Fortification is the procedure by which manufacturers add micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins to food. The purpose is to minimize the rate of diseases and common deficiencies that would otherwise happen in the absence of these nutrients.
This is especially crucial in regions where the soil — and thus, the plants that grow in the soil — is nutrient-poor. Though fortification is often optional, the federal government recommends the inclusion of certain nutrients in salt, cereal, and even milk because of concerns over public health.
Vitamin D and Vitamin A are the two nutrients that federal regulations mandate for the fortification of milk. Vitamin A is a nutrient that our body requires for gene transcription and vision. Vitamin D enhances immune system activity and promotes calcium absorption.
However, individual manufacturers may opt to fortify milk with additional nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids or essential minerals. Almond and soy milk, which are made from plants, often undergo a fortification process to match the nutrient content found in cow’s milk .
Fortified vs. unfortified milk
Fortified milk is an excellent source of vitamins A and D. Plus; milk is naturally high in several other minerals and vitamins. Both unfortified or fortified milk is highly nutritious. They also improve bone health due to their high phosphorus and calcium content, the two significant minerals that comprise bones.
Additionally, vitamin D in fortified milk boosts your body’s absorption of calcium. What’s more, nearly thirty percent of the calories in milk come from protein, which your body needs to create compounds and build healthy muscles that help direct bodily processes.
How it’s made
Fortified milk is cow’s milk with extra minerals and vitamins that are not naturally found in milk in considerable amounts. Typically, vitamins A and D are added to milk sold in the United States. However, milk can be fortified with several other nutrients, including iron, zinc, and folic acid.
How or if milk is fortified is dependent on what nutrients may be lacking in your country’s typical diet and where you live. While few countries require fortification of milk by law, this is not the case in the U.S. Still, fortified milk is much more prevalent than unfortified milk in the U.S.
These are the most absorbable and active forms of these nutrients. As they’re heat resistant, these substances can be added to milk before homogenization and pasteurization, which are heat processes that improve shelf life and kill harmful bacteria.
Other nutrients such as B vitamins must be incorporated later, as heat can destroy them. However, milk is not generally fortified with B vitamins in the U.S.
[Also Read: Benefits of Oat Milk]
The developmental childhood period is the most crucial period for proper nutrition. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 250 million preschool children are afflicted with vitamin A deficiency worldwide. In its most pernicious form, a lack can lead to loss of vision, followed by death.
Though rarer in the developed countries, deficiencies were more common before public health initiatives such as widespread food fortification started in the early 20th century. Some doctors have expressed concern that fortification can lead to unsafe doses of minerals and vitamins.
An average healthy adult would have to drink dozens of quarts of milk per day over a consistent period to reach the tolerable upper limit of vitamin D and vitamin A.
[Also Read: Vitamin D Deficiency]
Amount of Vitamins Added
Milk manufacturers must add at least 400 IU of vitamin D per quart and 2,000 IU of vitamin A per quart. IU stands for the international unit, which measures a substance’s amount based upon its biological effect or activity. The international unit is different for each nutrient.
However, the amount of vitamin D and vitamin A that manufacturers must add to milk represents 25 percent and 10 percent of the DV (daily value).
One advantage of fortification is that it allows vitamin D to naturally improve the calcium’s absorption rate that already exists within the milk. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. It maintains calcium levels in the blood and promotes the proper skeletal calcium balance.
Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin D and calcium in your diet is essential for preventing the bones’ softening or deformity or rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. It may also prevent or diminish the onset of osteoporosis in the elderly.
[Read: Benefits & Sources of Vitamin D]
Fills nutrient gaps in your diet
Enrichment (reintroducing nutrients lost during processing) and fortification (adding nutrients that food lacks) and were initially developed to prevent nutrient deficiency disorders like rickets, a softening/ weakening of bones due to vitamin D deficiency.
The enrichment and fortification of milk and flour have helped almost eliminate deficiency diseases in developed nations. Additionally, fortification is a beneficial strategy to correct other micronutrient deficiencies that may not be as severe but can still be detrimental.
For example, many people worldwide get adequate vitamin D to prevent rickets but not other detrimental side effects of vitamin D deficiency, like decreased immunity.
One study found that countries with the widespread use of fortified milk had populations with greater vitamin D consumption and blood vitamin D levels than nations that didn’t widely use fortified milk.
[Also Read: Best Alternatives for Fortified Cow’s Milk]
Fortified milk contains added nutrients. In the U.S, milk is commonly fortified with vitamins D and A. However, depending on where you stay, milk can be left unfortified or fortified with other nutrients.
Fortification can help fill nutrient gaps, prevent iron deficiencies in kids, and increase bone strength and density. Still, if you are allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant, you should choose non-dairy or lactose-free alternatives.