5 Good Reasons To Ditch Fortified Foods As A Source Of Calcium

Do you rely on fortified foods as a way of combating some of the shortfalls that come with plant-based eating?

First, if you are confused about all the contradicting nutrition information coming your way, you can check out the Nutrition Essentials section on the site – I have done my best to draw out the most important points from various sources and combine them in different articles, focusing on topics all vegans should educate themselves on. Same goes for the topic on fortified foods.

You’re at the grocery store and you have the choice to buy regular orange juice or the kind with added calcium and vitamin D. Should you do it?

In the first half of the 20th century, food fortification was the major defense for eliminating diseases such as goiter, beriberi, rickets and pellagra. By 1924, iodized salt became commonplace after it was found that iodine deficiency (enlarged thyroid gland) led to goiter. In the 1930’s vitamin D was found to prevent the terrible disease of rickets (brittle bones), followed by its addition to milk.

In recent years food fortification has exploded beyond the “prevent disease” strategy. According to the FDA, the addition of a nutrient to a food may be appropriate if it corrects a dietary insufficiency, restores the level of the nutrient lost during processing or storing, helps balance vitamin, mineral and protein content or is used to replace a traditional food (i.e., meal replacements).

The result? Many foods are fortified from cereals to snack bars to orange juice. 

While getting some vitamins, minerals and nutrients from processed foods and supplements is better than getting none at all, the nutritional quality of such products simply can’t stack up to what whole foods have to offer. Additionally, while most processed products are safe, some do pose health risks that can range from mild to severe.

5 Good Reasons To Ditch Fortified Foods As A Source Of Calcium And Nutrition

Fortified Foods Provide Less Nutrition

Vegans! Here Are 5 Good Reasons To Ditch Fortified Foods As A Source Of Calcium And Other Nutrients

Although supplement and fortified food manufacturers are able to add select vitamins and minerals to products during processing, the end results are not as beneficial for your health as whole foods. Supplements cannot duplicate immune-boosting substances like antioxidants and phytonutrients that are found in natural foods and can help protect against conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Since fortified foods are processed foods, they often don’t have the micronutrients you’d find in a natural source of calcium, such as the vitamin K and magnesium which is found in dark leafy greens.

Without these supporting nutrients, the calcium can’t be absorbed well by the body. Food manufacturers have woken up to this, which is why you sometimes see entire multivitamin packages on ingredients. For example, the Omega 3 soy milk  made by Silk (which is owned by kings of vegan junk food Dean Foods) is loaded with 11 vitamins and minerals.

In 2013, a group of physicians from university schools of public health around the country published a review in the “Annals of Internal Medicine” asserting that dietary supplements carry few potential benefits and, in some cases, are more harmful than helpful.

Fortified Foods are Processed Foods

Vegans! Here Are 5 Good Reasons To Ditch Fortified Foods As A Source Of Calcium And Other Nutrients

That means problems like GMOs, hexane, preservatives, and lots of extra refined sugar and sodium.

Often, fortified foods would have been a good source of calcium had they not been processed.  For example, an orange contains about 5% of your RDA for calcium.  When manufacturers make orange juice though, the process destroys the natural calcium and other nutrients, so they have to add the calcium back into it. Plus, they often use non-vegan ingredients to do this. 

Unreliable

Vegans! Here Are 5 Good Reasons To Ditch Fortified Foods As A Source Of Calcium And Other Nutrients

There is so much variation in the amount and type of calcium in fortified foods that you will probably go crazy trying to keep track of it. For example, calcium amounts in fortified milks can range from as little as 2% to as high as 45%. The range can be seen in other processed foods too. For example, 4 slices of Lightlight “ham” has 0% of calcium whereas the Lightlife “bologna” delivers 25% of the RDA.

Fortified foods also use a huge range of supplements to fortify their foods, such as:

  • Calcium carbonate
  • Calcium phosphate
  • Tricalcium phosphate
  • Kombu

Some of these types are much better absorbed by the body than others. For example, kombu has some micronutrients which help the absorption and use of calcium, such as magnesium.  Calcium phosphate is considered to be more absorbable than calcium carbonate, but the latter is more common in calcium fortified foods because it is cheaper.

Ideally, you should get your calcium from natural sources, like cruciferous greens.  But, if you aren’t eating these foods daily, then fortified foods can help you get towards your RDAs. I would rather take a supplement than rely on fortified foods though.  With the supplement, you know exactly how much calcium you are getting and in what form, unlike fortified foods which vary so drastically. This can also cause the following:

Nutrient Overdoses

overdose

To re-iterate the above mentioned point, fortified foods make it very hard for you to keep good track of how much exactly of a nutrient you are getting, and this can very realistically lead to overdosing.

In correct amounts, vitamins and minerals are essential to good health. If you get too much of them, however, they can present serious risks. Getting too much vitamin A, for example, reduces bone density and increases the risks of birth defects and liver damage. Too much vitamin E can raise the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, and exceeding recommended amounts of beta carotene is associated with higher overall mortality risk, according to the “Annals of Internal Medicine” review. Some fortified foods can also contribute to nutrient overdoses, especially because manufacturers are only required to list amounts of nutrients that have designated “daily values.”

Health Risks

Vegans! Here Are 5 Good Reasons To Ditch Fortified Foods As A Source Of Calcium And Other Nutrients

Fortified foods have no direct association with obesity and overweight, but because they are typically less filling and higher in calories than whole foods, they may encourage you to eat more throughout the day and consequently gain weight over time.

Dietary supplements can have more serious health risks as the companies that make them aren’t mandated to disclose ingredient side effects. According to “Consumer Reports,” more than 10,000 serious medical incidents or deaths related to dietary supplements were reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2007 and 2012. The most common severe effects were allergic reactions, fatigue, nausea, and heart, kidney or liver problems.

Following a balanced diet can be tricky, but it’s the healthiest way to get all of the nutrients you need daily. If you are worried that your diet may be short of some nutrients, or are unsure how to structure your meals, check out the following articles:

Calcium For Vegans: The Complete Lowdown Plus 5 Whole Foods With More Calcium Than A Cup Of Milk

The 14 Highest Quality Sources Of Vegan Protein (Plus Recipes To Go With Them)

Your Vegan Diet And Risk Of Anemia: Truths, Myths, And What You Should Do

Information sources here and here.