Why fortify flour and rice?
Countries add nutrients to flour and rice to help people and nations thrive. Iron, zinc, folic acid, and other B vitamins are commonly added to prevent anemia from nutritional deficiencies and reduce the risk of infants with severe brain and spine birth defects known as neural tube defects.
Fortification benefits individuals at every point in life - from conception to aging. Also, breastfeeding mothers, adolescents, and adults in their reproductive years need the nutrients included in fortified grains.
Nationally, fortification improves productivity and reduces healthcare expenditures. Globally, fortification addresses several of the Sustainable Development Goals and can restore nutrients lost in crops as a result of climate change.
A Matter of Life and DeathIn 2016, an estimated 107,000 deaths were caused by iron deficiency anemia and other nutritional deficiencies. Pregnant women with severe anemia are twice as likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy than non-anemic women. About 75% of children with brain and spine birth defects die before their fifth birthday; many of these birth defects could be prevented with folic acid (vitamin B9).
Nutritional deficiencies also impact survivors. For example, iron deficiency in childhood stunts cognitive development which hinders academic performance and future earnings potential. Spina bifida, a spinal birth defect, has varying degrees of severity, and often leads to life-long disability.
Fortification is successful primarily because it does not require consumers to change their behaviors. Governments and industries, however, need to make systematic changes to maximize fortification’s health benefits. FFI helps county leaders promote, plan, implement, and monitor sustainable grain fortification programs.
Vitamins and Minerals Added to Grains
- Iron, riboflavin, folic acid, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin B12 help prevent nutritional anemia which improves productivity, maternal health, and cognitive development.
- Folic acid (vitamin B9) reduces the risk of severe brain and spine birth defects. Fortifying with folic acid may also have a role in the child's mental health.
- Zinc helps children develop, strengthens immune systems, and lessens complications from diarrhea.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) prevents the skin disease known as pellagra.
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2) helps with metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
- Thiamin (vitamin B1) prevents the nervous system disease called beriberi.
- Vitamin B12 maintains functions of the brain and nervous system.
- Vitamin D helps bodies absorb calcium which improves bone health.
- Vitamin A helps individuals fight infections and helps prevent childhood blindness. It is often added to rice, cooking oils, margarine, or sugar instead of flour.
- Calcium builds strong bones, helps transmit nerve messages and assists with muscle function and blood clotting. A few countries add calcium to flour, but it is more commonly added to other foods.
- Selenium helps with reproduction and thyroid gland function.
- Vitamin B6 is needed for enzyme reactions involved in metabolism.
- Folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 lower homocysteine levels.
Fortification as part of a country’s nutrition strategy is 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. For the latest evidence and guidance on nutrition interventions, see the WHO e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA).
Top Photo Credit: @Flickr Creative Commons