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All About Enriched and Fortified Foods

It seems almost all of our processed food today is either enriched or fortified. Does this always mean that the food is healthy or health food.

It seems everything we buy and eat is either enriched and or fortified. There is a difference between enriched and fortified foods and does this always mean these foods are healthy.

Enriched Foods

Enriched means that the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that were lost during the refining process were put back in the food.

Refined white flour products are a good example. The vitamins and nutrients were taken out during the milling process and then put back in enriching the product.

Refined wheat products lose their vitamin B when refined. When you see made with enriched wheat flour on the label; that means that the vitamin B and other vitamins were put back into the wheat product.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all or 100% of the vitamins and minerals that were taken out during the refining process were put back in. It might only be 10% the amount of original naturally occurring vitamins that are put back into the food, enriched back in.

Fortified Foods and Drinks

Fortified foods or drinks have vitamins and minerals added to it, that the food or drink either had little of or none of naturally before a refining process.

In other words a food that had very little or no vitamin C (or other vitamins and minerals) in its natural form but does after it is processed is a fortified food or drink.

For example, milk is fortified with vitamin D. Milk naturally has very little vitamin D in it, so the added vitamin D means it is fortified. Orange juice is fortified with calcium because oranges naturally have little calcium. Many fortified cereals have as much as a 100% daily value of vitamins added to them.

In many cases, these vitamins and minerals that are sprayed onto the processed fortified foods are not very high quality vitamins and minerals either.

Health Benefits of Fortified Foods

The reason that milk is fortified with vitamin D started during the 1930s in the US. Rickets was a problem at that time and vitamin D was added to milk to keep children from getting rickets. Since vitamin D needs calcium to be absorbed, milk was the perfect choice. During the 1940s, this fortified milk reduced the rate of rickets in children by 85% [1].

Wheat products are fortified with folic acid and have reduced the incidence of birth defects. This is mandatory in some countries including Canada and the US.

Enriched or Fortified Does Not Always Mean Healthy

Many foods today are using the word fortified or enriched on their labels and in ads hoping consumers will think that these foods are health foods. Cereals are a good example of this, using the term fortified with 25% to as high as 100% of the daily recommended value of certain vitamins. Yet that same cereal might still be high in sugar or sodium.

Enriched bread or pasta might sound healthy, but with these refined wheat foods, you lose the natural dietary fiber that is so healthy for us.

Foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids are becoming common. Some not-so-good examples include refined white bread, margarine, cookies, ice cream and artificially flavored and sugary children’s drinks.

Healthy Claims on the Label

This is one area of concern with both the FDA and Health Canada. Junk food labels might boldly and legally make healthy claims when all they are is still junk food and processed foods with added vitamins and nutrients. You still have to read the ingredients label and decide.

According to laws of certain countries like Canada and the US, a food or beverage label can contain the phrases like “High Potency” or “A good source” of a certain vitamin or nutrient if that food or beverage meets certain requirements. In the US, a label can say “High Potency” only if the claim of the high potency mineral or vitamin is 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) [2].

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) law states that a food or beverage can claim “A High Source” of a vitamin or mineral only if the food contains at 20% of that certain vitamin or mineral [3].

For a label to have the phrase “A Good Source of” a certain vitamin or mineral, that food or beverage has to have between 10% and 19% of the Daily Value (DV) or RDI of that nutrient [3].

In Canada, the law states that the label can say “A Good Source of” a certain vitamin or mineral only if the food or beverage contains at least 10% of the Daily Value of that vitamin or mineral [4].

Are We Over Fortified

The fortified food industry seems to have found more and more ways to fortify our foods and drinks, from pasta with calcium to ice cream with omega-3.

We have all kinds of processed foods and beverages of all kinds fortified with vitamins and minerals. For example, throughout the day, you eat a bowl of Total cereal for breakfast with its claim of 100% of the daily value of numerous vitamins and minerals, take a multi-vitamin and drink several bottles of vitamin water or other fortified drinks. For dinner you have some fortified processed meal or you might even have a healthy meal with naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. Are you over-fortified?

According to the labels, you would have had much more than the daily value of many vitamins and minerals. Is this bad? Too much vitamin A is bad, too much vitamin D can be bad and for many people all this extra iron is not healthy either.

When Fortified Foods are Needed

In many countries where malnutrition is a problem, fortified foods are very helpful to the health of these people. Sometimes when there is famine, drought, war or political turmoil the food supply can be limited. In many cases these fortified foods are the only way some can get the needed vitamins and minerals for survival.

The Philippines and other countries the government has mandated that certain foods be fortified. In the Philippines rice is fortified with iron, refined sugar and cooking oil has to be fortified with vitamin A [5].

Fortified food in many countries including the US has helped stave off many diseases and dietary deficiencies.

Enriched and Fortified Foods in the US

The problem in the US, Canada or Europe is not so much enriched and fortified foods, it is the over abundance of fortified junk and processed food which can actually lead to many people lacking certain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Conclusion

Never be fooled by bold health claims on the label and always read the ingredients to make sure you are not getting too many unhealthy additives. Whole foods are always the best sources of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Copyright © January 2011 Sam Montana

Resources

[1] University of California, Riverside

[2] FDA Food Labeling Law Guidance

[3] FDA Food Labeling Law Chapter VI Claims

[4] Canada Labeling Law – Health Canada

[5] Philippine Food Fortification Act

Photo credits:

Bowl of Total cereal by Mary Thompson/flickr

Vitamin water by Stu Dio/flickr

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Comments (9)

Nice, informative presentation.

Thank you James.

excellent sam

Eating a variety of foods close to their naturally occurring state is still the healthiest for nutrients and avoiding weight gain.

Ice cream with omega-3. That sounds "yummy." Reminds me of something like salmon-flavored rocky road.

Tell me why food needs to be fortified in the first place. Isn't what is natural good enough? I mean organic stuff grown without fertilizers and chemicals.

A MUST read for everyone.

Thanks Sam. I was never quite sure of what the difference was between those two, now I know.

These are juicy stuffs, Sam. Thanks :)

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