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Are Fortified Foods Good For Your Children?

"Proper nutrition is very important for children!"
By: Ma. Jocelyn A. Niere-Quidlat, MD, FPPSAre Fortified Foods Good For Your Children?

Proper nutrition is very important for children. Any excess or deficiency of food nutrients will affect their nutritional status and will affect their growth and development. A huge population of children especially in the third world countries do not get enough food and micronutrients in their daily diet. As a result of this, many children are underweight and are too short for their age. What are micronutrients? These are vitamins and minerals which are found naturally in food. Vitamins are needed to keep children healthy.

What exactly is food fortification?  It is defined as the practice of deliberately increasing the content of  essential  micronutrients i.e. vitamins and minerals such as Iron, vitamin A, thiamine,riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, pyridoxine, zinc and iodine to staple foods to improve their nutritional quality and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health. This practice started as early as the 1920’s. It is an effective means to improve public health. The commonly fortified foods include staple product such as salt, maize flour, wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil, and rice. Many diets, especially those who are economically deprived, lack the necessary levels of vitamins and minerals because of lack of variety in the food consumed. This is also aggravated by the intake of processed foods which are cheaper and readily available. The United Nation’s Codex Alimentarius Commission lays down international food standards, which list the basic conditions for national fortification programs. These are first, indirect evidence of an appropriate rate of malnutrition, second, identification of a food carrier (such as flour or edible oil) which is consumed by the whole of the malnourished population and whose consumption is recorded and lastly an evidence base for minimum and maximum fortification.

In crisis situations fortified foods also play an important role.  In situations triggered by economic crises, natural disasters or long term violent conflict, the diet of the affected people are not enough or not balanced in nature hence the necessity of fortifying with vitamins and minerals have to be provided in order to prevent malnutrition. 

There are various reports regarding fortification of certain foods. One report was made by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) a Washington D.C. based health research and advocacy organization. They said that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts of Vit. A, zinc and niacin, with fortified breakfast cereals the leading source of excessive intake because all three nutrients are added in amounts calculated for adults.” The report also stated that “outdated nutritional labelling rules and misleading marketing by food manufacturers who use high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious fuels this potential risk.”  Renee Sharp, the EWG director of research  added that although the Food and Drug Administration is currently updating nutrition facts labels that appear on most food packages, none of its proposed changes address the issue of over-consumption of fortified micronutrients or that the recommended per cent daily values for nutrition content that appear on the labels are based on adults.

Louise Berner, a food science and nutrition researcher at Al Poly State University in San Luis Obispo,CA and colleagues did a study on how much of an impact fortification has on children’s nutrition and determined which foods were providing the added nutrients. They analysed the diet of 7,250children and adolescents 2-18 years old. Their study showed that even with increased nutrients from fortified sources, a substantial percentage of kids still had intakes of Vitamins A, C and D that were less than the estimated average requirements for their age and sex.

Dr. David Katz, the founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine commented that “the trouble with fortification is that while it can increase the good, it does not necessarily do anything to decrease the bad.” Katz said that there are examples of food fortification which are very important no matter what the diet is like. Vitamin D in a population that does not get a lot of sun exposure is the best example. He also said that the in a culture that eats very poorly, fortification is needed to have adequate nutrient intake. However he added that it is a mistake to think that preventing nutrient deficiencies with fortified “junk foods” is in any way he same as eating truly good foods.

Fortification can be self-limiting because of the high levels of additional nutrients which may change the appearance and taste of food. A diet providing the optimal level and balance of nutrients may be potentially worthless if it does not look or taste good enough to eat. Fortified foods can fill the nutrient gap. However it is very important to feed our children a balanced diet including fruits and vegetables.

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