According to a report from the Environmental Working Group, almost half of children under the age of eight are potentially consuming harmful amounts of niacin, vitamin A and zinc because of the common practice of foods such as cereal to fortify them. The problem is that in some cases, the cereals are over-fortified.
The group studied over 1,550 cereals and 1,000 snack bars which frequently add vitamins and minerals to fortify their product, and found over 140 of them added enough so it was potentially harmful to consumers. This included 114 cereals which were found to have been fortified with 30% or more of what an adult needed on a daily basis of niacin, vitamin A and zinc. There were also 27 common brands of snack bars with 50% or more of the adult daily value was for these same nutrients. The study identified 23 cereals out of the 113 as excessively fortified.
The study determined a combination of food manufactures using misleading marketing techniques and outdated nutritional labeling leads children to consume these potentially harmful foods, while parents believe they’re serving something healthier to their children. It also doesn’t help that cereal manufacturers use a variety of tricks to make your kids want their product more.
As Renee Sharp, one of the authors of the report notes, “Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but it when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems. Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume.”
It’s important for parents, and consumers in general, to understand that more nutrients doesn’t necessarily mean the food is more nutritious. For example, too much vitamin A can lead to liver damage, hair loss and skeletal problems for children, developmental problems for a fetus for women who are pregnant, and an increased risk of both osteoporosis and hip fractures for older adults.
(Photo courtesy of Sonny Abesamis)