Are Your Kids Over-Fortified? Too Much of a Good Thing Puts Their Health at Risk

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Millions of well-intentioned American parents, unbeknownst to them, are over-fortifying their kids with too many nutrients. That’s according to a report published earlier this year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

EWG, an American-based health and research organization, analyzed the nutrition facts labels for 1,550 breakfast cereals and found that 114 cereals were fortified by the manufacturer with 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value of vitamin A, zinc, and/or niacin. They also looked at 1,000 snack bars and found that 27 common brands were fortified with 50 percent or more of the Daily Value of at least one of those nutrients.

Among the most fortified cereals were:

  • General Mills’ Total line
  • Wheaties Fuel
  • Kellogg’s Product 19
  • Smart Start
  • All-Bran Complete
  • Cocoa Krispies
  • Krave

The most fortified snack bars included

  • Balance
  • Kind
  • Marathon

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When foods are fortified, vitamins and minerals that aren’t originally in a food are added by the manufacturer. Classic examples include adding vitamin D to milk, iron to flour, fiber to cereal, and iodine to salt. Since 1998, folic acid has been added to breads, cereals, and other products that use enriched flour in an effort to reduce Spina Bifida and other serious birth defects. The idea of fortification was developed almost 100 years ago to treat common nutrition-deficiency diseases.
But it is possible to consume too many fortified foods, especially by children, because the Daily Values are set for the needs of adults not kids. Furthermore, the Daily Value standards were set in 1968 and so some are higher than levels currently deemed to be safe.

“Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s research director and co-author of the report. “Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume.”

Indeed, over-fortification with synthetic vitamin A can lead to liver damage, bone fractures, and birth defects. Excess zinc can impair the absorption of minerals that influence immunity. Over-exposure to niacin may result in nausea, vomiting and a rash.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t want consumers to think that substituting fortified snack foods for more nutritious foods ensures a nutritionally sound diet. They don’t consider it appropriate to fortify certain products such as snack foods, candies and carbonated beverages. But the lines between snack-food and meal-food have been blurred and so fortified foods appear in unexpected places.

Critics of the EWG report say that the real problem rests with vitamin supplements. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, 45 percent of 2-to-5-year-old children and 36 percent of 6-to-11-year-olds take a supplement every day. Adding multiple servings of highly fortified foods puts children 8 and younger at risk of exceeding the upper tolerable limits for certain nutrients.

So what’s the fix? Fill your kiddos with real foods — those outside of a package — as often as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that healthy kids receiving a well-balanced diet never need a vitamin supplement, nor fortification, at all. As is true of both children and adults, if you’re eating enough of the right kinds of foods, your body is getting all the nutrients it needs.

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