Are You Eating Fortified Food? Find Out What it Means Here

April 18, 2016

Ever wonder how certain foods have close to 100% of the daily value of some vitamins and minerals? Is it naturally occurring?

Ever wonder how certain foods have close to 100% of the daily value of some vitamins and minerals? Is it naturally occurring? A variety of food products are fortified or enriched with vitamins and minerals. Historically, food fortification, such as iodized salt, folic acid in wheat, or vitamin D-fortified milk, served as a public health measure to address population-wide nutrient deficiencies. Today, there are also calcium and vitamin D fortified juices, breads fortified with omega-3s, and vegetable oil spreads with plant sterols.

What does fortification actually mean and what do you need to know? Read on to find out.

Fortified vs. Enriched:

Both terms mean that nutrients have been added to make the food more nutritious. Enriched means nutrients that were lost during food processing have been added back. An example is adding back certain vitamins lost in processing wheat to make white flour. Fortified means vitamins or minerals have been added to a food that weren't originally in the food. An example is adding vitamin D to milk. 

Globally, the decision to fortify products is left up to individual food manufacturers. Fifty countries including the United States, Canada, and Australia require mandatory fortification of certain staple foods with specific nutrients to improve public health, such as the fortification of enriched flour with folic acid (soon corn masa flour will also be fortified with folic acid) to reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects, and (on the other hand) restrict the fortification of foods with certain nutrients - such as vitamin D. 

Iodized salt. Salt producers are a key partner in combating Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) today throughout the world. Iodine is an essential element in healthy human life enabling the function of our thyroid gland. Too little iodine can produce a thyroid enlargement known as a goiter; more significantly, iodine deficiency impairs fetal brain development. Iodine can be difficult to get naturally but, when we eat seafood, sea vegetables, plants grown where soil contains iodine and the meat of animals whose forage grows in such soils, our bodies usually take in enough iodine. David Marine (1880-1976) is the “father” of iodized salt in the United States. As the result of research on endemic goiter and iodine deficiency by Marine, the Michigan State Medical Society, in 1924, launched a goiter prevention program using iodized salt, making iodized salt the first of what we now term “functional foods.”

These foods, mainly enriched grains, breakfast cereals, milk and juice, can play an important role in ensuring that children get adequate amounts of many nutrients. Adults’ diets are even supplemented through their daily eats – today you can find extra nutrients in eggs, omega-3s (the hens are fed omega-3 rich feed like flax), plant sterol in buttery spreads to help improve blood lipids, and more. Do make sure to read labels for ingredients, don’t be fooled by health claims and fortification messages; always read labels to make sure you know what you are buying.