You have seen many food products with ‘fortified’ or ‘enriched’ with vitamins and minerals written on them. What’s the difference? What does each mean?
If a food label says “enriched”, it means some nutrients lost during the packaging or refining process have been replaced. In the process of refining flour for baking bread, for instance, some nutrients are removed. A number of these nutrients are later replaced to create “enriched” bread.
A “fortified” food, on the other hand, has its existing nutrient content topped off with additional dietary muscle. Vitamins, minerals, even fatty acids may be added to foods that never contained such nutrients. One common example is calcium-fortified orange juice.
A variety of food products are fortified or enriched with vitamins and minerals. Historically, food fortification, such as iodized salt or vitamin D-fortified milk, served as a public health measure to address population-wide nutrient deficiencies. Today, there are also calcium and vitamin D fortified juices, breads fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, and vegetable oil spreads with plant sterols.
Fortified vs. Enriched
Both terms mean that nutrients have been added to make the food more nutritious. Enriched means nutrients that were lost during food processing have been added back. An example is adding back certain vitamins lost in processing wheat to make white flour. Fortified means vitamins or minerals have been added to a food that weren’t originally in the food. An example is adding vitamin D to milk.
Foods, mainly enriched grains, breakfast cereals, milk and juice, can play an important role in ensuring that children get adequate amounts of many nutrients. Adults’ diets are even supplemented through their daily eats. Do make sure to read labels for ingredients, and look at nutrition labels for sugar content. Don’t be fooled by health claims and fortification messages; always read labels to make sure you know what you are buying.
If you are trying to improve your diet, evaluating the number of enriched foods you consume is a good place to start. Enriched foods can be part of a healthy eating plan, but they can also be more heavily processed and (sometimes) less nutritious than whole, less processed foods. For example, an enriched loaf of bread may be less nutritious than a loaf made from scratch at your local bakery with whole grains and fresh ingredients.
In summary, an enriched food is a product to which nutrients have been added. Typically, the added nutrients were present in the food in its original form but were removed at some point during processing. White bread is an example of an enriched food because certain vitamins are added after the bleaching process depletes them.
Enriched foods sound healthy. The word “enriched” makes it seem like something special has been added to the food to make it better. That definition of enriched foods isn’t wrong. But it’s not completely accurate, either.