Dangers of Food Fortification and Enrichment
Of all of things we can add to food, vitamins and minerals may seem the most benign, if not beneficial! Few individuals think twice upon seeing them on an ingredient list. They stand out innocently amidst various thickeners and oils, and words with conglomerations of syllables. But, buyers beware! Fortification and enrichment of food products are not as innocent as they seem. Read below to learn why our brand believes that less is always more.
Fortification vs Enrichment
If you flip over a nut milk package, you may find an ingredient to the effect of “vitamin and mineral blend,” specified by the scientific names of its components in parentheses that follow. This is an example of fortification and/or enrichment.
Fortification and enrichment are similar in that both involve adding nutrients – most often vitamins and minerals – to make a product “healthier.” There is also an important difference.
- What does fortification mean? A fortified food is one with added nutrients (most often vitamins and minerals) meant to boost nutrient density, treat or prevent disease, and promote general wellbeing. Examples of fortified foods include orange juice with vitamin D and iodized salt. 1
- What does enrichment mean? An enriched food is one having lost resident nutrients during processing, upon which some (or all) are added back to restore or enhance its original nutrient density. Examples of enriched foods include in skim or low-fat milk with vitamin D; and wheat flour with folic acid, riboflavin, and iron. 1
Rationale & History
Fortification and enrichment are responses to a sobering reality: most people are nutrient-deficient. More than two-thirds of Americans do not consume the recommended number of fruits and vegetables per day. Children are especially vulnerable to deficiencies because of their growth needs, and evidence suggests that adults are typically deficient in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C. 2
Beginning in the 1920s, government agencies and food policy advocates started pushing enrichment and fortification in attempt to decrease nutrient deficiencies in the general population. The intent was not to alter dietary habits, per se, but to increase micronutrient intakes through foods Americans were already consuming. For example, companies began adding iodine to table salt to combat a high incidence of goiter (enlarged thyroid gland due to iodine deficiency) in the United States. 3 Additionally, the Food & Drug Administration enforced a mandate of adding folic acid to grain products (such as cereals and breads) to prevent neural tube defects in newborn babies. 4
Are Fortification and Enrichment Good or Bad?
Although fortification has increased the intake of vitamins and minerals in the United States, there is little evidence to suggest that adding nutrients (other than folic acid) has improved our health. In fact, there are growing concerns that fortifying and enriching foods may be harming us. 5,6
Some problems with fortification and enrichment include:
Companies often add vitamins at dangerous levels. This level may be up to 100% of the recommended daily allowance in a single serving, possibly causing you to exceed the limit. Most people do not have exhibit deficiencies at such an extent to warrant this much. Hyper-fortified foods, in extreme cases, can result in toxicity overload and irreversible organ damage. 7,8
Examples of problems from overconsuming vitamins A, E, B9, B12, calcium and iron include:
- Too much added vitamin A reduces bone density in older adults, increases the risks of birth defects and liver damage, and is associated with higher overall mortality risk.
- Too much added vitamin E can increase the risk of stroke.
- Too much added folic acid (vitamin B9) can decrease immunity or mask a vitamin B12 deficiency (commonly seen in vegetarians).
- Too much added calcium can cause kidney stones.
- Too much iron raises the risk of diabetes and heart problems in individuals with hemochromatosis (a genetic condition that causes the body to store excess iron in the liver, heart and pancreas).
Fortification and enrichment upsets nature’s packaging. Your body does not absorb individual nutrients added to processed foods as efficiently compared to nutrients naturally occurring in whole foods. In short, all nutrients in whole foods have a purpose, working in a concerted fashion to enhance the uptake and bioavailability of each other. A simple example is skim milk fortified with vitamin A and D. Skim and low-fat milk have been processed to remove the fat, thereby losing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K. Although vitamins A and D are added back, our bodies cannot absorb them without a fat vehicle, nor can they function optimally without the assistance of vitamin K. 9
Supplements added to foods are less bioavailable. Bioavailability refers to the proportion of a nutrient your body is able to absorb and use. Most food companies inject synthetic versions of vitamins and minerals, which your body may process differently (or not at all) compared to the natural, food-based versions. 10
Supplements lack immune-boosting substances. All-natural foods contain a trove of antioxidants and phytonutrients (600+) that scientists have yet to identify, let alone replicate. A group of physicians from university schools of public health around the country published a review in Annals of Internal Medicine asserting that dietary supplements carry few potential benefits and, in some cases, are more harmful than helpful. 8
Supplements can interact deleteriously with prescription medications. Fortified foods and supplements can pose specific risks for people who are taking prescription medications, including decreased absorption of other micronutrients, treatment failure, and increased mortality risk. For example, calcium supplements have been found to interact dangerously with some heart and thyroid drugs. 11
Forced into foods or taken independently as supplements, vitamins and minerals often lose their best effects. The best way to avoid this is to consume whole foods with nutrients in their intended balanced.
Call to Action
“For healthy people eating varied diets adequate in calories, there is little or no evidence that fortification improves health,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. 12
While many brands may try to remedy the (poor) nutritive value of their products through the addition of vitamins and minerals, Elmhurst chooses a different approach. Through its innovative HydroRelease™ method, it disassembles and then reassembles all the components of its source ingredient (e.g., nuts, seeds or oats, depending on the product in question) to preserve its full nutritional integrity. All Elmhurst products deliver your vitamins and minerals in the form nature intended; staying true to its source ingredient, never fortifying, never enriching. Our full collection includes:
- Original nut milks: almond milk, walnut milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk
- Unsweetened nut milks: almond, walnut, cashew, hazelnut
- Oat milk: original, unsweetened, barista oat milk
- Barista Editions: barista pistachio, barista oat, barista almond
- Plant-based creamer: unsweetened original, French vanilla, golden milk
Escape the futility and deception of fortification and enrichment with a sincerely simpler, better choice!
- Fulgoni VL, 3rd, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer J. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? The Journal of nutrition. 2011;141(10):1847-1854.
- Agriculture. USDoHaHSaUSDo. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2015; 8th:https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/. Accessed August 8, 2019, 2019.
- Leung AM, Braverman LE, Pearce EN. History of U.S. iodine fortification and supplementation. Nutrients. 2012;4(11):1740-1746.
- Crider KS, Bailey LB, Berry RJ. Folic acid food fortification-its history, effect, concerns, and future directions. Nutrients. 2011;3(3):370-384.
- Berner LA, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer JT. Fortified Foods Are Major Contributors to Nutrient Intakes in Diets of US Children and Adolescents. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(7):1009-1022.e1008.
- Hamishehkar H, Ranjdoost F, Asgharian P, Mahmoodpoor A, Sanaie S. Vitamins, Are They Safe? Adv Pharm Bull. 2016;6(4):467-477.
- Datta M, Vitolins MZ. Food Fortification and Supplement Use-Are There Health Implications? Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2016;56(13):2149-2159.
- Guallar E, Stranges S, Mulrow C, Appel LJ, Miller ER, III. Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013;159(12):850-851.
- Albahrani AA, Greaves RF. Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Clinical Indications and Current Challenges for Chromatographic Measurement. Clin Biochem Rev. 2016;37(1):27-47.
- Thiel RJ. Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones. Medical hypotheses. 2000;55(6):461-469.
- Hendel CC, L. What You Need to Know About Supplements and Drug Interactions. 2015; https://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/supplement-and-drug-interactions/. Accessed August 8, 2019, 2019.
- Cooper L. Why Fortified Foods and Supplements Are Risky. 2016; https://www.consumerreports.org/diet-nutrition/why-fortified-foods-and-supplements-are-risky/. Accessed August 8, 2019, 2019.