of food purchase, and ready-made product

The findings support a potential protective role for more sustainable diets to prevent the risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity.

Addressing Food Waste at University College Dublin, Ireland (2023 Sep)

At a glance

  • Two students undertook this as their final year project for the BSc in Human Nutrition at UCD and two students were working as work placement interns with the clinical nutrition and dietetics team at the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy & Sports Science.


Food waste is a global issue which carries many environmental and economic implications. An estimated 25-33%, or 1.3 billion tonnes, of food is wasted globally (1). The UN SDG of halving food waste by 2030 requires large scale action. Action in Ireland is guided by European directives to monitor and reduce food waste in line with the UN SDG goals (2).

Universities are settings with large populations and diverse expertise that could address food waste in meaningful and innovate ways. The student and staff population at UCD is over 30,000 with over 4000 beds provided for student residences on-campus. There are several large restaurants, numerous cafes and delis, coffee docks, 2 grocery shops, and other small vendors across the campus. Novel food vans park up once per week and during events or festivals. There are 4 main providers of catering to events and conferences across the campus. In short, UCD is akin to a large, bustling town with a food system to match.

UCD Estate services already has several supporting policies and programmes in place for sustainability. (3) UCD seeks the attainment of a sustainable, healthy and living campus and as such endeavours to manage the campus in a way that considers energy and water usage, waste management, sustainable commuting and biodiversity in all of its activities where relevant.

For students, there are opportunities to explore different aspects of the university food environment for the purpose of learning about food systems, waste, and what it all means for sustainability. To obtain a snapshot of the university campus, students focused on:

  • Food waste practices within a large university restaurant setting
  • Food waste knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours among students in residence on campus
  • Food waste within one staff building – the waste was collected, the students explored different methods of composting, and organised a living soil and composting workshop open to staff and students in collaboration with the community garden at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Lessons Learnt:

  • A pilot exploratory project helped to build diverse relationships across campus including with restaurant management, Green Campus, the community garden, food waste and sustainability researchers and initiate conversations about this topic.
  • Small projects can attract interested staff and students and support the sustainability of actions with willing volunteers (e.g. continuing composting).
  • Accessing students to complete a survey was challenging and on-campus residence initiatives to engage students will require additional time and creativity.
  • The most wasted food group in a large university restaurant was starches, followed by vegetables. Plate waste, rather than kitchen waste, were the focus of the study, therefore server and consumer level engagement around portions sizes and waste awareness may be the appropriate focus for intervention.
  • The team in nutrition and dietetics at UCD collaborate with Airfield Farm Estate, where they demonstrate opportunities for full composting of food waste on-site, creating valuable compost and fertiliser for their garden and food growing.
  • The study is being developed further (in 2023/2024) to engage more with students’ knowledge and attitudes and repeat the restaurant methods to obtain a full academic year snapshot.

What Else? Other Relevant Examples

Food for Thought
Educators and Students seem the ideal role models for reducing food waste.
What systems need to be in place to avoid waste?
What supports do universities need to reduce food waste?

Contact Information
Sarah Browne,


1 – International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction 29 September

2 – Irish National Food Waste Prevention Roadmap 2023-2025 From Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications Published on 30 November 2022, Last updated on 30 January 2023 )

3 – Summary of UCD Sustainability Activities via Estates

Red-Listed Seafood (2023 Aug)

At a Glance

  • Madalyn Higgins, RD, the Dietitian and Sustainability Manager at Acadia Dining Services (provided by Chartwell’s Canada) worked with the students in NUTR 4913 Sustainable Food Systems and Dietary Patterns to address this target, providing them with a meaningful experiential learning opportunity. The students were all studying to become nutrition or health professionals, at least half of them intended on a career in dietetics.
The efforts of the students focused on three areas:
  • Understanding and communicating key messages about sustainable seafood.  Students put together a comprehensive review of existing research surrounding the topic and created communications tools to be displayed in the dining hall to inform staff and students about the negative effects of Red-Listed seafood and what steps they can take to minimize these effects.
  • Identifying Red-Listed seafood on the menu. Students investigated seafood sources to determine if they are on the Red List. This meant speaking with food system actors such as distributors and fisheries and comparing information to Ocean Wise resources.
  • Exploring strategies for more sustainable menu alternatives. Students proposed potential replacements using comparable items and looked for distributors.
  • The students presented their work to the dining hall’s Chef, Dietitian and Sustainability Manager, Director of Operations and Marketing Manager.
  • These efforts aimed to promote environmentally responsible dining practices at Acadia University while raising awareness about the importance of sustainable seafood sourcing.


Buying seafood that is Red-Listed has been recognized worldwide as a significant problem, as it is linked to major concerns for our fisheries and the health of the planet such as low fish stock numbers, destabilization of the ecosystem-wide food chain, and Irresponsible fishing practices that contribute to the destruction of our oceans.

With the growing population and growing appetite for fish and seafood in developed nations, billions of people around the world rely on fish and seafood as an essential source of protein and a means of income. Researchers have gathered that this seafood should not be made commercially available and alternative options need to be considered.

Organizations such as Seafood Watch, categorize red-listed seafood through different ranking systems tailored for various types of fishing such as fisheries and aquaculture, and score them based on their sustainability criteria.

The sum of the scores allow the seafood to fall into Green (good choice), Yellow (good alternative), or Red (avoid) categories. Other organizations such as Ocean-Wise and Aquaculture Stewardship Council also assess sustainability based on Seafood Watch’s sustainability scoring system  and convert the scores from three-fold to a binary system of Green and Red. Learn more…

Lessons Learnt:

  • Through research, students gathered that the problem is that there is a lot of complexity and lack of transparency surrounding the global seafood supply chain and what seafood is sustainable to eat.
  • There is a need to improve transparency regarding sustainable seafood and ability to access this information. The group learned about the importance of understanding these tools to identify relevant information about sustainable seafood options.
  • It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure sustainable seafood consumption. Policies should be put in place to regulate how seafood is being labeled sustainable.
  • While not easy, it is possible to identify unsustainable seafood sources and replace them with more sustainable sources.
  • Sustainably sourced seafood, such as recirculating aquaculture is not perfect but can create seafood options. These options can be much more expensive, and we rely on food and nutrition professionals to get creative in the kitchen to use them more sparingly.
  • The seafood that the students helped remove included the red-listed atlantic salmon and white shrimp that was being served in the Acadia dining hall.  Students gathered sustainable options to be presented as recommendations to replace these red-listed menu items. The better choices included the Ocean Wise-approved farmed Whiteleg shrimp and the Ocean Wise-approved farmed Giant Tiger shrimp. 

What Else? Other Relevant Examples

  • Recirculating aquaculture is Ocean Wise approved by fisheries worldwide and is often used for Atlantic salmon farming. Learn more…
  • Through the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, you can search ASC-certified seafood using a simple drop-down search. Learn more…
  • Organizations such as the Marine Conservation Society create resources to help educate students about ocean sustainability. Learn more…
  • Nourish Canada has developed a Sustainable Menu Guide that can guide menus for organizations such as University campuses. The menu guide simplifies efforts o create sustainable menus that reduce environmental impact while offering healthy, affordable, acceptable, and fair food to clients.  While not specific to sustainable seafood, it is more broadly helpful with practical examples.

Food for Thought
How do we ensure that we have aquatic resources for the future, especially with the growing demand?
What kind of tools are effective or needed to empower and educate consumers to make sustainable choices?
What supports do food service providers need to serve sustainable seafood choices?

Contact Information
Madalyn Higgins,

Thank you to Naomi Kereliuk for facilitating this case study!

Recovering Drug Addictions and Nutrition (Germany)

At a Glace

  • This case study originated from a dietitian in Germany who shared their story via a webinar hosted by the ICDA-SFS Toolkit Team.
  • The European food laws stating that only 100% perfect fruits and vegetables created an opportunity to reduce food waste and save money for recovering drug addicts in Germany.
  • Lessons Learnt: The fruits and vegetables from distributers that they are required not to sell due to produce not being “100% perfect”, can be helpful in practicing the reduction of food waste and using this produce to create jams, chutney’s, etc. that can be used in meals and donated.


The laws around food and food distribution are different from region to region and can have an impact on what happens to food throughout the food system, specifically in the process of distribution. The European food laws restrict distributors from selling any fruits or vegetables that are not 100% perfect. For example, “if a single peach in a tray has small damages, the whole tray is not allowed to be sold”, as explained from the source of this case study. With such a high standard for fruits and vegetables, distributors try to find reliable partners that can pick up and further process the fruits and vegetables that are not able to be sold. Fortunately, the Dietitian for an open living community for recovering drug addicts in Germany was able to take advantage of these distributors and their produce.

Implementation & Impact

An open living community for recovery drug addicts in Germany consists of professional individuals, including a Dietitian, that aim to help strengthen the overall life competences of these members. Part of their therapy includes working in social agriculture, which opened the opportunity to help create a sustainable solution for the food waste created through fruit and vegetable distribution.

The Dietitian organized for the members of this community to gather the produce and goods from the distributors twice a week, while also learning how to filter out the fine fruits and vegetables that can be used for future consumption. After filtering through the produce, the members are able to, through guidance, process these fruits and vegetables into jams, juice, chutneys, syrup, cakes and much more. These products are then added to their meal plans to help increase fruit and vegetable consumption in a sustainable, hands on way, which helps to create a sense of pride and value to the members of this community.

Any over production of these products are then given away as donations from the members of this open living community. In addition, through the money they saved by resourcing this produce, they were able to buy a pool table for their personal gratification and hard work. Through this initiative, the group members learn resourceful skills in reducing food waste, while also creating personal competencies that are useful in many aspects of recovery.

Photo by: Daria Gudoshnikova via Unsplash

Food for Thought
What laws or regulations could communities/groups within your region benefit from that could also optimize food waste?
In addition to food waste, what other topic of social/environmental sustainability is being impacted by this initiative?
Should dietitians play a role in ensuring the reduction of food waste from these distributors? If so, what role?

Contact Information
There is no contact information available at this time.

Nutrition Education in a Speech & Hearing Impaired School- Chennai India

At a Glance

  • This Dr. MGR Home & Secondary School for the Speech & Hearing impaired was founded in 1990 by Dr. MGR to help increase the accessibility of education and resources for the differently abled in terms of speech and hearing in India.
  • The Chennai chapter was created to incorporate dietitians and nutritional assessment into the school to help increase the nutritional status of the students.
  • Lessons Learnt: Integrating school gardens that incorporate both the students and the parents can have a positive impact on both the lunch menu and the nutritional status of the children at home.


The Dr.MGR Home & Higher Secondary School for the Speech & Hearing Impaired was founded in 1990 by Dr. MGR. The vision and mission of this institution is to help the rehabilitation of the differently abled learn up to higher secondary education in sciences, computer and writing skills. In addition, teachers within this institution help teach gymnastic, yoga and dance skills to help in overall personal development. This home also offers additional resources in terms of amplification devices to help with hearing and speech for job oriented practical training to allow them to feel more comfortable in society, school and careers. Through the dedication of their staff, this institution is able to provide valuable education to their students and are continuously looking for ways to help them in all aspects of life, including nutrition.

Photo by Elaine Casap – Unsplash

Nutrition Implementation

In 2005/2006, the president of the Indian Dietetic Association created the Chennai chapter which began the nutritional screening of the children within the school and received help from both the principal and the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute to retrieve the medical information needed. The Chennai chapter consisted of both dietitians and students who would go to the school for multiple weeks retrieving diet information and giving diet education to the children and their parents. The dietitians were able to identify specific children who were malnourished and able to give them and their family further counseling on how to counteract the undernourishment. The children were assessed over a two year period and nutritional improvements were noted.
The Chennai chapter also collaborated with the school lunch program to help increase the quantity and quality of vegetables that were being offered. In order to help with the increase of vegetables , the school reached out to Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail who is the director of EcoScience Research Foundation to help utilize their large amount of land as a form of gardening. While children were in class, parents would stay and help with the development of the garden which began to grow tomatoes, papaya, and green leafy vegetables, as well as coriander and mint. Through the help of educating both the children and the parents, the garden was able to supply the school lunch menu with important vegetables needed for their nutrition.

In 2016, two posters were presented at the ICD Granada, Spain for the research work that was done in Chennai. These posters were created and presented in collaboration with the University of Southern Queensland and Central Washington University. More recently in February 2020, additional research was conducted in the same school by Dr. Ethan Bergman regarding the Nutrient analysis school lunches and anthropometric measures in a private and public school in Chennai, India.

Food for Thought
How can Dietitians-Nutritionists play a role in increasing the gardening, harvesting, and consumption of vegetables by both students and parents in the school system?
How can Dietitians-Nutritionists play a role in advocating for policies surrounding the increase of local gardens as a source of food beyond schools, such as hospitals and restaurants?
What type of social and/or environmental sustainability would be positively impacted by adapting school gardens?

Contact Information
Dharini Krishnan Ph.D.,R.D.
Chennai, India

Food Sustainability and Nutrition in Violence Prevention (Jamaica)

At a Glance

  • This case study was brought forward by Patricia Thompson, M.Sc. Nutrition, Executive Director of the Jamaican Island Nutrition Network (JINN).
  • Thompson explains the intervention that was implemented into six elementary schools in Jamaica that impacted the transition of school food to create a positive engagement tool in areas that were high in gang violence for children of school age.
  • Lessons Learnt: Opportunities and accessibility to healthy, local and supportive food programs can create a positive impact outside of school and can carry on to secondary education.


The Jamaican Island Nutrition Network is a charity that ensures rights for children to have nutritious food and diets. Their main mission is to “enhance the nutrition environment in Jamaica with special focus on students, student athletes, and youth in schools and related populations by collaborating with strategic partners and coordinating their efforts to enhance student performance and health” (JINN). JINN also advocates for sustainable nutrition programs in schools at multiple levels ranging from civil to community. They help build self-reliance through the use of local resources and skills and supports both environmental conservation and sustainability. In 2019, the Jamaican Island Nutrition Network annual conference had a day dedicated to Nutrition and Violence. There were problems identified through researchers, as well as a participant from the “Violence Prevention Coalition”, regarding the lack of nutrition and feeding education in programs and throughout school.

Pepsi fridge replaced with fresh fruit and water to replace sodas.


In 2020, The Ministry of National Security (MNS) had begun its second summer program through social intervention and community engagement that was implemented into six elementary school in Jamaica. “It was known that the likelihood of being recruited into local gangs which operate within the space is high at this age” (Thompson, 2020). This program was implemented in hopes to increase the positive impact and engagement in students and help their transition to secondary school become smoother while avoiding gang violence. This program contained elements of nutrition, music, sports, and technology. The nutrition program consisted of donations from the distributor sector including packaged food and drinks. The Ministry of National Security called upon the Jamaican Island Nutrition Network (JINN) to help review and provide modifications to the current nutrition program that was implemented by the MNS. When reviewing the menu, JINN followed certain criteria to ensure the affordability of the program due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Some of which included:

  • Keeping both the menus and food at a low cost…
  • Receiving produce from local farmers within the community…
  • Weighing and measuring students in order to determine their nutritional status…

The overall menu changes that were implemented by JINN were to include local produce from farmers, accept food donations and use these for take home meals and incorporate staple foods that include vegetables for vegetarians that are separate from animal products (see image below). In addition to menu change, JINN supported the suggested policy that was put forward by the Health Coalition of the Caribbean (HCC) to tax sweetened drinks in order to help curb childhood obesity, with the proviso that this tax money can help improve sustainable school nutrition. For example, paying cooks and nutrition professionals to help incorporate more nutritional options into programs such as the Wellness Program in schools. JINN believes that “the children would benefit from better nutrition thereby affecting not only their health status, but academic performance and violence disposition”. Luckily, there are now five ministries of government that have been impacted and will begin to increase opportunities for nutrition professionals in government.

Food for Thought
Are schools within your community sourcing fresh produce from local farmers or farmers markets? If not, why?
What impact can sourcing food through local farms have on both social and environmental sustainability?
What role do nutrition professionals have in ensuring adequate nutrition for school children in school and at home?

Contact Information
R.Nutr. PATRICIA THOMPSON M.Sc. Nutrition PGDip Mgt Studies (UWI)

Executive Director, Jamaica Island Nutrition Network (JINN)
Consultant Nutritionist/Health Promotion Consultant, Jamaica
Credentialed School Nutrition Specialist (SNS)
USA Certified Master Sports Nutritionist, Sports Dietetics (USA)
Phone: 876-977-4561; 876-322-3142

SecondBite (Austrailia)

At a Glance

  • SecondBite was created in 2005 by Ian and Simone Carson as an initiative to end hunger and reduce food waste in their community and throughout Australia.
  • This case study shows how the hard work and determination of just two individuals can lead to a decrease in hunger and food waste and an indirect increase in food security for thousands of people by saving nutritious food from entering the landfill, and instead, entering the homes of many people who need it.
  • Lessons Learnt: surplus food from a variety of networks, such as grocery stores, can be used to reduce the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger, while also benefiting the environment through a reduction in food waste.


SecondBite was established in 2005 in hopes to make a difference in the hunger and food waste that is evolving in Australia. Ian and Simone gathered a group of friends and began to visit local markets in Melbourne and collect surplus food to donate and drop off at a local charities that have a food program established. This group continued to grow with increasing volunteers and staff, and luckily for the founders, created a national partnership with Coles in 2011, which helped the organization scale rapidly. Due to this partnership, the organization was able to scale across Australia to Sydney, Adelaide and Perth and eventually create more partnerships with organizations in Tasmania and NT.

What They Do

SecondBite works with many supermarkets and other organizations that create opportunity to offer a free-of-charge supply of nutritious, surplus food to local charities and non-profits. They distribute this food to over 1,000 communities across Australia, and are able to do a “direct deliver” in areas that are most efficient in doing so. With the help of over 600 volunteers and 75 staff members, SecondBite has successfully rescued and delivered an equivalent of 100 million meals. Through the help of the community and partnerships, this organization was able to grow on a national scale and is making a direct impact on hunger within Australia due to the increase in availability of nutritious foods. Not only will this make a great change for the reduction of food waste across a network of suppliers, it will also have a major impact on the environment due to the decrease of wastage in the landfill. In addition, the organization was able to create a “Community Connect” model that allows supermarkets and charities to directly connect with one another, allowing for a more personable, sustainable and efficient system in food delivery and access. Although there is no one solution to end hunger, food security or waste, SecondBite believes it is a step in the right direction in making an impact in Australia and, eventually, the rest of the world.

Food for Thought
Are there current food initiatives within your community that benefit from surplus nutritious food and networks?
What impact can donating surplus food have on the environment? Society?
How can Dietitians-Nutritionists support the development of these organizations and further add to their goals?

Contact Information
Phone: 1800 263 283
Address: 93 Northern road, Heidelber West, VIC 3081
Facebook: @SecondBiteAus
Instagram: @secondbiteorg
Twitter: @SecondBite_org
LinkedIn: @SecondBite

Responding to Crisis in South African Township: Community innovation for nutritious food in the time of COVID-19

At a Glance

  • This case study is drawn from a Blog Post created by Jo Hunter Adams, a research associate in the School of Public Health & African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, and Jane Battersby, an associate Professor at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, and was posted on the Nutrition Connect’s website during the global pandemic.
  • Adams and Battersby explain how emerging innovation within a community to help find a solution during a crisis can result in “building back better food systems and nutrition” by local people for local people.
  • Lessons Learnt: community kitchens can be sustainable both long and short-term and create resilience when including local farmers and growers and can be used as a sustainable safety net during times of crisis.


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, “at least 1 in 5 households were impact bay inadequate food supply and 1 in 3 children were stunted”. With the pandemic having a direct impact on food supply, whether due to lack of transportation or increase need from families, these numbers were bound to increase as the crisis continued. In Masiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa, food security is prevalent and on the rise. In 2019, a survey was conducted in Masiphumelele and showed that 80-90% of residents had experienced food insecurity as well as 40% of residents had experienced hunger. Unfortunately, high rates of food insecurity can result in the increase of non-communicable disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and vulnerability to child stunting.

Innovation and Solution in Response to COVID_19 Pandemic in Masiphumelele

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it impacted the food supply and quality for many places around the world, including Masiphumelele. With many businesses, schools, and establishments shut down and advising everyone to stay at home, the need for more food in the home had increased and so did the rates of food insecurity. In response to the pandemic, the community came together, and with help from private donors, three approaches were put forth to help supply households with access to nutritious meals:

  • Vouchers
  • Food parcels
  • Community kitchens

Even with support from NGOs, both the vouchers and food parcels were only sustainable for short term use, especially for existing retailers. However, the establishment of small, decentralized kitchens have proven to be a more long-term sustainable safety net for the pandemic and are able to provide support and nutritious meals for households within the community.

Food for Thought
Are there any community kitchens in your community that can benefit from using local growers and farmers, volunteers, and support from local NGOs?
Why are food vouchers and parcels not sustainable?
In what ways do community kitchens contribute more sustainably to food systems?
A sustainable food system does not rely on emergency food aid (e.g., vouchers and food parcels) as a long term strategy. Explore the Learning Module: What are Sustainable Food Systems and Diets.

Contact Information
Nutrition Connect
Phone:+41 22 749 18 50 Email:
Twitter: @NutritionConnect
Address: Geneva, Switzerland, Rue Varembé 7, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

SFS Education in Nutrition & Dietetics degrees: Global Case Studies (2023.07)

At a Glance

  • We are an international group of collaborating dietetic educator who share our stories about integrating sustainable food systems into nutrition and dietetic curriculum.
  • Dietetic educators are being called to prepare future dietitians and nutritionists to contribute to SFS transformation.
  • Dietetic educators integrating Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) education into the curriculum have shared examples.
  • An online platform for sharing examples serves as a series of mini case studies


In preparation for a workshop at the World Public Health Nutrition Congress 2020, subsequently postponed due to COVID-19, an international group of collaborating dietetic educator shared their stories about integrating sustainable food systems into nutrition and dietetic curriculum. In lieu of a face-to-face workshop at the Congress, facilitators have created the online platform.

This content was put together to showcase effective mechanisms and innovative approaches through international case studies which aim to improve food system competency among students and describe how this may translate into improved outcomes.

In the link you will see that each workshop facilitator has a profile, inclusive of an explanation (video or otherwise) of their showcased teaching and learning activity as described above.

Food for Thought

  • If you are an educator training future nutrition and dietetic professionals, are you already including sustainable food systems content in the courses that you teach? — If yes, how and what? If not, why not?
  • Do any of the examples included provoke new ideas for you? — Could they be adapted to your setting?
  • Is/should this topic integrated into the core content of your program, or is/should this an elective/optional topic

Contact Information
We welcome you to join us!
Please contact (in Australia) if you would like to be added to the platform or if you have questions.
If you have questions for any of the educators, their contact is included in the web platform.
Please contact them directly.

Reviving Traditional Grain Production and Consumption (India)

At a Glance

  • Navdanya and the Organics & Millets e-Platform are part of a movement in India to revive the production and consumption of traditional grains such as millets
  • Millets are highly desirable for both sustainability and health reasons: there are dozens of varieties suited to varied local ecological conditions making them low input crops and they are highly nutritious, especially compared to rice and wheat and their more processed products that have largely replaced the diversity of traditional grains.
  • Lessons Learnt: reviving traditional crops that can meet both sustainability and nutrition goals requires a cultural shift as well as economic and policy supports. Rebuilding or creating infrastructure to promote these crops can have significant economic benefits for small-scale, rural producers and nutritional benefits for rural and urban communities.


Traditionally, a diversity of grains including millets, barley, rye, oats and corn were eaten in most parts of India. Since the middle of the twentieth century, these have been largely displaced by commercial grains such as rice and wheat. This shift has been driven in significant part by the pressures of globalized food, agriculture and trade systems.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a combination of industrialized agriculture and federal price supports led to an overproduction of wheat crops in the US. These surpluses were subsequently dumped as ‘food aid’ in countries like India, severely undermining local agricultural production capacity and bankrupting thousands of farmers. This dumping, in conjunction with the growth of the processed food industry, led to a significant shift in dietary patterns away from traditional grains and towards processed forms of wheat and rice. As products from the ‘developed’ industrialized world, these commercial grains were also seen as being socially and culturally more desirable. This trend continues today with traditional grains being perceived as old-fashioned and less appetizing.

In a 2020 study, Nayar estimates that this dietary shift was dramatic, including an 80% reduction in the consumption of millets across India since the 1960s . They have eroded demand and, in turn, production of traditional grains. Aggressive marketing and promotion of hybridized seeds and chemical inputs as well as growing demand due to dietary shifts has led to increased domestic production of monocultures of wheat and rice to replace traditional grain production.


Organizations such as Navdanya have been advocating for the revival of traditional grain varieties for sustainability, health and economic reasons:

  • Health: Millets, rye, barley, oats and corn are significantly more nutritious than wheat and rice, especially when those are consumed in highly processed forms such as polished rice and white flour or products made from these.
  • Sustainability: The diversity of traditional grains is adapted to different soil, water and growing conditions across India. As such, they are a more reliable crop option that requires minimal external inputs, is typically integrated in more biodiverse mixed cropping systems and is more resilient in the face of changing climatic conditions.
  • Economic: Seeds are open-pollinated and can be saved from year to year, thereby decreasing farmers’ reliance on expensive market-based inputs and the associated loans and debt that have been the cause of hundreds of thousands of farmer suicides.

Navdanya is supporting the revival of these traditional grains through awareness-raising campaigns and seed banks where traditional grain varieties are stored, propagated and distributed. The Organics & Millets e-platform and the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) are examples of organizations working to understand and promote the health and ecological benefits of traditional grains with the aim of increasing their popularity and reviving their consumption.

The creation of more familiar convenience foods such as cookies, breakfast cereals, and ready-to-eat snacks from whole, traditional grains is an approach being used to make traditional grains more interesting and attractive to modern palates and lifestyles. These efforts are having positive results, notes Dr. Vilas Tonapi, Director of IIMR, with demand increasing about 20-22% each year.

Food for Thought
What traditional foods can be produced sustainably and offer more nutritious options in your region than commercial, processed foods?
What supports are needed to revive the popularity and consumption of these foods?
What other benefits might this revival have (such as economic or cultural benefits) that would engage other stakeholders in such a project?

Contact Information

Phone: +91-135-2693025                   Email:

Organics and Millets e-platform
Phone: +91-80-22074111                   Email:

Indian Institute of Millets Research
Phone: +91-40-24599300                   Email:

updated 2023 April