Fortification- Necessity or gimmick?

Mona Jauhar

Fortified foods have woven their way into our everyday diets. Milk comes with added Vitamin D, OJ with calcium. We consume these fortified foods everyday, yet do not know what fortification really means or whether it is even necessary.

Food fortification can be dated back to 1920’s. Rickets at that time was pretty rampant among young children in the United States.  As Vitamin D is one of the biggest factor impacting bone density and milk, the primary beverage for kids, they started fortifying milk with Vitamin D to create the biggest possible impact. 

Another example is the fortification of table salt with iodine.  Goiter was making its rounds within the population and iodine was found to be an effective cure. Thus to reach the masses, they started fortifying table salt – consumed by everyone, with iodine and found the incidence of goiter dropped sharply. 

There are two terms I would like to go over - food fortification and food enrichment.
Food fortification means the addition of one or more nutrient to a food to improve its nutritional quality and provide public health benefits. For example iodine and Vitamin D are not found in salt and milk respectively. They are added to these foods to counteract the problems of goiter and rickets in the population. 

Food enrichment means nutrients lost in processing of the food are added back in. For example, B vitamins are lost while processing the grain to make flour.  Thus most bread products are enriched with Vitamin B to compensate for the losses during the processing phase. You will find most processed foods to be enriched.

Grocery store aisles are loaded with processed fortified foods.  Consumers are being tricked by crafty marketing techniques into believing that it is healthy to consume fortified processed junk foods just because it has added vitamins to it. In fact dietary guidelines released in 2010 emphasized using unprocessed whole foods and suggested that nutrients found naturally in whole foods may provide more health benefits than do multivitamin/mineral supplements or fortified foods. 

People who need supplementation -
  • If you don’t consume dairy, you must supplement with calcium and vitamin D, either by supplementing with pills or fortified foods/beverages.
  • Vegetarians and people over the age of 50 need B12 supplementation, which is an essential nutrient for healthy nerves, red blood cells and production of DNA.   The only source of B12 is animal protein, thus vegetarians need it.  Our bodies naturally produce less hydrochloric acid (one of the most important ingredient responsible for release of B12 from animal protein in our body) as we age.  Therefore it becomes essential that we supplement with B12 as we age. 
  • Folate for women of childbearing age to prevent neural tube defects.
I recommend that you should consume a diet rich in a variety of whole, natural foods as the vitamins and minerals from these are readily available to your body. Restrict your consumption of processed, fortified, grab ‘n go snacks/bars, granola bars, meal replacement bars/shakes. Recognize a treat for what it is – a food typically high in fat and or sugar that provides little to no nutritious value.  Adding vitamin C to fruit snacks, which is just high fructose corn syrup with a bunch of additives, does not count as a fruit and certainly cannot replace an orange.  Fortifying sweetened beverages with calcium isn’t a magic wand for changing junk food into a health food!

About the Author:  Mona Jauhar R.D., L.D., is an accomplished nutritionist and a Clinical Dietician who has worked in several healthcare institutions and hospitals before starting NutriAssets LLC, a nutrition website with the primary goal to provide support and guidance to clients with personalized programs that fit the client’s unique health management needs, cultural/ethnic values, stage of change and goals. She can be reached at 

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