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The Unexpected Benefits of Fortified Foods

The Unexpected Benefits of Fortified Foods

Food fortification saved millions of people. It can still have upsides today.

You’ll learn: Why we add vitamins and minerals to certain foods, which foods we still fortify today, and how to use fortified foods to perform better.


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  • Shoutout to Chris Mohr, PhD, for his scientific and behavioral expertise in this post and Monday’s post.

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On Monday, we covered cereal. Yeah, the breakfast kind. It’s one of the most popular foods in America, with 280 million of us who regularly eat it.

But it gets a bad wrap, perhaps unfairly.

  • Cereal’s added sugar content is relatively low in the grand scheme of what we eat.

  • The larger point of that post was to help us understand how to eat sugar, as Trevor Kashey puts it, “on purpose, with purpose.” That is, to figure out where sugar fits into our individual diets and how we can leverage it for good, instead of either:

    • A. Thinking any added sugar will immediately take decades off our lives and, in turn, treating it like it’s cyanide.

    • B. Being totally oblivious to how much added sugar we’re taking in and having our health suffer from overconsumption.

But breakfast cereal comes with one other big benefit. One that has a fascinating history and is healthy in the sense that it is healthy to not die.

Cereal is a top source of B vitamins, thiamine, niacin, folate, iron, vitamin A, whole grains, and fiber for all Americans at breakfast. One study found that breakfast cereal eaters:

  • Have a significantly higher intake of dietary fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
  • Are more likely to meet micronutrient recommendations than non-cereal eaters.

But this didn’t happen by accident. Many of those vitamins and minerals don’t appear naturally within cereal grains like oats, wheat, corn, and rice.

Instead, most of a cereal’s micronutrients come from a process called fortification.

Today we’re diving into how you can leverage fortified foods to improve your nutrition.

How Fortification Works

In short

We add vitamins and minerals the public commonly lack into food to help us avoid health problems.

The details

The World Health Organization explains food fortification like this:

Fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of one or more micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals) in a food or condiment to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health. As well as increasing the nutritional content of staple foods, the addition of micronutrients can help to restore the micronutrient content lost during processing.

Food fortification doesn’t stop at cereal. Other commonly fortified foods are bread, eggs, juice, dairy and plant milks, yogurt, and salt.

We often think that adding something to a food that isn’t naturally occurring makes it “unnatural” and potentially bad.

But the logic doesn’t always hold. The line between natural and unnatural is hard (if not impossible) to define.

“Fortification is not really that different than taking a multi-vitamin or greens powder, except that it tastes better and is less expensive,” Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, told 2%.

He continued, with some highly-useful nutrition wisdom: