The government’s gamble with fortified foods — and why we’re the losers

A brand-new study found that a staggering number of men and women are “low” or “deficient” in key nutrients, despite eating foods fortified with these very same nutrients! Clearly, this food fortification gimmick — thought up by the government and big food manufacturing — is worthless.

And I’ll tell you exactly why it’s so worthless in just a moment. But first, let me back up and point out exactly how the mainstream has been all wrong, all along…

Food-only sources don’t measure up

Nearly every time a study shows that higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals prevent and reverse a range of chronic diseases, the mainstream trundles out some hack expert who insists you can still get these nutrients from your diet alone.

And they insist you don’t need supplements.

But they know full-well that most foods simply don’t contain the necessary levels of nutrients — especially with modern-day industrialized agricultural practices and big-food manufacturing. In fact, the actual nutritional content and quality of mass-produced, conventionally grown crops has significantly declined over the past 80 years — which is within the lifetime of almost everyone who is still around.

Plus, most mainstream health “experts” don’t actually recommend following a balanced diet…

Instead, they recommend unusual, unbalanced diets, like low-fat.

But when you follow this kind of ill-advised diet, you can’t absorb essential, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, even if they are somewhat present in your food sources. That’s because fat-soluble vitamins need specific kinds of fats for proper absorption (like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids).

Still, other so-called “experts” recommend cutting out broad categories of nutritious foods —such as full-fat dairy (as I reported yesterday), eggs, and meat —which make it impossible, by definition, to follow a balanced diet.

To illustrate just how difficult it is to get all of your essential nutrients from today’s food alone, I’d like to share with you an example from my own personal experience…

Heads of broccoli, out my ears

In the mid-1980s, when I was at the NIH, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Human Nutrition Research Lab, we analyzed levels of healthy carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, etc.) in foods. Then, we tracked blood levels of these nutrients in healthy, college student volunteers.

We found that in order to get a measurable blood level of carotenoids from broccoli, you had to eat 2.2 pounds (lbs.) of it each day. Of course, the college students balked at eating that much on a daily basis. So, our research team (a 64-year old man, a young woman, a disabled Vietnam veteran, and me) decided to sit down right there in front of them and eat the entire 2.2 pounds of broccoli!

That “demonstration” was my idea — as a way to convince them that it was indeed possible. Admittedly, I regretted that decision after I got on an airplane to Cincinnati later that evening…

In a way, the college students were right to balk because it was no easy task…

It’s actually pretty difficult (and expensive) to get all the nutrients you need from food alone…without taking dietary supplements.

To get around this little dilemma, big food manufacturing swooped in with the gimmick of food fortification.

Food fortification fails to strengthen and protect

As you may have seen, big food manufacturers these days add nutrients to all types of processed foods — from breads and cereals, to oatmeal and orange juice. At the grocery store, I find it almost comical to see just how many processed products contain “added nutrients.”

But this little gimmick doesn’t really “fortify” anyone against illness or disease.

In fact, a new study in the British Journal of Nutrition studied the impact of food fortification in Ireland — which has a voluntary, but broad food fortification program — in men and women ages 50 and older.

Despite this wide-spread program, the study found that many were severely lacking when it came to levels of B vitamins:

  • 14 percent of participants were “low” or “deficient” in B9 (also known as folate)
  • 13 percent were “low” or “deficient” in B12 (also known as cobalamin).

And older folks fared even worse…

  • 23 percent of participants over 80-years-old were “low” or “deficient” in B9.

Not surprisingly, when the participants were asked about supplementation, the results said it all:

  • Fewer than 4 percent of participants reported supplementing with either B vitamin.

That means that 96 percent relied on foods — including fortified foods — for their B vitamins. Clearly, food fortification doesn’t work. And it’s is a shame because B vitamins (like many other nutrients) are critical for brain, nerve, and heart health — especially as you get older.

Even the authors of the new study admitted, “the current policy of voluntary fortification is ineffective for older adults.”

You can say that again!

More problems lurk below the surface

The main reason why food fortification fails is this…

Key nutrients are added in insufficient amounts by manufacturers to begin with. For example, you need much more daily B12 than what you’ll find in a few slices of fortified bread. So, supplementation is the only answer.

In my view, the problem is even bigger than the study suggests, as the researchers’ based their definitions of “low” and “deficient” on minimal levels found to prevent nutritional deficiencies outright. But they don’t reflect the optimal levels shown to prevent — or much less reverse — chronic disease.

And ironically, here in the U.S., we actually fortify foods with many of the wrong nutrients — including iron. And that’s a huge mistake — as our research team determined 30 years ago…

As you may recall, I worked with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg during the 1980s analyzing the link between excess iron in the body and increased rates of cancers of all sites in men and women.

When we published our findings in the New England Journal of Medicine and the International Journal of Epidemiology, they stopped fortifying foods with iron in Finland. Instead, they started adding selenium.

But in the U.S., they’re still adding it! And it just boggles the mind!

Your essential supplements for disease prevention

Of course, high-quality, daily supplementation is the answer. But the only two daily supplements doctors routinely recommend — iron and calcium — are the ones you should NOT take.

As I always warn, both calcium and iron supplementation can increase the risk of heart disease. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, research links high iron with cancer as well as other chronic diseases and infections. (Only those diagnosed by a physician with iron-deficient anemia should take an iron supplement.)

Instead, always get your calcium and iron from whole, unprocessed, unfortified foods like full-fat dairy, eggs, and meat in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables.

So, the next time a health professional tries to tell you to get all your required nutrients from your diet alone (including those “fortified foods”), feel free to ask what kind of fantasyland they’re living in!

Furthermore, if they recommend calcium or iron supplements, take a hard pass.

Last but not least, I recommend taking a high-quality B vitamin supplement daily, rather than relying on foods fortified with B vitamins. Make sure it contains at least 12 mcg of B12 and 200 mcg of folate.

The takeaway is this: It’s essential to your overall health to steer clear of the faulty attitudes and dietary recommendations that represent a very real hazard to your health.


“Voluntary fortification is ineffective to maintain the vitamin B12 and folate status of older Irish adults: evidence from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA),” British Journal of Nutrition 7/14/2018; 120(1): 111-120