Skip to content

Unpacking Food Fortification: The Benefits of Enhancing Nutrition

 World of People

With the busy lives we all lead today, and the amount of convenience foods we opt for, many of us are not getting sufficient vitamins and minerals. Consequently, large groups of the population suffer from micronutrient deficiencies that they’re not even aware of. This is a health concern, especially among children who need these vitamins and minerals to grow, as well as pregnant women.

Fortified foods and drinks have been the answer to certain nutrient deficiencies since the 1930s, when they were introduced to help boost people’s vitamin and mineral intake. These foods, consisting mainly of items that already form part of our daily diets, such as milk and grains, are fortified with essential nutrients to supplement our diets.

In essence, food fortification is a demonstrated, sustainable and cost-efficient way to address nutritional deficiencies. Although it’s been around for ages, there are some myths around it and the big questions that remain are whether it’s healthy and beneficial to us in any way.

Fortified vs enriched foods

Fortified foods and drinks have nutrients added to them that they don’t contain naturally. By adding certain minerals and vitamins, they’re meant to boost our nutrition intake and, subsequently, our overall health.

Enriched foods, on the other hand, have their natural nutrients, which were lost during processing, added back. So, they’re simply restored to their original vitamin levels.
Fortified foods and drinks were introduced to our diets during the 1930s and 1940s to address concerns around nutrient deficiencies, especially in children. Globally, over two million people are not getting the micronutrients they need to function optimally. This is due to following a poor diet, being indifferent about the effects, and having limited access to nutrient-rich foods. Iron, folic acid, iodine, and vitamin A are the most commonly lacking nutrients. This is detrimental to people’s health as these micronutrients enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances that are vital for normal growth and development.

In some countries, the fortification of staple food is mandatory as part of their public health policies. This is known as mass or large-scale fortification and exists to help alleviate specific nutritional deficiencies and related diseases. In the United Kingdom, for example, margarine and flour are fortified to increase the population’s intake of calcium. In South Africa, some staple foods such as maize meal and bread are fortified to enhance the population’s nutrient intake and improve their health.

Targeted fortification caters for specific population groups. These include pregnant women, children and beneficiaries of feeding schemes and/or social protection programmes. Sometimes, additional vitamins and minerals are added just before consumption, and not during the production process. This is called point-of-use fortification and mainly takes place in schools, childcare centres, and old-age homes.

Mandatory food fortification has thus far mostly been successful in first-world countries, as there is both political commitment and legislation to support it. In developing countries it is, unfortunately, more difficult to implement and monitor. This is due to several obstacles, including under-prioritisation by governments, a lack of capacity and resources, ineffective regulation and enforcement, and limited understanding and opposition among consumers.

Commonly fortified foods

Vitamins and minerals cannot be added to any unprocessed foods, such as fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry or fish. This means that it’s added to foods that already go through processing before reaching the end consumer. It’s required that added minerals and vitamins are indicated on product labels for consumer safety and transparency.

There are strict safety regulations on the fortification of foods. Although it depends on the specific country, the fortification of staple foods and condiments typically include:

  • Wheat flour (used in baked goods like breads, pies, and cakes), maize flour or meal (used to make porridge and baked goods, and as a thickening agent), and rice are usually fortified with micronutrients, including iron, folic acid, zinc, and vitamin B12.
  • Salt is iodised universally. In some countries, you also get double-fortified salt with iodine and iron.
  • Edible oils like sunflower and canola oil with added vitamins A and D.
  • Pulses, such as beans, lentils, and peas, to which iron is added.
  • Micronutrient-enriched powders for point-of-use fortification for infants and young children. Well-known products include Replace® Junior, NESTLÉ® NIDO®, and LIFEGAIN® Junior.

Knorrox, one of South Africa’s top-loved brands, has taken this a step further by fortifying its soy-based products. Knorrox’s range of products include soya mince, stock cubes and powders. These are now fortified with zinc and iron to ensure that consumers are cooking delicious, meaty-tasting meals that are both affordable and nourishing.

Advantages and disadvantages

Fortifying foods has been widely successful in helping to combat common diseases that are caused by malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. Other advantages include:

  • It provides extra nutrition at affordable costs.
  • The foods’ taste, texture, and appearance remain unchanged after fortification.
  • It caters to different classes in society and can help alleviate the nutritional problem of a country.
  • The process is cost-effective.

On the other hand it is possible for people to consume too many nutrients or vitamins. This usually happens when they consume fortified, enriched foods and take daily supplements. This is, however, very seldom. Instances of vitamin A overdoses have been noted, for example. These are prevalent in pregnant women and older adults and can lead to birth defects or hip fractures.

Furthermore, only a handful of nutrients are added in the process of fortification, which means that other nutritional deficiencies may be left untreated.

The bottom line

Fortified or enriched foods are advantageous to fill nutritional gaps and enhance the consumption of specific vitamins and minerals. This helps to address nutritional deficiencies that exists due to food availability or poor diets.

These foods make a significant contribution to diets all over the world, but should never be relied on to cover a poor diet. You still need to make sure that you follow a healthy, balanced diet to give your body all the minerals and vitamins it needs to function optimally.

FAQs

What is food fortification?

Fortified foods and drinks have nutrients added to them that they don’t contain naturally. By adding certain minerals and vitamins, they’re meant to boost our nutrition intake and, subsequently, our overall health.

What are the benefits of food fortification?

Fortifying foods has been widely successful in helping to combat common diseases that are caused by malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. Other advantages include:

  • It provides extra nutrition at affordable costs.
  • The foods’ taste, texture, and appearance remain unchanged after fortification.
  • It can help alleviate certain nutritional problems in a country.
  • The process is cost effective.

Does food fortification have disadvantages?

Yes, it’s possible that fortified foods can cause people to consume too much of a nutrient or vitamin. Furthermore, only a handful of nutrients are added in the process of fortification, which means that other nutritional deficiencies may be left untreated.

Can fortified foods make up for an unbalanced diet?

Although fortified foods make a significant contribution to diets all over the world, they should never be relied on to cover a poor diet. You still need to make sure that you follow a healthy, balanced diet to give your body all the minerals and vitamins it needs to function optimally.

Back to top