What Parents Need to Know About Over-Fortified Foods
Food fortification began decades ago as an effort to reduce the risk of having insufficient vitamins and minerals in Americans’ diet, but it has become a marketing tool that could be downright risky to health because of high consumption of fortified nutrients.
Today, food manufacturers often fortify foods with vitamins and minerals in large amounts to give otherwise nutrient poor foods a better “appearance” of health so as to sell more products.
However, this could be to the disadvantage of the person consuming these foods, especially kids, as eating too much over-fortified food is not a recipe for good health; it can even be harmful.
Excessive amounts of nutrients, in particular high doses of vitamin A, can actually cause toxic symptoms and other short or long-term health problems – such as liver damage, skeletal abnormalities and hair loss. Because the current dietary Daily Values for most vitamins and minerals are outdated and correspond to adults’ dietary needs, some over-fortified foods can contain levels of added nutrients that are unsafe for children. If you give your child a daily multi-vitamin pill, it is extra important to avoid excessively fortified foods.
Thanks to the Environmental Working Group, we now know which foods have the highest amounts of added vitamins and minerals. In its new report, How Much is Too Much?, EWG breaks it down for parents by highlighting two food categories that are heavily fortified – breakfast cereals and snack bars. Cereal is the number one source of excess vitamin A, zinc and niacin for children eight and younger.
Unfortunately, while the marketing of these foods suggests that getting more of any nutrient(s) is a good thing, we know that that’s not the case. We owe it to parents and kids to give them the information they need to truly make better nutrition choices.
So what can concerned parents do if they want to avoid over-fortified foods?
- Focus on feeding your child a variety of whole foods as they are found in nature, rather than fortified and heavily processed foods.
- If you’re buying fortified products such as snack bars or cereals, give your child foods that provide no more than 20-to-25 percent of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc and niacin in a single serving.
- Practice portion control. Observe what the actual serving size is – even measure the portion a few times as the amount eaten is actually the “serving” of nutrients your child will consume. Using a smaller bowl is one easy way to serve smaller amounts of cereal.
- Read labels carefully to identify what form of vitamin A the product contains and the overall amount added. The safest form of vitamin A is the form that occurs naturally in orange and yellow vegetables, such as beta-carotene. Preformed vitamin A such as retinyl palmitate (vitamin A palmitate) or retinyl acetate (vitamin A acetate), when consumed in large amounts, could be toxic.
You can also find kid-friendly ways to get foods that provide natural nutrients into your kids’ diet. For example, if you buy a cereal that’s low in sugar, put bowls of fruits, nuts and seeds on the table to encourage your children to add those whole foods to their cereal. Kids can also make their own healthy snacks by pairing apple or pear slices with a nut spread or baking their own granola bars.
Remember that a great source of vitamins and minerals, in addition to whole foods, is fresh fruits and vegetables – especially if you shop for the organic versions. Aim for a rainbow of colors daily from these foods as a way to get in more of the nutrients you all need.
Ashley Koff R.D. is a registered dietitian and former advertising executive for kids’ cereals and snack bars. Learn more at www.AshleyKoffRD.com.