The first food fortification in the U.S. occurred in 1924, when manufacturers began voluntarily adding iodine to salt in an effort to correct a widespread deficiency that led to goiters. In 1933, vitamin D was added to milk. The fortification of bread, rice and cereal was initiated not long after.
Although fortification is not mandated in the U.S., many manufacturers of ready-to-eat cereal choose to add nutrients to their products. A 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition showed a correlation between consumption of fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional adequacy; however, there is also some concern that fortification can lead to excessive intakes of certain nutrients.
A Variety of Fortified Cereals
Just because a cereal is fortified, doesn't mean it's healthy. Ready-to-eat cereals are often stripped of their nutrients during processing, and fortification helps to improve flagging nutritional values. Many of these overprocessed cereals are also loaded with sugar, making them no more nutritious than a cake made with enriched (fortified) flour. Here are some fortified cereals to steer clear of:
And the list goes on. Although these cereals may be fortified with up to 100 percent of the daily value for vitamins and minerals, they also may have up to 20 grams of sugar — or more — in one serving. That's more than 50 percent of calories from sugar, and it's not a healthy way to start the day.
Healthy Fortified Cereals
Whole-grain cereals are not stripped of beneficial nutrients during processing. They are typically higher in naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, higher in fiber and lower in sugar (although not always.) Many brands are still fortified with vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid. A few of the healthiest whole-grain cereals available in your supermarket include:
- Post Great Grains Crunchy Pecan
- KIND Whole Grain Clusters
- Uncle Sam
- Kashi GOLEAN Crunch
- Kashi Overnight Muesli
- Oats Overnight
- Fiber One
- Purely Elizabeth Granola + Puffs
- Nature's Path Q'ia Superflakes
- Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal
- Nature's Path Maple Pecan Crunch Cereal
- Cascadian Farms Organic Hearty Morning Fiber Cereal
Fortified oatmeal is also a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Because whole-grain cereals aren't refined, they typically don't always state whether they are fortified on the label. Look for a variety that is high in fiber, low in sugar and moderate in protein. Registered dietician Lauren Minchen told Eat This, Not That she recommends looking for whole-grain brands fortified with vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid. You can look at the nutrition label to see the percent of RDA of nutrients the cereal contains.
More About Fortified Foods
The goal of fortification is to address potential nutrient deficiencies in the general population. Many adults do not get enough calcium, magnesium and vitamins D, A, E and C. Older people and vegans have trouble meeting their needs for vitamin B-12, and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant have an increased need for folic acid. However, the majority of people can get all the nutrients they need from a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, lean protein, dairy, healthy fats and whole grains.
Another problem is that some cereals may be overfortified, which poses a risk of excessive intake, especially for children. According to the Environmental Working Group, many of these cereals contain levels of zinc, niacin and vitamin A that could exceed an 8-year-old's daily limit for these nutrients set by the Institute of Medicine. When looking for fortified cereals, keep in mind that more is not always better.
- Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification: Overview of Food Fortification in the United States and Canada
- EWG: HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? : EWG IDENTIFIED 23 EXCESSIVELY FORTIFIED CEREALS
- Journal of Nutrition: Consumption of breakfast and the type of breakfast consumed are positively associated with nutrient intakes and adequacy of Canadian adults.
- Healthline: Why Refined Carbs Are Bad For You
- SmartLabel: Kellogg's Frosted Flakes® cereal
- SmartLabel: Kellogg's® Rice Krispies® cereal
- Eat This, Not That: The 28 Worst Breakfast Cereals—Ranked!
- Good Housekeeping: 30 Best Healthy Whole-Grain Cereals to Add to Your Grocery List
- Eat This, Not That: 13 Fortified Foods Actually Worth Buying
- Healthline: Are Fortified and Enriched Foods Healthy?
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements: Do You Need to Take Them?
- NIH: NUTRIENT RECOMMENDATIONS: DIETARY REFERENCE INTAKES (DRI)