Change your diet, save water: British scientists to Indians

Change your diet, save water: British scientists to Indians

 Eat less chicken, roti (wheat) and mango if you wish to save groundwater – that’s the advice for Indians from British scientists who suggested several key changes in Indian diet to preserve more water.

The proposed shift in food habits – deduced through sophisticated computer modelling – cannot happen overnight. Rather, scientists suggested policy and habitual changes over the next few decades to encourage consumption of food with low water footprint.

Important switches include reduced consumption of wheat, poultry and dairy items. On fruits, the advice is to have more fruits with lower water demands such as orange, apples and watermelon in place of mango.

Other changes include consumption of more red meat, vegetables and pulses and less of nuts and seeds.

If practised, these dietary shifts would not only lead to saving a lot of groundwater, but would also bring health benefits, claimed Alan Dangour, a senior scientist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who led the study. The researchers studied five distinct Indian dietary patterns of 7,000 people in urban and rural areas. Subsequently, they used computer models to change diet patterns to meet the predicted reductions in groundwater availability per person in 2025 (18%) and 2050 (30%).

While fairly modest changes were needed to meet an 18% reduction in freshwater use by 2025, they stressed meeting the 30% reduction target by 2050 would need drastic changes.
Unlike rice that is typically grown during wet seasons, wheat is grown in the dry season and requires irrigation.

Reducing groundwater requirements for wheat-based diets involves either a large reduction in wheat consumption or major changes to production methods. Similarly, poultry is a water-intensive sector.

Notwithstanding the health risks associated with red meat, the scientists proposed a switch because meat (fish included) consumption in India is low compared to the western world.

“Modest shifts in diets may be necessary to enhance the resilience of food systems to deliver nutritious diets in the future. Our intention is definitively not to specify or enforce future dietary patterns for India, our purpose is to explore the sorts of changes that might be necessary,” Dangour told DH.

The research, in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India, is published in the inaugural issue of the Lancet Planetary Health on April 5.

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