> food : composition : fortification
"In an effort to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of human beings, the food industry has turned in recent years to the fortification of individual foods and food products."
- Grant H. Hartman, jr, "Technological Problems in Fortification with Minerals," Technology of Fortification of Foods, page 8
if you've ever been to the cereal aisle in a grocery store, you've seen "fortified with 9 essential vitamins and minerals!""Puffed and flaked whole cereals must be fortified at a later stage by a spray, dust, or infusion process. Heat-labile vitamins, such as thiamin, are usually sprayed onto toasted cereals as they leave the oven."
staples such as cereal, bread, milk, and rice are often "fortified" or "enriched," a process wherein vitamins and minerals are added to food beyond what's naturally left in the product after production.
the process of fortification is not apparent from the vitamin lists on the side of the box, as a longtime cereal consumer i was a little astonished to read:
- B. Borenstin, "Vitamin Fortification Technology," Technology of Fortification of Foods, page 5
so nutritional content is an additive!"Historically, wheat flour, bread, and rolls have shared the spotlight with salt and milk as food carriers of nutrients that have largely eradicated specific deficiency diseases in the United States. The contributions of B vitamins in enriched cereal products to the eradications of beri beri, pellagra, and ariboflavinosis; of iodized salt to goiter; and of vitamin D-fortified milk to rickets are strong testimony to the importance of enriching and fortifying foods.
but not necessarily. often, this kind of food fortification consists primarily of replacing, or enhancing quantities of vitamins and minerals that disappear from the food product during preparation or distribution. here science has developed the means to fix some of the problems created by technology - in this case, making food in large quantites, or strange forms (read: "quisps") strips out the healthy stuff, so fortification puts it back.
food fortification not only concerns replacing missing minerals however. together with the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) from the National Food Board, vitamins are included to correct for specific deficiency diseases. here food scientists can track some impressive results:
- Howard E. Bauman, "Cereal Products," Technology of Fortification of Foods, page 38
fortifying foods has a good track record it seems, so,
two questions...if vitamin fortification has addressed so many maladies, why isn't all our food superfortified? wouldn't there be fewer instances of the common cold if all our foodstuffs were sprayed/injected/infused with vitamin C? certainly this might be the case were Linus Pauling to run our cereal factories.1. Problems of color, flavor, physical body and texture, cost and control are created by the mineral fortification of foods.
before we consider the social questions or health concerns that might arise, there are some technological barriers to this.
2. Technological problems increase as a higher proportion of the RDA is included per serving of product.
- Grant H. Hartman, jr, "Technological Problems in Fortification with Minerals," Technology of Fortification of Foods, page 17
these technological problems, running the gamut from dosage to taste mean that we are unlikely to see colt 45 with 4000% your USRDA vitamin C anytime soon. but recently at health food stores i have seen "Ginko Biloba Rings" ("a memory snack") and even "Echinacia Shells" and "Chi Bars" (condensed sustainence) loaded with nutrients well over recommended daily levels; these selective and even excessive health-fortified foods are available to wealthy, educated consumers."The US RDA is a guideline of supplements suggested to maintain minimal health, without being harmful to the majority of the population. I think it is outdated and parochial. It is not designed to optimize well-being, but to prevent (more or less) diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies, which are extremely rare in this country in the first instance. I also believe it is a guideline set forth by the medical establishment, which would be severely wounded financially if the vast majority of the population took supplements wisely (and ate/drank wisely)."
RDAs, which largely determine the ceilings for vitamin and mineral fortification, cater to a particularly broad vision of health and save the state some health care costs by introducing some small measure of preventative care. in her interview in the vitamin section here, Lynn Hall responds to the question, "what do you think of the us rda?"
- Lynn Hall, thesis interview, march 1998
would she prefer the standards-setting body take a stronger stance by mandating preventative medicine, or that consumers, educated with access to information, take active responsibility for their own health? probably the latter, and recent actions in food labelling have paralleled her sentiments. successful US government efforts to expand and clarify food labels continue to shift some expertise to consumers; here from the Food and Drug Administration web site,"The purpose of the food label reform was simple: to clear up confusion that has prevailed on supermarket shelves for years, to help consumers choose more healthful diets, and to offer an incentive to food companies to improve the nutritional qualities of their products."
- "The New Food Label," FDA web site, may 1995
this is a promising direction, decentralizing nutritional power and responsibility. are the bulk of consumers interested in this control? the example set by existing nutritional standards is a minimal, relatively inoffensive nutrient standard that most people need not pay much attention to. we have made fortification, as commonly practiced, largely a fix to the problem of mass production.[insert objections]
the reasons for our restraint are not only technological, there are also social barriers to widespread intensive food fortification. early opponents of fortification spoke in outraged tones against altering sacred, natural food.
today the often adverse taste of overly healthy food keeps people away; they turn instead to foods easier to enjoy, or cheaper to consume. nothing laden with vitamins and minerals has been wildly popular - both because of potential side effects, and because the population at large does not seem prepared to buy products for positive health benefits (rather negative ones; less unhealthy stuff: "low fat"). envisioned superfortified foods verge on vitamins. perhaps people would rather have food be food, and not recognize it as some kind of drug. on the other hand, recently all sorts of corner shops and convenience stores have begun to carry energy beverages with ma huang, ephedreine, caffeine, ginseng; things that were previously available only in health food stores.
moreover, it would take some determined and approved expertise to decide what the appropriate health supplement saturation is for everyone. because of both technological and social barriers, food remains a largely unutilized medium for agressive preventative health propigation, and perhaps it is better that way.
the alternative, gradual shifting of information to the consumer is both similar and different than efforts to improve health through water (fluoride) - individuals are not likely to be able to choose the fluoride levels in their city water pipes, but the Environmental Protection Agency has announced that citizens will be regularly informed of their water additives in the next few years.
expanded labelling puts information and the opportunity for expertise back in the hands of the users. the effect that will have on consumption and the overall industry remains to be seen.
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