Sugar: The Next Functional Food

Developing World

Given the frequency with which sugar is consumed by the majority of the world's population, it's no wonder it's beginning to find favour as a fortification medium, particularly in developing nations where vitamin and mineral deficiencies are more common and supplement use less pronounced than in the developed world.

Countries such as Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Zambia and Vietnam already fortify sugar on a wide scale and many governments stipulate it must be fortified with vitamin A.

India is the latest nation to signal its intent to join the growing ranks of sugar fortifiers. Its Maharasthra cooperative sugar mills are ready to launch a vitamin A-enhanced sugar after receiving the backing of the Indian division of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Final government approval for the plan is expected this year.

The United Nations agency UNICEF has estimated that child deaths in developing nations could be reduced by a third if children got enough vitamin A.

Maharasthra's sugar mills will be fitted out to enable them to add a vitamin A pre-mix to selected sugar products by next year. It is a relatively simple process ­ the application of a little low peroxide, low in unsaturated fat vegetable oil being enough to bind the sugar and vitamin A molecules together.

ILSI is also sponsoring a research project looking at fortifying salt with iron. Much of the salt produced in India is already fortified with iodine. "Incentives should be given to the food processors and people should be educated about the importance of fortification," an ILSI spokesperson said.

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