Nutrition
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  • A woman selecting chard seedlings for planting©FAO/Walter Astrada
  • A man holding two large papayas©FAO/Olivier Asselin
  • Dried corn cobs©FAO/Raphy Favre

Micronutrients

Monotonous mainly staple diets that are high in calories but low in micronutrients and other essential dietary elements including fats and proteins, are not sufficient for a healthy and productive life. Micronutrients, namely vitamins and minerals found in natural, processed and fortified foods, are essential for normal growth and development. Food must therefore be adequate, not only in quantity, but also in quality in terms of variety, diversity, nutrient content and safety of foods. 

People of all population groups in all regions of the world are affected by micronutrient deficiencies with about two billion people today deficient in one or more micronutrient. However, the most widespread and severe forms of micronutrient malnutrition are usually found in developing countries among poor subsistence farmers, especially in children, pregnant women and the sick who are more vulnerable given their peculiar nutritional requirements.

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Globally, the three micronutrient deficiencies of greatest public health significance are vitamin A, iron and iodine. Vitamin A deficiency, most common in young children, can lead to blindness and death. Iron deficiency, affecting mostly children and women of childbearing age, leads to anaemia which is significantly correlated to maternal and neonatal deaths. Iodine deficiency disorder is the most common cause of preventable mental retardation and, in its severe form, it can lead to cretinism, stillbirth and birth defects.

By supporting a people-centered food-based approach to improve nutrition, FAO aims to address micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries by increasing the availability to, and the access and consumption of an adequate and varied diet. This multi-sector approach includes promoting the production of micronutrient-rich foods, dietary diversification, improved processing, preservation and preparation techniques, consumer education and, where appropriate, food fortification, which together are considered to be sustainable, long term and cost-effective solutions for combating micronutrient malnutrition.

The negative effects of prolonged underinvestment in nutrition, food and agriculture, climate change, the recent food price crisis and the economic downturn are among the challenges to be urgently addressed in order to improve nutrition. FAO, in accordance with governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donors, is committed to placing nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food-based strategies for combating micronutrient malnutrition high on the development policy agenda.

 



Watch how home vegetable gardens can contribute to improve nutrition