What Is Fortified Cereal? And Is It Dangerous?

Updated on September 21st, 2020
Fortified Cereals Benefits

Labels across the cereal aisle shout “25 percent daily value of vitamins A, B, C, and E” or “excellent source of vitamin D.” While these claims make them seem like cereal sprouted vitamins themselves, it’s essential to note the nutrients in those processed foods are, for the significant part, not found naturally.

According to the WHO’s (World Health Organization’s) guidelines on fortification with micronutrients, food fortification is the practice of adding or increasing  essential minerals and vitamins to enhance the nutritional quality of the food.

While the process can help enhance micronutrient deficiency in a specific population, it can also have an adverse impact, even more significantly integrating sugar-rich, highly processed foods in diets worldwide.

Healthy Fortified Cereals 

If you’re searching for the healthiest fortified options in the cereal world, go with whole grains. According to the AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), whole grains contain the germ, the bran, and the endosperm of the grain; on the other hand, refined grains contain only endosperm.

The 2 missing ingredients in refined grains (the germ and the bran) help reduce the risk for diabetes and heart disease in addition to keeping your hair and skin healthy [1].

Fortified Cereals Benefits

According to the AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), whole-grain oatmeal is a fantastic beta-glucan fiber source that can lower cholesterol. Look for a variety that is rich in fiber, as it will keep you full for longer. Choose packaged oatmeal options that are low in sugar and pack some protein.

While whole-grain cereals can still be fortified with micronutrients, these options are the healthiest options, especially those containing low amounts of added sugar. 

[Read: Best Cereals for Diabetics]

Less Nutritious Picks

Just because some cereal is fortified with added minerals and vitamins and doesn’t mean it’s healthy. According to the AHA (American Heart Association), many kinds of cereal are refined, increasing shelf life and stripping the grain of essential nutrients like iron, B-vitamins, and fiber.

Even during the fortification procedure, companies rarely add fiber back in, which means processed cereals won’t keep you full long enough.

Results released in June 2019 from the EWG (Environmental Working Group) found another troubling aspect of cereals: Popular brands continue to sell products with levels of glysophate, a substance found in the herbicide Roundup, more than the EWG’s benchmark for safety.

(The Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regards glyphosate “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”)

Yet another villain is the sugar content of most processed cereals. Like a cake prepared with fortified flour is still a cake, high-sugar cereals still contain loads of the sweet stuff, despite boasting added nutrients. 

The list certainly is endless. Although these cereals can be fortified with up to a hundred percent of the daily value for specific vitamins and minerals, they may have up to ten to fifteen grams of sugar in one serving (and many people consume more than the prescribed serving size).

According to the American Heart Association, that’s nearly or more than half the daily added sugar limit for both women (25 grams of added sugar per day) and men (36 grams of added sugar per day).

So, Why Are Foods Fortified Anyway?

Fortification aims to address potential nutrient deficiencies in the general population. According to the World Health Organization, many adults do not get enough magnesium, calcium, and vitamins C, D, A, and E.

According to the USDA, pregnant women or may become pregnant have an increased requirement for vitamin D and folic acid. However, most people can get all the nutrients they need from a balanced diet that includes vegetables and fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, dairy, and whole grains [2].

Another issue is that some cereals may be over-fortified, which poses a risk of excessive intake, particularly for children. Many of these cereals contain levels of niacin, zinc, and vitamin A, according to the EWG, that could exceed an eight-year-old’s daily limit for these nutrients set by the Institute of Medicine.

When looking for fortified cereals, remember that more is not always better.

Misleading health claims

Many manufacturers market their cereals with misleading health claims, such as “whole-grain or low-fat”. This is deceitful because the primary ingredients are generally refined sugar or grains. For instance, Honey Nut Cheerios are labeled as helping lower cholesterol.

Yet, a one-cup (37-gram) serving has 12 grams of sugar. Studies suggest that diets high in added sugar raise your risk of cardiac disease. Such misleading claims can lead people to overeat foods that aren’t healthy.

What’s more, many fortified portions of cereal are aimed at children. Studies reveal that advertisements influence children’s taste preferences and can contribute to obesity risk. As such, you should read labels thoroughly to avoid any deceptive claims.

Which kind should you opt for?

It’s wise to choose cereals that are high in fiber and low in sugar. Look for types with at least 3 grams of fiber and fewer than 6 grams of sugar per serving. Fiber can reduce cholesterol levels and help boost fullness, among other benefits.

Since many kinds of cereal lack protein, include a protein source to create a more satisfying, balanced meal. Consider adding nuts, Greek yogurt, or peanut butter. However, the smart option for a nutrient-rich breakfast is, unprocessed whole foods, such as yogurt, oatmeal, eggs, or fruit. 

Bottom Line

Fortified cereals are generally eaten for breakfast and can help avoid certain nutrient deficiencies. However, most have misleading claims and are loaded with refined carbs and sugar. Fortification alone doesn’t necessarily make cereal healthy. For a nutritious breakfast, you’re better off eating unprocessed whole foods like oatmeal or eggs.

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