Visit any grocery store these days and you will discover one of the hottest buzz words in food marketing; "fortified with…" Whether it's orange juice with iron or calcium enriched cereals, fortified foods have become one of the hottest trends on the food isle today. Little did you know the trend actually started more than a century ago.
In the early 1900's, shortly after the time vitamins were discovered and made available in grocery and drug stores, scientists began to recognize the potential benefits of fortified foods. In the 20's, 30's and 40's the medical community called for the fortification of salt, milk and flour to address growing health needs. During World War II it became mandatory to add certain B vitamins and iron to "enriched" bread to address food shortages.
Today supermarkets and natural food stores provide an abundant supply of fortified foods and "functional foods" to which beneficial nutrients have been added. These are the same nutrients available in the form of dietary supplements.
Multivitamins are the supplement most commonly used by consumers. Fortified breakfast cereals also provide an assortment of added vitamins and minerals — some with levels as high as 100% of the Daily Value.
Enriched grain products such as breads, pasta and rice have added iron and B vitamins. Beginning in 1998, the FDA required the added B vitamins to include folic acid in addition to the usual niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin, continued evidence that the FDA still considers food enrichment a viable approach to improving public health.
The latest research continues to show that many Americans still fall short of getting the calcium needed in their diets. People can fill that gap with calcium supplements or with many calcium-fortified foods, including orange juice and breakfast cereals.
The labeling craze is not just limited to vitamins and minerals. Fish oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids are growing in popularity because of their recognized association with heart health. Foods such as salmon are being labeled with heart symbols emphasizing their omega-3 content. Plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids (while not containing the same type of omega-3 as fish) are also being added to foods ranging from eggs to breads.
Consumers recognize the benefits of getting more fiber in their diets, and here again they have the choice of eating foods naturally high in fiber (such as whole grains and fruits and vegetables), adding fiber supplements, or selecting "functional foods" with fiber added. The added fiber might be found in grain products such as cereals, breads, and fiber bars, or might even be found in beverages such as orange juice.
The key to remember is that now you have multiple options to achieve your goal of a well balanced diet. You can optimize you diet with whole foods that are naturally rich sources of vitamins and minerals, or if you need other alternatives, various fortified or functional foods and dietary supplements can help keep you on track and getting the nutrients you need.