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What are fortified cereals?

Updated April 17, 2017

Eating fortified cereal is a tasty way to be healthier. At the same time the deteriorating quality of soil has caused a decrease of nutrients in cereal grains, diets have also shifted toward more processed and convenience foods. Since some vitamins and minerals are lacking from the American diet, fortification of widely eaten cereals takes on a special role of improving nutrient intake across the board.

Source of Vitamins

Wheaties, Total and multigrain cereals are some of those that might be fortified, but it doesn't mean unfortified cereals do not contain nutrients. Dry oatmeal made with vitamin-D fortified milk is an excellent source of both iron and vitamin D, but it is not "fortified" because the nutrients were not depleted then added back. Cereals that have been processed from rice, corn or wheat are often lacking important nutrients, so when the nutrients are added to those cereals, they are considered to be "fortified." If original ingredients used contain nutrients that have been lost through processing and added back, the cereal is technically "enriched" but not "fortified."

Source of Vitamins

"Psychology Today" discusses how important the often-fortified B vitamins are for the maintenance of mood and health, energy, memory and neurotransmitter function. Vitamins A and C are often added to cereals--check the nutrition panel of cereals that claim to be fortified to see how much. With a recent push for more vitamin D consumption, products fortified with vitamin D take on special importance as the leading source of vitamin D in the American diet.

Source of Minerals

Fortified cereals include plenty of the minerals iron, calcium and zinc but are not a great source of iron because it is not easily absorbed. The widely published Dr. Sears warns that only about 4 to 10 per cent of the iron in fortified cereal is absorbed. However, absorption can be enhanced if iron-fortified cereals are consumed with vitamin C such as in orange juice or in supplements. Zinc fortification in cereals is suggested by nutrition professionals, but exact amounts still have to be determined. When it comes to calcium, the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" has found that eating ready-to-eat calcium-containing breakfast cereal with milk increases overall calcium intake.

Cause of Concern

Fortification is helpful in theory, but the Harvard School of Public Health steers individuals away from overdoing it with ultrafortified foods. The amounts of folic acid that are found in some fortified products could possibly accelerate the growth of tumours and could even mask iron deficiency--neither of these are issues when folic acid is coming from whole food sources. Fortified foods become excessive and expensive when fortified vitamins are overdosed on, since many excess vitamins such as B-12 or vitamin C are simply excreted.

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About the Author

Sarah Thomsen started writing about health in 2006 while pursuing her associate degree in humanities and social sciences. Her published online articles focus on improving holistic health. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition science with a minor in psychology from Russell Sage College and a Health Studies Certificate from Schenectady County Community College.