Advent of synthetic chemistry has led to the founding of a roaring business involving vitamins, minerals, biologically active nutrients and others. Modern industrial society is relying heavily on processed foods which are often fortified with many micro and macro nutrients. Food technology strives to protect foods from the ravages of vectors and extent the supply during all seasons besides providing variety and convenient foods to the the consumers of today. But in that process many natural foods lose part of their nutrient content and depletes its health value. Enrichment and fortification technologies attempt to compensate for such losses and some time making them more nutritive than their unprocessed counterparts.
According FAO-WHO Codex Alimetarius Commission definition, fortification is" the addition of one or more essential nutrients to a food, whether or not it is normally contained in the food for the purpose of preventing or correcting a demonstrated deficiency in the population or specific population groups". Global concern about chronic deficiency of some vitamins, iodine and iron has given an impetus to fortification efforts in many countries to protect their populations. Commonly it is understood that the term 'enrichment' refers to restoration of nutrients lost during processing while fortification involves addition of nutrient to a food which does not contain the particular nutrient in its original form. Industry resorts to nutrient addition as a part of the process to maintain uniformity in the final product. Most cases of fortification pertain to vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and proteins.
Nutrient supplementation of food finds mention since 400 BC when the Persian physician Melanpus advocated addition of iron filings to wines to increase the potency of soldiers to fight wars. In 1813 addition of iodine to salt was suggested in France. Ever since then, products like margarine (Vit A & D ), Milk ( Vit D), flours ( Vit B1, B2, Niacin and iron) are routinely enriched in many countries. To day a wide range of processed foods come, enriched or fortified with many nutrients as permitted by the food laws that exist in each country. These include iodine in salt, vit A & D in milk and margarine, Vit A in sugar, MSG and tea, iron in infant formulas and cookies, calcium in soy milk and orange juice, omega-3 acids in orange juice, vitamins and minerals in RTE cereals, diet beverages, enteral and parenteral solutions.
Three issues which create some concern amongst the consumers are the bioavailability of nutrients incorporated in the food, their stability during processing, storage and cooking at home and the level of addition of the nutrients. Vitamin C is not stable at pH levels above or below 7 while it is susceptible to air and oxygen besides resulting in 100% loss during cooking. Similarly folic acid is stable only above pH 7, unstable in presence of air and oxygen, heat labile losing 100% during cooking. Vitamin A is unstable at acidic conditions and cooking losses can be as high as 40%. Niacin is lost to the extent of 75% during cooking while Vit B12 is fairly stable with cooking losses being less than 10%. Minerals are generally stable during processing as well as cooking though ferrous compounds can be oxidized to ferric forms in presence of air and oxygen. In India, except for iodine fortification of salt no organized efforts are visible to incorporate nutrients in processed foods though some proprietary products are marketed containing many nutrients.
With a wide range of products fortified with vitamins and minerals, some stray reports highlight over consumption of some of these nutrients which benefits only the pharma industry manufacturing them. There are also apprehensions that some of the vitamins and minerals, when consumed at high levels can pose danger to consumer health. Some of the risks include nerve damage (pyridoxine, folic acid), kidney disorders ( Vit C, Calcium and magnesium), liver problems (Vit A ), heart problems (Vit D, magnesium), cancer (iron) and osteoporosis (Vit D and phosphate). While water soluble vitamins, when ingested in excess get flushed out limiting the risks of over dosing, fat soluble vitamins get concentrated in the body when consumed in excess posing some real danger. However overdosing through food route may not be wide spread though from the economic point of view they are considered sheer waste.
A national policy must be evolved on fortification of foods centered around the health and nutrition status of the population. Nutrients like iodine, iron , calcium and phosphorus, vitamins A,D and E, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids are some of the relevant ones deserving attention and food processing industry must take the lead to produce foods fortified with them. Restoring the nutrients lost during processing should also be made mandatory. Fortification as a general policy needs to be based on calorie concentration in each food so that when a consumer takes 2000 kc he is assured of receiving what is needed only and avoid excess consumption.