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Food fortification can be a game-changer in tackling malnutrition

Average read time: 3 minutes

Learn more about how we at Unilever are working towards addressing micronutrient malnutrition and making nutritious food accessible to all.

Food fortification can be a game-changer in tackling malnutrition

Do you know that one in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished?01 Out of the 800 million people suffering from hunger in the world, a staggering 204 million come from this region, the poorest on Earth.02

It’s not surprising that micronutrient deficiencies are disproportionately prevalent in poorer countries, but it isn’t only in Africa that malnutrition is rife: two billion people – an estimated one-third of the global population – have deficiencies that contribute to a variety of negative health outcomes, including stunted growth, poor maternal health, lowered resistance to disease, ageing, blindness, and general declines in productivity and potential.

Globally, deficiencies in iron, zinc, iodine and Vitamin A are the most common, and this represents a major threat to the health and development of populations worldwide, particularly children and pregnant women.03

Scientists have identified a number of different ways to remedy nutrient deficiencies. The most widespread, efficient and cost-effective method is fortification, where vitamins and minerals that don’t occur naturally in foods are added at the processing stage to increase their nutritional value.

Unilever and food fortification

We at Unilever are committed to addressing micronutrient malnutrition and making nutritious food accessible to all. To achieve this, we are continually working to improve the taste and nutritional quality of our products, and that includes fortifying foods: adding essential nutrients to affordable products that are consumed regularly by people who need them most.

We have identified Vitamin A, Vitamin D, iron, iodine and zinc as some of the most critical micronutrients, and accordingly we’ve committed to providing more than 200 billion servings with at least one of these five key micronutrients by 2022. To date, we’ve delivered over 125 billion servings towards this commitment.

What’s more, by 2025 we plan to double the number of products across our brand portfolio that can deliver positive nutritional value, namely foods containing impactful amounts of vegetables, fruit and proteins, and/or micronutrients such as zinc, iron, omega-3 and iodine.

One of our best-loved South African brands, Knorrox, has taken this a step further by fortifying its soy-based products in order to deliver top-quality nutrients to consumers. Knorrox soya mince products are now fortified with zinc, protein and fibre, making them the perfect ingredient for cooking delicious, meaty-tasting meals to nourish South African families and make a little go a long way.

Using Africa’s super foods to boost nutrients in staples

Scientists are exploring another highly innovative approach to addressing nutritional deficiencies. Recent research has shown that under-utilised plant species in Africa show huge potential for fortifying staple foods. These indigenous plants grow abundantly on the continent and are rich in nutrients, particularly micronutrients not present04 in widely consumed staple foods such as maize, rice and wheat.

Examples of under-utilised, nutrient-dense plants that could be used to curb malnutrition include grain amaranth, soybeans, cowpeas, sorghum, bambara groundnuts, plantains and pearl millet. Click here for more examples of African super-foods, and to read more detail about the potential benefits of fortifying staple foods with indigenous plants.

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