How Food Fortification Builds Immunity By Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies

The immune system – our body’s natural defence mechanism – plays a vital role in protecting people from disease and infection, modulating inflammation and maintaining good health throughout life.

The importance of robust immune systems is well-known. The coronavirus pandemic has, however, highlighted the issue like never before. Given the soaring cases and fatalities from COVID-19, a strong immune system spells the difference between happy living and going to the happy hunting grounds.

Compromised immunity makes people most susceptible to varied diseases and health complications. Not surprisingly, malnutrition is one of the leading risk factors of immunodeficiency disorders that prevent a person’s body from fighting serious infections and ailments. Such disorders make people more vulnerable to various viruses and bacteria which can cause respiratory and digestive problems for both adults and children.

Implications of Compromised Immunity

The immune system – our body’s natural defence mechanism – plays a vital role in protecting people from disease and infection, modulating inflammation and maintaining good health throughout life.

But individuals with imbalanced dietary habits are at risk of inadequate nutrient status. This may result in malnutrition and a phenomenon termed ‘hidden hunger’. A condition increasingly prevalent across age groups in modern societies, it occurs due to energy-dense but nutrient-poor diets. Consequently, deficiencies in essential micronutrients, such as vitamins A, C, D, E, the B vitamins, selenium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, can negatively affect immune systems, leading to reduced resistance against disease and infection. 1

Fortunately, increasing evidence indicates nutrition may help enhance immune systems, ensuring the body is well equipped to fight pathogens, allergens and other immune triggers. Typically, primary immunodeficiency disorders are inherited whereas secondary disorders, such as protein- energy malnutrition, are acquired due to disease or other factors, including malnutrition.

But studies reveal that nutritional interventions can resolve secondary immunodeficiency disorders associated with nutrient deficiencies 2 . Such nutritional supplementation can effectively improve the immune system function of individuals with impaired immunity, including longevity and quality of life.

No doubt, it is best way to prevent ailments – a goal better achieved when people’s immune systems are functioning optimally. Considering our hurried lifestyles, acquiring adequate nutrition via meals remains a difficult proposition.

Here is where targeted nutritional support is ideal in building immunity: food fortification. It denotes the practice of supplementing one or more components to improve the nutritional value of foods. 

Even if those elements are found naturally in food, fortification still makes sense because it is often the case we don’t take sufficient amount of nutrients from food alone. 3

The Food and Agriculture Organization notes that the foods most commonly fortified comprise cereals and cereal-based items; milk and dairy products; fats and oils; infant formulas as well as tea and other beverages. 4 The main benefit of food fortification lies in building the micronutrient levels in foods and replacing nutrients lost during food processing. Thereby, fortification plays a key role in preventing or reducing dietary deficiencies.

Why Food Fortification Works

The main methods of fortifying foods are commercial and industrial; bio-fortification; and home food fortification. While the first is generally for wheat and rice flour, cornmeal and cooking oils, the second refers to the breeding of crops – both through selective breeding or genetic engineering – to increase their nutritional values. The last refers to foods fortified at home, for example, via vitamin D drops.

Eating fortified foods can enhance the productivity levels of people and also reduce healthcare spends. Thanks to this scenario, it is important to consider home food fortification – a proven, cost- effective strategy in addressing anaemia and co-morbidities caused by its deficiency. While food fortification is relatively popular in some countries, in India it is comparatively less known and underutilised. Yet, as more people depend on outside foods while more women turn from homemakers to breadwinners, home food fortification assumes greater importance.

Fortification can begin with foods comprising commonly-eaten staples such as rice, wheat, pulses and other cereals. In this context, some brands such as Nu-Shakti are offering select products that can fortify rice and wheat flour as well as other staples. These food fortifiers make the requisite items more nutritious without degrading taste. Depending on preferences, people from different regions can opt either for fortifying rice or wheat, as per the staple diet of specific regions.

Recognising the important role of food fortifiers, the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) has declared certain norms for fortifying staples such as rice, wheat flour, milk, salt and edible oils.

Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 outbreak continues its relentless march across regions pan-India, the need to build personal immunity could never have been as urgent. Under the current circumstances – when people are largely confined indoors and may not be adhering to their exercise regimens or getting enough vitamin D through sunlight – food fortification can play a pivotal role in maintaining better immunity across communities…


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