What to Know About Fortified Foods

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on February 12, 2024
3 min read

‌‌Fortified foods are foods with nutrients added to them. This can help boost their nutritional value and benefit your health.

‌Fortified foods have added vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Micronutrients are necessary for many important body functions. Your body can’t make its own micronutrients. They need to come from your diet.

‌Food makers add micronutrients to their products during production. They create chemicals that have vitamins and minerals. These chemicals don’t have noticeable tastes, textures, or smells when added to food.

‌Some foods naturally have certain micronutrients but lose them through cooking or storage. Food enrichment is when food producers add those nutrients back in. Unlike enriched foods, fortified foods don’t naturally include those nutrients.

‌Adding nutrients to foods can help you easily get what you need in your diet. These nutrients are all found in other foods like meat and vegetables. Cost, allergies, dietary style, your environment, and other factors can make it hard to get enough of these foods.‌‌

U.S. food producers have been fortifying foods since the 1920s to prevent nutrition-related illnesses. For example, cow's milk is fortified with vitamin D to boost the calcium absorption in the milk.

‌Most fortified foods are processed and packaged. Common ones include:‌

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Fruit juice
  • Soy milk and other milk alternatives
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Salt

Nutrients added to fortified foods include:‌

The benefits of fortified foods include:

They’re cost-effective. Foods that are high in certain nutrients can be expensive. For example, fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids but may cost too much for some people to buy regularly.

‌Eggs, milk, and other products can be fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. These products often cost less and still have similar nutritional value.

They prevent nutrition-related illness. When you don’t get enough nutrients, you might have a deficiency. Fortified foods have helped to reduce rates of nutrient deficiency-related illnesses like rickets

But many people still have nutrient inadequacies, which is when you eat just enough of a nutrient to avoid full-on deficiency. You might still not be eating as much as experts recommend.‌

‌Nutrient inadequacies can cause health problems like:‌

They’re helpful in pregnancy. Pregnant women need more food than normal because they’re feeding a growing baby. Even when you're eating more, you might still not get enough vitamins. 

‌Fortified foods can fill the gap. For example, folic acid is added to many fortified products. Getting enough folic acid in your diet during pregnancy lowers the risk of birth defects.

They protect older adults. As you age, your body absorbs fewer vitamins and minerals. Fortified foods can help maintain healthy micronutrient levels to keep your bones strong, help your digestion, and prevent heart issues.

They help children grow. Children are at a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies than adults. Their bodies need enough vitamins and minerals to support growth. Fortified foods can boost children’s nutrition, alongside a balanced diet.‌‌

They help with dietary needs. Some important nutrients are available only in animal products or foods that cause allergic reactions. Fortified foods help make sure you get enough nutrients if you’re vegetarian or lactose-intolerant or have other dietary needs.

‌Fortified foods have limits to how much they can improve and protect your health.

Added to unhealthy foods. Just because a food product is fortified doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Fortified foods are often high in sugars, fats, sodium, and other ingredients that can lead to problems like obesity.

Risk of vitamin overdose. You might get too many vitamins and minerals in your diet, which can be harmful. This is more likely when you take supplements like pills than when you eat fortified foods. 

Check product labels. Try not to eat foods that have more than 200 times the daily recommended amount of any nutrient.

‌Fortified foods should be one part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Try to get as many nutrients as possible from unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables.