Originally published at: http://humidtropics.cgiar.org/assessing-nutrition-potential-diverse-local-foods-vietnam/
Assessing the nutrition potential of diverse local foods
Traditional food dish of the H’Mong (Minority Ethnic Group), Keo Po Village, Yen Chau District, Son La Province. Photo by Bioversity International/J. Raneri.
I am currently working on a nutrition initiative through the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) to assess the potential of diverse local foods in Vietnam. We are looking at the potential of using diverse local foods to improve diet quality and diversity, especially for women of reproductive age and for children between 12-23 months.
Malnutrition rates are high in Vietnam with a lack of dietary diversity thought to be a crucial factor. In the developing world diets often consist of starchy staples, with not enough nutrient-rich foods, such as the nutrients that come from animal source foods, legumes, fruit and vegetables. The prevalence of undernutrition for children under five for stunting, underweight and wasting in Vietnam in 2012 was 27%, 16% and 7% respectively with the proportion of infants and young children (6-23 months) who did not achieve minimum dietary diversity at 13%.
When looking at diet quality and diversity, it is important to consider food systems as a whole. This means considering all the complex dimensions of a food system not just what is in a diet: production to processing; the marketability of local foods; natural resource management; and resilience to external stresses such as climate change. Taking this perspective means you are better able to understand how interventions can contribute to food systems in a sustainable and healthy way.
Jessica sharing traditional food dishes with community members in Keo Po Village. Photo by Bioversity International/J. Raneri.
In Vietnam, we are piloting a community-based approach that engages with the community members as research partners. This ensures not only that cultural preferences (such as taste, ease of processing, suitability to preferred cooking methods, etc.) are taken into account, but that diets are the result of collaborative knowledge-sharing between researchers and the community members. The added benefit of participatory research is that results belong to the community which helps to ensure the uptake of knowledge once the research is finished.
We are starting with a baseline study of agricultural biodiversity that is available and accessible both on and off the farm – not just what is grown on the farm and in home gardens but also wild foods and foods sold at the market. We are also interviewing women to find out their nutrition and diet knowledge and practices, and carrying out a 24-hour recall to estimate the average nutrient intakes of women and children aged between 12-23 months in the study area households. We are conducting the 24-hour recall twice, at different times of the year, to ensure that the information reflects changes in diets across seasons, which affects availability of foods and what is eaten.
Bringing together best methods to assess food intake and diet quality
Recently I facilitated a three-day workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam, organized by Bioversity International
to refine the 24-hour recall methodology that will be piloted this year under Humidtropics, and adapt it to suit our own research needs. The workshop enabled nutrition practitioners, from eight different organizations, to share experiences of using the 24-hour recall method. 24-hour recall surveys are a way of capturing information about what a person has eaten or drunk in the previous 24 hours. It requires specialist skills to reach a common understanding between the researcher and the respondent of what was consumed, how much was consumed and how it was prepared. This kind of information sharing among local non-governmental organizations, research groups and ministries is essential if the work is to be relevant and affect the lives of the community where we work.
Jessica at the 24-hour recall workshop. Photo by Bioversity International.
We looked together at the different tools and methods that can be used to most accurately capture the quantities and content of foods consumed. It also gave us an opportunity to review best practices from around the world, examine the current methods used in Vietnam, and to discuss context-specific characteristics of Vietnamese food culture. This was key as we look to refine the 24-hour methodology, and adapt it to suit our own research needs.
For example, participants discussed some of the challenges that make it difficult to be precise about what foods are eaten and how much. For example, food is often consumed in a communal manner in Vietnam, rather than served as individual portions, with people picking and choosing what pieces/parts they want from the common pot. This means, that if a stir fry is served to the family table with 50% meat and 50% vegetables, you cannot just assume that if one bowl of the stir fry is consumed, that the person ate half a bowl of meat and half a bowl of vegetables.
In order to address these kind of challenges that may be encountered on the field to accurately recall the quantity of individual foods and recipes consumed, we discussed the use of various tools such as the Vietnamese National Nutrition Institute's 'Food Atlas' which visually documents different chopstick quantities to help understand quantities consumed.
Where it is not practical to use scales, we also agreed to use measuring cylinders to quantify the amounts consumed. Measuring cylinders are a way to measure volumes of liquid, which can then be converted using density conversion factors to give information on the weight of food consumed. For example, by asking an individual to mark on their own bowls how much rice they eat, you can then fill the bowl with water to that level, and then tip the water into the measuring cylinder to measure the volume.
The methodology we refined at the workshop will be used together with a household survey and focus groups to explore locally available agriculture biodiversity and nutrition knowledge, attitudes and practices. A first round of data collection will be conducted in the field in the Mai Son district of Son La Province this August and September, and repeated in November to capture seasonal variation in the diet, before the results are analyzed and shared back in the rural communities where we are working to identify best-bet interventions together to bridge the nutrient gaps identified by the study.
Bringing together the best methods to assess food intake and diet quality with the valuable local knowledge shared by the community is our way of understanding the valuable food resources that are being slowly lost or forgotten. This work and other efforts being carried out in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere is essential if we are to have to best information to improve dietary quality and tackle both over and undernutrition.
Blog by Jessica Raneri, Nutrition and Marketing Diversity Programme Specialist, Bioversity International.
Watch Jessica explain what Humidtropics and its nutrition research component are all about:
Read Jessica's original reports on Bioversity International's website:
Assessing the nutrition potential of diverse local foods in Vietnam: http://www.bioversityinternational.org/news/detail/assessing-the-nutrition-potential-of-diverse-local-foods-in-vietnam/
Bringing together best methods to assess food intake and diet quality in Vietnam: http://www.bioversityinternational.org/news/detail/bringing-together-best-methods-to-assess-food-intake-and-diet-quality-in-vietnam/