, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 381–399 | Cite as

A Systematic Review on the Contributions of Edible Plant and Animal Biodiversity to Human Diets

  • Daniela Penafiel
  • Carl Lachat
  • Ramon Espinel
  • Patrick Van Damme
  • Patrick Kolsteren


The sustainable use of natural and agricultural biodiversity in the diet can be instrumental to preserve existing food biodiversity, address malnutrition, and mitigate adverse effects of dietary changes worldwide. This systematic review of literature summarizes the current evidence on the contribution of plant and animal biodiversity to human diets in terms of energy intake, micronutrient intake, and dietary diversification. Peer-reviewed studies were searched in ten databases using pre-defined search terms. Only original studies assessing food biodiversity and dietary intake were included, resulting in a total of 34 studies. 7, 14, and 17 studies reported information in relation to energy intake, micronutrient intake, and dietary diversification, respectively. In general, locally available foods were found to be important sources of energy, micronutrients, and dietary diversification in the diet of particularly rural and forest communities of highly biodiverse ecosystems. The current evidence shows local food biodiversity as important contributor of nutritious diets. Findings are, however, limited to populations living in highly biodiverse areas. Research on the contribution of biodiversity in diets of industrialized and urban settings needs more attention. Instruments are needed that would more appropriately measure the dietary contribution of local biodiversity.


nutrition diet food diversity energy micronutrient 


  1. Abegunde DO, Mathers CD, Adam T, Ortegon M, Strong K (2007) The burden and costs of chronic diseases in low-income and middle-income countries. The Lancet 370:1929–1938CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akrofi S, Struik PC, Price LL (2008) Interactive effects of HIV/AIDS and household headship determine home garden diversity in the eastern region of Ghana. NJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 56:201–217 (DOI:  10.1016/S1573-5214(08)80008-5)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen LH (2003) Interventions for micronutrient deficiency control in developing countries: past, present and future. The Journal of Nutrition 133:3875S–3878SPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Arimond M, Ruel MT (2004) Dietary diversity is associated with child nutritional status: evidence from 11 demographic and health surveys. Journal of Nutrition 134:2579–2585PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Batal M, Hunter E (2007) Traditional Lebanese recipes based on wild plants: an answer to diet simplification? Food and Nutrition Bulletin 28:303–311Google Scholar
  6. Begossi A, Richerson PJ (1993) Biodiversity, family income and ecological niche—a study on the consumption of animal foods on Buzios Island (Brazil). Ecology of Food Nutrition 30:51–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bell JD, Kronen M, Vunisea A, Nash WJ, Keeble G, Demmke A, et al. (2009) Planning the use of fish for food security in the Pacific. Marine Policy 33:64–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burlingame B, Charrondiere R, Halwart M (2006) Basic human nutrition requirements and dietary diversity in rice-based aquatic ecosystems. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 19:770–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burlingame B, Charrondiere R, Mouille B (2009) Food composition is fundamental to the cross-cutting initiative on biodiversity for food and nutrition. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 22:361–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burlingame B, Dernini S, Charrondiere UR, Stadlmayr B, Mondovi S, Dop M-C, et al. (2011) Biodiversity and sustainable diets. Nutrition Assessment and Requirements Group, Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  11. CBD (2006) COP 8 Decision VIII/23 Agricultural biodiversity. Cross-cutting initiative on biodiversity for food and nutrition. Convention on Biological Diversity Accessed 12 Apr 2010
  12. Davey MW, Van den Bergh I, Markham R, Swennen R, Keulemans J (2009) Genetic variability in Musa fruit provitamin A carotenoids, lutein and mineral micronutrient contents. Food Chemistry 115:806–813 (DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.12.088)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dovie DBK, Shackleton CM, Witkowski ETF (2007) Conceptualizing the human use of wild edible herbs for conservation in South African communal areas. Journal of Environmental Management 84:146–156 (DOI:  10.1016/j.jenvman.2006.05.017)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ekesa B, Walingo M, Abukutsa-Onyango M (2008) Influence of agricultural biodiversity on dietary diversity of preschool children in Matungu division, Western Kenya. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development 8:390–404Google Scholar
  15. Englberger L, Aalbersberg W, Schierle J, Marks GC, Fitzgerald MH, Muller F, et al. (2006) Carotenoid content of different edible pandanus fruit cultivars of the republic of the Marshall Islands. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 19:484–494 (DOI:  10.1016/j.jfca.2005.11.003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Englberger L, Schierle J, Kraemer K, Aalbersberg W, Dolodolotawake U, Humphries J, et al. (2008) Carotenoid and mineral content of Micronesian giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma) cultivars. Journal of Food Composition Analysis 21:93–106 (DOI:  10.1016/j.jfca.2008.12.001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Englberger L, Schierle J, Hofmann P, Lorens A, Albert K, Levendusky A, et al. (2009) Carotenoid and vitamin content of Micronesian atoll foods: Pandanus (Pandanus tectorius) and garlic pear (Crataeva speciosa) fruit. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 22:1–8 (DOI:  10.1016/j.jfca.2008.12.001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Englberger L, Kuhnlein H, Lorens A, Pedrus P, Albert K, Currie J, et al. (2010a) Pohnpei, FSM case study in a global health project documents its local food resources and successfully promotes local food for health. Pacific Health Dialog 16:129–136PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Englberger L, Lyons G, Foley W, Daniells J, Aalbersberg B, Dolodolotawake U, et al. (2010b) Carotenoid and riboflavin content of banana cultivars from Makira, Solomon Islands. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis (DOI:  10.1016/j.jfca.2010.03.002)
  20. FAO (1995) Expert advice on energy and nutrient requirements. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 12 Apr 2010
  21. FAO (1997) The state of world’s plant genetic resources. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  22. FAO (1998) Human vitamin and mineral requirements. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Food Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 12 Apr 2010
  23. FAO (2008) Expert consultation on nutrition indicators for biodiversity 1: food composition. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 14 May 2010
  24. FAO (2010a) Expert consultation on nutrition indicators for biodiversity 2: food consumption. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 19 Oct 2010
  25. FAO (2010b) International scientific symposium biodiversity and sustainable diets, United against hunger: final document. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 15 Nov 2010
  26. FAO (2010c) The state of food insecurity in the world. Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 15 Nov 2010
  27. Flyman MV, Afolayan AJ (2006) The suitability of wild vegetables for alleviating human dietary deficiencies. South African Journal of Botany 72:492–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Frei M, Becker K (2004) Agro-biodiversity in subsistence-oriented farming systems in a Philippine upland region: nutritional considerations. Biodiversity and Conservation 13:1591–1610 (DOI:  10.1023/ Scholar
  29. Frison E, Smith O, Swaminathan MS (2005) Agricultural biodiversity and elimination of hunger and poverty: UN Millennium Development Goals Five years later The Chennai platform for action. Bioversity International. Accessed 7 June 2010
  30. Frison EA, Smith IF, Johns T, Cherfas J, Eyzaguirre PB (2006) Agricultural biodiversity, nutrition, and health: making a difference to hunger and nutrition in the developing world. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 27:167–179PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Frison EA, Cherfas J, Hodgkin T (2011) Agricultural biodiversity is essential for a sustainable improvement in food and nutrition security Sustainability 3:238–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Godfray HCJ, Beddington JR, Crute IR, Haddad L, Lawrence D, Muir JF, et al. (2010) Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327:812–818 (DOI:  10.1126/science.1185383)Google Scholar
  33. Hatloy A, Torheim LE, Oshaug A (1998) Food variety-a good indicator of nutritional adequacy of the diet? A case study from an urban area in Mali, West Africa. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 52:891–898Google Scholar
  34. Hoddinott J, Yohannes Y (2002) Dietary diversity as a household food security indicator. Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project, Academy for Educational Development, Nutrition Technical Assistance. Accessed 18 Oct 2010
  35. Johns T (2003) Plant biodiversity and malnutrition: simple solutions to complex problems. Theoretical basis for the development and implementation of a global strategy linking plant genetic resource conservation and human nutrition African Journal of Food Agriculture Nutrition and Development 3:45–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Johns T, Eyzaguirre PB (2006) Linking biodiversity, diet and health in policy and practice. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 65:182–189Google Scholar
  37. Johns T, Eyzaguirre PB (2007) Biofortification, biodiversity and diet: a search for complementary applications against poverty and malnutrition. Food Policy 32:1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kennedy G, Islam O, Eyzaguirre P, Kennedy S (2005) Field testing of plant genetic diversity indicators for nutrition surveys: rice-based diet of rural Bangladesh as a model. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 18:255–268 (DOI: 10.1016/j.jfca.2004.10.002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kennedy GL, Pedro MR, Seghieri C, Nantel G, Brouwer I (2007) Dietary diversity score is a useful indicator of micronutrient intake in non-breast-feeding Filipino children. The Journal of Nutrition 137:472–477PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Krawinkel MB (2009) The value of Asian-Africa collaboration in food and health security. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 18:570–576PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Kris-Etherton PM, Hecker KD, Bonanome A, Coval SM, Binkoski AE, Hilpert KF, et al. (2002) Bioactive compounds in foods: their role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. American Journal of Medicine 113:71–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kuhnlein HV, Receveur O, Soueida R, Egeland GM (2004) Arctic indigenous peoples experience the nutrition transition with changing dietary patterns and obesity. Journal of Nutrition 134:1447–1453Google Scholar
  43. Kuhnlein HV, Barthet V, Farren A, Falahi E, Leggee D, Receveur O, et al. (2006) Vitamins A, D, and E in Canadian Arctic traditional food and adult diets. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 19:495–506 (DOI:  10.1016/j.jfca.2005.02.007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kuhnlein HV, Erasmus B, Pigelsky D (2009) Indigenous peoples’ food systems: the many dimensions of culture, diversity and environment for nutrition and health. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  45. Lang T, Barling D, Caraher M (2001) Food, social policy and the environment: towards a new model. Social Policy & Administration 35:538–558 (DOI:  10.1111/1467-9515.t01-1-00252)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lykke AM, Mertz OLE, Ganaba S (2002) Food consumption in rural Burkina Faso. Ecology of Food Nutrition 41:119–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McMichael AJ, Powles JW, Butler CD, Uauy R (2007) Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The Lancet 370:1253–1263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mennen LI, Mbanya JC (2000) The habitual diet in rural and urban Cameroon. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54:150–154PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman D (2009) Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA Statement. The PRISMA GroupGoogle Scholar
  50. Monteiro CA, Conde WL, Popkin BM (2004) The burden of disease from under nutrition and over nutrition in countries undergoing rapid nutrition transition: a view from Brazil. American Journal of Public Health 94:433–434PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mouillé B, Charrondière UR, Burlingame B (2010) The contribution of plant genetic resources to health and dietary diversity. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Nutrition Assessment and Nutrient Requirements Group, Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division. Accessed 15 Jan 2011
  52. Nebel S, Pieroni A, Heinrich M (2006) Ta chòrta: wild edible greens used in the Graecanic area in Calabria, Southern Italy. Appetite 47:333–342PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nordeide MB, Hatloy A, Folling M, Lied E, Oshaug A (1996) Nutrient composition and nutritional importance of green leaves and wild food resources in an agricultural district, Koutiala, in Southern Mali. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 47:455–468 (DOI:  10.3109/09637489609031874)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ogle BM, Dao HTA, Mulokozi G, Hambraeus L (2001a) Micronutrient composition and nutritional importance of gathered vegetables in Vietnam. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 52:485–499PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ogle BM, Hung PH, Tuyet HT (2001b) Significance of wild vegetables in micronutrient intakes of women in Vietnam: an analysis of food variety. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 10:21–30 (DOI:  10.1046/j.1440-6047.2001.00206.x)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Ogle BM, Johansson M, Tuyet HT, Johannesson L (2001c) Evaluation of the significance of dietary folate from wild vegetables in Vietnam. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 10:216–221 (DOI:  10.1046/j.1440-6047.2001.00261.x)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Orban E, Masci M, Nevigato T, Di Lena G, Casini I, Caproni R, et al. (2006) Nutritional quality and safety of whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) from Italian lakes. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 19:737–746 (DOI:  10.1016/j.jfca.2005.12.014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Osemeobo GJ (2001) Wild plants in everyday use: conservation towards sustainable livelihoods in Nigeria. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 8:369–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Passos CJS, Mergler D, Fillion M, Lemire M, Mertens F, Guimarães JRD, et al. (2007) Epidemiologic confirmation that fruit consumption influences mercury exposure in riparian communities in the Brazilian Amazon. Environmental Research 105:183–193 (DOI:  10.1016/j.envres.2007.01.012)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pieroni A, Nebel S, Santoro RF, Heinrich M (2005) Food for two seasons: culinary uses of non-cultivated local vegetables and mushrooms in a south Italian village. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 56:245–272 (DOI:  10.1080/09637480500146564)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rais M, Pazderka B, vanLoon GW (2009) Agriculture in Uttarakhand, indiabiodiversity, nutrition, and livelihoods. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 33:319–335 (DOI:  10.1080/10440040902773152)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rajasekaran B, Whiteford MB (1993) Rice-crab production in South India: the role of indigenous knowledge in designing food security policies. Food Policy 18:237–247 (DOI:  10.1016/0306-9192(93)90080-U)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Roche M, Creed-Kanashiro H, Tuesta I, Kuhnlein H (2008) Traditional food diversity predicts dietary quality for the Awajún in the Peruvian Amazon. Public Health Nutrition 11:457–465 (DOI:  10.1017/S1368980007000560)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Roos N, Islam MM, Thilsted SH (2003) Small indigenous fish species in Bangladesh: contribution to vitamin A, calcium and iron intakes. Journal of Nutrition 133:4021–4026Google Scholar
  65. Roos N, Chamnan C, Loeung D, Jakobsen J, Thilsted SH (2007a) Freshwater fish as a dietary source of vitamin A in Cambodia. Food Chemistry 103:1104–1111 (DOI:  10.1016/j.foodchem.2006.10.007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Roos N, Thorseng H, Chamnan C, Larsen T, Gondolf UH, Bukhave K, et al. (2007b) Iron content in common Cambodian fish species: perspectives for dietary intake in poor, rural households. Food Chemistry 104:1226–1235 (DOI:  10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.01.038)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ruel MT (2003) Operationalizing dietary diversity: a review of measurement issues and research priorities. Journal of Nutrition 133:3911–3926Google Scholar
  68. Savy M, Martin-Prevel Y, Sawadogo P, Kameli Y, Delpeuch F (2005) Use of variety/diversity scores for diet quality measurement: relation with nutritional status of women in a rural area in Burkina Faso. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 59:703–716PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Singh V, Garg AN (2006) Availability of essential trace elements in Indian cereals, vegetables and spices using INAA and the contribution of spices to daily dietary intake. Food Chemistry 94:81–89 (DOI:  10.1016/j.foodchem.2004.10.053)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Steyn NP, Olivier J, Winter P, Burger S, Nesamvuni C (2001) A survey of wild, green, leafy vegetables and their potential in combating micronutrient deficiencies in rural populations. South African Journal of Science 97:276–278Google Scholar
  71. Steyn N, Nel J, Nantel G, Kennedy G, Labadarios D (2006) Food variety and dietary diversity scores in children: are they good indicators of dietary adequacy? Public Health Nutrition 9:644–650 (DOI:  10.1079/PHN2005912)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. STROBE (2007) Checklist of items that should be included in reports of cross-sectional studies STROBE statement: strengthening the reporting of observational studies in epidemiology. Accessed July 2010
  73. Toledo Á, Burlingame B (2006) Biodiversity and nutrition: a common path toward global food security and sustainable development. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 19:477–483CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tontisirin K, Nantel G, Bhattacharjee L (2002) Food-based strategies to meet the challenges of micronutrient malnutrition in the developing world. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 61:243–250 (DOI:  10.1079/PNS2002155)
  75. Torheim LE, Ouattara F, Diarra MM, Thiam FD, Barikmo I, Hatloy A, et al. (2004) Nutrient adequacy and dietary diversity in rural Mali: association and determinants. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 58:594–604PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. UN (2010) Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. United NationsGoogle Scholar
  77. Vinceti B, Eyzaguirre P, Johns T (2008) The nutritional role of forest plant foods for rural communities. In: Human Health and Forests, Colfer Pierce CJ (editor), London: Earthscan, pp 63–96Google Scholar
  78. Wahlqvist ML (2003) Regional food diversity and human health. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12:304–308PubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Wahlqvist ML (2005) Diversification in indigenous and ethnic food culture. In: Diet Diversification and Health Promotion, Elmadfa I (editor), Basel: Karger Publishers, pp 52–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. WHO (2003) WHO technical report series: Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, Geneva: World Health OrganizationGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association for Ecology and Health 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniela Penafiel
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Carl Lachat
    • 2
    • 4
  • Ramon Espinel
    • 3
  • Patrick Van Damme
    • 1
  • Patrick Kolsteren
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Department of Plant ProductionUniversiteit GentGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Department of Food Safety and Food QualityUniversiteit GentGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Production Sciences, Rural Research CenterEscuela Superior Politécnica del LitoralGuayaquilEcuador
  4. 4.Nutrition and Child Health UnitInstitute of Tropical MedicineAntwerpenBelgium

Personalised recommendations