Have you heard of food fortification? Yamini Walia tells you what the process is about and whether you should incorporate it in your diet
What is fortification?
Food fortification is generally considered to be the process of adding a nutrient or ingredient to certain foods, which isn’t present in them naturally. However, broadly speaking, it’s the practice of deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients in a product. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, fortified foods can be crucial for people whose diets lack key nutrients. Milk, salt and cereals are foods that are usually fortified. While milk is fortified with vitamins A and D for bone health, cereals are fortified with B vitamins to reduce the risk of a stroke or dementia, and salt is often fortified with iodine, which benefits thyroid function.
You may have heard of the terms fortified with nutrients or enriched with minerals, but don’t confuse fortification with enrichment, because they are two completely different concepts. When a food is enriched, a nutrient which is already present in that food item is added. This serves to compensate for the loss of nutrients during processing.
What are its benefits?
Eating foods that have been fortified comes with a few benefits. When fortified foods are consumed regularly, they help to maintain your body’s store of nutrients more efficiently and effectively than intermittent supplements. They can also help lower the risk of nutrient deficiencies, which result from a poor diet. Also, the main aim of fortification is to provide micronutrients in amounts almost equal to those provided by a well-balanced diet. In general, fortified staple foods contain levels of micronutrients, which are close to natural levels. This isn’t necessarily the case with supplements. Multiple micronutrient deficiencies often co-exist in people with poor diets, and multiple micronutrient fortification can help in this case.
When is it enough?
Fortification levels have been set low to ensure a wide safety margin. However, consuming too many fortified foods can negatively affect your health. For example, too much vitamin A can reduce bone density, while too much vitamin E can increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Remember that consuming nutrients in extremely high proportions can also interfere with certain medication. So, avoid going overboard with fortified foods.
How is it done?
The process of fortification can be performed in different ways. Here are a few common ways in which foods are fortified.
- Biofortification This method involves breeding crops to increase their nutritional value — either by breeding to get specific traits or by genetic engineering.
- Synthetic biology The addition of probiotic bacteria to foods constitutes this method.
- Commercial and industrial fortification This method is usually tried on common cooking foods such as flour, rice and oils.