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The power of flour: Combating malnutrition through staple food fortification

05 January 20186 min reading

“Advances in fortification technology now mean that it is easier than ever for food manufacturers and millers across the globe to combat malnutrition in developing and developed countries, without impacting dietary patterns or the sensory characteristics of foods. Improving the population’s nutritional status through staple food fortification can help to facilitate a huge social return on investment to support the world’s economic growth and development.”

Sarah_Louis

Sarah Louis

Segment Market Manager Nutrition Improvement Program, DSM

Inadequate vitamin and mineral intake worldwide has resulted in an increasing prevalence of ‘hidden hunger’, a phenomenon caused by a chronic lack of essential micronutrients in a person’s diet, leading to the body becoming malnourished. Hidden hunger is present in both developed and developing countries, and it is becoming more widespread due to the rise in calorie-rich, yet nutrient-poor, diets.

Food manufacturers and millers, working with governments, donors and non-governmental organizations, now have an opportunity to address these deficiencies on a large scale, by integrating essential micronutrients into staple food products through fortification. Micronutrient fortification of staple foods, such as flour, has been considered to play a role in increasing productivity at work and stimulating the growth of a country’s economy [1]. Crucially, it also has the potential to help make hidden hunger a problem of the past, enabling millions of individuals worldwide to be healthier and better able to thrive.

What is staple food fortification? Fortification is one of the most simple, safe and cost-effective ways to add essential micronutrients to staple food products, such as flour and rice. This process involves adding or replacing essential vitamins and minerals that may have been lost during processing or are deficient in the population, and has become well recognized for its benefits to public health. In many countries, staple food fortification is now mandatory, a movement that started to gain traction in the 1970s and took off in the early 2000s as more and more countries integrated it into their nutrition strategies.

This is particularly the case in the Middle East and Africa, where populations have benefited from support from the public sector, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and NGOs such as Nutrition International (NI) [2]. In fact, there are now 87 countries worldwide where it is mandatory to fortify at least one industrially milled cereal grain, such as maize or wheat. Of these, 86 countries fortify wheat flour alone, or in combination with other grains, suggesting that there is significant opportunity for the food industry and governments to address global malnutrition with this staple food product [3].

Flour fortification: a force to be reckoned with Flour – wheat and maize, primarily, but also local varieties depending on regional crops – is one of the most widely distributed and consumed staple food products. In fact, more than 600 million metric tons of wheat and maize flours are milled annually, and consumed as noodles, breads, pasta, and other flour products worldwide [4]. Wheat and maize flour are easily fortified with a wide range of micronutrients, meaning that there is huge potential for flour products to substantially improve global public health [5].

Micronutrients can be added singly or as a premix to flour, and it is vital that the flour is well mixed so that the added nutrients are distributed 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, and can also be added when flours from different batches converge. To avoid separation of the nutrients from the grain, it is important to make sure that the particle size and weight of these micronutrients are the same, or similar, as that of the flour product.

The proven success of staple food fortification can be owed to the fact it can be implemented without changing the dietary patterns of a population. Nor does it require conscious engagement or compliance from individuals – advances in technology mean that it is possible to fortify products, like flour, without any impact on sensory characteristics, such as appearance, taste and texture. As a result, populations can continue to eat the way they have always eaten, which helps to not only tackle challenges in consumer attitudes, but is also very important in developing countries or regions where there is little freedom of choice over the food products available. But does flour fortification really work? The proof is in the pudding In 2002, Jordan introduced mandatory wheat flour fortification. The program was initiated after the country held its first nationally representative survey on micronutrient status, which revealed that low micronutrient intake was a major public health concern [6]. Flour was initially fortified with iron and folic acid, although fortification with zinc, niacin and vitamins A, B and D followed shortly after.

A follow up survey in 2010 showed that the roll-out of the program in Jordan had been a huge success. For example, there was a reported 13% reduction in iron deficiency in children. Wheat flour products are now routinely fortified with a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals across the country [7]. Continued efforts are essential to support and widen the scope of fortification initiatives, to improve public health in the region.

Working with experts to safeguard the health of future populations Advances in fortification technology now mean that it is easier than ever for food manufacturers and millers across the globe to combat malnutrition in developing and developed countries, without impacting dietary patterns or the sensory characteristics of foods. Improving the population’s nutritional status through staple food fortification can help to facilitate a huge social return on investment to support the world’s economic growth and development, as well as the work of NGOs and organizations in both the private and public sector. It also plays a huge part in addressing the challenges presented by poor nutrition, such as cognitive and physical stunting, to improve productivity and public health.

Ensuring the success of fortification initiatives in improving the nutritional status of the global population requires cooperation from both governments and the food industry worldwide. It is important that mandated fortification is properly monitored and enforced. Meanwhile, voluntary fortification gives food manufacturers and millers the opportunity to add value to products and gain a competitive edge in the market. DSM, the world’s leading manufacturer of ingredients for health and nutrition, has been the pioneering industry partner in the establishment of staple food fortification and remains a trusted leader in this area, through its Nutrition Improvement Program. As an expert in flour fortification, DSM’s knowledge and experience ensures the correct concentration, distribution and stability of micronutrients to meet specific regulatory requirements and quality standards.

For more information on combating national malnutrition issues through staple food fortification, download DSM’s whitepaper: https://www.dsm.com/markets/foodandbeverages/en_US/markets-home/market-staple-food-fortification.html

References: 1- UNICEF, Undernutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 and is widespread in Asia and Africa, [internet sitesi], 2017 https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/ 2- WHO/FFI, Joint WHO/Flour Fortification Initiative Harmonization workshop for wheat and maize flour fortification, [internet sitesi], 2012 https://applications.emro.who.int/ docs/IC_Meet_Rep_2012_EN_14767.pdf 3- Food Fortification Initiative, Middle East, [internet sitesi], 2016 http://ffinetwork.org/regional_activity/middle_east.php. 4- WHO, FAO, UNICEF, GAIN, MI, & FFI. Recommendations on wheat and maize flour fortification. Meeting Report: Interim Consensus Statement. Cenevre, Dünya Sağlık Örgütü, 2009 [internet sitesi] https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/ micronutrients/wheat_maize_fort.pdf. 5- Food Fortification Initiative, Global Progress, [internet sitesi], 2017 http://ffinetwork.org/global_progress/index.php. 6- (a.g.e.) 7- Jordan Ministry of Health, ‘National Micronutrients Survey, Ürün 2010’, [internet sitesi] https://www.gainhealth.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/05/56.-Jordan-Micronutrient-SurveyReport.pdf

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