Wildlife & Biodiversity

Blue foods can help India improve nutrition, livelihood: Study

India can use aquatic foods to address B12 and omega-3 deficiencies

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 23 February 2023
Compared to terrestrial meat, blue foods generate lower emissions. Photo: iStock.
Compared to terrestrial meat, blue foods generate lower emissions. Photo: iStock. Compared to terrestrial meat, blue foods generate lower emissions. Photo: iStock.

Blue food, sourced from aquatic environments, can reduce nutritional deficiencies and contribute to employment and export revenue in India, according to a new study.

Blue foods are important for the economies, livelihoods, nutritional security and cultures of people in many countries, noted the findings of the study published in Nature on February 22, 2023.

Also read: ‘Marine Protected Areas must be evaluated for effectiveness’

Compared to terrestrial meat, blue foods generate lower emissions. They can also contribute to the health, well-being and livelihoods of rural communities. India can use aquatic foods to address B12 and omega-3 deficiencies, the data showed.

Beatrice Crona, the report’s lead author and professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, told Down To Earth.

A priority focus would be to support the sustainable production of aquatic foods with a high nutrient density, such as small fish consumed whole (like mola in Bangladesh), or sardine-like small pelagic fish, which can be harvested sustainably with appropriate regulation.

A group of international researchers, including an expert from India, present four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations.

These include ensuring supplies of critical nutrients, providing healthy alternatives to terrestrial meat, reducing dietary environmental footprints and safeguarding blue food contributions to nutrition, just economies and livelihoods under a changing climate.

“Blue foods can play important roles in our diets, societies and economies, but what exactly this looks like will differ greatly from one country and local setting to another,” Crona said in a statement.

Also read: No small fry: Tiny fish can nourish the world; here is how

India’s consumption of red meat was around 50 grams per capita per day, which is not high, according to the data presented in the study. Further, the country does not suffer from high levels of cardiovascular disease.

Countries with high red meat intake, above the threshold recommended as environmentally sustainable and healthy, have an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. 

They are primarily located in the global north, except for several small-island states. In many of these countries, blue food is currently available.

Moderate consumption of blue food, the researcher said, can help these countries reduce their cardiovascular disease burden and large greenhouse gas footprints from consuming red meat.

As for the global south and indigenous communities in the global north, blue food can help improve nutrition, livelihoods or national revenue. 

Promoting blue foods over red meat overconsumption could address health and environmental concerns for about 82 per cent of the 22 countries suffering from a high cardiovascular disease risk.

Over 91 per cent of countries with vitamin B12 deficiencies also show high levels of omega-3 deficiency. 

“Vitamin B12 deficiency seems to reflect more general undernutrition of the population, whereas omega-3 deficiency is caused by low intake of blue foods,” the researchers wrote.

Also read: Oder river ecological disaster that killed hundreds of tonnes of fish in 2022 was human-made: Report

Access to more affordable blue foods could prevent 166 million micronutrient deficiencies worldwide. Yet, countries have not taken advantage of using blue foods for healthy and sustainable diets, according to the research.

Blue foods already support the livelihoods of nearly 800 million people worldwide. Consumption of aquatic food should increase by 80 per cent in edible weight by 2050.

But there are issues. Almost 90 per cent of global marine fish stocks are now fully exploited or overfished, according to the World Bank.

“There are issues with overfishing, illegal fishing and other unsustainable aquatic food production,” Crona noted.

The four crucial roles that blue foods can play should act as a stronger imperative for why countries should come to grips with unsustainable fisheries or aquaculture, she added.

This, according to her, can help countries harness the multiple benefits of blue foods instead of letting these slip through the net for the economic benefit of a few elites.

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