Why do we need it?
Micronutrient deficiencies affect not only the poor. Less obvious but nonetheless important are the effects of today’s lifestyles in the developed world 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 noncomplicated 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.
To keep up in today’s busy world, people are multitasking, and when it comes to keeping up with their daily nutritional needs, they expect their foods to multitask as well. According to the 2009 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey, the great majority of Americans believe that food provides benefits beyond basic nutrition and are interested in how certain foods or food components can improve or maintain their health.
Today, many people can identify a specific food and/or food component and its associated health benefit. Historically food fortification, such as iodized
salt or vitamin D-fortified milk, has served as a public health measure to address population-wide nutrient deficiencies. Now, there are calcium- and vitamin D-fortified juices, breads fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, and vegetable-oil spreads with plant sterols available for health-conscious consumers searching for foods with additional health benefits. These types of foods contain added nutrients and ingredients that may promote or support overall health and wellness in a variety of ways across many different body systems including heart, bone, digestive, eye and brain; weight management; and increased energy and immune health, among others.
Ideally, foods not only must meet consumer needs and preferences but also address nutrition, regulatory, safety and technical constraints. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), World Health Organization (WHO) and several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, follow similar guiding principles when it comes to their fortification policies.