Fortified foods are foods or food products to which extra nutrients have been added. The idea behind food fortification is to prevent large-scale nutritional deficiency at a global level by the addition of micro nutrients to staples and condiments.
Enriched And Fortified Foods
‘Food Fortification’ is different from foods being ‘Enriched’. When foods are refined or processed, they lose some of their nutrients. Replacing lost nutrients is called ‘enriching food’ and foods are known as ‘enriched foods’.
Whereas adding nutrients that are not naturally present in certain food items is called fortification. Fortified foods, on the other hand, have vitamins and nutrients put into them that were not found naturally in that product or were present in very low amounts.1
List Of Fortified Foods And Their Benefits
As outlined by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) of the United Nations, the most common fortified foods are:2
1. Grain Products Fortified With Folic Acid
Cereals, breads, and pastas are often fortified with B vitamin and iron. Folic acid is a B vitamin found in foods like leafy green vegetables, beans and orange juice. When you are not getting enough of these nutrients, you can feel sluggish – mentally and physically.
Benefit: Fortification can boost your daily intake and potentially reverse these deficiency symptoms. Folic acid is an essential vitamin for preventing neural tube birth defects (NTDs).
2. Milk Fortified With Vitamin D
Milk is high in calcium, protein, fat and it has moderate amount of carbohydrates. It is often fortified with vitamins A and D.
Benefit: Milk fortified with Vitamin D helps in effective calcium absorption by the body. This supports development of strong bones, normal muscle function and boosting your immune shield.
3. Eggs Fortified With Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish is considered to be one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. So people who cannot include fish in their diet can find themselves deficient in this critical nutrient.
Benefit: Eggs fortified with Omega 3 help improve brain function and lower risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease.
4. Cereals Fortified With Vitamin B
Cereals are also commonly fortified with B vitamins.
Benefit: This addition can lower your risk of stroke, vascular disease and dementia as you age.
5. Salt Fortified With Iodine
Salt is high in sodium and is used in many different foods to add flavour. It is fortified with iodine.
Benefit: ‘Iodized salt’ benefits healthy thyroid function and prevents goiter.
Limitations Of Fortified Foods
It is generally recognized that food fortification can have an enormous positive impact on public health. However, there are some limitations to this strategy:3
1. Nutrient Toxicities
All food ingredients must be safe at the level of use and for the intended use. Fortification of nutrients in foods may deliver toxic amounts of nutrients to an individual and also cause associated side effects.
2. Natural Synergy Of Nutrients Is Lost
Currently, not enough evidence exists to say whether fortified foods can replace foods naturally containing necessary vitamins and minerals.
For example, the presence of large amounts of calcium can inhibit the absorption of iron from a fortified food; while the presence of vitamin C has the opposite effect and increases the iron absorption. In other words, eating cereals containing multiple vitamins does not equate to eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, or lean meats.
3. Adversely Affects Organoleptic Qualities Of Food
Fortifying foods can adversely affect the organoleptic qualities (such as taste, color, odor, and feel) of the food and the stability of the nutrients.
4. Nutrients In Fortified Foods May Not Be Absorbed By The Body
Natural foods contain many nutrients that the body can easily recognize, absorb and digest because they are in their natural state. The nutrients added in fortified foods are not recognized and absorbed by the body in the same way as the natural nutrients.
For example – Iron might be added to your food, but in some forms it is insoluble and the body will flush it out without getting any benefit from it.
5. Overdose Of Nutrients
There are certain populations, especially young children, at risk of getting too much of certain nutrients due to fortification.
According to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report, many cereals and snack bars are fortified at levels too high for young children, which could be detrimental to their health.4
So Should You Or Should You Not?
Given the unique advantage that food fortification offers a strategy to prevent micro nutrient malnutrition, fortification of food is being encouraged by many organizations and maybe some extra fortification is not a bad thing.
However the key lies in using fortified foods wisely and strategically, to fill the real gaps in the diet. Also, not all foods on the market today that are claimed to be fortified foods are supported by enough evidence to merit such claims. Hence it is important for consumers to be aware and informed.
The best option however, is to consume meals that include a wide variety of foods. A balanced diet based on whole, unprocessed foods from a variety of sources should be the best preference for everyone to meet their nutritional needs.