Food Fortification: Myths and Facts

Updated: Jul 14

What do you mean by fortified wheat flour? What is fortification?

Are there any fortified foods in my diet already?

Why do I need fortified food when I am taking a balanced meal?

What are the most common recommended fortified foods?

Is fortified food required for everyone or only for special age/ health condition etc.?

Will fortified food reduce my metabolic capacity?

Are there any long term/short term side effects of taking fortified foods?

How do I know which fortified food is suitable for me?

What is the difference between fortified foods and supplements?

Are fortified foods expensive?

Our ancestors never ate fortified foods and they all lived fine! Why do we now need fortified foods?


Radha was sent to the market by her grandmother to buy some flour for flatbreads. Radha, carefully looked at various options available in the store and instead of the one specified by her grandmother, she bought a bag of fortified whole wheat flour. Obviously, her grandmother was not happy with this and they had a brief discussion….well! Let’s go through their conversation and if the granny is finally convinced of the change!


Grandmother: Radha, I asked you to get chakki atta from market. Why have you brought this packed wheat flour.

Radha: Daadi, this is fortified wheat flour. It has various health benefits.


What do you mean by fortified wheat flour? What is fortification?

Fortification is the process of adding various vitamins and minerals to common foods to improve their nutritional value. It is cost effective and safe strategy for improving food quality in terms of nutrient value and therefore preventing and controlling various deficiencies.

The vitamins and minerals which are mostly added are iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A and D to staple foods such as rice, wheat, oil, milk and salt to improve the nutrient content.

These nutrients may or may not be originally present in the food item or may have been lost during processing.

So, fortified wheat flour is a regular flour that has essential micronutrients so as to improve its nutritional quality. It contains various nutrients which may not occur in natural form in the grain.


Are there any fortified foods in my diet already?

There is a list of common foods that are fortified most all over the world.

Food item

Nutrients

Salt

Iodine, Iron

Wheat & Wheat Products

Vitamin B complex, iron, folic acid

Sugar

Vitamin A

Infant Formulas

Iron, Vitamin B1, B2, niacin, VitaminK, Folic acid, Zinc

Vegetable mixtures

Vitamins, Minerls, Amino acids

Soy milk, Orange juice

Calcium

Juices & Subsitute drinks

Vitamin C

Ready to eat Breakfast cereals

Vitamins & Minerals

Diet beverages

Vitamins & Minerals

Milk & milk products

Vitamin A & D


Why do I need fortified food when I am taking balanced meal?

It is important to have fortified food so as to check the deficiency caused due to micronutrient malnutrition. Due to lack of variety in our diet or food unavailability, one doesn’t get essential nutrients and also there is loss of nutrients during processing as well. Preliminary operations such as cleaning, soaking, peeling and dehulling leads to significant loss in vitamins and mineral contents of food products. Heat application during processing also leads to qualitative changes of the food products.


What are the most common recommended fortified foods?

These are basic food items that people buy regularly, which are eaten everyday; that is why fortifying the food is an effective method to increase the uptake of some essential nutrients for the overall population.

Breakfast cereals, salt, wheat flour, bread, snack bars, dairy and milk products, juices, baby foods are the commonly fortified foods.


Is fortified food required for everyone or only for special age/ health condition etc.?

The nutrient requirement of the human being alters as we move through different life stages. To be fit and healthy, it is important to take care of extra needs placed on our body by these changes. Therefore it is necessary to meet our body’s regular needs and this can easily be done by consuming fortified food depending upon the requirement of the body as per the age. Elderly need more calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A etc. to prevent age-related diseases and for healthy aging. The requirement can be easily met by including fortified food in their diet.


Will fortified food reduce my metabolic capacity?

Various studies suggest that the impact on metabolic capacity if any is likely to be short-lived. Portion size is important.

As we know excess of everything is bad, if consuming an excessive amount of nutrients, this reduces the metabolic capacity and also results in differential gut hormone secretion and elevated one-carbon flux to process the excessive nutrient loads. Therefore, it is important to keep the use of fortified food to only recommended levels as per the body requirements.


Are there any long-term/short-term side effects of taking fortified foods?

Fortified foods have limits to how much they can improve and protect your health. All fortified foods are not necessarily healthy. We need to be careful before buying any food product. Overdose of any nutrient can also prove harmful to our health. For eg. getting too much vitamin A eg. reduces bone density and increases the risks of birth defects and liver damage.


How do I know which fortified food is suitable for me?

Dieticians can help us in this! They can provide us with appropriate information about the suitability of fortified food according to the requirement of the individual. They understand how nutrition affects the body and use this knowledge in recommending the food to the individual.


What is the difference between fortified foods and supplements?

Fortified foods are added with more than one nutrient. Supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients and mostly contain only 1 nutrient. They are marketed in dose form (eg. Pills, tablets, capsules, liquids in measured amount). Both of them provide us with nutrients but fortified foods are much better as some nutrients are absorbed better when they are combined.


Are fortified foods expensive?

Fortified foods are a cost effective and sustainable way to increase the supply of nutrients in the diet. At a very little cost, micro-nutrients are added to the staple foods. According to reports, every 1 rupee spent on fortification results in 9 rupees in advantage to the economy. The overall costs of fortification are extremely low. Even when all program costs are passed on to consumers, the price rise is approximately by 1-2% which is less than normal price variation.


Our ancestors never ate fortified foods and they all lived fine! Why do we now need fortified foods?

The Nutritional value of food has gone down over the period of time. Increased use of artificial pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals disrupting the fine balance of soil life, the health of crop plants and therefore affecting the quality of the food we eat. Our food discipline has gone away with hectic lifestyle leading to less nutritional intake. Our body’s capacity to absorb nutrition from food has gone down because of a sedentary life-style.


Radha’s dadi is still trying to absorb the information! She might not be able to change her attitude to food immediately, but this conversation is definitely helping her understand the need for changes in food habits as per changing times!

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About the Author:


Ms. Paridhi Kataria is currently working as Asst. Professor in the Department of Home Science, Gopichand Arya Mahila College, Abohar along with M.Ed from Panjab University.


She received her M.Sc. in Resource Management & Design Application from University of Delhi. She has teaching experience of about 6 years. Her current areas of interest are planning & execution, waste management, child psychology. She has published 4 research papers & has authored 3 Books to her credit. You can write to her at paridhi.tmu@gmail.com




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