Food is a necessity for all living beings. However, in higher-income countries, there is concern about overconsumption of high-fat, sugary, and salty foods that leads to a range of noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. In lower-income countries, the concern is more about lack of sufficient calories and nutrients for billions of people.

In this BBC Follow the Food feature, “How your diet can treat diseases,” journalist Idil Karsit explores the choice of foods we eat can help address and prevent health problems. Doctors and researchers are looking at food as a delivery mechanism for keeping people healthy and treating diseases. The feature identifies staple crop biofortification as a way to deliver much-needed nutrients through foods that lower-income people can readily afford and access.

Howarth Bouis, founding director of the CGIAR HarvestPlus program and 2016 laureate of the World Food Prize, started HarvestPlus to help eradicate hidden hunger. “Efforts have to be made [to diversify diets].…But if you only work on dietary diversity, it’s going to take decades and decades because basically, you have got to raise people’s incomes so they can afford diverse diets,” Bouis explains.

He explains in the feature how biofortification is a breeding process to increase the levels of  necessary vitamins and minerals into crops to strengthen their nutritional value, particularly for smallholder farming households who mostly eat what they grow themselves.  

“The idea I had was, if people are eating these large amounts of food staples day in and day out, let’s try to load more of what they need into those staples,” said Bouis. “Let’s get agriculture to provide minerals and vitamins that people need. Let’s close that gap in the food supply.”

So far, HarvestPlus has reached an estimated 10 million farming households in 30 countries. From rice to wheat to maize, there are now about 290 varieties of 12 biofortified crops which are providing essential vitamin A, iron or zinc.

You can learn more about our work and the work of others on how we use food to nourish people and fight diseases in this BBC digital feature: