Because most of us can’t avoid micronutrient malnutrition
Food fortification is one of the most efficient strategies to tackle ‘hidden hunger' – that is, the lack of vitamins and minerals. People living in low-income countries often do not consume sufficient amounts of micronutrients such as vitamins A and D, and iron, and this limits their growth, development, health and working capacity. It is evident from many studies that micronutrient deficiency is very common in India. Micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A deficiency, anaemia and folic-acid deficiency are prevalent. A lack in dietary diversity, or less variety in the diet, also contributes to the micronutrient deficiency. In such a scenario, fortification of food products can act as a preventive as well as curative measure.
Food fortification is the process of adding micronutrients such as essential trace elements and vitamins to a food item. It is done to improve the nutritive values of the food. These nutrients may or may not have been originally present in the food before processing.
Interestingly, micronutrient deficiencies affect not only the poor. Less obvious but very important are the effects of today’s lifestyles on nutritional status. There are increased food choices, yes, but low micronutrient densities. The hectic pace of life can lead to inadequacies in the diet, so that even in well-endowed societies people are increasingly looking to fortified foods to make up the deficiencies. Food fortification has for one reason or the other emerged as a non-complicated way to improve the nutritional value of a diet. It has been applied for decades to improve the nutritional status of target populations in various countries by adding value to simple, affordable staple foods. Indeed, in many
countries fortification of staples such as wheat flour is mandatory, to replace nutrients lost through food processing or to reduce the prevalence of identified deficiencies.
• Fortification is one of the most cost-effective strategies that can be implemented on a larger scale since the cost of fortification is generally less than other techniques to address nutrition deficiencies. • Fortified foods are considered to be better at lowering the risk of multiple deficiencies that can result from seasonal deficits in the food supply or a poor-quality diet. • Fortification does not require any behaviour modification or compliance that is expected in supplementation. It does not require a change in the individual’s food habits and consumption pattern. • The quantity of micronutrients added to the food product is small and well regulated, and so the likelihood of an overdose of nutrients is unlikely. • Fortification is planned in such a way that the intrinsic characteristics of the food are not altered, such as the taste, the appearance and the texture. • The food-fortification process can be initiated quickly after formulating a set of regulations and standards. This means that the objective of improving the health of needy communities can be attained in a short period of time.
Some Limitations too
• A fortified food product is rich in a particular micronutrient but in low-income countries people may often suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiencies and hence they may not benefit by consuming a fortified product rich in a particular micronutrient. • Population groups who consume relatively small amounts of food – such as infants, young children and the elderly – are less likely to benefit from the consumption of fortified foods. • Individuals in the community who cannot afford to buy the staples or are dependent on government’s PDS system for their staples may not get benefitted via normal food-fortification plans. For such populations, fortified staples must be circulated to them via the PDS system. • Fortified foods have some added micronutrients. Many researchers believe that dietary diversity is a better approach to attain the nutrient requirements in a natural manner. • There are technological issues relating to food fortification, especially with regard to appropriate levels of nutrients, stability of fortificants, nutrient interactions, physical properties, as well as acceptability by consumers. • More knowledge is required about the impact of interactions among nutrients. For example, the presence of large amounts of calcium can inhibit the absorption of iron from a fortified food; the presence of vitamin C has the opposite effect and increases iron absorption. • While it is often more cost-effective than other strategies, there are nevertheless considerable costs associated with the food-fortification process. These may range from start-up costs and the costs of conducting trials for micronutrient levels, physical qualities and taste, to a realistic analysis of the purchasing power of the probable beneficiaries.
Can All Foods Be Fortified?
Indiscriminate addition of nutrients to foods and the fortification of fresh produce, meat, poultry, or