Nutritional quality of Indian rice and wheat has fallen over 50 years

A TEAM of scientists has found that the concentration of essential elements, including calcium, zinc and iron, have fallen in rice and wheat cultivars in India over the last 50 years, putting nutritional security at risk.

The researchers, based at institutions in India including the ICAR-Central Agroforestry Research Institute in Uttar Pradesh, say that while the so-called Green Revolution has been successful in meeting food sufficiency in India, it has compromised nutrition.

They evaluated grain nutrient profiles of historical landmark high-yielding cultivars of rice and wheat released in succeeding decades since the Green Revolution and the impacts on mineral diet quality and human health. They report altered grain nutrient profiles of modern-bred rice and wheat cultivars diminishing their mineral dietary significance to the Indian population.

They say that, “Analysis of grain nutrient profiles show a downward trend in concentrations of essential and beneficial elements, but an upward in toxic elements in past 50 years in both rice and wheat.”

For example, zinc and iron concentration in grains of rice have decreased by around 33% and 27% respectively over the last 50 years, while in wheat they have decreased by 30% and 19%.

A proposed mineral-diet quality index shows significant reductions of 57% and 36% between 1960 and 2010 in rice and wheat respectively.

This reduced mineral-diet quality index could have a significant impact on iron-deficiency anaemia, and respiratory, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal diseases among the Indian population by 2040.

The scientists say, “Our research calls for an urgency of grain nutrients profiling before releasing a cultivar of staples like rice and wheat in the future.”

A spokesperson said, “These results suggest that modern breeding agenda for genetic gains in the yield of rice and wheat in India have tended to reduce concentration of essential and beneficial elements, but to enhance toxic elements concentration in grains.

“Consequently, it dented the dietary value of the major staples (rice and wheat) to the Indian population in the past 50 years or so.

“Our study further highlights worsening of grain mineral diet quality for both rice and wheat up to 2040.

“This necessitates urgency of the efforts to improve the grain mineral density, at least, essential nutrients, of these staples through genetic interventions for sustenance of nutrition and human health in the years to come. The favourable alleles that were left behind during the modern breeding process may be bred back into the cultivars, and grain nutrient profile should mandatorily be evaluated before release of a cultivar in near future.”

Read the paper, Historical shifting in grain mineral density of landmark rice and wheat cultivars released over the past 50 years in India

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