What is Food Fortification?
Fortification is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Iodine, Zinc, Vitamins A & D to staple foods such as rice, wheat, oil, milk and salt to improve their nutritional content. These nutrients may or may not have been originally present in the food before processing or may have been lost during processing.
Why do we Need Fortification of Food?
Deficiency of micronutrients or micronutrient malnutrition, also known as ?hidden hunger?, is a serious health risk. Access to safe and nutritious food is a must and sometimes due to lack of consumption of a balanced diet, lack variety in the diet or unavailability of foodone does not get adequate micronutrients. Often, there is considerable loss of nutrients during the processing of food as well. One of the strategies to address this problem is fortification of food. This method complements other ways to improve nutrition such as such as diversification of diet and supplementation of food.
India has a very high burden of micronutrient deficiencies caused by Vitamin A, Iodine, Iron and Folic Acid leading to Night Blindness, Goitre, Anaemia and various birth defects. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4)
58.4 percent of children (6-59 months) are anaemic
53.1 percent women in the reproductive age group are anaemic
35.7 percent of children under 5 are underweight
Fortification is a globally proven intervention to address the much prevalent micronutrient deficiencies in the population.
What are the Benefits of Fortification?
Food Fortification has a high benefit-to-cost ratio. The Copenhagen Consensus estimates that every 1 Rupee spent on fortification results in 9 Rupees in benefits to the economy. It requires an initial investment to purchase both the equipment and the vitamin and mineral premix, but the overall costs of fortification are extremely low. Even when all program costs are passed on to consumers, the price increase is approximately by 1-2%, which is less than the normal price variation. Following are the various benefits of fortification of foods:
1. Nutrients are added to staple foods since they are widely consumed. Thus, this is an excellent method to improve the health of a large section of the population, all at once.
2. It is a safe method of improving nutrition among people. The addition of micronutrients to food does not pose a health risk to people. The quantity added is small and well under the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) and are well regulated as per prescribed standards for safe consumption.
3. It is a cost-effective intervention and does not require any changes in eating patterns or food habits of people. It is a socio-culturally acceptable way to deliver nutrients to people.
4. It does not alter the characteristics of the food like the taste, aroma or the texture of the food.