Food fortification is an inexpensive and efficient way of providing micro nutrients through food that we consume on daily basis. It is a process of adding micro nutrients or any trace elements intentionally at higher level to the food to combat the deficiencies or just as a supplement with the normal food we eat. The policy of world food program and major food aid donors is that all oil, salt and blended food should be fortified with micronutrients, either singly ( iodine in salt and vitamin A in oil) or in combination.

  • In many situations, this strategy can lead to relatively rapid improvements in the micro nutrient status of a population, and at a very reasonable cost, especially if advantage can be taken of existing technology and local distribution networks.

Commonly fortified foods are:

1. Rice: Rice is the staple food for two-thirds of Indians. Fortification of rice makes it more nutritious by adding vitamins and minerals, many of which are lost during the milling and polishing process. Rice is usually fortified with iron (20 mg), folic acid (1300 micro gram) and vitamin B 12 (10 micro gram). Other than this zinc oxide, vitamin B 1, 2, 6 and niacin is also added. A study among school children conducted by National Institute of Nutrition and Department of Biotechnology revealed a significant increase in mean serum ferritin (iron stores) levels (8.17 Hg/dL) after consumption of fortified rice. Golden rice is the best example of fortified rice.

fortified golden rice

2. Wheat flour: Birth defects such as Neural Tube Defects (NTD s) due to folic acid deficiency can be prevented by wheat fortification. Also iron deficiency can be reduced. Adequate intake of vitamin B 12 through fortified flour can also improve mental growth and development of children. Therefore, the health impact of fortifying wheat flour with iron, folic acid and vitamin B 12 is immense.

fortified wheat flour

3. Milk: Milk is a rich source of high quality protein, calcium and of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Vitamins A and D is lost when milk fat is removed during processing. Many countries have a mandatory provision to add back the vitamins removed as it is easily doable. It is called replenishment as the nutrients lost during processing are added back. Fortification of milk with Vitamin A and Vitamin D is required in India because of the widespread deficiencies present in the population.

4. Salt: Deficiency of iodine in the diet can be addressed by fortification of salt i.e. adding iodine to salt. Salt has been identified as an effective vehicle for iodine because it is consumed almost daily and universally. Also iron and zinc are added as a fortification in certain salts.

Tata salt plus fortified with iron and zinc along with iodine.

5. Oil: Edible oil is consumed by almost everyone. Multiple micronutrient deficiencies are rampant in India, and continue to be significant public health problems. Among this vitamin  A and D deficiency is at a peak and therefore there was a need for fortification of edible oils. Also vitamin E and K are used as fortification in certain oils. Vitamin A is added as 25 I U/g of oil and vitamin D as 4.5 I U/g of oil.

Fortune edible oil fortified with vitamin A,D,E. 

6. Processed foods: Some types of margarine and other butter substitutes contain sterols, which help lower cholesterol. Manufacturers may add calcium to orange juice and to milk substitutes, such as soy milk, rice milk and almond milk. Puddings and other snack foods for children also often contain calcium. Grains, such as breakfast cereals, are often fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B-12 and calcium. Infant formulas can contain iron, vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids.

Butter fortified with calcium and sterols help to lower cholesterol.
Soya milk fortified with calcium. since soya milk is good source of protein, adding calcium to it increases its nutritive value upto great extent.
Fruit juices like Tropicana are also now fortified with calcium.
Breakfast cereals like kellogs are now fortified with calcium and vitamin B12.

Bioavailability of fortified foods:

  • In the case of the B vitamin folic acid, which is often added to breakfast cereals, flour and certain spreads, this added folic acid usually is more bioavailable than that naturally present in the food, commonly referred to as dietary folate. Studies reported 20-70% lower bioavailability of dietary folate (from fruits, vegetables or liver) vs. synthetic folic acid. This does not mean though that one should only consume foods fortified with folic acid, but rather that natural dietary sources such as green leafy vegetables can be complemented with foods fortified with this vitamin to ensure that individual requirements are met.
  • Not only cereals and milk is fortified but also crops like beans and sweet potato are fortified with calcium and iron where they are the staple food. Also maize, cassava and sweet potato are fortified with beta carotene (precursor of vitamin A).

Food enrichment v/s food fortifications:

  • Food enriched means nutrients that were lost during food processing have been added back. An example is adding back certain vitamins lost in processing wheat to make white flour. Fortified means vitamins or minerals have been added to a food that weren't originally in the food. An example is adding vitamin D to milk.
  • Other examples of foods enriched are: white bread, pasta, corn products, white rice. foods fortified include breakfast cereals, salt, milk, flour, crops like sweet potato and corn.
  • Enrichment is regulated to protect consumers. The United States Food and Drug Administration has rules that food manufacturers must follow to be able to make claims about being enriched.
  •  According to the FDA, foods can claim to be enriched if they "contain at least 10 percent more of the Daily Value of that nutrient than a food of the same type that is not enriched."Also, products can be labeled as enriched when they meet the "FDA’s definition for a type of food with a name that includes that term (such as enriched bread or enriched rice)." For our example, the flour can only be labeled as "enriched flour" if it contains specified amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron.
  •  For example, whole wheat is rich in B-complex vitamins and iron that live in the outer parts of the grain, which is called the hull. Whole wheat is nutritious and good for you, but most people prefer to use white flour for their bread, pastries and other baked products. So food manufacturers refine the whole wheat by removing the hulls, creating white flour. Of course, eliminating the hulls also removes most of the B-complex vitamins and iron so they're added back into the flour before packaging and shipping to grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Fortified foods have extra nutrients added by food manufacturers, but not they're not necessarily meant to replace nutrients that were lost during processing. In fact, fortified foods usually have nutrients that don't occur naturally in the food product. The idea is to make the food healthier by adding additional nutrition. This can be useful for individuals who may be missing out on a few essential ingredients and on a larger scale, food fortification can help provide nutrients that tend to be deficient in the diet and o a lot of good for the population. e.g. iodized salt.
  • Today you'll find calcium-fortified orange juice, phytosterol-fortified margarine and vitamin and mineral fortified breakfast cereals in your local grocery store. Those are relatively healthy foods, but even junk foods can be fortified with a few extra nutrients so that they can display claims of being fortified or enriched. So be sure to look beyond the claims on the label and examine the Nutrient Facts labels on the back or bottom of the package, because fortification can be an excellent thing, it doesn't automatically turn junk food into healthy food.
  • so keep looking at food labels whether its fortified or not and always go for fortified foods wherever available to increase your nutritive value of foods that you consume.