Knowledge may be power, but as Dale Carnegie once said, “Knowledge isn't power until it is applied.” That’s certainly true when it comes to eating, and a recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) confirms it.
While 79 percent of Americans say they are somewhat knowledgeable about nutrition, 67 percent of us think we’re falling short of meeting our nutritional needs. And it’s true: Most of us are consuming less vitamin D, potassium, and fiber than we believe we are. But we’re also taking in more B vitamins than we think we’re eating. The IFIC says this may be due to fortified foods, which I feel perhaps consumers are not educated enough about. So allow me to break it down.
What is a fortified food?
A fortified food has been modified to have health benefits. For example, orange juice with added calcium and vitamin D to support bone health. Or yogurt with added chicory root fiber (also called inulin), which serves as food for the naturally occurring probiotics, so subsequently inulin helps promote a healthy gut, reduce constipation, and enhance calcium absorption.
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Are fortified foods processed?
According to the United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a processed food is “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity, including any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation, or milling." This definition is definitely broad. Ultimately, unless you picked a food straight from your garden or a tree, almost everything we eat today have had some sort of processing, including a low-fat plain Greek yogurt and a box of quinoa from Whole Foods. This is why it’s important to see how many ingredients a food has and how many of them you have never heard of or can’t pronounce. The shorter the list and the more you know, the better the food.
If fortified foods are processed, how can they be healthy?
There are many nutrients that individuals have a hard time meeting in their daily diets, and fortified foods can help fill the gaps.
Are the nutrients in natural foods any more "powerful" than fortified ones?
It is hard to say if a single nutrient is more "powerful" in natural or fortified foods. The key thing is to focus on the whole package of macro- and micronutrients that it includes.
Should I try to get my nutrients from natural foods or fortified foods?
Both foods are important and vary from person to person. For example, if you are lactose-intolerant or dislike dairy products, it might be best to choose orange juice fortified with calcium.
Are fortified foods better than non-fortified foods?
Decisions on which foods you choose depend your entire diet and how you feel. If you are getting amble fiber by following a well-balanced diet including plenty of whole grains, fruits, and veggies with no complaints of constipation, there might be no need to buy oatmeal with added fiber. However, if you have trouble getting enough fiber in your diet for whatever reasons, then fiber-fortified oatmeal may be the way to go. If you suffer from IBS and probiotics have been recommended to you by your physician or registered dietitian, then a yogurt that has additional probiotics added could be helpful. But a regular yogurt could provide enough nutritional benefits for the average person.
In my opinion, it is always comes back to this: No matter how many fortified foods you eat or don’t eat, it cannot take the place of an overall well-balanced, varied diet.