Are Fortified Foods Actually Healthy?

By Jeanette Kimszal, RD, NLC

Have you picked up salt high in iodine or vitamin D-rich milk recently? These are both examples of fortified foods, AKA foods to which extra nutrients have been added.

And these pumped-up products are crazy common: think cereals and breakfast bars, milk and milk products, orange juice, tea, and infant formulas.

At first glance, they seem incredibly helpful. If you tend to be calcium-deficient, why not get an extra dose while sipping your morning OJ, right? Of course, it’s not that simple (sigh…).

Here are the facts you need to decide whether fortified foods are right for you and your family.

Fortified Foods vs. Enriched Foods

First, a distinction: fortification and enrichment are both processes that add nutrients to food, but they’re slightly different.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), fortification is when a nutrient is added to a food that never contained that nutrient. Adding vitamin D to orange juice or milk is a good example.

Enrichment, on the other hand, is when nutrients that are lost during processing are added back into a food. For instance, when whole wheat is processed into white flour, iron and B vitamins may be added back in a synthetic form.

Fortified Foods’ Potential Benefits

Government agencies and food policy advocates often use enrichment and fortification to decrease nutrient deficiencies in large populations, and this approach can be super effective.

In the 1920s, companies began adding iodine to table salt to combat a high incidence of goiters in the US, and in 1996 the FDA mandated adding synthetic folic acid to processed grains in order to combat high incidences of neural tube defects in newborn babies. These policies have helped prevent real public health problems.

The Problems with Fortified Foods

There are a few big issues with the average consumer eating fortified foods regularly.

Many experts argue that your body does not absorb individual nutrients added to foods in the same way that it absorbs nutrients that naturally occur in whole foods, consumed alongside all kinds of other complementary nutrients. A simple example is skim milk that is fortified with vitamin A and D. The milk has been processed to remove the fat, but A and D are fat-soluble vitamins. So if you eat them without a fat source, you may not benefit in the same way or to the same degree.

And most food companies are using synthetic versions of the micronutrients, which your body may process differently than the natural, food-based versions.

Finally, companies often add vitamins into these foods at incredibly high levels—up to 100 percent of the recommended daily amount into one serving of food. Since most people (probably like you!) don’t have severe deficiencies, eating a lot of foods that are enriched or fortified may cause you to exceed the recommended daily intake by a long shot. In severe (rare) cases, this can lead to toxicity overload, or it may mess with things like your digestion. Some individuals have troubling breaking down folic acid, for example, and eating enriched bread, pasta, and cereal regularly could cause blood concentrations to increase to a level that can decrease immunity or mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.

The Takeaway

Here’s the bottom line: you may have noticed something about the fortified foods mentioned here—they’re usually highly processed (AKA unhealthy!) to begin with.

So, while fortification can be a useful tool for delivering nutrients to at-risk populations, if you’re lucky enough to have the choice, it’s better to skip labels that say enriched or fortified and reach for naturally nutrient-rich whole foods.

fortified foodsAbout Jeanette: Jeanette Kimszal is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and graduate of The Nutrition School. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University and worked on the media side of advertising. During that time, she became health-conscious and decided to turn her nutrition hobby into a new career. She was accepted to Montclair State University and two years later obtained a certification in Nutrition, and then completed her dietetic internship with the ARAMARK Distance Learning Internship. She has experience working in clinical, community, and management settings and has counseled both in- and out-patients. She currently resides in New Jersey, and her passions include nutrition, health, wellness, writing, and music. She has a love for helping women attain healthy lifestyles through positive behavioral changes and teaching people how to add more nutrients into their diet through consumption of whole foods.

Why You Should Stop Counting Calories

Q: If I eat 100 calories of jelly beans, isn’t that the same as eating 100 calories of another snack like turkey and avocado?


A: There’s a reason why people say “a calorie is a calorie”. In all fairness, a calorie is a calorie in its most simple form.


And for years, it was drilled into our heads that counting calories was the only way to lose weight.


Calories are a measure of the energy generated from food once inside the body, and they abide by a simple law of physics: energy in minus energy out equals weight loss or gain.  


This is true both in a test-tube and in tightly controlled weight loss experiments, where people are basically locked-up and fed exactly the same number of calories from different types of diets.


Time and again, subjects will lose roughly the same amount of weight, regardless of whether the calories come from low-fat, low-carbs or diets somewhere in between.


However, this is far from the complete story.


The human body is quite complex and there are many factors at play at all times.


Hormones, emotions, cravings and even our social schedule influence the amount of calories we consume and how our body processes them.

So, I’m going to explain why 100 calories of jelly beans is not the same as 100 calories of fresh turkey and a slice of avocado. Stay with me.


Why You Should Stop Counting Calories


If all calories were created equal, many of us would choose to live in a land of gummy bears and swedish fish. But food isn’t made up of calories alone.


Let’s go back to those jelly beans.


The only nutrient jelly beans provide is sugar. Sugar does nothing good for our bodies and actually does whole lot of harm!


During digestion, sugary treats stimulate the hormone insulin to be released. Insulin is good in the way that it helps cells uptake nutrients we eat, but it also inhibits the breakdown of fat and encourages the creation of it when we take in those excess calories.


Translation: if we don’t need those jelly bean calories they’ll be turned to fat- fast!


This spike in insulin and blood sugar also causes us to feel hungrier sooner, which likely means our hand goes right back into the candy bag and pops another 100 calories in our mouth before we’ve had time to even think about it.


And the last nail in the coffin (pun intended) for living on calories from sugar alone, is that we will actually die from it. Seriously… sugar alone would eventually kill us. We need nutrients, vitamins, and phytonutrients that real whole foods provide to fuel all bodily processes.


Now, a portion of turkey and avocado can also provide the body with 100 calories. But, these calories are loaded with protein, fiber, healthy fats, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and many other vitamins and minerals our bodies needs to perform at an optimum level of health.


These nutrients help with body processes from building muscle to improving energy to boosting the immune system to helping prevent cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other benefits.


Guess what else these calories do for us? They help to keep you satisfied and full – so we aren’t as likely to go back for seconds – and they keep fat storage hormones in check.


By helping to control blood sugar, our insulin release is more stable and we release less fat storage hormones.


So the important takeaway is to watch your total calorie intake, but most important is to eat whole, real unprocessed foods. And, don’t forget to read the ingredient list of any packaged foods you do eat to get the full nutritional picture.


Jelly beans can never replace the nutritional benefits provided by consuming whole, real foods – even if you eat the same amount of calories.

Alas, a calorie is not a calorie!


How to Be Healthy On a 3 Day Weekend

Three day weekends. They’re all about your favorite F words: friends, family, food, and fun. You know the drill.

But it’s amazing how an extra 24 hours makes it so easy to overdo everything and turn what could’ve been a chance to press the reset button on your life into a hangover-filled, sleep-deprived, food-coma weekend.


I always talk to my clients about changing their mindset about what weekends mean, especially those clients who tend to eat well all week long and then go bonkers come Friday night, undoing all the “good” work they did since Monday.


This weekend, break the cycle. Flip the switch. Redefine what a weekend means. Learn how to be even healthier during a time you normally reserve for your most unhealthy habits.


Instead of thinking it’s time to go “off” your diet, skip your workout, and binge watch Netflix, use this 72 hour break to be kind to your body. Approach this weekend as a kickstart to good health and a little more happiness.


Today I’m teaching you how to be healthy on a 3 day weekend, and I’m not even gonna talk about food.


How to Be Healthy On a 3 Day Weekend



Sleep Deep: Allowing yourself to become sleep deprived can leave you feeling lethargic, dull, cloudy, and can even worsen your metabolism and interfere with proper decision making. I want you to tuck yourself in a little bit earlier and aim for a minimum of 7 hours with the Sandman, sans electronics! Winding down before bed is important for setting yourself up for a good night of sleep. Chamomile tea, a little lavender oil, some deep breaths can go a long way. Figure out a routine you can stick with even if just on the weekend, and treat your body to some much needed downtime.


Love More: While I have you thinking about your time between the sheets, go ahead and stimulate the release of those feel good hormones by creating a little extra time to connect. Intimacy and sex flood the body with oxytocin, and I’ve never heard anybody say they are getting too much oxytocin in their, er, diet. And did you know that research shows oxytocin lowers stress, which also helps lower your weight? Wham bam thank you ma’am. Sometimes a busy schedule can leave the importance of intimacy on the back burner, so use the extra time this weekend to light that fire again.


Nurture Yourself: Sometimes being passionate in our lives is easier when we take a moment to love ourselves a little more. There are endless benefits to feeling your best, and most of them happen on their own. Your posture will straighten, your face will soften and brighten, you’ll naturally be exuding the best version of yourself. Think about what makes you feel pampered and do it. It might be a massage after work or a mani pedi tomorrow with your morning coffee or even just taking time to use that delicious moisturizer you normally skip after a shower because you’re running out the door. Whatever it is, remember that it’s not selfish to use time for yourself.


I hope this long weekend you enjoy a lot of your favorite f words, and that you do it in a way that is kind to yourself. Learning how to be healthy doesn’t have to start on a Monday. It can start on a Friday and continue all weekend long.