Is it worth eat­ing for­ti­fied foods?

Men's Fitness - - Experts -

For­ti­fy­ing food with nu­tri­ents and vi­ta­mins has been hap­pen­ing for a long time – but a re­cent change to UK food la­belling reg­u­la­tions means you can now tell if your food’s been for­ti­fied.

When but­ter was un­avail­able af­ter the first world war, the gov­ern­ment called for vi­ta­mins A and D to be added to mar­garine. Since then white flour has been bol­stered with cal­cium, iron, thi­amine and niacin; eggs have been en­riched with omega 3s; and break­fast ce­re­als, milk and fruit juice are com­monly packed with ex­tra good­ness.

In the de­vel­op­ing world, for­ti­fied foods are es­sen­tial – vi­ta­min A-for­ti­fied rice has helped fight night blind­ness in Africa and Asia. Since 1998 in the US, and 2009 in Aus­tralia, flour’s been for­tifed with folic acid, be­lieved to re­duce neu­ral tube de­fects in foe­tuses (de­bate con­tin­ues over whether the UK should fol­low suit).

Ex­cess rate

Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. In the US, vi­ta­min D is added to reg­u­lar milk, and there are cases of body­builders con­sum­ing too much, which can af­fect cal­cium lev­els lead­ing to weak bones and kid­ney prob­lems. Qual­ity of ab­sorp­tion from for­ti­fied food isn’t al­ways guar­an­teed ei­ther. Un­like the heme iron in grass-fed meat, min­eral iron in for­ti­fied ce­real is hard to ab­sorb un­less you con­sume it with vi­ta­min C.

Well-pub­li­cised food de­fi­cien­cies can be ex­ploited by man­u­fac­tur­ers, lead­ing to un­healthy pro­cessed foods claim­ing an un­earned healthy sta­tus when for­ti­fied. The Bri­tish Nutri­tion Foun­da­tion es­ti­mates, for ex­am­ple, that break­fast ce­re­als con­trib­ute 20-30% of peo­ple’s av­er­age iron in­take – but this is prob­a­bly be­cause health­ier sources are be­ing over­looked.

Like fish oil tablets and pro­tein shakes, for­ti­fied foods should sup­ple­ment a healthy diet. A cho­co­late bar may be en­riched with polyphe­nols, a phy­tonu­tri­ent linked with bet­ter blood flow and per­for­mance, but the ex­tra 500 calo­ries from 100g of cho­co­late won’t be good for you.

Ex­tra charge

Pro­cessed foods are al­ready a bag of chem­i­cals so don’t avoid for­ti­fied ones sim­ply be­cause they add more to the mix. They can help you meet your mi­cronu­tri­ent re­quire­ments – just don’t rely on them as your sole source of es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents. A var­ied se­lec­tion of whole­food in­gre­di­ents is the bedrock of a healthy diet. Bonus vi­ta­mins should sim­ply be the for­ti­fied cherry on top.

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