Why Fortify Flour and Rice?

Fortification is adding vitamins and minerals to foods to prevent nutritional deficiencies. The nutrients regularly used in grain fortification prevent diseases, strengthen immune systems, and improve productivity and cognitive development.

Wheat flour, maize flour, and rice are primarily fortified to:

  1. Prevent nutritional anemia

  2. Prevent brain and spine birth defects

  3. Increase productivity

  4. Improve economic progress

In 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals; fortifying commonly eaten grains is a step toward addressing these.

Fortification is successful because it makes frequently eaten foods more nutritious without relying on consumers to change their habits.

The following vitamins and minerals are used in flour and rice fortification globally. Each country sets standards to include the specific nutrients its population needs.

  • Iron, riboflavin, folic acid, zinc, 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 deficiency is the leading cause of childhood blindness. It also diminishes an individual’s ability to fight infections. Vitamin A can be added to wheat or maize flour, but it is often added to rice, cooking oils, margarine, or sugar instead.
  • 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).

Through its global partnership, FFI helps countries promote, plan, implement, and monitor high-quality fortification practices. For assistance, please contact us at info@ffinetwork.org.

See how to donate to FFI's efforts to promote fortification of wheat flour, maize flour, and rice.

sliced bread

Freshly baked bread is sliced at OCRIM flour mill in Brazil which tests the quality of its flour before distribution. Brazil, like most countries in the Americas, has been fortifying wheat flour for decades.

Throughout the world, people generally consume wheat flour, maize flour, or rice as a staple part of their diets. Fortifying one more more of these grains is a cost-effective way to improve the population's nutrient intake.

Photo copyright by David Snyder for the CDC Foundation.

Top Photo Credit: @Flickr Creative Commons

These faces illustrate the main reasons to fortify wheat flour, maize flour, and rice.

For More Information:

  • Evidence for fortification of wheat flour with folic acid and vitamin B12. See more...

  • Summary of the benefits of fortifying with folic acid to prevent birth defects of the brain and spine, updated in July 2018. Also see the spreadsheet of documents reviewed.

  • Effectiveness of fortifying flour with iron to prevent iron deficiency. See more...

  • Food fortification and anemia. See more...

  • Summary of rice fortification's impact on nutrition. See a Sight and Life article and accompanying spreadsheet.

  • Flour Fortification With Iron, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, and Zinc: Proceedings of the Second Technical Workshop on Wheat Flour Fortification – Food and Nutrition Bulletin supplement – March 2010. See more...