Here in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food safety. Denmark’s equivalent to that is the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, also known as the DVFA. Stateside, we tend to think of extra vitamins as a positive thing but in Denmark, vitamin fortified food is a diet-don’t. The DVFA has made it clear that their stance on fortifying foods with vitamins and minerals is one of suspicion and concern.
The theory held within the DVFA is that a properly balanced diet negates the necessity for supplementing with extra vitamins. In fact, they believe so strongly in the dangers of vitamin and mineral overdose that fortified foods must first be approved through a pricey application process. Foods found to contain what the DVFA classifies as dangerous levels of fortification are not granted approval.
Among the products recently pulled from the shelves of a small Copenhagen store is Ovaltine. At my home, we use Ovaltine as a chocolate milk treat because it’s nutrient enriched- I feel a lot better about that decision as opposed to pouring a giant glob of chocolate flavored syrup in to my son’s cup. What strikes me as particularly odd is that Ovaltine hasn’t yet been granted shelf-space and yet Red Bull (with its copious amounts of both vitamins and caffeine) has, according to the New York Times.
While it’s true that many companies use the words “vitamin fortified” on their labels to convey a false sense of health in their product, fortifying our foods can be a great way to get the nutrients we lack. Just as an example, vitamin D fortified milk helps give us our daily dose without subjecting ourselves to cancer-causing UV rays.
The true concern of the Danish government seems to be one of good intentions. The fact is, vitamin and mineral overdose is not a myth. In general, vitamin C and most of the B vitamins are considered to be safe in doses well past the recommended daily value. Vitamins A, E, iron and zinc are among the micronutrients that are more likely to cause dangerous side effects (such as liver damage, bone abnormalities and nervous system damage) when taken in excess.
It’s vital to remember that people of different ages have slightly different recommended daily values, so just enough iron for an adult may be way too much for a child. Before you or your children take any multi-vitamins, consult your physician. Between a balanced diet and select fortified foods, daily vitamins may not be necessary. They may, in fact, increase your risk of overdose.
Typically, when your body extracts nutrients from whole foods, it has a much easier time discarding the excess and avoiding overdose. Denmark is certainly correct in the assumption that the best way to get the nutrition you need is from the food you eat- a healthy balance of real food. However, when my son went through a Cocoa Puff binge that nothing seemed to bring him out of, I was slightly comforted in the fact that at least his cereal was calcium fortified.