The Need to Improve Micronutrient Intakes in Developing Countries

Micronutrient deficiency is a consequence of a lack of variety in the diet. This condition is aggravated in developing countries, where the diets consist primarily of low-cost starchy foods. Table 1 shows the micronutrient density of wheat, wheat flour, maize-meal, corn-masa flour, and rice. In all cases, the cereal-based derivatives are good sources of energy, but are very poor in most micronutrients, in particular zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamins associated with foods of animal origin, such as vitamins A, B2, and B12. These products are also poor in folate and vitamin C. Extraction of flour from cereal grains increases the energy density by two times in the case of corn, and by three times in the case of wheat (Table 1), but reduces the original micronutrient content of the grain by 30-85%. Table 1 illustrates that white wheat flour (extraction rate lower than 80%) is not a good source of any micro-nutrient, whereas rice and, especially, corn derivatives maintain satisfactory quantities of vitamin B6 and niacin. Corn sub products also retain some zinc, and adequate amounts of vitamin B1. Iron content is also higher, but the presence of strong iron-absorption inhibitors, especially in corn-masa flour, makes corn derivatives poor sources of this nutrient. Processing of the corn grains with lime (calcium oxide) to produce masa-flour increases the content of zinc, calcium, and niacin. Nevertheless, considering that 50% or more of energy is satisfied through the consumption of these foods in poor populations of developing countries, it is easy to explain why they are at very high risk of suffering the consequences of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Table 2 illustrates that, in general, diets in developing countries are not only poor in energy (less than 77% adequacy) but also in zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin B2. Adequacies of these micronutrients are from 35% to 70% of the estimated average requirement (EAR). Vitamin B1, niacin, and vitamin C have better adequacies, although these are still unsatisfactory, being in the order of 70-100% of the EAR. Iodine deficiency, as in most human societies in the world, is

Table 1 Micronutrient density of main energy sources in developing countries (per 100 g of product)

Nutrient EAR* Wheat White wheat flour Maize-meal Corn-masa flour Rice

Table 1 Micronutrient density of main energy sources in developing countries (per 100 g of product)

Nutrient EAR* Wheat White wheat flour Maize-meal Corn-masa flour Rice

Energy (kcal)

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