Foods With Something Extra
Functional, enriched, and fortified foods offer health bonuses.
Food as Medicine
Fortified foods have taken on an entirely new role with the addition of
cholesterol-lowering stanols and sterols to margarines and, more recently, to
orange juice. These functional foods are specifically aimed at consumers who
are trying to lower their blood cholesterol levels.
Think of these foods as over-the-counter "medications" that allow
certain people to manage high cholesterol without medication. (Of course,
managing your cholesterol level should only be done under the supervision of
When these fortified margarines were first introduced to the market, they
were expensive and you needed to eat a sizeable portion to get the
cholesterol-lowering benefit. Welcome the newcomer: Minute Maid's fortified
orange juice is priced the same as the rest of their juices -- and the
recommended portion is reasonable.
Have We Gone Too Far?
Many nutritionists think we have crossed the line with some of the enriched,
fortified, and functional foods. They maintain that fortification is no longer
a public-health strategy, but an excuse to make junk food appear
Their arguments often center on candy-like cereals that have been enriched
with vitamins and minerals from A to Z. In their opinion, these super-fortified
foods should not masquerade as nutritious.
But cereal manufacturers defend the practice and insist that while their
products might be heavy on the sugar, a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk meets
one-third of most people's dietary requirements. It is also a matter of supply
and demand. Clearly these products sell, and, let's face it, manufacturers are
in the business of selling product.
When you eat fortified foods, keep in mind that too much of a good thing can
sometimes pose health concerns. Excess iron can be a problem for anyone with
the condition hemochromatosis (in which too much iron builds up in the body).
Likewise, too much folate can mask a form of anemia.
On the other hand, calcium fortification has made it easy for people who
dislike or cannot tolerate dairy to meet their requirements and ward off a
whole host of diseases.
Researchers are finding more reasons why we should get plenty of calcium in
our diets, from its effect on enhancing weight loss (my personal favorite) to
its impact on bones, from improved blood pressure to prevention of colon cancer
and other diseases.
The Bottom Line
Functional and fortified foods are an excellent way to help you make sure
you're getting all the nutrients you need. But you still need to read the
labels and make sure you know what is in the foods you eat. If a food was not
inherently healthy before being fortified, I would probably pass on it.
By eating a variety of naturally nutrient rich and fortified foods and
taking a daily vitamin/mineral supplement, you'll cover all your bases. If you
feel confident with your food selections -- and if intolerances, personal
preferences, or allergies do not limit your selections -- you may be able to
forgo the daily supplement. (I eat a variety of foods, but I still take a daily
multivitamin as nutritional insurance.)
Remember this: Fortified foods and supplements can help you meet your
nutritional needs. But they should be considered additives to an already
healthy diet and lifestyle.