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  . (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 . Additional research identified a potential link between folic acid fortification and multiple types of cancer   .
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) . 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    . 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!
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