Food fortification, sometimes called ‘enrichment’, refers to the addition of one or more vitamins or minerals to a food product. Health Canada regulates the addition of these nutrients to food under the Food and Drug Regulations. These regulations list the permitted vitamins and minerals, the levels at which they may be added for fortification, and specify the foods to which they may be added. Adding vitamins and minerals to foods helps to maintain and improve the nutritional quality of Canada’s food supply. Food fortification can protect against nutritional deficiencies and diet-related chronic diseases. In Canada, fortification of fluid milk with vitamin D has almost eliminated childhood rickets (softening of bones). Fortification of white flour, pasta and cornmeal with folic acid is mandatory in Canada since 1998 in response to evidence that folic acid reduces the risk of babies being born with neural tube defects.
The Food and Drug Regulations permit fortification of the following:
· Foods such as bread, cereal, pasta and skim milk to replace vitamins and minerals lost during processing.
· Products enriched to similar vitamin or mineral levels of foods for which they commonly substitute. For example, vitamins and minerals may be added to soy beverages, to obtain amounts that are similar to those in milk.
· Foods for special dietary purposes to ensure that they contain appropriate nutrients in appropriate amounts, such as meal replacements, nutritional supplements, low sodium foods, gluten-free foods, formulated liquid diets and sugar-free foods.
Under the Food and Drug Regulations, vitamins that can be added to foods include A, D, E, K, C, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, and biotin. Minerals that can be added to foods include sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodide, chloride, copper, fluoride, manganese, chromium, selenium, cobalt, molybdenum, tin, vanadium, silicon and nickel.
Fortification should not be confused with supplementation. Supplementation refers to doses of nutrients that are generally given in a pill or liquid form. Supplements are often used in developing nations for specific individuals or populations, in order to control a nutritional deficiency.
Fortification aims to ensure that consumers obtain adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Too high an intake of certain vitamins or minerals can have negative effects on the body. For example, a diet too high in folic acid can mask a deficiency in B12, which can lead to neurological damage if left untreated.
Since 1995, scientists in Canada and the United States have been collaborating to develop new nutrient recommendations. These new recommendations are called Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and are based on the latest scientific research. A DRI is the recommended amount of a vitamin, mineral, or other dietary component that an individual requires to prevent a deficiency, or to lower the risk of developing a chronic disease. As part of the DRI, Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) have been established for most nutrients, specifying the maximum daily amount of a nutrient that can safely be consumed. Using these levels along with additional research on the “average” Canadian diet and input from certain organizations, upper limits for fortification are now being proposed.
Health Canada has proposed changes to update and improve food fortification policies. A number of previously unfortified foods will have vitamins and minerals added in safe amounts, giving consumers more alternatives to meet their nutrient requirements and manufacturers a wider range of development. Only foods that already have some nutritional value will be considered for fortification. Also under these new recommendations, more types of special purpose foods will be made available to consumers in order to meet the nutritional needs of specific segments of the population.
Vitamins and/or minerals added to foods are listed in the ingredient list. The percent daily value of any vitamin or mineral added to a food must be declared in the nutrition facts table.
Health Canada. (2005). Questions and answers: Food fortification proposed policy. Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/faqs-eng.php
Health Canada. (2005). Information sheet - Food fortification in Canada: Current practices.Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/fortification_factsheet1-fiche1_e.html
Health Canada. (2005). Addition of vitamins and minerals to foods, 2005. Retrieved fromhttp://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/fortification_final_doc_1_e.html#c9
World Health Organization & Food and Agricultural Organization. (2006). Guidelines on food fortification with micronutrients. Retrieved fromhttp://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guide_food_fortification_micronutrients.pdf