What is Meant by Food Fortification?
Food fortification is the process of adding or increasing micronutrients to common foods to help replace any nutrients lost in the cooking process or to provide a nutrient boost in foods that are nutrient deficient.
Fortification can play an integral role in supporting the nutrition of those who desperately need it or those that follow restrictive diets.
The most common nutrients used in fortification are Vitamins A and B, iron, zinc, and folic acid. All of these support a healthy body and can help people avoid nutrient deficiencies. Malnourishment is a serious condition that affects 795 million people worldwide. Those at risk of malnutrition are vulnerable to a number of health issues.
The fortification of commonly-eaten foods such as maize flour, wheat, and rice are the easiest and most inexpensive ways to provide essential nutrients to people at risk of malnutrition.
How are foods fortified?
Fortification, also known as enrichment, is performed in various ways depending on the food being processed. Rice, for example, is fortified by adding a micronutrient powder that adheres to the rice or by spraying the surface on which the rice is processed. This effectively adds several layers of the micronutrient powder creating a more nutritious rice grain.
The 3 Main Methods of Food Fortification
1. Commercial and Industrial Fortification
Foods fortified inside food processing factories are commonly produced using the method discussed above for rice. Other foods may be ground into flour and combined with a micronutrient mix and then processed using steam and re-shaped to create new nutritious grains that look just like the original grain.
Biofortification is the process of breeding crops to contain a certain level of nutrients so that they do not require the commercial and industrial fortification process above. This includes both selective breeding and genetic engineering of the crops to get the desired nutritional content.
3. Home Fortification
This method of fortification can be done by anyone who owns nutrient drops that can be manually added into the food before it is eaten. This is much like taking a nutrient supplement which are also quite common.
What Are the Benefits of Food Fortification?
Food fortification can benefit any human being at any stage of development. In the developed world, fortification can support a healthy diet by providing essential nutrients to those who may not be getting enough from their food. In developing nations, food fortification can be the difference between life and death.
It’s estimated that 9 million people die from hunger or hunger-related diseases each and every year. This is more than the lives taken by AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis. In some developing nations, people depend on fortified rice, wheat, and maize to stay alive and have the opportunity to lead a normal healthy life.
Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies with pregnant women being at the highest risk. Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy can cause brain or spine birth defects, 75% of which resulted in death before the child’s fifth birthday in 2015.
Zinc deficiency can leave people vulnerable to a number of serious illnesses and even death. Adequate levels of zinc in the body have been shown to drastically reduce the risk of diarrhea in small children which is one of the most pressing health issues in low-income areas of the world.
Other key benefits of food fortification include:
- Improved productivity, maternal health, and cognitive development
- Reduced risk of severe brain and spinal conditions
- Strengthened the immune system
- Reduced risk of skin diseases and nervous system diseases
- Improved metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins
- Improved function of the brain and nervous systems
- Reduced risk of serious and deadly infections
- Improved absorption of calcium for bone health
What are calcium-fortified foods?
Food and drinks that are commonly fortified with calcium include fruit juices, cereals, bottled waters and energy bars. Calcium-fortified foods are essential for those who are intolerant to dairy which includes an estimated 75% of the population of the world, according to PubMed Central, a highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health.
It’s recommended that people get their calcium from natural foods such as dark leafy greens or tofu. However, this can be extremely difficult in countries where these products are not readily available. Therefore, calcium-fortified foods are essential for these people to maintain proper bone health and avoid serious conditions such as osteoporosis.
Low calcium and Vitamin D (integral to calcium absorption) is common among children in developing countries and poses a real issue for their health. It’s estimated that calcium and Vitamin D levels are around a third of the recommended intake in these children.
Principles of Food Fortification
As stated by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the basic principles of ford fortification are as follows:
- The essential nutrient added should not exceed the amount that is required for optimal health and the person’s current intake of the nutrient should be taken into account.
- Any nutrient added to food should not result in an adverse effect on the metabolism.
- The essential nutrient should be stable in the food under the specific conditions of the packaging, storage, distribution, and use.
- The essential nutrient should be biologically available from the food.
- The essential nutrient should not allow for changes to the characteristics of the food and should not shorten the food shelf-life.
- The technology used and the factories in which the nutrients are added should have all the necessary accreditations and permits to complete the fortification process.
- Fortification and the level of nutrients present should never deceive or mislead the consumer.
- Any additional cost for fortification should be reasonable.
- The methods and processes used to complete fortification should have measures of controlling or enforcing the level of nutrients added to the foods.
- Food standards, regulations or guidelines for the fortification of foods should be clear in their reasoning for the addition of the essential nutrients to ensure the intended results are achieved.
The Bottom Line
The fortification of foods is vitally important, especially for those living in developing countries where access to a wide variety of foods is not possible. Providing fortified foods can help uplift communities providing their people with essential nutrients that support a healthy functioning body.
In some parts of the world, food fortification is the difference between life and death. It is therefore supported by global organizations such as UNICEF, The World Health Organization (WHO, The World Food Programme (WFP), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and Nutrition International.