Fortified foods may be too much of a good thing

Diana Williams has the Consumer Reports story.
October 17, 2013 6:27:39 PM PDT
Between orange juice with vitamin C and calcium, nutrition bars with added vitamins, and energy drinks, too, Americans spend billions of dollars on fortified foods every year. Consumer Reports takes a closer look at the downside of foods with added nutrients.

In the supermarket, you see lots of foods that promise a "vitamin boost," "triple the calcium," or "protein plus." But Consumer Reports' Jamie Kopf says foods pumped up with extra nutrients could be too much of a good thing.

"We came up with a hypothetical list of all the fortified foods that a person might eat in a single day. And then we calculated how much you'd get of certain nutrients if you did that," said Jamie.

Say for breakfast you have two cups of coffee, cereal, orange juice, plus a multivitamin and a couple of calcium chews. A little later on, a nutrition bar. For lunch a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and lemonade. Then, mid-afternoon, a protein shake. A while later, an extra-strength energy drink. Finally, mac and cheese for dinner.

Here's what that adds up to. For calcium, almost four times what's recommended.

"That's too much of a good thing. If you consume excess calcium over time you could end up with problems like constipation, kidney stones, and possibly impaired absorption of iron and zinc," Jamie said.

Next, caffeine, the total is around 470 milligrams, more than the recommended daily limit of 400 milligrams.

"Too much caffeine can cause insomnia, a rapid or abnormal heart rate, and increased blood pressure," said Jamie.

And the sample diet has five times the recommended amount of folate, which can mask a B12 deficiency.

"The bottom line is that you really need to read labels on fortified foods to make sure that you're not getting too much. Just because some of a vitamin or mineral is good doesn't necessarily mean that more is better," said Jamie.

And a balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains should provide all the vitamins and minerals you need, no fortified foods necessary.

Consumer Reports says you want to be careful not to take in too much vitamin C, either. It's also added to lots of foods and can lead to intestinal problems. Look at labels to make sure you're not getting more than two-thousand milligrams of vitamin C a day.