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Nutrition and You!

Can Fortified Foods Provide Too Much of a Good Thing?

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If you and your kids are eating tons of fortified cereals, snack bars, and other enhanced beverages and foods, you may be consuming too much of a good thing.

According to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), their researchers found that 114 cereals, such as General Mills Wheaties and Kellogg’s Krave were fortified with 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc, and/or niacin, while 27 common brands of snack bars, such as Balance Bars and Marathon bars, were fortified with 50 percent or more of the adult Daily Value of at least one of these nutrients.

“Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s research director and co-author of the report. “Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume.” Children typically have lower nutrient needs than adults.

Chronically consuming too much of certain nutrients can have ill effects in the body. Because Vitamin A is stored in your body, excessive amounts can accumulate to toxic levels in the liver. A high intake of vitamin A during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, can cause birth defects in the face and skull and damage the baby’s central nervous system. Consuming too much niacin can cause flushing, a reddish coloring of the face, arms, and chest, and excesses amounts of zinc can cause stomach pains, nausea, and diarrhea.

The issue here is excessive amounts. Fortified foods can be a valuable option for individuals whose diets fall short of some nutrients. For instance someone who doesn’t drink milk, such as a strict vegetarian, may benefit with drinking a vitamin D- and calcium-fortified soy milk. However, if your diet contains numerous servings of heavily fortified foods, it could actually be similar to taking more than one multivitamin and mineral supplement daily.

To help you avoid consuming too much of a good thing daily, look at all the sources of fortified foods in your diet to assess if you are taking in more than 100 percent of the Daily Value cumulatively. While a serving of a fortified cereal or bar, especially a whole grain variety, daily is unlikely to be a problem for healthy individuals, you may need to reduce the amount that you are consuming of these products and/or stop taking a supplement. Be mindful that a child’s nutrient needs are different than adults and look to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for advice based on your diet.

Be well,

Joan

Follow Joan on Twitter: @JoanSalgeBlake

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