It’s easy to get confused with terminology used to describe food. Take the words enriched and fortified. On the surface, they sound like words we want associated with the foods we consume but digging deeper may reveal a completely different story.
Fortified and enriched foods were introduced in 1930s and 1940s. They were intended to help boost vitamin and mineral intake with foods that adults and children were already eating, like grains and milk.
Even though fortification has increased vitamin and mineral consumption in the United States, there haven’t been studies on nutrients other than folic acid that show that fortified foods are improving our health. There are also concerns that fortified and enriched foods may be causing people to get harmful amounts of certain vitamins and minerals.Healthline.com
Foods that are labeled “enriched” have had nutrients added to them to replace those lost during processing. For example, when whole wheat is milled into white flour, the nutritious germ and bran and the vitamins, minerals, micro-nutrients, and fiber they contain are stripped away and lost.
White flour and white flour products were some of the first foods to be enriched and fortified in the advent of food processing companies. Many of the nutrients added to enriched foods are manufactured in laboratories.
You’ve seen commercials touting orange juice with added calcium and cereals with added vitamins. Those foods are fortified by adding extra nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that may or may not have been originally present in the food.
Enriching and fortifying foods sound like good ideas, right? The nutrients that have been stripped out are added back, or more nutrients are added to make it even better.
This solution, though, is like someone who has stolen thousands of dollars from you compensating you by giving you back a few pennies or paying you in Monopoly Money. That is not very “enriching,” and adding back chemically synthesized nutrients can’t make up for stealing a food’s natural micro-nutrients. Again, most nutrients used to fortify foods are synthesized in laboratories.
The list of fortified foods grows daily and includes breakfast cereals, snack foods, desserts, and vitamin waters. The massive explosion of fortified foods has resulted in the use of the term functional foods, which mean they are formulated for a specific purpose or task.
New York University Hospital physician Dr. Mark Siegel was interviewed on the subject of food fortifying and said his concern was that people would eat more fortified foods thinking they were getting health benefits when the foods themselves were unhealthy.
Is cereal with yogurt bits in it healthier than cereal without them? No; it’s just an advertising scam. There is no yogurt in that cereal, just sugary bits of added chemicals.
Food fortification was implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the US. They wanted to help decrease nutritional deficiencies on a global level. The first foods targeted for fortification were milk and milk products, fats and oils, infant formulas, teas, and beverages.
Food fortification is not just about quantifying nutrients though; it’s about ethics. Human rights issues have been broached by fortifying food, even though the WHO was key in implementing the practice. The WHO states that customers have the right to choose whether or not they want fortified food products, but when legislation was passed that mandated fortifying certain foods, that choice was taken away. Fortifying foods also makes them cost more, which can keep the target market, the underprivileged, from being able to buy them.
What’s the Solution?
There is no easy solution but becoming aware of what you are consuming is a step in the right direction. Further, choosing more whole foods and locally grown foods is another step in the right direction.
The more you know about what food manufacturers have done to adulterate our foods, the better. It is with this knowledge you can make food choices that are healthier for you, your family and the environment.