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Fortified Foods: The Dangers of Overdoing it

Posted Mar 30 2010 9:27pm

Do you start your day with a bowl of fortified cereal, calcium-added milk, along with your vitamin-enriched OJ with which you gulp down your multi-vitamin? Do you frequently  snack on nutrient-infused energy bars and drink vitamin water?

These fortified food products, also known as functional foods, have burst on the food market in abundance the past few years. Furthermore, now in addition to adding vitamins and minerals and fiber to their foods and beverages, manufacturers are adding probiotics, herbs, and Omega 3 fatty acids, all in an effort to attract health-conscious consumers. But is it possible to get too many nutrients from these manufactured food sources?

Yes, certain nutrients in excess can be harmful. The fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K, for example, can be toxic at high levels. Unlike water-soluble vitamins (which when consumed in excess are excreted in the urine) excess fat soluble vitamins are stored in fat cells.Overdoing your intake of certain minerals ( iron for example) can also be detrimental. Also, ingesting too much of one nutrient can hamper absorption of other nutrients. For example, many throat lozenges are fortified with zinc because it helps boost immunity, but consuming too much zinc lowers copper absorption and copper is a critical nutrient for blood health.

Research also suggests that excess folic acid may increase cancer risk. This critical b-vitamin helps make, protect, and repair DNA and it also helps convert some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into others. When folic acid is found naturally in foods (such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains) it is called folate; folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin.When it was found that folate can help prevent birth defects, food manufacturers got on the bandwagon and begin adding folic acid to many products – breakfast cereals, enriched bread flours, pasta and rice. Because of this, folic acid is now in abundance in most people’s diets.

Bottom line:  for health and economic reasons you are better off eating real, whole foods, which supply nutrients in their natural, most absorbable form and proportions. If you regularly consume fortified foods and nutritional supplements, be sure to consider your overall intake of nutrients (including the food you’re consuming). Just as a nutrient deficiency can be harmful, too much of certain nutrients can also be detrimental.

Be Well, 

Carolyn


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