Fortifying Foods: How much is too much?

Discussion
Jun 21, 2006

Commentary by Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network


We have a choice as to whether or not we buy functional foods, designed, we are told, to help us maintain our health and reduce the likelihood of developing certain diet-related
illnesses. They do not need to be medically prescribed and, therefore, consumption is uncontrolled. People who choose to include functional foods in their diets are, in fact,
self-diagnosing and have no way of identifying potential conflicts between various supposedly beneficial ingredients. Nor do they have any real way of measuring success.


While Diabetes UK, a non-profit working on behalf of people with diabetes, has been campaigning to curb the sale of treat foods aimed at diabetics on the grounds that they are
expensive and of little value, at least two companies using the word Nutrition in their names continue to develop products which they believe will either prevent or control diabetes.


Meanwhile, the British government is starting a trial giving tablets containing Omega 3 to schoolchildren in order to control their behavior as well as investigating the possible
long term use of new “anti-obesity” drugs that reduce the size of the human body.


Folic acid, fluoride and other vitamins and minerals are already added to food and even water as a matter of course. We must read the smallest print on the label to see what
is in it, but still, without knowing what benefits will allegedly result. Fortified foods do have to have government approval but, once they receive it, no further information
needs to be provided. So how can we tell whether fortified foods are, indeed, functional?


Moderator’s comment: How much do we really need to know about all the ingredients used to manufacture our food?


Some people would say that we have a right to choose. After all, choice is what manufacturers and retailers constantly say is what consumers demand and
what they seek to provide. But how much choice do we have when a label simply says that something is enriched or fortified? Not knowing what is in the food makes it that much
harder to identify the potential source of allergies or other problems we may encounter. We have no way of knowing whether we are consuming enough or too much of a particular
nutrient or mineral if we don’t know how much we’re consuming. Basically, there is no way of knowing how much is too much.

Bernice Hurst – Moderator


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9 Comments on "Fortifying Foods: How much is too much?"


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Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 11 months ago

I worry that fortifying food will give consumers the illusion that they are eating healthy. Nothing will ever do away with the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fortification may keep consumers from making an effort to eat healthy. No, I’m not talking about us but the great unwashed who guzzle Coke and down Big Macks until they reach 21, then substitute beer for the Cokes. I agree that iodine in salt and fortification of bread has probably been a blessing but anything taken to an extreme is probably not good. Hey, I’m 30 lbs overweight so I’ll have a diet Coke with my Krispy Kreme! Only in America!

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 11 months ago

Herb’s right, this is not only about marketing. Sure, putting some fiber in a candy bar doesn’t make it healthy, but putting fluoride in the water has made a profound difference in dental health in most of the country. Somewhere in the middle are the GMOs like bacon with omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene-laden rice.

There’s very little chance, I think, of consumers sorting this all out for themselves. It will be incumbent on governments, scientists, and businesses to discuss these issues in an open manner, and translate real benefits into terms consumers can understand. I’m not too worried about people overdosing on “functional foods.” More likely they waste their money and ignore simpler ways to stay healthy.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 11 months ago
For perspective, it is important to note that the addition of vitamins to white bread was a MAJOR nutritional advance many years ago. Beri beri, scurvy and rickets are quaint memories – if anyone knows anything about them. This represents past triumphs of enrichment. But then there was iron, that needed enrichment, but at too high levels created more problems than it solved. The argument about how much is too much won’t soon end. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was a notorious supporter of megavitamin therapy, which the mainstream still considers quackery. Beginning cautiously, the US government began (through their expert panels) to establish “minimum” daily requirements, MDR’s, which was the guideline for many years. About 40 years ago there was a shift to the more realistic RDA, Recommended Daily Allowance, upon which all current labeling specifications are based. But there is no way a single standard can represent the varied needs of the population. Something like 80% of the population (US) consumes less than the RDA of at least one nutrient. Would these people benefit… Read more »
Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
15 years 11 months ago

I agree with two comments above…it’s about marketing. Health is a new “hot trend” that many of the CPG manufacturers are capitalizing on very successfully.

Maybe it’s from living in Southern California for too long, but I personally feel that the only way to guarantee your personal nutrition is to stick to nature and not trust commercially packaged products to make you healthy. If you read enough about labels, there are loopholes that some of our most popular brands take advantage of to “position” a product as healthy. Even “natural flavorings” in some of our health foods can be unnatural sources. None too surprising, as food is business too and we all know that in most cases profit rules!

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 11 months ago

The idea of “healthy” or “healthier” food sounds wonderful – an easier way to get all the nutrients you need. However, consumers can’t make sound choices unless they have full information and unless they can understand the technical terms. Not everyone with diabetes understands that glucosamine taken to help arthritis contains glucose – something that has to be monitored carefully. People with allergies and health issues (a growing number) need to make considered choices by having relevant information and being able to understand that information. People who don’t have these issues and aren’t considered probably are not avid label readers and don’t care what information is on the labels. In that case they may be swayed by the “nutritious” or “healthy” words on the label. Companies also need to be held accountable for providing accurate information. As in the case of food ingredients, if the industry doesn’t regulate itself, the government probably will if enough people are upset about the problem.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 11 months ago

The big issue isn’t the food label list of ingredients. It’s the marketing spin. To claim that a candy bar is “nutritional” (implying a special positive health benefit) may be effective marketing, but is it honest? And how can honest marketers do well if their competitors adhere (merely) to the letter of the law?

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 11 months ago

Our national survey data shows that 78% of consumers who consume stand-alone supplements (vitamin tablets, mineral tablets, herbal capsules, etc), report “little” or “no” noticeable benefit. I might guess that the effects of food-based supplements will be even smaller. Mark may be correct: this may really be about marketing and not health.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 11 months ago

For most of us at least, the answer is not enough. We can’t keep expecting foods to be substitutes for a healthy lifestyle. The idea that you can somehow eat your way to health is a charming cultural artifact, but it’s also crappy science.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 11 months ago
This issue of products being fortified so as to presumably be functional reminds me of two other issues – the labeling of food products and retail scanner data. When detailed product labeling was mandated in the U.S. (I believe around 1994) there was a significant spike in the percentage of consumers who read labels. That has now declined back to pre-mandate levels. With scanner data, retailers collected mounds and mounds of it before anyone ever had a clue about how to use it. Now, with fortified/functional foods, we’re approaching a point where we’re going to have diets capable of being customized to each person’s specific makeup and dietary needs. But, will anyone want it? There are a few people who will embrace this all the way, follow a customized diet to the letter, and watch every morsel they consume. But, I have a feeling there are more people like me who will do their best to eat what they perceive as healthy, yet not bother to read every label, and occasionally pass up the fortified/functional… Read more »
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