Managing malnutrition with staple food fortification

Approximately one third of the world’s population is malnourished, caused in many cases by an individual unable to access or afford a healthy, balanced diet. The rise in calorie-rich but nutrient-poor diets has led to a phenomenon called hidden hunger. This is where a person consumes enough, or even an excess of, calories but significantly lacks essential micronutrients.

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This form of malnourishment is visible in both developed and developing countries and can be detrimental to a person’s health, particularly in childhood.

To tackle this issue food fortification programmes have been undertaken by governments and non-governmental organisations, in conjunction with food manufacturers and millers. Integrating essential vitamins and minerals into commonly consumed foods offers a simple and cost-effective method of fighting malnutrition and associated health concerns. The success of staple food fortification can be attributed to the fact that it requires little to no conscious engagement from individuals. Advances in technology mean fortification does not impact the taste, texture or appearance of food. This offers at-risk populations the ability to improve their nutritional status without the need to change their dietary habits or food preparation methods. Fortification can help to significantly decrease the occurrence of numerous health conditions, including spina bifida, rickets and anemia.

Food to fortify

Selecting the right foods for fortification programmes is crucial to their success. Choosing foods that are already a staple in the average daily diet of a population means individuals do not have to change their food habits to receive fortification benefits. As one of the world’s most widely consumed staple foods, flour (particularly maize and wheat) is ideal. A key ingredient in many common foods, such as bread, pasta and noodles, the potential of fortified flour has been recognised globally. Currently 86 countries have mandatory flour fortification in place.

Micronutrients can either be added alone or as a premix, depending on the needs of the target population. In South Africa, mandatory fortification of maize meal and wheat flour, with Vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, Vitamin B12, folic acid, iron and zinc, was introduced in 2003. This intervention has been linked to a decrease in the natural prevalence of vitamin A deficiency by more than 50 per cent among women of reproductive age. ,

It is important the flour is well mixed so the nutrients are spread uniformly throughout the product. This is achieved by adding the nutrients at a rate compatible with the flow of flour along a conveyor belt, using adjustable feeders.

In addition to flour, cooking oil is also a strong vehicle for fortification. In sub-Saharan Africa, vegetable oil consumption has increased steadily over the last decade and imports of oil are expected to expand annually at an average of 3.7 per cent.  As oils are frequently used in everyday cooking, fortifying with fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D and E, can help to improve the nutritional status of many at-risk groups.

Picking the perfect partner

Successful fortification initiatives require co-operation from both governments and the global food industry. As a pioneer in food fortification, DSM, a leader in manufacturing of health and nutrition ingredients has been actively engaged in tackling vitamin and mineral deficiencies since such interventions began. Through its Nutrition Improvement Program, DSM has been the industry’s partner for decades, providing the technical knowledge to ensure the correct concentration, distribution and stability of micronutrients to meet regulatory requirements and quality standards.

Find out more in DSM’s whitepaper, Combating national malnutrition issues through staple food fortification at  www.nutritionimprovement.com

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