Friday, August 1, 2014

Do We Really Need Fortified Food?

Our society has become so obsessed with multitasking, we now want our food to do it too. It’s just about impossible to walk down a supermarket aisle without seeing a nutrient-enhanced product, which begs the question: Are we so unhealthy that we really need protein in our ketchup?
No, we aren’t. But that hasn’t always been the case. “Functional foods” are products that have been fortified with vitamins or nutrients for added nutritional value beyond that of the original food or drink. Enhancing food with extra nutrients actually began out of necessity as a way to address public health crises throughout the 20th century. Iodine was added to salt to treat goiter. Breads and grains were enriched with niacin to lower incidences of pellagra. Vitamin D gave milk a boost to fight rickets, a disease that causes bone deformation in children.
What began as an incredibly efficient way to keep a large population healthy has now turned into a highly effective marketing tool. Today, adding vitamins and nutrients to food is big business. You can now find added nutrients in everything from ketchup to peanut butter to cookies. Industry analysts predict the global market for functional foods and beverages will reach $130 billion by next year.
"Fortification is a tool to improve nutritional quality of the public," Angela Ginn, a licensed dietitian and nutritionist, told Yahoo Health.However some nutrients are available in so many products and over consumption risk may out weigh the benefit.” That recently became a reality when the Environmental Working Group reported that fortified cereals could put kids’ health at risk. 
That’s not to say that all fortified foods should be avoided. Most people can get the essential nutrients they need through a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy, said Ginn, who is the national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But there are three key nutrients often used in functional foods that she recommends.
Vitamin D: A fat-soluble vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium, vitamin D is found naturally in only a few foods. Exposure to sunlight triggers the body to produce vitamin D, but too much time in the sun poses its own health risks. According to the National Institutes of Health, fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. “Approximately 60 percent of Americans do not meet the daily vitamin D recommendation,” said Ginn. “It is a key nutrient for disease prevention such as osteoporosis, depression, and even autoimmune conditions.”
Recommended daily intake: Infants: 400 IU; Ages 1 to70: 600 IU; Ages 70 and up: 800 IU
Recommended vitamin-D fortified foods: milk, yogurt, orange juice
Calcium:  The most abundant nutrient in the body, calcium plays a role in bone and tooth formation, as well as muscle contraction and nerve signal transmission. Milk is the most common source, butseveral other foods naturally contain calcium, including salmon and broccoli. Ginn said research indicates between 40 and 50 percent of Americans are not getting their recommended dietary allowance of calcium. “The lack of calcium increases the risk of osteoporosis, rickets, and tooth decay,” she adds. “Fortification is especially key for individuals not consuming dairy on a daily basis.” 
Recommended daily intake: Children and Teens: 200 to 1,300 mg; Adults: 1,000 mg
Recommended calcium-fortified foods: orange juice, oatmeal, healthy cereals, nondairy milks (almond, soy, rice)
Folic Acid: Important in the production of new cells, folic acid is a B vitamin found naturally in beans, fruit, and leafy green vegetables. It is especially important for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant because it can help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain or spine. For this reason, Ginn recommends that expecting women increase their daily intake of folic acid through fortified foods or supplementation.
Recommended daily intake: Children: 65 to 300 mcg; Teens and Adults: 400 mcg; Pregnant Women: 600 mcg
Recommended folate-fortified foods: Whole-grain breads and pasta, healthy cereals
Beware of Fortified Junk Food
With the recent boom in the functional foods industry, many experts are starting to warn against the dangers of too many vitamins in our diet. Most Americans get what they need through a normal balanced diet, but vegetarians and vegans or people with a food intolerance or medical condition could be deficient in certain nutrients and should supplement their needs.
Because the fortification of unhealthy food products is also a concern, Ginn urges common sense. “Why choose a cookie with added calcium and vitamin D,” she asked. “when you could consume a oatmeal cookie with a glass of milk and reap even more health benefits?”
Nutrition expert Dr. David Katz recently pointed out in an article for U.S. News & World Report that trying to add function to dysfunctional foods – such as soda or sugar-laden cereals – is like putting lipstick on a pig. “Our culture seems to have accepted the notion that adding … nutrients to foods always enhances them,” he wrote. In other words, just because your sugary soda now has vitamins doesn’t mean it’s automatically better for you. A good rule of thumb: If it doesn’t already have some nutritional value, skip the fortified version of it and choose a healthier option.

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