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Fortified and Processed Foods: Are Label Claims About Nutrition True?

Pick up a box of cereal or a loaf of bread from the grocery store, and you are likely to read a number of claims on the label about the nutritional content of the product.

In theory, these nutrients may be present in these foods. But are those nutrients naturally-occurring and are they something that the body can actually absorb?

Consumers have sought out foods for many years to combat health problems.  Food fortification “is the public health policy of adding micronutrients to foodstuffs to ensure that minimum dietary requirements are met”.

Characteristics of processed and fortified foods:

  • Sold in various types of packaging – boxes, cans, plastic or foil wrap, or other artificial container (there are exceptions)
  • Heavily advertised – many companies who sell these foods spend more on advertising budgets than on food quality
  • Altered from their original state and subjected to some type of chemical alteration including but not limited to heat (such as boiling),  pressure (pulsing), oxidation, osmotic inhibition (use of syrups), low temperature inactivation (such as freezing), ultra high water pressure (a type of pasteurization), dehydration, toxin inhibition (such as smoking, use of carbon dioxide, vinegar, alcohol, etc.), and chelation.
  • Are low or devoid in real nutrients due to chemical and heat treatment during processing and are fortified – which means synthetic, isolated nutrients are added to the product that are not naturally-occurring
  • Contain many additives and preservatives such as MSG, propylene glycol, modified food starch, hydrolyzed soy or vegetable protein, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers, flavorings, refined sodium, isolated whey or soy protein, and many other fake substances.

A history of food fortification

In the 1920s when those public health needs were recognized by the government and health professionals, a cooperative response in the form of a health campaign was generated. In only a few years, this changed from a cooperative response to the creation of industry-driven stands.

One of the first foods to become fortified was salt. Iodized salt was first introduced in 1924 in Michigan. The incidence of goiter was reported to have fallen from 38 to 9 percent. As a way to obtain marketing advantage, a public campaign was launched to introduce iodized salt throughout the United States. The claim is made that by the 1930s, iodine deficiency was virtually eliminated.

As scientists began to study the importance of nutrients, minerals, and micro-nutrients in health, they began creating synthetic forms of these elements in laboratories for application to foods. The principles of food fortification assume correctly that these elements are necessary to health. This reductionst approach disregards the necessity of the elements in their natural state in whole foods, which is the only place synergistic complexes that are necessary for health are found. In order for the human body to recognize and use nutrients, they cannot be produced artificially in a lab and isolated to be added into foods where they do not normally occur.

As a result of the advent of mechanized processes in the Industrial Revolution, corporations were able to mass produce foods for sale that contained dietary recommendations by the government.  The claim, supported by research, was that food fortification would “reduce nutritional deficiencies”.

Scientific method and the origination of nutrient toxicity

In determining the method of how to provide nutrients to those in the population who required dietary aid, it was also necessary to avoid imbalances and excessive intakes of these nutrients for other groups.  This risk/benefit characterization is dependent on the manner in which nutritional requirements are distributed and susceptibility factor of individuals to toxicity.

According to Codex Alimentarius, “fortification should not take place unless there is a documented need, and as long as there are no documented adverse health effects, fortification regulations should be liberal.” (See sources below for Codex information)

(Sources: Codex Alimentarius A1. General Principles for the Addition of Essential Nutrients to Foods. Vol. 4. CAC/GL 09-1987 (amended 1989, 1991). Rome: 1994., DG III of the European Commission, ed. Addition of Vitamins and Minerals to Foods and Food Supplements. III/5934/97. Brussels: 1997, and SCOOP Task 7.1.1 Working Group. Scientific Considerations for the Development of Measures on the Addition of Vitamins and Minerals to Foodstuffs. The Netherlands: TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute, 1996). For more information on Codex Alimentarius, read Is the threat of Codex Alimentarius real or a hoax?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee Guideline Report of 2005 (under the eye of Codex) intended to present knowledge about nutrients for recommending “a pattern of eating that can be adopted by the public”.  Although the conclusions stated that healthy dietary patterns are linked to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases (such as diets containing high consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease), numerous intervention trials have concentrated on individual nutrients or the combination of nutrients rather than specific patterns of dietary consumption to determine levels of disease risk, and at best have had mixed results.

There are many discussions in health communities about nutrient toxicity and warnings about “overdoses”. However, the vast differences between synthetic nutrients produced in a laboratory and real nutrients in whole foods are seldom discussed. When people consume artificially-produced vitamins and minerals not from nature, the risk of overdose and toxicity increases exponentially.

The “regulation” and “classification” of nutrients in foods and dietary supplements have become of great interest to the government and affiliate organizations that seek to place controls on the types of substances we put into our bodies. By creating guidelines and documentation about food regulation based upon “scientific research”, these entities enforce recommendations upon the population and provide support and subsidies to corporations who comply with those guidelines and labeling – such as big agriculture businesses and pharmaceutical companies.

Nutrients contained in whole foods from nature are balanced correctly, and overdosing of those important elements would be nearly impossible. The body knows when it has eaten enough of natural foods, and becomes full at the right time to keep you from overeating. To quantify nutrient amounts in an artificial supplement to meet a “minimum daily requirement” where those elements are without their co-factors and naturally-occurring enzymes is a health disaster waiting to happen.

Ironically, the adding of synthetic vitamins and minerals to foods that have been stripped of these important elements has only made the problem of nutrient loss in the mass population more acute.

Fortified foods at the head of every table

Cereal and milk are two of the best examples of fortified foods. Most boxed cereals are produced through a process called extrusion where grains are forced through a small hole in a machine and then subjected to high temperatures.  The grains are then fortified with synthetic nutrients to “replace” what was lost during processing. You can actually find some boxed cereals that are baked, but most of these are still highly processed and still have synthetic nutrients added to them.

Milk goes through a similar process. It is heated or pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. While this occurs, good bacteria and vitamins are also denatured or compromised. The claim about pasteurization is that nutrients are not significantly destroyed, but then if that is the case, why is milk consistently fortified with Vitamin D? Synthetic Vitamin D cannot be properly assimilated into the human body without many other co-factors and enzymes, including Vitamin A, all of which are damaged during pasteurization.

A good example of a synthetic versus a natural vitamin is Vitamin D. According to Dr. Mercola:

“The best source of vitamin D is from the sun, but you also see many foods fortified with Vitamin D. Unfortunately, milk and other foods fortified with vitamin D often contain a synthetic form called ergocalciferol, or Vitamin D2.

This synthetic form isn’t as potent and doesn’t last as long in your body. In fact, synthetic vitamin D becomes toxic in your body at far lower levels. Too much synthetic Vitamin D2 may be linked to health problems. A number of studies link synthetic Vitamin D2 to irritation of the lining of blood vessels.

In fortified milk, you may not know even how much you are getting. When Dr. Michael Holick and his colleagues at the Boston University School of Medicine tested samples of milk, they found 8 out of 10 samples contained either 20 percent less or 20 percent more vitamin D than the amount the label advertised — and some of the milk tested contained no Vitamin D at all.”

Iodine deficiency in the general population has been observed in the United States since the 1980s. Remember the addition of iodine to table salt in the 1920s? Several decades ago when health professionals began to recommend to patients a low-sodium diet, a sharp decline in the intake of salt began to occur. Before the addition of iodine, people were not receiving an adequate supply of trace minerals in their diets due to the overwhelming amounts of processed foods they ate; processed foods are largely depleted of trace minerals. Now not only were people not receiving adequate iodine intake, but they were also not receiving enough salt.

Processed and fortified foods cause disease and illness

A fortified food is always a processed food. Processed foods are those that are altered from their naturally-occurring states. Food companies produce processed and fortified foods to enable longer shelf-life of products. This enables companies to lose less money on products that might otherwise be perishable and have to be discarded. But, reports and studies reveal that consumption of processed foods contributes to poor health. According to the Organic Consumer’s Association:

In 2005, researchers at the University of Hawaii concluded a 7-year study examining nearly 200,000 people and discovered that those who consumed the highest amounts of processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats, and sausage) had a 67 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who ate little or no meat products.

Another study of over 400 Canadian men aged 50 to 80 found similar results. Those who ate processed meats, red meat, organ meats, refined grains, vegetable oils and soft drinks) had a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer than men in the other groups. Men who ate the most processed foods had a 2.5-fold increased prostate cancer risk.

Remember, these foods were not from safe, healthy animals on pasture – the likely source was from a factory farm or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Consuming organ meats and red meat from healthy animals on pasture would never cause these kinds of results in healthy people.

Yet another study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Mile Markers, and Prevention found that consumption of refined carbohydrates like sugar, white flour, and high fructose corn syrup have a strong connection to the development of cancer. In Mexico, a study done on more than 1,800 women showed that those who ate 57 percent or more of their total diet from refined carbohydrates had a 220 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who ate more balanced diets.

Processed foods usually contain the cheapest ingredients, and are available everywhere and anywhere.  The majority of foods you will find at most grocery, food, and convenience stores are these types of foods. The negative effects on health have been observed by many people, including associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard David Ludwig. He believes these products discourage healthy eating and lead to a “toxic environment.”

“There’s the incessant advertising and marketing of the poorest quality foods imaginable. To address this epidemic, you’d want to make healthful foods widely available, inexpensive, and convenient, and unhealthful foods relatively less so. Instead, we’ve done the opposite,” said Ludwig.

Are meats and saturated fats to blame?

General medical health stance on meats and foods with saturated fats is that these foods are unhealthy and contribute to heart disease and many other illnesses. What is rarely mentioned is that most of the foods in these categories being consumed are processed, fortified foods from commercial and factory farm sources.

Foods originating from these environments are laden with toxic ingredients to allow for ease of processing, distribution, pleasant appearance, and preservation. Some of these substances include antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, preservatives, emulsifiers, congealers, nitrates, erythorbates, high amounts of refined sodium, MSG and other excitotoxins, hormones, and other foreign ingredients that are unrecognizable by and harmful to the human body.

What’s the difference between processed, fortified meats and grass-fed and pasture-raised meats and poultry? Naturally raised meats contain healthy fat, calories, and protein. They also contain the correct balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, and have a higher ratio of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), beta carotene, and Vitamins A and E. These are all extremely important in protecting the body from developing degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Can you say the same about the other types of meats? No way!

What’s the low-down on processed and fortified foods?

The truth is, these kinds of foods are so far away from real food, it’s a wonder they are allowed to be sold for consumption. But, processed foods are big money makers for large corporations, so the likelihood of those products being completely eliminated from store shelves is pretty low.

Just watch the news or go to a media outlet page on the Internet and you’ll be certain to find a long list of news stories about food recalls. And guess what? Those recalls are always linked to processed, industrial foods.  Read this post about whether we should trust the government to fix our food system and a list of just a few of those recalls.

Continued consumption of these foods will eventually lead to degenerative disease and illnesses. Here is a list of artificial and altered ingredients found in processed foods that cause health problems (source, Weston A. Price):

Trans Fatty Acids: Imitation fats in shortenings, margarines and most commercial baked goods and snack foods. Strongly associated with cancer of the lungs and reproductive organs.

Rancid fats: Industrial processing creates rancidity (free radicals) in commercial vegetable oils.

Omega-6 fatty acids: Although needed in small amounts, an excess can contribute to cancer. Dangerously high levels of omega-6 fatty acids are due to the overuse of vegetable oils in modern diets.

MSG: Associated with brain cancer. Found in almost all processed foods, even when “MSG” does not appear on the label. Flavorings, spice mixes and hydrolyzed protein contain MSG.

Aspartame: Imitation sweetener in diet foods and beverages. Associated with brain cancer.

Pesticides: Associated with many types of cancer. Found in most commercial vegetable oils, fruit juices, vegetables and fruits.

Hormones: Found in animals raised in confinement on soy and grains. Plant-based hormones are plentiful in soy foods.

Artificial Flavorings and Colors: Associated with various types of cancers, especially when consumed in large amounts in a diet of junk food.

Refined Carbohydrates: Sugar, high fructose corn syrup and white flour are devoid of nutrients. The body uses up nutrients from other foods to process refined carbohydrates. Tumor growth is associated with sugar consumption.

From Fooducate Blog, here is a very interesting post about Wonder Bread and the deceitfulness of food companies selling products that appeal to children, with clever labeling on the package to convince parents that the food is a healthy choice. Some people realize just how unhealthy products like Wonder Bread products are to eat, but did you know that many other brands that seem like better choices are just as unhealthy?

Take just about any store bought brand of bread you can find, and if it has a long list of ingredients, or even the wrong ones (which is common), those are likely unhealthy to consume. Any bread that has as its main ingredient any type of flour should be suspect. That’s because as soon as the grains are ground, they start to go rancid.

By the time it’s sitting on the shelf, it could have been there for weeks. Manufacturers put all sorts of additives and chemicals in the bread to keep it looking fresh and healthy to eat. But the reality is, most of those ingredients are harmful to your body. You’ll find high fructose corn syrup, dough conditioners, monodiglycerides, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphateand a litany of others in most store bread.

Here are some other examples:

French Meadow Bakery) with just some of those ingredients. And for this junk you will pay around $5 a loaf. Wow! If you are going to pay that much, you might as well get something that is actually healthy.

Healthy Life Double Fiber 100% Whole Wheat Bread, with a lot of toxic ingredients. This list is much longer than the bread above. And it’s supposed to be so good for you to eat – low calorie, low fat, saturated fat and cholesterol free, no trans fat and a good source of vitamins and minerals. The problem is, this bread has been fortified and processed like everything else. When you take everything out, you have to add something back in – and usually those somethings are completely processed, synthesized in a laboratory, and unrecognizable by the body.

Various store brands have responded to concerns expressed by consumers and media stories by re-inventing their products to make them appear more healthy than they were previously. One such brand is Sara Lee. There are many others, but here is the list of ingredients found on Sara Lee brand 100% multi-grain bread:

Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Brown Sugar, Wheat Gluten, Yeast. contains 2% or less of Each of the Following: Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oils)Whole Wheat, Sunflower Seeds, Rye Cultured Wheat Flour, Salt, Raisin Juice Concentrate, Oats, Barley, Corn, Millet, Triticale, Distilled Vinegar, Guar Gum, Enzymes, Enzyme-Modified Soy Lecithin, Wheat Bran, Soy Flour.

Right away, the red flags are flour, sugar, vegetable oils, enzymes and enzyme-modified soy lecithin, and soy flour. All of these are probably from GMO sources. The vegetable oils are unnaturally produced and rancid, and soy is a nutrient inhibitor – not to mention is an industrially-processed waste product.

Hands down, real food beats the health claims of multi-billion dollar conglomerate companies’ products 

Real food is from the earth, and is produced naturally and without preservatives, chemicals, hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, genetic modification, or anything artificial. Most of the time you won’t find real food in a box or package.

Eating real food means eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth are those containing saturated fats like meats, poultry, lard, tallow, dairy products, and healthy oils like extra virgin coconut and olive oil. Believe it or not, these foods contain even higher amounts of essential nutrients than fruits, grains, and vegetables.

While fortified, fake foods offer little to no nutritional content, real food is exactly the opposite. These are life-giving, health-preserving substances. Here is a list of nutrients found in whole foods that protect against disease (source, Weston A. Price Foundation):

Vitamin A: Strengthens the immune system. Essential for mineral metabolism and endocrine function. Helps detoxify. True vitamin A is found only in animal foods such as cod liver oil; fish and shellfish; and liver, butter and egg yolks from pasture-fed animals. Traditional diets contained ten times more vitamin A than the typical modern American diet.

Vitamin C: An important antioxidant that prevents damage by free radicals. Found in many fruits and vegetables but also in certain organ meats valued by primitive peoples.

Vitamin B6: Deficiencies are associated with cancer. Contributes to the function of over 100 enzymes. Most available from animal foods.

Vitamin B12: Deficiencies are associated with cancer. Found only in animal foods.

Vitamin B17: Protects against cancer. Found in a variety of organically grown grains, legumes, nuts and berries.

Vitamin D: Required for mineral absorption. Strongly protective against breast and colon cancer. Found only in animal foods such as cod liver oil, lard, shellfish and butterfat, organ meats and egg yolks from grass-fed animals. Traditional diets contained ten times more vitamin D than the typical modern American diet.

Vitamin E: Works as an antioxidant at the cellular level. Found in unprocessed oils as well as in animal fats like butter and egg yolks.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): Strongly protective against breast cancer. Found in the butterfat and meat fat of grass-fed ruminant animals.

Cholesterol: A potent antioxidant that protects against free radicals in cell membranes. Found only in animal foods.

Minerals: The body needs generous amounts of a wide variety of minerals to protect itself against cancer. Minerals like zinc, magnesium and selenium are vital components of enzymes that help the body fight carcinogens. Minerals are more easily absorbed from animal foods.

Lactic Acid and Friendly Bacteria: Contribute to the health of the digestive tract. Found in old fashioned lacto-fermented foods.

Saturated Fats: Strengthen the immune system. Needed for proper use of the essential fatty acids. The lungs cannot function without saturated fats. Found mostly in animal foods.

Long-Chain Fatty Acids: Arachidonic acid (AA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) help fight cancer on the cellular level. They are found mostly in animal foods such as butter, organ meats, cod liver oil and seafood.

Co-enzyme Q 10: Highly protective against cancer. Found only in animal foods.

Want more information about processed and real foods?

Deceptions in the food industry series:

Low-fat foods
Whole grains

Omega 3s
Lean meats
Low-sodium and no salt added


Reading labels in the store – don’t be fooled by marketing lingo!
Is Best Foods Mayonnaise healthier than it used to be?
Do restaurants serve healthy oils?
How well do you know your food? Find out!
Meals for children – restaurants and school lunches are lacking in nutrition
Fat-free, low-fat, and non-fat do not equal health

This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays Carnival. Please visit Kristen’s site and read all the other real food posts there.

8 replies on “Fortified and Processed Foods: Are Label Claims About Nutrition True?”

Raine – Nice job on this! Good balance of history, cause, effect and solution make this a good teaching piece. I always point out to people that vitamin fortification is no replacement for nature’s own nutrition, and wouldn’t even be needed if we would quit processing the *&^% out of our food!

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