Is food fortification the new panacea for nutritional deficiencies?

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By: Dr. Satyawan Saurabh

Food fortification refers to the intentional addition of one or more micronutrients to foods to correct or prevent deficiencies in these nutrients and to provide utmost health benefits to consumers. There may be an increase in the concentration of the element (eg iodization of salt) or there may be a whole range of food-micronutrient combinations and one must understand that it is not a replacement for a balanced and varied diet to address the problem of malnutrition.

India is ranked 101 out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2021, with a 15.3% undernourished population, the highest proportion of stunted children (30%), and wasted children (17.3%). Fortification is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, and vitamins A and D, to staple foods such as rice, milk, and salt, to improve their nutritional content. Some nutrient-rich foods can be expensive. For instance, fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, but it can be very expensive to buy regularly. Eggs, milk, and other products can be fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. These products often cost less and yet have the same nutritional value.

As per the National Family Health Survey-5 data, every second Indian woman is anaemic, every third child is stunted and malnourished, and every fifth child is wasted. Folic acid is added to many fortified products. It lowers the risk of birth defects during pregnancy. It does not change the characteristics of the food such as taste, aroma, or texture of the food. It can be implemented quickly as well as can show health-improving results in a relatively short period. Because nutrients are added to staple foods that are widely consumed, fortification is an excellent way to improve the health of a large segment of the population, including those who are economically disadvantaged and have access to safe and nutritious food. Not there.

It is a socio-culturally acceptable way of delivering nutrients to people as it does not require any change in eating habits or behaviour. Food fortification, according to nutrition veterans, is a cost-effective supplement strategy to address deficiencies in many micronutrients. Careful intervention is the key to the issue of malnutrition that the country continues to grapple with.

Control of micronutrient deficiencies is an essential part of the overall effort to fight hunger and malnutrition. India is implementing a variety of strategies to address anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies, including iron-folic acid supplementation, vitamin A supplementation, nutritional health education to encourage dietary diversity, and others. However, the level of anaemia remains high. Therefore, there is a need to introduce strategies like food fortification that are evidence-based, tried, and tested in other parts of the world, said Bishop Parjuli, country director of the World Food Programme.

Fortified foods are also better at reducing the risk of many deficiencies that can result from seasonal shortages in the food supply or a poor-quality diet. These are essential for the growth and development of children as well as for women of fertile age, who are required during pregnancy and lactation with adequate nutrients. Fortification can be an excellent way to increase the number of vitamins in breast milk and thus reduce the need for supplementation in postpartum women and infants.

Its objective is to improve the nutritional quality of the food grains supplied and provide health benefits to consumers with minimum risk. It is a proven, safe, and cost-effective strategy to improve diet and prevent micronutrient deficiencies. Is food fortification the new panacea for nutritional deficiencies? This is not a miracle solution for nutritional security. But some have been touting fortification as a miracle cure for anaemia and nutritional problems based on experience. It is a clinical approach. It cannot and should not be implemented on a large scale.

The writer is Research scholar, poet, freelance journalist and columnist, All India Radio and TV panellist.


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