Why are foods fortified?

Many processed foods (such as breads and breakfast cereals) are ‘enriched’ with added nutritional elements such as folate, calcium, iodine, fibre, vitamins ACDE, or protein.

Foods can be fortified for a variety of reasons; some are Public Health directives from the government, while others are marketing initiatives to attract buyers.

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A few examples:

  • folate is added to all commercial breadmaking flour in Australia as a way of protecting the unborn human foetus from neural defects during the early stages of pregnancy;
  • calcium is added to dairy products and milk-alternatives such as soy, for strong bones, heart muscle activity and nerve function.
  • iodine is added to some table salt which is then labelled ‘iodised’, for healthy thyroid function. Iodine is usually taken up by vegetables grown in soil, but some soils lack iodine. Iodine was once used in dairy farms as an antiseptic to clean mechanical milking teats, with trace amounts entering the milk supply, but those days are long gone.
  • fibre is added to breads and breakfast cereals, ironically because most of the natural fibre is removed during the early stages of processing. Fibre is necessary for intestinal health.
  • vitamin C is added to fruit juices in a chemical form, because the natural form of vitamin C within the fruit cannot survive more than a few hours once exposed to oxygen in the air.
  • protein and vitamins are added to breakfast cereals, diet shakes, ‘health’ bars, and even some hens’ eggs, because intense advertising campaigns by manufacturers has created a market for such products.
  • farmed fish are fed large quantities of heavily fortified grain-based feed to make them gain weight faster. It might surprise you, but the feed for Tasmanian farmed salmon includes a chemical colourant to produce the expected coral pink flesh, plus chemically manufactured omega3.
  • caged and battery hens are also fed heavily fortified grain-based feed to gain weight very quickly, or to produce fortified eggs.
  • in fact, most livestock undergo ‘finishing’ in pens where they are fed huge amounts of fortified grain to add weight very quickly before slaughter.
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It is unlikely that any fortified food will do you harm, unless you eat way too much of it. Your body will use what it needs. The excess vitamins and minerals will be flushed from your body or stored for when you might need them.

Fortified foods do serve a purpose, making processed food more nutritionally beneficial, but it’s not a natural way to live. Our bodies are not designed to cope with all these chemical additives, and many of these elements are difficult to extract and assimilate.

Try natural oats with yoghurt and fruit, or as porridge, instead of any processed breakfast cereal. Buy eggs and chickens labelled ‘free range’, and when buying meat, look for ‘grass fed’ or RSPCA approved. If you can, buy local seafood direct from trawlers, or keep an eye out in the supermarket for ‘wild caught’ seafood – fresh, frozen or tinned.

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But whatever the source, just keep eating good quality protein, especially seafood and eggs. The health benefits far outweigh any other issues.

REFERENCES

  • Caballero, B., Finglas, P. M., & Toldrá, F. (2016). Encyclopedia of food and health. Elsevier Science.

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