Making rice healthier
Two billion people suffer from what is known as “hidden hunger,” or micronutrient malnutrition. They get enough macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) from their diet, but not enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are essential to good health.
Hidden hunger can result in more frequent and severe illness and complications during pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, and childhood.
Many people in Asia rely heavily on rice for most or their entire calorie needs because they cannot afford or do not have access to a full range of nutritious food such as fruits, vegetables, and foods from animal sources (e.g., meat, dairy products, and eggs). As a result, lack of iron, zinc, and vitamin A has become prevalent micronutrient deficiencies in rice-consuming countries. The cost of these deficiencies in terms of lives and quality of life lost is enormous, and women and children are most at risk.
Because rice is the dominant cereal crop in most Asian countries and is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population (including many of those living in poverty), even a small increase in the micronutrient content of rice grains could have a significant impact on human health.
Healthier rice varieties have the potential to reach many people because rice is already widely grown and eaten. IRRI is developing rice varieties that have more iron, zinc, and beta carotene content to help people get more of these important micronutrients. These healthier rice varieties can complement current strategies to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.
According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world, and a leading cause of anemia. IRRI is developing high-iron rice as a novel, food-based approach to complement current interventions that aim to alleviate iron deficiencies.
Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta carotene - a source of vitamin A. IRRI and its partners are developing Golden Rice as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status.
Zinc is essential for survival, and zinc deficiency has serious consequences for health, particularly in children. IRRI is supporting the work of its partners in developing rice with higher levels of zinc.
To help ensure that rice can contribute to the healthy diets of rice consumers worldwide, aside from developing healthier rice varieties, IRRI has studied the glycemic index of rice and also responds to concerns about contamination in rice.