Mathew Bose

Additives…food fortification…

Nutritional additives – fortification

Fortification is the practice of adding micronutrients to food products. Directly to the product or to the animal feed that will therefore boost the content of the meat (or other animal products) as a consequence. The practice began in the West in the 1920’s with the USA ‘fortifying’ salt with iodine, then in the 1930’s and 40’s they began the mandatory addition of vitamin D to milk and various vitamin B’s to flour. The UK followed suit with the mandatory fortification of flour with calcium, iron, and B vitamins thiamine (1) and niacin (3) – none of which are required subsequently to be listed in the ingredients list. Similarly margarine is fortified with vitamins D and A. The idea was to add fortifying micronutrients to mass consumed products (bread, water, salt etc.) as a mass public health benefit when fears were that these nutritional elements were lacking in the general national diet (or within deemed vulnerable groups i.e. ‘poor people’).

The FDF (Food and Drink Federation) gives three reasons for fortification – restoration, substitution and enhancement.

Restoration – the micronutrients are added back to white and brown flour (not whole grain) because they are contained in the bran that is removed during the milling and refining processes.

Substitution – margarine has added vitamins to give it the similar levels to that of butter allowing for an alternative product with similar nutritional value.

Enhancement – and this must be revealed on the product label – many breakfast cereals have micronutrients added to them by the manufacturers to increase commercial value.

Vitamin D fortification is currently much discussed as the natural food sources are few and the risk from sun damage is of increasing concern to many. There has been much talk of the addition of folic acid into a variety of foods (the USA already does this) as it is often recommended as a supplement to certain sections of the population (pregnant women or those planning pregnancy in particular). Commonly fortified foods include breakfast cereals, soya milk, infant formula milks and many baby foods. However, it is this very ‘blanket delivery’ that the pressure groups, against such ideas, contest.

The supporters of fortified foods claim they can play an important role in a healthy balanced diet and provide the opportunity for easy and consistent intake, as opposed to supplements that might be more randomly taken, and perhaps not at correctly metered delivery levels. Strict regulations control the additives both in the UK and overall by the EU. The fortification process can therefore be used to safely deliver various nutrients to the groups that need them without them needing to change their eating patterns and without further expense to the consumer. Developing countries have had huge success with these policies and, in the UK, successful examples that are sited, as support for the system, are the decrease in key nutrient deficiency in women (folate, iron, vitamins D and B2 etc.), the eradication of iodine deficiency (provided through dairy foods and credited to the sterilisation process the cow’s teats go through), and the benefits to vegetarian and other specific diets groups of the fortification of foods to compensate for and/or enhance them to reclaim any potential short fall through the consumption of only plant sources.

The official governing bodies claim these fortifications have made huge differences to the rates of common deficiencies, however, pressure groups against the fortification criticise the lack of review of these laws (not reviewed since 1981) claiming that they are not relevant as the national diet has changed hugely since their introduction (the war years that triggered the inclusion of calcium, for instance, were times of low dairy intake compared to now when the intake is high). These pressure groups also say that the milling process damages higher levels of nutrients than the industry claims and replacement vitamins are not as effective**, and certainly not as natural, as the original the grains contained. Further criticism is that many manufacturers are being accused of using fortification as a way to promote and entice the buying of their processed foods which is in turn increasing the consumers intake of sugars, fats and salt.

**Noted experts have pointed out that added elements such as ascorbic acid, retinoic acid and types of tocopherol (this means added elements labelled as vitamin C, vitamin A or vitamin E) are not the actual vitamin at all but just a lab created isolation of them (synthetic versions needed to replace the naturally occurring versions lost during processing – especially vitamin C which is destroyed by heat). The essential theory being that vitamins are complex compounds that need to work within a set of multi level parameters and so creating an individual molecular compound from them might well work as a preservative, antioxidants etc. but does not therefore consequently also work within the body as a fully fledged vitamin. I.e. you’re getting the vitamin just not any benefit. The American company ‘Real C’ use the analogy: ‘If you compare vitamin C to an egg, ascorbic acid would be just the egg shell with nothing inside’.

Hmmm…think on! Another reason to avoid fruit juice that isn’t freshly squeezed, right? What?!?…Er, please have you learned nothing?!? The other reason is….? That’s right…! Evil sugar (fructose)…