Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

International and Public Health Nutrition Group Symposium on ‘Achieving a balanced diet in the developing world: strategies to meet micronutrient needs’

Food-based strategies to meet the challenges of micronutrient malnutrition in the developing world

Kraisid Tontisirina1, Guy Nantela1 c1 and Lalita Bhattacharjeea1

a1 Food and Nutrition Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO-ESNA, C-244 Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy

Abstract

The purpose of the present paper is to review the evidence in favour of food-based strategies to meet the challenges of micronutrient malnutrition in the developing world. Increasing dietary diversification is the most important factor in providing a wide range of micronutrients, and to achieve this objective in a development context requires an adequate supply, access and consumption of a variety of foods. Diets in developing countries generally lack many nutrients, including energy (inadequate amounts of food), so that strategies need to also emphasize an increase in total food intake, in addition to a greater variety. Agricultural and food policies tend to be oriented to primary agricultural productions, but they could also be formulated to promote and support home gardens and small livestock production for the explicit purpose of increasing the household consumption of micronutrient-rich foods. The adoption of ‘desirable’ dietary patterns for nutrition improvement, e.g. appropriately formulated to meet micronutrient needs, could be used in the formulation of agricultural policies and programmes. This process could be achieved through support for integrated farming systems oriented to assuring household food security, but also based on a variety of foods that will meet total dietary (including micronutrient) needs. Thus, availability of energy-rich staples, animal and/or fish as major sources of protein, and vitamin-, mineral- and phytonutrient-rich fruit and vegetables could constitute the types of production envisaged. The cultivation of edible indigenous plants as additional sources of micronutrients could also be added. The low bioavailability of some key micronutrients from foods, such as Fe, are substantially enhanced with the right food combinations and with appropriate food processing and preparation techniques. Simple appropriate technology for the preservation of micronutrientrich foods would need further development and promotion for their year-round availability. Linking community development policies to national programmes for the alleviation of hunger and malnutrition, with an emphasis on increasing the variety of foods consumed, is probably the best strategy for improving micronutrient malnutrition sustainably.

Correspondence:

c1 Dr Guy Nantel, fax +39 06 5705 4593, email Guy.Nantel@fao.org

Footnotes

† Consultant.