A glass of Milk has always been considered healthy. Over the ages, mothers have depended on milk to provide nourishment to their children. Milk has always been acknowledged as the complete food; providing energy from fats and carbohydrates, giving the required proteins for muscle building, and aiding in vital functions of the body with vitamins and minerals.
Milk is a natural carrier of fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A and D, and is a rich source of minerals, like calcium, potassium and magnesium. Although milk is able to retain most of its minerals, it loses some amount of vitamins during the supply chain and processing phase due to heat and light exposure.
During this processing the milk fat is adjusted, based on consumer preferences, to 1.5%, 3% and 4.5% vis-a-vis its original composition of 6-7% fat of whole milk. As a result of this, the vitamins also get reduced to a quarter or half of its original composition – as the vitamins are fat soluble. It’s specially observed that vitamin D comes down to almost negligible amounts or is not detectable in unfortified milk.
The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey data 2019, commissioned by the ministry of health and family welfare, shows that vitamin A deficiency is 18% among pre-school children, 22% among school-age children and 16% among adolescents; vitamin D deficiency is 14% among pre-school children, 18% among school-age children and 24% among adolescents.
This is where lies the importance of fortifying milk. Fortified milk, without altering the taste, colour, and flavour, is able to provide 11-15 % of the required RDA of vitamins D and A, on an average consumption of 200 ml in one glass of milk.
Today, 176 lakh litres of milk is getting fortified across 26 states of India, with cooperatives and private dairies fortifying their skimmed, toned, double toned and standardised milk. This constitutes 44 % of the total fortifiable milk in India. FSSAI is working on the standards for the full cream and cow milk fortification, which has the potential to add 220 lakh litres of fortified milk per day.
The infrastructure and mechanism to fortify milk has been laid out, and this can be enhanced to meet the requirements of the government in addressing vitamins A and D deficiency. Fortified milk can be easily recognised as all its packets carry a +F logo in blue for easy identification. The fortification is done as per the standards and specifications provided by FSSAI, which in turn, is monitored by a panel of eminent scientists from leading organisations of India like NIN-ICMR, AIIMS, NIFTEM, HBTI and CFTRI.
In today’s times of Covid-19, it’s important we also focus on developing immunity and prevent any kind of infection or illness due to any kind of virus. Both vitamins A and D have known functionalities to improve the immune system and fight against illness. It’s important that the right levels of vitamins are maintained in the body. A recently published study in Indonesia indicated the correlation between Covid-19 mortality and insufficiency of vitamin D. Vitamins A and D deficiency is a growing public health concern.
Fortification of milk with vitamins A and D can act as a complementary strategy in improving the deficiency levels of these vitamins in the population. The Government of India’s recent announcement to make milk fortification mandatory has the potential to directly benefit 450 million people across the country.
When served to young children in government schools, or in anganwadis, under the ICDS scheme, it has the potential to benefit children directly. NDDB’s gift milk scheme provides a glass of milk to 60,000 children across India. Many state governments have taken this noble initiative to provide a glass of milk to school children in the morning, in addition to the mid-day meal scheme provided by the central government.
Today, India is the world’s largest milk producer, and we cannot forget the contributions of Verghese Kurien in making India self-sufficient. This sufficiency of milk provides an opportunity to use fortified milk and add impetus to making India a nutrition-positive country for generations to come.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.