Are Enriched Foods Actually Nutritious?

Arnold white bread

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

 

An enriched food is a product to which nutrients have been added. Typically, the added nutrients were present in the food in its original form but were removed at some point during processing. White bread is an example of an enriched food because certain vitamins are added after the bleaching process depletes them.

What "Enriched" Means

Enriched foods sound healthy. The word "enriched" makes it seem like something special has been added to the food to make it better. That definition of enriched foods isn't wrong. But it's not completely accurate, either.

Enriched foods have had nutrients replaced that were originally removed as a result of processing and manufacturing.

For example, food makers may add B vitamins, like folic acid, or iron to replenish what was lost during the food manufacturing process. Many people confuse enriched foods with fortified foods. According to the University of Chicago, fortified foods are foods in which nutrients have simply been added, not replaced.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, enriched foods and other functional foods "have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence." In short, that means that enriched foods may be part of a healthy diet that includes a variety of different types of food.

Examples

To see if the food you eat contains enriched ingredients, simply check below the nutrition facts label and scan the list of ingredients. Look for ingredients that include the word "enriched." Many enriched foods are made with enriched flour. Cereals may be enriched with iron or you may see that your bread is made with enriched ingredients. Pasta and tortillas might also be enriched foods.

You might also see the word "fortified" on the front of the package. For example, your orange juice may advertise that it is "fortified with calcium" or your cereal might brag that it is "fortified with iron." Or you may see the more general claim “fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.” 

"Fortified" statements all mean that ingredients have been added to increase the nutritional value of the food.

Are Enriched Foods Healthy?

Enriched foods can be part of a healthy diet, but enriched foods aren't necessarily healthy in and of themselves. Furthermore, enriched foods may not be better for your diet than foods that are not enriched. 

For example, you may find yourself in the bakery aisle of your grocery store trying to choose a healthy bread. You can select a white bread made with enriched flour or you can choose a whole wheat bread made with whole grains. The whole-grain bread may not be "enriched," but that is likely because its nutrients weren't depleted during processing, so those nutrients don't have to be added back in. Ultimately, the whole grain bread in this example may be the better choice.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, functional foods like enriched products can be part of a healthy diet. But it is the whole diet—not just a single food item—that promotes good health and wellness.

A Word From Verywell

If you are trying to improve your diet, evaluating the number of enriched foods you consume is a good place to start. Enriched foods can be part of a healthy eating plan, but they can also be more heavily processed and (sometimes) less nutritious than whole, less processed foods. For example, an enriched loaf of bread may be less nutritious than a loaf made from scratch at your local bakery with whole grains and fresh ingredients.

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