Mandana Arabi, MD, PhD
Vice-President of Global Technical Services and Chief Technical Advisor, Nutrition International
A quick and easy breakfast isn’t enough to keep healthy. We need something we don’t usually think of every day: micronutrients.
A pastry and a latte aren’t the same as having a breakfast with fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. In North America, most of us take for granted those vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients, when we’re eating because we only need them in small doses. Plus, we generally have enough variety in our foods to get them. We may “see” hunger — or not having enough food — but what we really need to pay attention to is malnutrition. It’s a “hidden hunger” — harder to see because it’s caused by a lack of micronutrients which increase our ability to fight diseases and recover more quickly from illnesses.
Good nutrition is critical, especially during a pandemic like COVID-19. Experience from other outbreaks has shown that malnourished people are at greater risk of getting sick, staying sick longer, and experiencing more negative consequences. COVID-19 has made it difficult for people around the world to grow, buy, and feed their families with nutritious ingredients.
Good nutrition for everyone
I am particularly worried for women and their children in countries with lower incomes. Prior to the crisis, one billion women and children were malnourished. And in many of these countries, they eat last and least. COVID-19 is deepening the health risks they face. We need to support them so that malnutrition doesn’t increase.
A proven way to make sure lots of people get these micronutrients is through food fortification. On their packing, you might have noticed that your eggs, milk, and bread have already been fortified with essential micronutrients like vitamins A, B12 or D. In countries with lower incomes, staple foods like flour and oil are often fortified with micronutrients as well (but sometimes not high enough to meet the specific needs of their consumers).
During a pandemic, mandatory food fortification becomes even more important due to its ability to improve the health of huge amounts of people without direct contact. Fortified foods help level the playing field so that everyone can get the nutrients they need to survive, thrive, and fight off disease. So, the next time you reach for a quick breakfast, pause for a moment, and think about what you don’t see: the micronutrients that our bodies need. On any given day this is true. But especially in the face of COVID-19, nutrition can’t wait.