The questions to be addressed today are:
1. To fortify foods, or to not fortify foods?
2. Fortified foods Versus Supplements?
3. What is fortification of foods anyways?
Fortified foods are foods that have vitamins and minerals added to them that are not normally present otherwise, for example vitamin B12 in coke. Similar to this is enriched foods, where foods are given an amount of a vitamin or mineral already present in the food. This is done to restore vitamin and mineral levels of a food after it has been processed/altered in any way. An example of this is vitamin C enriched orange juice.
Are fortified foods healthy?
If a food is unhealthy pre-fortification, then it is still unhealthy post fortification. The added nutrients may or may not make a difference to the bodies nutrient levels depending on several variables.
Variable 1: The ‘carrier’ or original item (lets say, coke) carrying the nutrient (VitB12) is not a food item that works in conjunction with VitB12 therefor the effect on your bodies level of this vitamin after drinking it is likely minimal none. However, in a carrier that has some nutritional value, fortification can be successful, for example dairy. Not the healthiest option, but if you gorge enough on it you’ll get some calcium. Fortify dairy with Vitamin D and the calcium will be absorbed faster and more effectively. Though it still doesn’t beat getting it from natural sources.
So in other words part of the effectiveness of the fortification depends on the fortified item – does it have a ‘supportive’ relationship or an ‘I’ll tolerate you’ relationship with the nutritional addition?
Another way to look at it: red Bull advertises it includes Vitamin B12 – a much sought after vitamin by many people, but especially vegans. Should we start drinking red bull as a daily health tonic for nutritional sustenance? I think not.
Variable 2: The fortifying nutrient – which version is being used? Consider Vitamin B12; Methylcobalamin is the healthier and less used version of Vitamin B12, versus Cyancobalamin, the more common yet less effective source. Hydroxocobalamin also exists, but doesn’t appear to get used much if ever. Packaging of fortified foods will often tell you the vitamin added but not the specific type thereof, and this difference can make all the difference in effectiveness of the product as a carrier.
So does this mean fortified foods are bad? No… not exactly.
Fortification has had positive effects. One of the first instances of this dates back to the World Wars and fortifying bread with commonly deficient nutrients and was regarded as highly successful. A more recent, Australian-Aboriginal example would be the addition of iron, thiamine, niacin and riboflavin to bread in the Bourke region (New South Wales). The fortification was successful in helping the people in the area improve their levels of those specific nutrients. The process was stopped after it was given media attention and a subsequent negative backlash, the latter being displeasing to the bakery owner who consented to fortifying his bread. According to the article, the critics gave what appear to be generalistic conjecture that did not do the study justice. Feel free to view the article for yourself here https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2006/184/12/repeating-history-objections-fortification-bread-and-alcohol-iron-filings-folic.
Governments world-wide have been looking to safely fortify different foods effectively to combat issues that have affected their regions of the globe. Considering what the critics mentioned in the article (risks including potential overdose on certain nutrients), and the implications and morality of fortifying foods, I personally feel it is important to keep a good eye on just what the government is doing in that area. For example fluoride in our drinking water. But I will save that for another post, on a day where I feel like a good, strong, anti-government (and also informative) rant.
Fortifying foods can be an amazing and beneficial thing when done right, but it can be dangerous when done incorrectly. Regulations for packaging and supplying sufficient information to consumers about the version of the nutrient involved I feel should be put in place. Following/in conjunction with this, more research and public accessible (and easy as pie to find) information should be available on the different ways of fortifying different foods, as well as the effectiveness of each items providing fortified nutrients. If each product were forced to prove via independent study that their nutrient fortified product actually increased a persons health and nutrient benefits there-of before being allowed to advertise it on their product, that would be great. Also, any unhealthy product which has been proven effectively fortified, should be obligated to have a disclaimer or similar reminding people that their product is not recommended as a main source of that nutrient and will not be sufficient in providing all of that nutrients needs, and is still a junk food. At least that’s my opinion.
Basically what I’m saying is that if an unhealthy product claims to have health benefits due to fortification, ignore it. Feel free to drink fortified with VitB12 diet coke of course if that is what you want, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s doing your body any good – it’s still is and will always be coke.
Now for the fun-cooker: provided the product/carrier is a healthy item, and the correct version of the nutrient has been added in a way that is safe and effective for the human body, then which is the better option for nutrient intake; Fortified foods, or supplements?
I’m going to go with, why be mutually exclusive? Each has their good and bad points.
- The nutrient is compatible with the carrier food, there for is more readily absorbed by the body and more effectively.
- You will not have to create a meal to eat with the nutrient, the nutrient is already in the meal.
- On a grand scale, it is more effective in solving a deficiency problem of an entire section of people (like solving an iron deficiency of an entire country for example)
- The packaging does not say which version of the nutrient being used
- The product does not promise effectiveness of the nutrient, just the promise that the product itself has it in there.
- Higher risk of overloading on the nutrient. The product does not have to specify the amount of the nutrient.
- On a grand scale, can be used for unethical purposes. (fluoride, water, another time, another post).
My personal recommendation: If you have a specific deficiency, particularly if it has gotten quite bad, or if you simply could do with an extra hit of a particular nutrient then yes, fortified foods would be a great choice. Unfortunately it is a good idea to do research into the particular fortified product/s you wish to buy in order to ensure you get ones that will be effective and not have negative side effects or overload you on the nutrient.
In terms of it becoming a trend: provided the people maintain a vigilant eye on the government as they do it I think it is a great idea and would like to see more of it. Except for the fluoride in the water. We have not paid enough attention to that. But again, another time, another post, another rant.
As for supplements,
- You can monitor exactly how much of each supplement you are taking (how many grams).
- More likely to notice if you haven’t kept up with a particular vitamin or mineral.
- They are more highly regulated for safety and effectiveness.
- More research is currently available to know what you’re getting yourself into and the potential side effects (whilst side effects of fortifying are still in theory and conjecture phase).
- You could overdo your intake on them. Calcium and heart issues are a trending world concern currently.
- You will have to eat something, otherwise it won’t work (or at least not very well), and you’ll feel ill.
- They tend to come in round bottles that are easy to knock on the floor which then roll far, far away from you and you have to go chase them around the dining and living areas then bend over all embarrassed because everyone heard them hit the tiles and someone jokingly yells out “see, this is why we can’t have nice things!”.
Supplements are still fantastic, and for now I would personally advise for these to be used for general nutritional health assistance.
Well this was a very long blog. I have tried to minimise it as much as possible. I hope this has been enlightening and informative for you. If anyone knows more about fortified foods or have other examples (good or bad) of this, whether from the process used to the ethicalness of any part of the subject or anything in between, feel free to add any time. This topic is definitely by far under-researched and very interesting. The depth in health, global issues, global community and the ethics of all this. I look forward (I think) to seeing where this goes.
One thing I’d like to mention before signing off, other countries seemed hesitant to fortify raw foods, and as yet I haven;t come across proof that they have yet – except for Australia. Mushrooms have been fortified with vitamin D since Sept. 2010. This happened. I see no mention of this at the grocery store, and feel like it ought to be mentioned next to the price or something before purchasing. Is there a non-fortified version out there and can I buy that as easily? Is it really wise to, in a sense, force people to eat fortified foods? I hope it’s a good thing because I love my mushies.
Anywho, apologies again for the length of this blog. Thank you to the person who got me onto this topic, I hope this helps your own research on the subject/s.
To finally giving my hands and your eyes a break,
P.S. For further fortification study (particularly but not exclusively for the USA) try here: http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT87209052/PDF