What Are Enriched and Fortified Foods?

Young girl drinking fortified milk
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Question: When I go shopping I often see the words 'enriched' or 'fortified' on food packaging. What do they mean and are they the same?

Answer: Foods that that are enriched or fortified have had one or more nutrients added to them, such as calcium, vitamin C, potassium, iron, protein or fiber. But they're not interchangeable terms. You could say that enrichment is a form of fortification, but fortification is not the same as enrichment.

Enriched Foods

Food companies can enrich foods by adding nutrients to replace vitamins or minerals that have been lost during the manufacturing process. For example, refining wheat to make white flour removes several B-complex vitamins and iron that are contained in the part of the grain that's removed. Flour becomes enriched when those nutrients are added back in before it's packaged.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration 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 percent more of the Daily Value of that nutrient than a food of the same type that is not enriched."

Also, products can be labeled as enriched when they meet the "FDA’s definition for a type of food with a name that includes that term (such as enriched bread or enriched rice)." For our example, the 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 also have extra nutrients added by food manufacturers, but not they're not necessarily meant to replace nutrients that were lost during processing. Food fortification can help provide nutrients that tend to be deficient in the diet. 

One of the very first fortified foods in the United States was iodized salt.

 

In the early 1900s, 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. Even snacks and other heavily processed foods can be fortified with various nutrients. LSo look beyond the fortification claims on the label and examine the Nutrient Facts labels on the back or bottom of the package -- while fortification can be an excellent thing, it doesn't automatically turn junk food into healthy food.

Sources:

Bishai D, Nalubola R. "The History of Food Fortification in the United States: Its Relevance for Current Fortification Efforts in Developing Countries." Economic Development and Cultural Change. University of Chicago Press, 2002. Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/345361.

The National Academies Press. "Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification." Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10872.

The United States Food and Drug Administration. "Are foods that contain added nutrients considered "enriched"?" Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm194348.htm.

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