Production of rice and wheat increased dramatically in India over the past decades, with reduced proportion of coarse cereals in the food supply.

We assess impacts of changes in cereal consumption in India on intake of iron and other micronutrients and whether increased consumption of coarse cereals could help alleviate anemia prevalence.

With consumption data from over 800 000 households, we calculate intake of iron and other micronutrients from 84 food items from 1983 to 2011. We use mixed-effect models to relate state-level anemia prevalence in women and children to micronutrient consumption and household characteristics.

Coarse cereals reduced from 23% to 6% of calories from cereals in rural households (10% to 3% in urban households) between 1983 and 2011, with wide variations across states. Loss of iron from coarse cereals was only partially compensated by increased iron from other cereals and food groups, with a 21% (rural) and 11% (urban) net loss of total iron intake. Models indicate negative association between iron from cereals and anemia prevalence in women. The benefit from increased iron from coarse cereals is partially offset by the adverse effects from antinutrients. For children, anemia was negatively associated with heme–iron consumption but not with iron from cereals.

Loss of coarse cereals in the Indian diet has substantially reduced iron intake without compensation from other food groups, particularly in states where rice rather than wheat replaced coarse cereals. Increased consumption of coarse cereals could reduce anemia prevalence in Indian women along with other interventions.

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