Researchers blame marketing gimmick, say too much fortification of food harmful
A food brand will always claim its product is better than other brands selling similar products, in terms of taste and nutritional value, promising the goodness of vitamins, minerals and proteins. But few consumers, especially children, realise that too much of everything is bad, even if it is nutrients for the body.
A review by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a US-based environmental organisation and health research cum advocacy group, has found that nearly half of the American children under the age of eight consume potentially harmful amounts of vitamin A, zinc and niacin because of excess food fortification and misleading marketing tactics. The report, titled “How Much is Too Much?” includes two food categories that are frequently fortified—cereals and snack bars.
After analysing more than 1,550 cereals and 1,000 snack bars, EWG researchers Olga Naidenko and Renee Sharp found out that 114 cereals were fortified with 30 per cent or more vitamin A, zinc and niacin than the required daily value for adults. Naidenko and Sharp analysed the data collected by Food Essentials, a company that compiles information on food available in supermarkets.
Excess doses of Vitamin A, zinc and niacin can have harmful effects on the body. For example, regular consumption of Vitamin A from either food or supplements can lead to liver damage, peeling of skin, brittle nails and loss of hair, the researchers explain, adding that these effects could be short-term or long-lasting.
Children are particularly vulnerable. Besides getting nutrients from specially fortified food like cereals, they also consume micronutrients naturally present in foods like milk, meat, bread and snacks. Also, packaged food usually does not mention the number of servings ideal for consumption. So children may end up having more than a single serving, consuming excess nutrients in the process.
Sharp, who is EWG’s research director, says, “Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short- or long-term health problems.” She adds that manufacturers resort to excess fortification of vitamins and minerals to sell their products.
EWG has called upon the US government to take urgent steps to raise awareness on the issue.
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