The Wall Street Journal points out that fortified foods—yogurt with probiotics, pasta with calcium, orange juice with omega-3 fatty acid—have exploded into a $30+ billion a year industry, but
that doesn’t mean they’re good replacements for unprocessed foods.
“Processing destroys nutrients, and the more processing there is, the more destruction you get,” says Marion Nestle, author and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “Fortification adds back some nutrients, so overall you’re better off with a processed fortified food than a processed unfortified one. But a whole food is always going to be superior.”
They point out that there’s a history of beneficial fortifications in our food supply, like iodine in salt, niacin in bread, and folic acid in breads and cereals. The new offerings, however, are frequently more about marketing than good health. Just because something is fortified, for example, it doesn’t mean it provides enough of the added nutrient as required by national guidelines. There’s also a risk that consumers will choose more processed foods over whole foods thinking that the fortified processed option can fully replace all the nutrients in the whole food, when that’s rarely the case.
Since fortified foods tend to be less filling and more calorie-dense than whole ones, consumers who pass on something like a cup of broccoli (about 30 calories) in favor of a cup of fortified juice (often as much as four times the calories, but less fulfilling) might actually end up eating more — and less healthily — throughout the day.
As with many health claims made by manufacturers of processed foods, it’s always good to pay close attention to the details of the ingredients and not the claims on the packaging.