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:
- Prevent nutritional anemia
- Prevent birth defects of the brain and spine
- Increase productivity
- Improve economic progress
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.
The following 12 vitamins and minerals are used in flour and rice fortification globally. Each country sets standards to include the specific nutrients its population needs.
- 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.
- 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.
Fortification as part of a country’s nutrition strategy is supported by global organizations such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), 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).
Source: Food Fortification Initiative