More and more food producers are recognising that the addition of micronutrients adds value to their product and gives a competitive edge. In processed food, the fortification can sometimes be a challenge because it can change the colour, consistency and taste of a product.
Staple food fortification on the other hand, is simple, safe and affordable, but its biggest advantage is that it reaches the majority of the population. It does not require the people to change their dietary habits and can contribute to the improvement of public health.
In developing countries, hidden hunger—the lack of essential micronutrients in a person’s diet—places a heavy burden on societies, the economic development and health care costs. Eradicating deficiencies and improving nutritional status makes people healthier and, therefore, better able to contribute to their own development. In particular, it can ensure the proper mental and physical development of children, who then grow up to become productive members of the community.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect not only the poor people in developing countries. Perhaps less obvious, but nonetheless important, are the effects of today’s lifestyles on nutritional status. The hectic pace of life can lead to inadequacies in the diet, such that people are increasingly looking to fortified foods to make up the shortfalls.
Melissa Wiese, Miami, US
Staple food fortification has been shown to be one of the safest and most cost-effective measures to improve the nutritional value of a diet. It adds value to products to create a competitive advantage and at the same time, enable staple food producers to contribute to sustainable public health improvement and bring long-term benefits to the communities to which they belong.
Flour, salt and rice are the top three staples that have been used for many years to improve public health.
Wheat and maize flour is relatively simple to fortify with almost all micronutrients, giving it the potential to substantially improve public health. Specialists can assist flour producers to fortify wheat and maize flour in the best and most effective way possible, keeping the process simple and ensuring the correct concentration and even distribution of micronutrients to meet specific regulatory requirements and quality standards.
Salt is very suitable for fortification with iodine. In many countries, salt fortification with iodine is mandatory to prevent iodine deficiency, which affects about two billion people, and is the leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Salt can also be fortified with iron.
Rice, the provider of more than a fifth of the world’s food calories, is probably the most powerful staple to improve public health.
Currently there are four major methods to fortify rice:
Janine, Texas, US
- Hot extrusion
It retains the consistency, colour, shape and taste of regular rice. It cannot be distinguished and is therefore widely accepted by consumers. The micronutrients are safely embedded in the kernel and protected from outside influences. The extruded kernels are mixed with regular rice in a ratio of 1:100 or 2:100.
- Cold extrusion
Micronutrients are mixed with a rice flour dough which is then extruded, cut into rice-size grains and dried. The end product resembles a milled rice kernel.
A micronutrient mix is sprayed onto the surface of the rice kernels with a medium—wax or gum. The final product is covered in a waxy layer and the colour depends on the micronutrients added.
Rice grains are dusted with a powder form of micronutrients that stick to the surface by electrostatic force. This coating may be washed off during rinsing and cooking and therefore it is not widely adopted in developing countries.
Other Suitable Staples
Sugar is another important staple for many people around the world. It is produced in over 100 countries and production is increasing. Sugar is a particularly suitable vehicle for fortification with vitamin A.
This vitamin is essential for the process of vision (especially night vision), growth and development, immune function (it helps to protect against infections) and for male and female reproductive organs.
Conventional sugar fortification technology uses vitamin A beadlets that adhere to sugar crystals with the help of oil. Another technology is available now that uses a water-dispersible vitamin A emulsion. This is sprayed on to the surface of sugar crystals and then dried, resulting in a vitamin A coating that does not rub off.
The particle size, shape, density, and mixing properties of the coated sugar kernels are similar to those of untreated sugar crystals. The advantage is excellent miscibility and no risk of separation or dust formation.
Oils and fats, like carbohydrates and proteins, are major components of the human diet. Depending on the source, oils provide not only energy, but also the essential fatty acids required for human growth and development.
The fat-soluble vitamins—vitamins A, D and E—mix uniformly with oils, making them an excellent, cost-effective vehicle for fortification with these micronutrients.
Fortification of skimmed milk with vitamins A and/or D is already mandatory in several countries. In the US, some dairies voluntarily fortify milk with vitamins C and E and calcium, in addition to vitamins A and D, and dried milk and flavoured milk powders are often fortified with vitamins A and D, calcium, and iron.
Most importantly, milk and milk product fortification can be modified to meet the nutritional requirements of specific target groups like children or the elderly.
Guilhem Vellut, Tokyo, Japan
Convenience and affordability are major factors in the increasing popularity of a variety of instant noodles, which are now produced in over 80 countries. In Asia, especially, they have almost become a staple. Instant noodles represent an excellent opportunity for public health improvement.
At present, while cheap and convenient, they often lack nutritional value. Fortifying instant noodles offers a solution that does not require people to change their eating habits in order to improve the micronutrient content of their diets.
Fortifying this popular meal with valuable micronutrients responds to the consumer desire for better quality yet affordable food, and can strengthen the producer‘s position in this highly competitive and growing market. Vitamins A, D, E, K1, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, folic acid and niacin can all be added to the noodles, as well as the minerals calcium, zinc and iron.
Hidden Hunger In Asia
Asia has a very high burden of hidden hunger. More than 13 million babies are born with mental impairment, accounting for 72 percent of the annual global burden of iodine deficiency disorder (IDD), and the number of households consuming iodised salt varies widely, from 15 percent in Afghanistan and 55 percent in Pakistan, to 95 percent in Bhutan and 93 percent in China.
Many countries in Asia are achieving high levels of vitamin A supplementation for children, but some are still lagging behind. As a result, as many as 500,000 children under five die each year due to vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
An estimated 33,000 women die due to severe anaemia each year, and the estimated prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia in children under five varies across the region, with nine countries close to or above 50 percent, and other areas as high as 75 to 80 precent.
Folic acid deficiency and zinc deficiency also have serious negative consequences. An Indian study published in The Lancet revealed that India has a prevalence of birth defects 16 times the global average.