Helping to ensure adequate intake of essential B Vitamins

 

Everyone needs a small daily supply of thiamine and riboflavin to get energy from the food they eat and to help make red blood cells. While these nutrients are found naturally in many foods, some people may not get an adequate amount. Consequently, 65 countries add thiamine and riboflavin to at least one industrially milled cereal grain, according to the Food Fortification Initiative (FFI).

Thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2) are among eight B vitamins. The others are niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6, biotin (B7), folic acid (B9) and B12. These vitamins are naturally found in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, and leafy green vegetables.

Despite the food sources, getting enough of these B vitamins can be challenging for people who do not eat diversified diets. Some people may not have access to nutrient-rich foods, some may avoid eating animal products, some may not be able to afford a wide selection of foods, and others may prefer less nutritious foods.

In addition, people cannot store B vitamins. These vitamins are water soluble, which means any excess is eliminated in urine. As a result, people need to consume B vitamins every day.

Whole grains provide some B vitamins, but most nutrients are in the grains" outer layers, which are removed during milling. Fortification restores the vitamins or adds more nutrients as needed by consumers.

While all the B vitamins are essential for health, this article will focus on thiamine and riboflavin. Both nutrients are important for growth, development, and function of human cells.


Thiamine

"Thiamine deficiency can cause loss of weight and appetite, confusion, memory loss, muscle weakness, and heart problems. Severe thiamine deficiency leads to a disease called beriberi with the added symptoms of tingling and numbness in the feet and hands, loss of muscle, and poor reflexes," according to the US National Institutes of Health. People with alcoholism may also develop a thiamine deficiency condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which causes tingling, and numbness in the hands and feet, severe memory loss, disorientation, and confusion.

To fortify wheat flour, 6.4 parts thiamine per million parts flour will restore the thiamine that is in wheat naturally but removed in the milling process, according to FFI. Lena Kampehl of Mühlenchemie said thiamine mononitrate is the most commonly used form of thiamine for wheat flour fortification; 64 countries include thiamine in their standards for wheat flour fortification.

For maize flour fortification, the World Health Organization recommends 3.9 parts thiamine per million parts maize flour. The recommended compound is thiamine hydrochloride. Sixteen countries include thiamine in their standards for maize flour fortification.

For rice fortification, suggested nutrient levels range from 2.0 to 0.35 parts thiamine per million parts rice. The exact amount to use is determined by the population"s average rice consumption. The recommended compound is thiamine mononitrate. Seven countries include thiamine in their standards for rice fortification.


Riboflavin

Riboflavin deficiency can cause skin disorders, hair loss, sore throat, liver disorders, and problems with reproductive and nervous systems. Riboflavin deficiency can also lead to anaemia, which causes debilitating fatigue and contributes to maternal deaths.

To fortify wheat flour, 4.0 parts riboflavin per million parts flour will restore the riboflavin that is in wheat naturally but removed in the milling process. The compound used for fortification is simply called riboflavin; 62 countries include riboflavin in their standards for wheat flour fortification.

For maize flour fortification, the World Health Organization recommends 2.0 parts riboflavin per million parts flour. The recommended compound is riboflavin. Sixteen countries include riboflavin in their standards for maize flour fortification.

The bold yellow colour of riboflavin (pictured above) affects the colour of fortified rice, making rice that has been fortified with riboflavin unacceptable to consumers. Rice can be fortified with other nutrients including iron, folic acid, zinc, niacin, and vitamins A, B6, and B12, without any colour changes. With wheat flour fortification, the colour of riboflavin is addressed by ensuring homogenous distribution of the vitamins and minerals in the nutrient premix and by not using more than the recommended amounts.

Also, riboflavin is destroyed by exposure to sunlight. As a result, foods with riboflavin should be stored in opaque containers that do not allow the food to be exposed to light.


Multiplying return on investment

Flour and rice are most commonly fortified with iron to prevent iron deficiency anaemia and folic acid to reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Yet no single vitamin or mineral provides all the nutrition that people need. Fortifying flour and rice with several nutrients, including thiamine and riboflavin, multiplies the country"s return on the millers" investment, said Scott J. Montgomery, FFI Director.

Countries that have been fortifying flour and rice for years would likely benefit from reviewing their standards and the population"s nutritional needs to see if additional nutrients should be included. Such a review could also compare the levels in the standard with current recommendations. Countries that are not yet fortifying their industrially milled grains would benefit from considering multiple nutrients in the standard so that fortification maximises its potential health benefits.

For information how to promote, plan, implement, or monitor grain fortification programs, contact FFI at info@ffinetwork.org.


References

US National Institutes of Health. Thiamine Fact Sheets for Consumers. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Thiamin-Consumer/

Food Fortification Initiative. Plan for fortification – standards. http://www.ffinetwork.org/plan/standards.html

World Health Organization guideline. Fortification of maize flour and corn meal with vitamins and minerals. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/micronutrients/guidelines/maize-corn-fortification/en/

New York Academy of Sciences. Proposing nutrients and nutrient levels for rice fortification. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.12478

US National Institutes of Health. Riboflavin Fact Sheets for Consumers. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Riboflavin-Consumer/

While the ingredients of this sandwich would provide many B vitamins, consumers may not have a diversified diet for a number of reasons.

by the Food Fortification Initiative, Atlanta, USA

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