What’s a fortified or enriched food?
Fortification and enrichment are both processes that add nutrients to food, but they’re slightly different.
Fortification is when a nutrient is added to food that never contained that nutrient. Adding vitamin D to orange juice or milk is a good example. These foods are meant to improve nutrition and add health benefits. For example, milk is often fortified with vitamin D, and calcium may be added to fruit juices.
An enriched food means that nutrients that were lost during processing are added back in. Many refined grains are enriched. Wheat flour, for example, may have folic acid, riboflavin, and iron added back in after processing. This is intended to restore its original vitamin levels.
More than two-thirds of Americans don’t eat fruits or vegetables at least twice a day, and most don’t get enough essential vitamins and minerals each day. Many Americans also aren’t meeting the requirement for vitamins and minerals, especially children. Worldwide, more than two billion people have nutrient deficiencies.
Fortified and enriched foods were introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. They were intended to help boost vitamin and mineral intake with foods that adults and children were already eating, like grains and milk.
Are fortified foods good for you?
The truth is fortified foods can be helpful, depending on the circumstances
In some cases, fortified or enriched foods fill in the gaps and increase a vitamin and mineral consumption that would otherwise be less than the recommended value.
But it’s also easy to get too much. These foods can contribute to nutrient overdoses. Be aware of how much of each nutrient you are eating. Don’t forget to include foods that don’t come with a nutrition label, like dark leafy greens. Keep an eye on serving sizes to make sure you're not overdosing on added vitamins or minerals.
No matter what, you can’t cover poor nutrition by adding extra vitamins. Desserts made with enriched flours and fortified breakfast cereals coated in sugar aren’t healthy options. The typical diet is already full of nutrient-poor processed foods, added sugars, and refined grains. Avoid foods that contain added sugars, have trans fats, or are high in sodium.
While fortified and enriched foods can certainly add to a healthy diet, they aren’t enough by themselves. You still need to eat a well-rounded, varied diet that is loaded with vegetables and other whole foods. You cannot rely on fortification or enrichment to get all the nutrients you need.