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You’ve probably seen them on your regular trips to the supermarket – and if milk, eggs, bread, breakfast cereals, fruit juice or yoghurt are on your shopping list, they may well have made it into your trolley too. After all they’re hard to miss, with the added – fortified – ingredients splashed across the front of the packaging and claiming to provide an easy way to boost your intake of that particular nutrient. Perhaps a Vitamin such as Vitamin B, C, or D. Or a Mineral, like Iron or Calcium. 
The question is whether improving our diets is really that simple.  
In other words, do fortified foods live up to the hype? 
Put simply, fortified foods are any foods with additional nutrients added to them. And not just Vitamins or Minerals but other micronutrients too. The logic behind them is very obvious and deceptively simple. They’re marketed as a simple and cost effective way to boost the nutritional value of a particular food which, in turn, helps people improve their health. What’s not to like about this approach?!? 
Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple, with several flaws in this logic. 
The first is that it relies on EITHER adding a nutrient which isn’t naturally present in that particular food OR at much greater levels than would naturally be found. So, the natural balance of the food is being changed. And, if that sounds rather a strange thing to say, bear with us, it’ll make sense in a minute. 
The second is that it ONLY focuses on the particular nutrient being added. Say, Calcium for healthy bones or Vitamin C for a healthy Immune System. Unfortunately, this overlooks the simple fact that nutrients NEVER occur in isolation in foods in their natural state, but along with many others which are ALL needed for it to be absorbed and used by our bodies. 
This is why foods which are naturally high in, say, Calcium, also contain all the other nutrients needed for it to be absorbed. In other words, Vitamins D and K as well as Minerals such as Silica and Phosphorus needed to help build healthy Bone and Teeth. 
So, simply, increasing the amount of one particular nutrient is not going to have the desired effect. That’s unless ALL the other nutrients needed for it to be used by the body are also increased – and in the relative amounts the body needs to be able to process and absorb it. 
While this may all sound a little on the pernickety side, there’s a very good reason for this. And, again, it’s one easy to overlook. Any nutrient the body can’t use, for whatever reason, still has to be processed and either stored or removed from the body. 
So, continuing with the Calcium example, excess levels can lead to Kidney Stones, elevated blood pressure and, ironically, weaker Bones as minerals are released from the Bones to help process and eliminate the excess Calcium. We’ve written about the dangers of taking single supplements in isolation before and the post can be found here
Which leads us on to the third flaw with this approach. While the nutrient added may be chemically similar to its natural version, to the body, it’s very different to the one it was designed to handle. Sadly, this means that very little of the fortified nutrient is absorbed so, again, its impact on our health is minimal. 
And if it sounds as though we’re still being rather pernickety (!), here’s a quick analogy. A stick of chalk may contain high levels of Calcium but would we be able to easily eat and absorb all the Calcium from it? Unfortunately, not. However, Calcium could easily be absorbed from naturally Calcium rich foods such as Milk or Spinach along with all the other nutrients needed for the body to be able to use it. 
Added to this, it’s now being found that synthetic forms of many Vitamins and Minerals are proving extremely difficult for the body to break down. This means they remain present long after their natural forms would have been absorbed or removed from the body entirely. 
An example of this is Iron, with the synthetic form of Iron used in fortified foods being hard to absorb and remaining in circulation for much longer periods than in its natural form. While this may sound like a good thing, sadly, the reverse is true with it oxidising over time damaging cell membranes leading to inflammation, accelerated ageing and damage to DNA. This is where test results can be very misleading with a higher level of Iron in the blood not necessarily being a good thing. 
Which brings us on to the last issue, the processing required to add – fortify – the particular food. Sadly, any processing changes the nature of a food, whether a little or a lot. To our bodies, ANY processed food is radically different to it in its natural form, both in terms of nutrition and substance. Again, this is a topic we’ve written about before and can be found here
So, where does that bring us? 
Well, sadly, it’s yet another example of the hype not living up to expectations. We know we’ve said it before but processed food will NEVER live up to its natural counterparts. The only way to know exactly what’s in your food – and to obtain the greatest nutritional value from it – is to prepare and cook it yourself from scratch. There really is no quick fix. And, as we always emphasise, this doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It’s just down to a little forethought and planning. 
As always, the choice is yours. 
Photograph by unknown author 
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