Food Fortification and Iron Deficiency: Iron is one of the essential minerals required by the human body for its overall health. Its deficiency can cause (IDA) Iron-deficiency anaemia. IDA occurs when the body does not get enough iron from the diet. This crucial trace element is needed by the body to make haemoglobin. Iron deficiency will result in low haemoglobin status, which means the rest of the body will not get adequate oxygen to function optimally. As a result, iron-deficiency anaemia can leave a person experiencing shortness of breath and feeling tired. At this point, it is essential to highlight some findings from a report by home food fortification brand NuShakti, India’s ‘Diet Paradox’. The report notes that a majority of survey respondents (98%) state that a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy lifestyle. Besides, 73% of the respondents knew the connection between weight loss and healthy eating, while 97% were aware of vital nutrients and micronutrients required by their bodies. Despite this awareness, it still did not translate to making the right choices to improve dietary habits.
Symptoms of Iron-deficiency anaemia by Dt. Varsha Pramodh
Given its symptoms, it is an accepted fact that IDA leads to lower human productivity. Other sign of the condition can include extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, cold hands and feet, headache, dizziness or light-headedness, chest pain, increased heartbeat, inflammation or soreness of the tongue, brittle nails, poor appetite (particularly in infants and children) and unusual craving for non-nutritious items such as dirt, clay, wall scrapings or ice.
National Family Health Survey on Iron-Deficiency Anaemia (IDA)
Hidden hunger can cause diminished learning abilities and lower productivity, impacting human health and economic growth. Moreover, maternal mortality is higher in developing nations, as IDA is rampant. In India, according to the latest National Family Health Survey, 53.1% of women have anaemia. IDA is seen as a critical risk factor in maternal deaths. Iron is also crucial for optimal mental development among children. Poor learning among school children and avoidable maternal mortality are considered typical but severe consequences of IDA.
Also Read: 5 Common Nutritional Deficiencies In Indians
How food enrichment or fortification helps address Iron-Deficiency Anaemia (IDA)?
Thanks to modern technology, food fortification ensures that the fortifying levels remain safe and free from toxicity. Furthermore, there is minimal cost escalation and hardly any change in colour, texture or taste of the fortified foods. When an iron-rich diet also includes fortified foods, it increases the diet's iron content substantially and makes it easier to fight against chronic conditions like anaemia. Therefore, one needs to know that diet rich in iron and vitamin C (helps in the absorption of iron) helps address IDA, while other vitamins including B12, B6, folate, vitamin A, Riboflavin and vitamin E is essential for healthy red blood cell metabolism. Food fortified with these vitamins and minerals is also helpful and is slowly gaining popularity in India to complement diet diversification and supplements.
How to add micronutrients to food? Explains Varsha Pramodh, Metabolic Nutrition Consultant
Fortifying commonly-eaten staple foods with essential micronutrients can improve people’s health by building a better immune system.
- Some food brands are already offering numerous products to fortify rice, wheat and other staples. For instance, in north India, wheat fortification would be a meaningful option while in the south, fortifying rice will be ideal as it is the staple there.
- But a piecemeal approach in addressing IDA will not be successful in overcoming this pan-India challenge. It is imperative that both private and public sector players, whether organized or unorganized, join hands in promoting fortification as a solution in addressing IDA.
- Not surprisingly, some tea companies that use food rations in making partial payments have begun supplying fortified foods. The awareness has prompted this that such value-addition in addressing micronutrient deficiencies can reduce anaemia. In turn, this lowers lethargy and absenteeism by increasing employees’ overall productivity.
IDA is also one of the major causes of ‘hidden hunger’, caused by deficiencies of critical micronutrients. Awareness should be raised on how IDA can increase absenteeism due to illness and allied health issues. If such efforts are mainstreamed across the country, it is only a question of time before the intractable problem of iron-deficiency anaemia comes under control.
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