Even after 75 years of independence, malnutrition is still a major problem for the majority of the population of India. And the main reason for malnutrition is poverty. A large chunk of the Indian population is poor and cannot afford vitamin and mineral-rich food or supplements. Despite the availability of cheap iron-rich food sources, India has one of the largest populations reeling under iron deficiency. The Indian Government now wants to start a new scheme of fortifying rice with iron to lower the iron deficiency by some margin.
Fortified rice has been used to curb malnutrition in some countries of west Africa. Fortification of rice also has shown positive trends in reduction of anemia and other mineral-deficiency diseases. However, nowhere fortification of rice has been made mandatory. India hopes not only to start producing large-scale fortified rice but also to mandate it in the next 2 years. Iron, zinc, vitamin A, B vitamins are expected to be added to rice on fortification. Previously fortification has been allowed but not mandated in salt, wheat, edible oil, and milk.
However, fortified rice does not remain the ultimate solution to solve the malnutrition problem. Brown rice or hand-pounded rice is itself a rich source of iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B complex. There is no need to fortify regular rice, which is available cheaply in the markets. Fortification would most likely be a marketing strategy for marketing giants and will likely shoot up the price. Unfortunately, most premium rice varieties available in the Indian markets are white rice, mostly devoid of nutrition. It is not a bad idea to add a few vitamins and minerals to white rice. That being said, there is little evidence that artificially added vitamins and minerals are actually absorbed in our bloodstream and do not interfere with essential nutrients. Other home practices, such as hand pounding, cold pressing, and jaggery-making, can promote home industry and thus reduce poverty and hence malnutrition in our country.
It is always the best practice to process food so that most of its essential nutrients are retained in the food. For example, edible oil cold-pressed in a ghani, with traces of vitamins and minerals, works way better than refined oils, fortified with vitamins A, D, C, and what-not. Making jaggery is still practiced and honoured in rural India not just for taste and flavour, but for its immense health benefits. Jaggery contains a high amount of iron and other minerals, and thus is an excellent substitute for refined sugar. Substituting maida with atta brings a lot of micro and macro-nutrients to our diet. Exploring less used grains, like barley, jowar, bajra, ragi, cornmeal, and oils like sesame oil, mustard oil, groundnut oil can add to a variety of flavours and health at the same time, which the world cuisine is looking for.
Written by – Himadri Paul