Food Fortification - A Practical Approach to Help Overcome Micronutrient Deficiencies

Nutritional Deficiencies: Significance of Micronutrients

Micro-nutrients are vitamins and minerals, that are needed in miniscule quantities and enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances that are essential for proper growth and development. Inadequacies in intake of micronutrients cause deficiencies leading to malnutrition. [1]

Over 2 billion people in the world suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies. The main causes of micro-nutrient deficiencies is insufficient intake of nutritious food, an imbalanced diet and consumption of only one type of ingredient which may be lacking in certain micro-nutrients. For example, people who are reliant on corn as their staple diet sometimes end up suffering from the illness Pellagra, caused by a dietary deficiency of Niacin or Vitamin B3. Corn is deficient in niacin and the amino acid tryptophan which acts as a precursor to Niacin . However, the Science has certainly progressed and today we have many new varieties of nutrition enriched maize as one of the most significant advances in agriculture. It is important to note that traditional diets encourage consumption of a wide variety of food combinations that balanced the availability of the nutrients, for example, in traditional Punjabi cuisine, maize rotis are eaten with a dish prepared from mustard greens (sarson da saag) which is rich in vitamins and amino acids balancing the deficiency of niacin and tryptophan in the maize. Similarly, several such balancing food combinations bringing perfection to the local diet have been recorded across the world.

Iron deficiency being one of the largest micronutrient deficiency problems in India, is estimated that about 20% maternal deaths occur due to iron deficiency directly and another 50% occur due to reasons associated with iron deficiency. Iron deficiency anemia greatly reduces the productivity of individuals. The regular consumption rate of vitamin A and iron rich foods in India is extremely low, especially among children and infants, with only 39% of children aged between 24 months and 6 years consuming vitamin A rich food and only 11% consuming iron rich food. Vitamin D deficiency is another major health problem in India with a prevalence of 70%-100% among the general population. Vitamin D is essential for the heart, brain, and immune functions, and vitamin D deficiency causes bones to become thin, brittle, soft or misshapen. Evidence shows that vitamin D plays a critical role in calcium and bone metabolism and maintaining serum calcium levels while promoting intestinal calcium absorption through induction of the synthesis of calcium binding protein and stimulating bone mineralization.

Micronutrient deficiencies could be overcome by incorporating variety of grains, pulses, nuts, tubers, fruits into our daily diet. Moreover, food fortification using ingredients rich in micronutrients like iron, vitamins and minerals could be another best remedy.

A chronically-undernourished mother will most likely give birth to an underweight baby, who may be stunted as a child and grow up to give birth to another malnourished baby. Similarly, a well-nourished woman has a much greater chance of surviving pregnancy and her child growing up healthy. Eliminating malnutrition in mothers reduces disabilities in their infants by almost one third. A lack of maternal nutrition can create irreversible harm as most of the child's organs and tissues, blood, brain and bones are formed, and his or her potential is shaped during fetal growth. Micronutrients like iron, vitamin A, iodine and folate, play a vital role in the mother's survival in pregnancy and childbirth, and in the child's development.[2] Thus, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that pregnant women are well nourished with access to nutrient rich foods that are crucial for their health and the healthy development of the unborn child to help break the vicious cycle of malnutrition.

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