Rice fortification adds needed nutrients to a staple food
We’re boosting nutrition through fortified rice in Myanmar. View the slideshow to see how. Photo: PATH/Minzayar.
Simple nutrition solutions—such as fortifying staple foods with essential micronutrients—is a sustainable and cost-effective way communities can get greater nutritional value from the foods they already eat every day.
In Karnataka, India, for example, PATH works with partners to improve the nutrition and health status of 450,000 children by integrating fortified rice into the local school feeding program. This daily boost, along with other nutrition and health interventions, is giving children the support they need to reach their potential and contribute to the future of their communities and country.
The effort is just one part of PATH’s rice fortification work around the world. With partners in the private sector and in local governments, we have worked to build sustainable markets for rice fortification in Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Mali, Myanmar, and Vietnam, as well as India—reaching more than 4 million people on three continents with this powerful nutrition solution.
A silent epidemic
Micronutrient deficiencies threaten the health, development, and productivity of millions of people. In India, for example, approximately half of all children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and even more have vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The main contributors to health problems are iron deficiencies, which can reduce children’s cognitive function and increase risks during childbirth, and vitamin A and zinc deficiencies, which can affect immune function, leaving people more vulnerable to disease. Among pregnant women, deficiencies in folate can cause malformations in babies’ spinal cords and brains.
Along with diversifying diets and supplementing with micronutrients, enriching the foods people eat regularly with the vitamins and minerals their diets may lack can help alleviate the problem.
Matched to local needs and tastes
Rice is actually a difficult food to fortify while still preserving the nutritional integrity of the fortified grains during transport, storage, rinsing, and cooking. PATH developed an innovative fortification technology called Ultra Rice® that ensures rice kernels retain their extra nutrients through the production and preparation process.
The grains produced using Ultra Rice® technology are made with rice flour and micronutrients—including iron, zinc, vitamin A, folic acid, thiamine, and other B vitamins—that can be tailored to match local dietary needs.
This mixture is extruded through pasta-making equipment and formed into the shape of rice grains. When these grains are blended with traditional rice—typically at a ratio of 1 to 100—the result is fortified rice that is nearly identical to unfortified rice in aroma, taste, and texture. You can learn more about the fortification process in this short video on our Brazilian partner’s YouTube channel.
Fortified rice improves nutrition without requiring that people change their purchasing or cooking habits and without using genetically modified substances. In fact, when blended with traditional rice and prepared as usual, grains fortified with PATH’s Ultra Rice® technology look so much like unfortified rice, it’s hard to tell the difference.
Making fortified rice available
Micronutrient deficiencies affect people of all backgrounds and incomes, including those whose diets are high in calories. For decades, food fortification has been public health policy in a number of countries, including the United States.
PATH is helping to speed the introduction of Ultra Rice in partner countries. We have developed technical standards for fortifying rice and played an instrumental role in the installation of fortification blending equipment, the development of quality control assessment kits, and the integration of fortified rice into public and private distribution systems. To expand availability to local rice mills, we have also developed blending devices and quality validation systems to ensure that rice is of consistently high quality.
An effective solution
Fortified rice has proven effective in pilot programs and operations research studies in communities with varying cultural practices and nutritional needs. Our peer-reviewed research has found:
- Schoolchildren in India between the ages of 5 and 12 years who ate fortified rice had a significant increase in iron stores.
- Women in Mexico who ate fortified rice saw the prevalence of anemia decrease by 80 percent. A control group that didn’t eat fortified rice saw no drop in anemia.
- Cambodian schoolchildren had significant improvements in vitamin A status and scored higher on cognitive tests after six months of regularly eating fortified rice.
Meeting needs now and in the future
Guided by our study results, the US government approved the inclusion of fortified rice in US food aid programs. In addition, the World Food Programme prioritizes the use of fortified rice within their school feeding programs.
Today, we’re dedicated to expanding this base of evidence as we develop and expand markets and broaden the adoption of fortified rice globally
By ensuring widespread access to high-quality, affordable fortified rice, we’re working to bring health within reach for people around the world.
Ultra Rice is a registered trademark of Bon Dente International, Inc., in the United States.