Food fortification or enrichment is the process of adding micronutrients (essential trace elements and vitamins) to food and beverages. Sometimes companies add these nutrients and sometimes it’s based on public policy to aid people with dietary deficiencies. Addition of micronutrients to food and beverages can sometimes prevent large-scale micro-nutrient deficiencies.
Enrichment refers to the adding back of micronutrients to food which is lost during processing. Fortification, on the other hand, is the practice of deliberately adding vitamins and minerals to a food or beverage regardless of whether the nutrients were ever in the food.
The most common fortified foods are cereals, dairy, fats and oils, accessory food items, tea and other beverages, and infant formulas. Undernutrition and nutrient deficiency are estimated globally to cause between 3 and 5 million deaths per year.
Many foods and beverages worldwide have been fortified, whether a voluntary action by the product developers or by law. To fortify a product, it must first be proven that the addition of this vitamin or mineral is beneficial to health, safety, and an effective method of delivery. The addition must also abide by all food and labeling regulations and support nutritional rationale. From a food developer's point of view, they also need to consider the costs associated with this new product and whether there will be a market to support the change.
Examples of Fortified Foods and Beverages
Examples of foods and beverages that have been fortified and shown to have positive health effects:
Today over 1 billion people in the world suffer from iodine deficiency, and 38 million babies born every year are not protected from brain damage due to IDD. Diseases that are associated with an iodine deficiency include mental retardation, hypothyroidism.
The addition of Folic Acid - also known as Folate- to flour has prevented a significant number of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) in infants. Two common types of NTDs, spina bifida and anencephaly, affect approximately 3000 infants born in the US annually
Niacin has been added to bread in the U.S. since 1938. Diseases associated with niacin deficiency include Pellagra which consisted of signs and symptoms called the 3D's-Dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhea. Other diseases which present a high frequency of niacin deficiency: alcoholism, anorexia nervosa, HIV infection, gastrectomy, malabsorptive disorders, certain cancers, and their associated treatments
Vitamin D is commonly added to the fortification of common foods such as milk, margarine, and breakfast cereals. Diseases associated with a vitamin D deficiency include rickets, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. It has also been associated with increased risks for fractures, heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune and infectious diseases, asthma and other wheezing disorders, hypertension, and congestive heart failure.
In our next TIDI blog, we’ll look at whether enriched and fortified foods are healthy.