Understanding Food Fortification

With the changing lifestyle, food pattern and food habits, the quality of food which we eat is also changing. The food we eat today lacks in various essential nutrients and minerals, and that is leading to malnutrition which in turn can lead to numerous health disorders.

Food fortification is the process of enhancing the nutritional value of food by adding Vitamins and minerals externally.

Along with the major nutrients in the diet, micronutrients and other essential trace elements are also important. Lack of these micronutrients can lead to “hidden hunger”, which can cause health issues. Major nutrients like vitamin A, B, D are important, but elements like zinc, folic acid, niacin, iodine is also essential. The absence of any of these can cause malnutrition and can increase the chances of getting affected by different diseases. So it is very important to take a balanced diet. With the increase of the hectic pace of life, people are facing inadequacies in diet and moving towards fortified foods.

The very first fortification took place in the 1920s in America in salt. Iodization of salt took place to prevent a disease known as ”goiter” which takes place because of lack of iodine in the body. In India also the fortification is taking place since the 1950s, the formation of vanaspati ghee(dalda) is taking place since 1953.

What is food fortification?

Food fortification refers to adding of micronutrients like vitamin A, B iron and other essential elements like fluoride, zinc, niacin in a small amount and also in a correct proportion to meet food demand with minimal risk.

Staple foods are the most common food which are fortified like wheat, rice, sugar, milk, etc., With adding of these nutrients, we can reduce inadequacies in the diet of many people lacking in a particular element.

Need for food fortification

People today around the world are suffering from various diseases, and one of the primary cause is malnutrition due to lack of nutrients and other essential elements in their diet. Around 2 billion people in the world are suffering from micronutrient deficiency or ” hidden hunger”.

Diseases like rickets, night blindness, anemia, are in increasing in children of age 2-4 due to lack of one or the other nutrient in their diet, and other elements like folic acid is vital for pregnant women.

Food fortification is emerging as one of the top strategies to address this problem. In fact WHO( world health organization and FAO ( food and agriculture organization)  have recognized it as a good solution to deal with the problem. Food fortification helps in making people healthy and free of diseases that occur due to insufficient nutrients.

Types of food fortification:

Industrial food fortification: in this type of fortification nutrients are added to the food which is processed in industries like wheat, sugar, milk, bread, etc,.it is also done to enrich the food with the nutrients which were lost during the processing of food (converting wheat into flour). The food being fortified in industries is regulated and has to meet the benchmark set up by the country.

Biofortification: In this type, we breed plants to increase their nutritional value. It can be done by using a genetic engineering technique ( like genetically modified crops). It focuses on making plant foods more nutritious as the plants are growing.

Fortified Banana Fruit (using GM techniques)

For example  golden rice – it contains beta-carotene which gives it a golden color and contains vitamin A lack of which can cause night blindness

Advantages of food fortification:

People who are economically weak do not consume fruits, meat, and other costly sources of nutrients. So they lack in one or the other element required by the body.  Food fortification is a cost-effective technique, using which proper nutrition can be made accessible for everyone.

Food fortification can also help in reducing the incidence of malnutrition-related deaths in children and meeting the increased iron demand in pregnant women.

Limitations of food fortification:

Food is generally fortified with one (or at most a few) nutrients at a time. A person suffering from multiple nutrient deficiencies will not be able to get all fulfilled with a single food at a time.

Also, one should have proper knowledge of what nutrient and in what amount it should be added to the food. An overdose of the nutrient may lead to nutrient toxicity in people who already have sufficient quantity of that nutrient and ingest more through fortified food.

The ubiquitous fortified food consumed by us:

1>  Milk: milk is fortified to have Vitamin D, Calcium in it, as these elements make bones strong. Adding of vitamin and calcium to it has reduced the cases of rickets in children.

2> Grain products like bread and pasta have been fortified to have folic acid in it. Consumption of these products (folic acid)  by pregnant women helps in reduction of congenital disability cases.

3> Juices are being fortified with different vitamins and other trace elements.

4> Niacin is being added to bread in the USA since 1938 a programme which substantially reduced the incidence of pellagra.

Like this other elements like fluoride, zinc, iron, other vitamins and rest of the essential nutrients are being provided by fortifying one or other food.

Urvashi completed her B.Sc. in Biotechnology from SBS PGI College Dehradun and is currently pursuing Masters in Environmental Sciences (Natural Resource Management) from Doon University, Dehradun.

She is currently interning with CityGreens, and while at it, trying to spread the knowledge she has gained during her academic studies by writing for CityGreen’s University.

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