Healthier rice including Golden Rice are good complementary sources of nutrition.
Dr. Marissa Romero, food scientist based in the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice), said rice comprises almost 40% of the Filipino daily diet.
With the prominence of rice in the Filipino diet, its potential role in improving nutrition and health is a dynamic area of research at DA-PhilRice as part of its mandate to develop safe and nutritious rice for all Filipinos. Under the Healthier Rice Project, DA-PhilRice is developing rice varieties including Golden Rice to provide better access to good nutrition.
Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. It can provide 30-50% of the estimated average requirement for Vitamin A among young children and pregnant or lactating mothers, contributing to the nutritional needs of the first 1000 days of life.
“The first 1000 days are viewed as the building blocks of a healthy and productive life. Not getting enough nutrition at this stage will have lasting effects on future productivity and quality of life,” Romero said.
According to the National Nutrition Council (NNC), “the first 1000 Days is said to be the “golden window of opportunity” for a comprehensive package of nutrition and related interventions to achieve significant reduction in under and overnutrition while contributing to optimal child development.” Recognizing the importance of nutrition at this critical stage, NNC has elected to focus its advocacy efforts for this year’s National Nutrition Month on the theme, “Malnutrisyon patuloy na labanan, First 1000 days tutukan!”
In the Philippines, studies show that the nutritional status of children under 5 has improved over the years, but at a pace too slow to meet development goals at the national and international level. Data from the 2019 expanded national nutrition survey of the DOST-FNRI show that 3 out of 10 children are stunted or too small for their age, while 2 out of 10 are underweight. One out of 10 also suffers from anemia.
Data further show that micronutrient deficiencies are higher among children diagnosed with Vitamin A deficiency, mostly belonging in poor households.
Eating diverse and properly portioned meals like the recommended Pinggang Pinoy can provide the energy and nutrients needed to maintain a strong and healthy body.
However, Romero noted that the cost of a nutritious meal may be too expensive for many Filipino households. In 2019, 6 out of 10 households reported experiencing food insecurity, and numbers are expected to rise following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most Filipino households spend almost a third of daily food cost on rice, and rely on this staple as a major source of energy requirements. Because rice is widely grown and eaten, improving its nutrient content can be an effective means of delivering much needed nutrients,” the food scientist stressed.
With its potential to provide a significant amount of vitamin A in the diet, Golden Rice can be an effective complementary approach to improve the nutrition of the demographic groups at risk of vitamin A deficiency, mostly children aged 6 months to 5 years, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers.
Already assessed to be as safe as ordinary rice, with the added benefit of beta-carotene in its grains by regulators in five countries, including the Philippines, Golden Rice is just awaiting the result of the biosafety permit application for its commercial propagation.
Once all biosafety regulatory requirements have been completed, DA-PhilRice in partnership with appropriate agencies will be deploying Golden Rice through market-based and programmatic approaches (e.g., feeding program) in areas with high rates of malnutrition, especially vitamin A deficiency.
Golden rice is only one of the products under the Healthier Rice Project of DA-PhilRice. Other products in the pipeline include high iron and high zinc rice. Also in the works is a 3-in-1 rice that contains essential micronutrients, such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron.