Why Fortify Flour and Rice?
Fortification adds nutrients to food to help people thrive throughout their lives. This is a proven strategy - for example, large-scale food fortification has demonstrated a 34% reduction in anemia. Yet an estimated 2 billion people globally still suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Fortifying grains has tremendous implications for individuals, entire populations, and a country's economy.
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. While spina bifida has varying degrees of severity, this spinal birth defect often leads to life-long disability and enormous costs for a country’s healthcare systems.
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.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals; fortification is a step toward addressing these.
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).
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