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Are Fortified Foods Worth It?

From A to Zinc and everywhere in between, supermarket shelves are filled with foods bursting with added vitamins and nutrients. But is it all really necessary?
Are Fortified Foods Worth It?
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Pass through a grocery aisle, and it seems like nearly everything is fortified with one vitamin or another. (Salsa fortified with probiotics, anyone?) These altered varieties are not only taking over the shelves, but also racking up the food bill. But hold on before filling that cart — some research suggests these fortified foods may not be worth forking over the extra dollars.

Injecting the Details — Why It Matters

Fortification involves not naturally found in certain foods to bolster their nutritional quality. (Enriched foods, by contrast, are just injected with more of the nutrients naturally found in them.) The federal government has been infusing foods with nutrients for over 50 years with hopes of preventing deficiencies: Between 30 and 50 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient, so milk, orange juice, and are now found bolstered with vitamin D [1] [2]. (But it's unlikely that any adult would consume too much iron.) It turns out iron isn’t the only additive with a drawback — folic acid may also not be all it’s cracked up to be [3]. Additional research identified a potential link between folic acid fortification and multiple types of cancer [4] [5] [6].

Back to the Basics — The Answer/Debate

Sure, fortifying food with vitamins and minerals has been extremely successful in preventing disease in certain countries — but usually in places where nutritious meals are few and far between (i.e. mostly third-world and developing countries) [7]. Eating a balanced diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables is generally a foolproof approach to avoiding deficiencies (and therefore not needing fortified foods!). But there are some special circumstances where excess vitamins might not be a bad idea: Added nutrients could potentially help individuals over 50 years old and women that are or may become pregnant (but it's always best to check with a doctor in special cases). For the rest of us, downing extra fortified foods probably won’t make a huge difference, and may even lead to negative consequences [8] [9] [10] [7]. So don’t worry about scanning the shelves for foods busting with unnatural additives. Stick with the natural basics and let Mother Nature take care of the rest!

The Takeaway

While the extra nutrients can rarely hurt, a balanced diet should provide anyone with enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy!

How do you feel about fortified foods? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo by Aleksandra Flora

Works Cited +

  1. . Backstrand, J.R. Joint Ph.D. Program in Urban Systems, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey. Nutr Rev. 2002 Jan;60(1):15-26.
  2. Consumers are buying in. "Functional foods" (that's code for modified from their original form) made a whopping $30.7 billion in revenue in 2008 alone, increasing by nearly $4 billion in just two years! But are these modified munchies better than their plain alternatives? Science indicates maybe not. One study showed that too much iron (specifically in children who consume iron-fortified baby formula) might negatively impact long-term development ((Iron-Fortified vs Low-Iron Infant Formula: Developmental Outcome at 10 Years. Lozoff, B., Castillo, M., Clark, K.M., et al. Center for Human Growth and Development, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2012 Mar;166(3):208-15.
  3. Is folic acid good for everyone? Smith, A.D., Kim, Y.I., Refsum, H. Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom. American Journal Clinical Nutrition. 2008 Mar;87(3):517-33.
  4. A temporal association between folic acid fortification and an increase in colorectal cancer rates may be illuminating important biological principles: a hypothesis. Mason, J.B., Dickstein, A., Jacques, P.F., et al. Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2007 Jul;16(7):1325-9.
  5. Folic acid metabolism in human subjects revisited: potential implications for proposed mandatory folic acid fortification in the UK. Wright, A.J., Dainty, J.R., Finglas, P.M. Institute of Food Research, Colney, Norwich. British Journal of Nutrition. 2007 Oct;98(4):667-75.
  6. Folate nutrition and prostate cancer incidence in a large cohort of US men. Stevens, V.L., Rodriguez, C., Pavluck, A.L., et al. Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006 Jun 1;163(11):989-96. Epub 2006 Mar 22.
  7. Folate nutrition and prostate cancer incidence in a large cohort of US men. Stevens, V.L., Rodriguez, C., Pavluck, A.L., et al. Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006 Jun 1;163(11):989-96.
  8. Is folic acid good for everyone? Smith, A.D., Kim, Y.I., Refsum, H. Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom. American Journal Clinical Nutrition. 2008 Mar;87(3):517-33.
  9. A temporal association between folic acid fortification and an increase in colorectal cancer rates may be illuminating important biological principles: a hypothesis. Mason, J.B., Dickstein, A., Jacques, P.F., et al. Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2007 Jul;16(7):1325-9.
  10. Folic acid metabolism in human subjects revisited: potential implications for proposed mandatory folic acid fortification in the UK. Wright, A.J., Dainty, J.R., Finglas, P.M. Institute of Food Research, Colney, Norwich. British Journal of Nutrition. 2007 Oct;98(4):667-75.
  11. Folate nutrition and prostate cancer incidence in a large cohort of US men. Stevens, V.L., Rodriguez, C., Pavluck, A.L., et al. Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006 Jun 1;163(11):989-96.

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