Food For­ti­fi­ca­tion

Be­cause most of us can’t avoid mi­cronu­tri­ent mal­nu­tri­tion

Consumer Voice - - Contents -

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.

The Ad­van­tages

• 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

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