Food fortification refers to the addition of micronutrients to processed foods. In many situations, this strategy can lead to relatively rapid improvements in the micronutrient status of a population, and at a very reasonable cost, especially if advantage can be taken of existing technology and local distribution networks. Since the benefits are potentially large, food fortification can be a very cost-effective public health intervention. However, an obvious requirement is that the fortified food(s) needs to be consumed in adequate amounts by a large proportion of the target individuals in a population. It is also necessary to have access to, and to use, fortificants that are well absorbed yet do not affect the sensory properties of foods. In most cases, it is preferable to use food vehicles that are centrally processed, and to have the support of the food industry.
Fortification of food with micronutrients is a valid technology for reducing micronutrient malnutrition as part of a food-based approach when and where existing food supplies and limited access fail to provide adequate levels of the respective nutrients in the diet. In such cases, food fortification reinforces and supports ongoing nutrition improvement programmes and should be regarded as part of a broader, integrated approach to prevent micronutrient malnutrition (MNM), thereby complementing other approaches to improve micronutrient status.
Being a food-based approach, food fortification offers a number of advantages over other interventions aimed at preventing and controlling MNM. These include:
- If consumed on a regular and frequent basis, fortified foods will maintain body stores of nutrients more efficiently and more effectively than will intermittent supplements. Fortified foods are also better at lowering the risk of the multiple deficiencies that can result from seasonal deficits in the food supply or a poor quality diet. This is an important advantage to growing children who need a sustained supply of micronutrients for growth and development, and to women of fertile age who need to enter periods of pregnancy and Fortification can be an excellent way of increasing the content of vitamins in breast milk and thus reducing the need for supplementation in postpartum women and infants.
- Fortification generally aims to supply micronutrients in amounts that approximate to those provided by a good, well-balanced diet.Consequently, fortified staple foods will contain “natural” or near natural levels of micronutrients, which may not necessarily be the case with supplements.
- Fortification of widely distributed and widely consumed foods has the potential to improve the nutritional status of a large proportion of the population, both poor and wealthy.
- Fortification requires neither changes in existing food patterns – which are notoriously difficult to achieve, especially in the short-term – nor individual compliance.
- In most settings, the delivery system for fortified foods is already in place, generally through the private sector. The global tendency towards urbanization means that an ever increasing proportion of the population, including that in developing countries is consuming industry-processed, rather than locally-produced, foods. This affords many countries the opportunity to develop effective strategies to combat MNM based on the fortification of centrally-processed dietary staples that once would have reached only a very small proportion of the population.
- Multiple micronutrient deficiencies often coexist in a population that has a poor diet. It follows that multiple micronutrient fortification is frequently desirable. In most cases, it is feasible to fortify foods with several micronutrients simultaneously.
- It is usually possible to add one or several micronutrients without adding substantially to the total cost of the food product at the point of manufacture.
- When properly regulated, fortification carries a minimal risk of chronic toxicity.
The latest fortification news in India is addition of iron in salt by a leading brand to curb anemia from the country, sensing the dropping levels of the metal, especially in females.
Fortification is often more cost-effective than other strategies, especially if the technology already exists and if an appropriate food distribution system is in place.