Tiny Nutrients, Big Effects


source: BBC UK

For the body to function properly, it needs not only enough calories, but protein, vitamins, and minerals as well. Sufficient nutrient intake is particularly important for children’s growth and development.


Protein is an essential building block in the body. A chronic absence in the diet leads to fatigue and loss of muscle mass and also affects the immune system, as the body is unable to produce enough antibodies. Protein deficiency also damages children’s physical and mental development.

Vitamin A

Insufficient vitamin A in the diet can cause blindness and weaken the immune system. In developing countries, those with vitamin A deficiency have increased risk of dying from common conditions such as diarrhoea, measles, and malaria.


Iron deficiency causes anaemia – a lack of red blood cells – that makes people feel tired and lethargic. Pregnant women with severe or untreated anaemia have a higher risk of complications before and after birth.


Iodine is needed to keep the thyroid gland working. The thyroid gland regulates all the hormones in the body, so low iodine can disrupt normal hormone function. In children, low levels of iodine can lead to poor brain development. Research has shown that even mild iodine deficiency negatively affects IQ. Severe deficiencies can cause mental retardation and congenital abnormalities.

Improving Nutrients Scientifically

Chronic malnourishment is a complex, global issue that has severe consequences for the health of those affected. Scientists are looking at a range of approaches to help super-charge food with better nutrients.

Fortified Foods

Adding micronutrients to staple foods such as sugar and cereal during processing has been a key way to improve the nutrition of large populations. However, it can be difficult for very poor communities to gain access to these foods.

Scientists are now developing bio-fortified foods such as Golden Rice, which has been genetically engineered to contain vitamin A. Golden Rice can improve the vitamin A intake of populations who rely on rice as a staple food.


Insects are an incredibly good source of animal protein, fat, vitamin, fibre, and mineral content. It is estimated that insects already form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people, especially in places like Thailand, which has 20,000 insect farms. New ways to cultivate and process insects for human consumption could see insects replace birds and mammals as sources of dietary protein.

Synthetic Meat

As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for meat, which requires enormous resources to cultivate. As an alternative to meat consumption, scientists have grown meat in a laboratory using stem cells extracted from a cow. Though early results have produced small yields that lack in flavour, the potential to synthetically cultivate meat protein from a tiny biopsy could be a scalable solution to ever-stretched resources.