Food Fortification: How Much Is Too Much?

by in Food News, Nutrients to Know, October 11, 2011
cereal and milk

Most health conscious folks are looking for foods full of vitamins and minerals, but some products tout good stuff that doesn’t exist there naturally. Is pumping foods with extra nutrients just as good? We’ll give you the facts.

What is Fortification?
Fortifying or “enriching” foods is the process of adding supplemental vitamins and/or minerals. Since the amount added can vary, read labels carefully. To see if a food has been fortified check the ingredient list, any nutrients listed as ingredients were added in.

What Foods Are Fortified?
In recent years, large-scale public health initiatives have called for the fortification of certain foods to help when a population is at risk for a specific nutrient deficiency. Folic acid is added to grains and cereals to prevent a particular kind of birth defect, while iodine is added to table salt to prevent iodine deficiency.

Foods are also fortified to help those with allergies meet their nutritional needs. Products like calcium-fortified orange juice and soymilk are great ways for those with lactose intolerance to take in more calcium and vitamin D.

Foods are sometimes fortified to appear healthier than they really are. Healthy imposters like packets of Splenda with added fiber, antioxidants and B-vitamins, or Subway breads with boosts of calcium and vitamin D are sprouting up everywhere. Labels on “Who Nu” cookies boast that their products have “as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal, as much vitamin C as a cup of blueberries”, and “as much vitamin A as an  8-ounce glass of tomato juice.” But does that make these sugary treats “healthy? If you look at the ingredients you’ll also find a long list of preservatives including added sweeteners and trans fats.

Be on the Lookout
Fortified foods can be put to good use in a healthy diet but should never be a replacement for the real thing. It seems a little excessive to be looking for nutrients in packets of artificial sweeteners and crushed up multi-vitamins in cookies and sandwich-shop breads. While it may be true that some folks need more vitamins and minerals, eating a diet loaded with fortified foods can lead to dangerous side effects since many vitamins and minerals can be toxic in large doses.

Bottom Line: Some fortified foods serve an important purpose; others are more for clever marketing than better health. Seek out genuine sources most of the time to give your body what it needs.

Tell Us: Do you buy fortified foods?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

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