Enriched or Fortified Foods on Labels

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You'll sometimes see the words "enriched" or "fortified" on processed foods, often with additional health or nutritional claims. In some ways, enrichment and fortification are similar, but the terms aren't truly interchangeable. You could say that enrichment is a form of fortification, but fortification is not the same as enrichment. 

Foods that have the words enriched or fortified printed on their labels have had one or more nutrients added to them during the manufacturing process. Common "added nutrients" include calcium, vitamin C, potassium, iron, protein, or fiber.

Enriched Foods

The word "enriched" means nutrients have been added to replace the ones that have disappeared during the manufacturing process. For example, whole wheat is rich in B-complex vitamins and iron that live in the outer parts of the grain, which is called the hull. Whole wheat is nutritious and good for you, but many people prefer to use white flour for their bread, pastries, and other baked products.

This means that food manufacturers refine the whole wheat by removing the hulls to create white flour. Of course, eliminating the hulls also removes most of the B-complex vitamins and iron, so they're added back into the flour before packaging and shipping to grocery stores and restaurants.

Enrichment is regulated to protect consumers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rules that food manufacturers must follow to be able to make claims about being enriched. 

According to the FDA, foods can claim to be enriched if they "contain at least 10% of the Daily Value" of that nutrient compared to food of the same type that is not enriched.

The FDA states that products can be labeled as "enriched" so long as they include their standard food name as well as the terminology (such as "enriched bread" or "enriched rice"). Foods labeled as "enriched" must also meet certain nutritional requirements. For example, white flour can only be labeled as "enriched flour" if it contains specified amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron.

Fortified Foods

Fortified foods have extra nutrients added by food manufacturers, but not they're not necessarily meant to replace nutrients that were lost during processing.

This can be useful for individuals who may be missing out on a few essential ingredients, as well as for large scale production. Food fortification can help provide nutrients that tend to be deficient in the diet, while also being of benefit for the general population. For example, one of the very first fortified foods in the United States was iodized salt.

Fortified foods usually have nutrients added that don't occur naturally in the food product. The idea is to make the food healthier by supplementing it with additional nutrition.

In the early 1920s, goiter (a disease of the thyroid gland) was relatively common in areas where iodine was deficient in the soil. In 1924, some salt makers added iodine to their product, which helped reduce the number of new cases of goiter dramatically within a short time.

Milk was first fortified with vitamin D in 1933 to ensure that a sufficient amount of calcium would be absorbed. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.

Today, you'll find calcium-fortified orange juice, phytosterol-fortified margarine, and vitamin and mineral fortified breakfast cereals in your local grocery store. Those are relatively healthy foods, but even junk foods can be fortified with a few extra nutrients so that they can display claims of being fortified or enriched.

Be sure to look beyond the claims on the label and examine the "Nutrition Facts" labels on the back or bottom of the package. While fortification can be a great thing, it doesn't automatically turn junk food into healthy food.

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