Often many food products we buy have been fortified or enriched referring to the addition of micronutrients to these foods. They aren’t the same though – there are slight differences. Here’s what you need to know regarding the differences between the two.
Fortified And Enriched Foods
Sometimes in supermarkets when reading the back of food labels you’ll see terms such as ‘enriched with B12’ or fortified with B vitamins. In some scenarios, these claims will be made on front of pack in order to attract certain consumers who will buy these products over their competitors due to the added micronutrient value of these products.
Micronutrient deficiencies are become more and more common around the world due to people regularly consuming foods lacking in micronutrients. Some common deficiencies, include a lack of vitamin A, iron and iodine. In order to try and mitigate these problems, food companies are investing resources into finding ways to effectively fortify and enrich foods.
Minerals and vitamins can be lost during processing due to:
- Heat treatment
- Metals leaching into the water
- Chemical processes which occur during production
In order to ‘reverse’ these losses, many food products are fortified or enriched with micronutrients.
Enrichment = adding more micronutrients to a food product
An example of fortified foods we often find in the supermarket would be cereals. They tend to be enriched with B vitamins. Cereal products tend to be lacking in micronutrients so in order to add nutritional value, B vitamins are added. This also allows claims to be made on pack relating to enrichment.
We see lots of malnutrition in Asia where many countries obtain a large proportion of their calories from cereals of which are made from wheat and rice. Assuming that these cereals are enriched, this potentially tells us several things:
- The foods aren’t enriched enough.
- We need more diversity in the diet and can’t rely largely on enriched foods.
- The micronutrients added aren’t effectively absorbed.
Fortification = adding micronutrients back to a food product that were lost during processing
You can also find fortified cereals in the market. The processing of cereal grains ends up stripping many of the minerals naturally found so these are added back in so that the end cereal product has the same amount of micronutrients as it did in its raw state before processing.
In some cases, certain foods are fortified by law, such as in the UK where flour is fortified with calcium (apart from wholemeal and certain self-raising varieties). Fortification of foods is recognised as a cost-effective long term strategy for preventing micronutrient deficiencies. Foods such as cereal flour, salt, sugar and soy sauce tend to be fortified in some way.
Improving Consumer Nutrition And Health
Ultimately, processed foods are fortified or enriched with the aim of improving consumer nutrition and health. Due to the fact that some of these products alone may lack micronutrients which are essential for good health, an effort is made to ensure the consumer is getting greater nutritional value from eating these food products.
Can We Use The Micronutrients Added?
But there’s also the question of whether we can use the micronutrients added. Does the way the micronutrients are processed before enrichment or fortification affect how well the human body can absorb them? What form of a micronutrient is added back into the food product? For example, there are two forms of vitamin A, beta-carotene and retinol. Beta-carotene comes from plants and retinol from animals. Humans need the retinol form so must convert beta-carotene into retinol. However, this conversion process is inefficient in humans, with percentage conversion ranging from 28% to 3.5% although a large part of this may be down to genetics. Regardless, it’s less efficient than obtaining vitamin A from an animal source itself.
Can We Rely On Enriched And Fortified Foods?
Personally, I don’t think so although I don’t think it hurts to consume them. I believe we should be eating a diverse range of animal and plant foods as the basis for any optimal human diet. This allows for micronutrients to be obtained from a variety of sources which will help to combat any micronutrient deficiencies. I’m thinking of eating muscle meat, organ meat, off-cuts of meat, fish, eggs, leafy greens, starchy tubers, nuts, seeds and more.
If you have a choice between similar products which are either enriched, fortified or have no addition of micronutrients, I certainly think the enriched or fortified product would be better.
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