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:
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.
- 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 birth defects of the brain and spine. Fortifing 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).
See how to donate to FFI's efforts to promote fortification of wheat flour, maize flour, and rice.
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