What Are Fortified Cereals and What Can They Do for Your Health

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What Are Fortified Cereals, and What Can They Do for Your Health?

Fortified cereals are commercial products that have added micronutrients. They provide B vitamins and iron to help prevent deficiencies.

These cereals have added micronutrients that aren’t naturally found in the ingredients. Instead, they are added separately.

This process is called fortification, so these cereals are sometimes called fortified, ready-to-eat cereals.

Fortification started in the U.S. in 1924 when iodine was added to salt to prevent goiters. Vitamin D was added to milk to prevent rickets.

Fortification became common, including in breakfast cereals. Some fortified foods are referred to as enriched products. The packaging should make it clear which is which.

Fortified cereals are not supplements but are designed to boost your overall micronutrient intake. These micronutrients are essential for your health at every stage of life, especially when you’re:

  • Still growing
  • Pregnant
  • Growing older

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t meet their recommended average requirements (EAR) for many crucial micronutrients. Some deficiencies are serious health concerns.

For example, people over 50 and women of childbearing age are deficient in vitamin D. Other segments of the population lack:

Fortified cereals are a simple and inexpensive way to combat this problem.

What nutrients are found in fortified cereals?

Each cereal has its own nutrient composition, so check the label. Micronutrients commonly added to fortified cereals include:

  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Vitamin D
  • B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12)
  • Vitamin A
  • Niacin
  • Thiamin
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Although two cereals may be fortified, they can have different nutrient compositions. Cereals with whole grains and fiber are healthier than those high in sugar.

What are the health benefits of eating fortified cereals?

Studies show that eating fortified cereals is an effective way to get enough micronutrients. People who don’t consume fortified cereals have a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies.

One study focused on adolescent girls, who are often low in iron. It found that eating one bowl of fortified cereal a day for 12 weeks significantly increased their levels of:

  • B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12)
  • Folic acid
  • Iron

Insufficient iron can lead to anemia, while low folic acid is problematic for pregnant women. Micronutrients along with fiber make a healthy option.

QUESTION

Are there health problems associated with eating fortified breakfast cereals?

An important concern is that many fortified cereals contain excessive sugar, which can lead to serious health issues like:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • General inflammation
  • Cancer

Even if a cereal is fortified, check the sugar content on the label.

Consuming excessive amounts of certain micronutrients can also have health consequences, such as:

  • Excess niacin can cause skin reactions.
  • Excess vitamin A can damage the liver.
  • Excess zinc can harm your immune functions.

Before consuming fortified cereal, make sure you’re not already getting large amounts of micronutrients from other sources.

How much fortified cereal should you eat?

Fortified cereals fall under the grain food group. At least half of your daily grain consumption should come from whole grains. Many breakfast cereals contain refined grains, so check the label.

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Whole grains include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole grain cornmeal
  • Brown rice

It’s typical to consume too many refined grains and not enough whole grains, which is unhealthy.

The amount of grains you need depends on factors like age, sex, weight, height, and physical activity level. The USDA provides recommendations based on age and sex:

  • Females aged 19 to 30 need six to eight ounces
  • Males aged 19 to 30 should get eight to 10 ounces
  • Females 30 and older should get five to seven ounces
  • Males between 30 and 59 should get seven to 10 ounces
  • Males 60 and up should get six to nine ounces

A one-cup portion of cereal flakes or rounds is typically equal to one ounce. Stick to the serving size when eating breakfast cereals.

For optimal health, include fortified cereals in a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Food and Drug Administration: "Science and Our Food Supply."

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Use of Dietary Reference Intakes in Nutrition Labeling, "Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification," National Academies Press (US), 2003.

New York Presbyterian: "Sugar: How Much Is Too Much."

Nutrients: "The Contribution of Fortified Ready-to-Eat Cereal to Vitamin and Mineral Intake in the U.S. Population, NHANES 2007–2010," "The Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber."

Nutrition Journal: "Fortified breakfast cereal consumed daily for 12 wk leads to a significant improvement in micronutrient intake and micronutrient status in adolescent girls: a randomised controlled trial."

Pediatrics and Child Health: "Folate and neural tube defects: The role of supplements and food fortification."

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PLoS One: "Effects of Ready-to-Eat-Cereals on Key Nutritional and Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review."

USDA MyPlate: "Grains."

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