Foods With Something Extra

Functional, enriched, and fortified foods offer health bonuses

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Fooling Mother Nature can sometimes be a good thing. In the world of nutrition, improving upon nature has proven to offer health benefits. Through the power of technology, we can add nutrients where they are not found naturally.

People who had trouble getting enough calcium in their diets rejoiced when calcium found its way into non-dairy foods, just to name one example. But it goes way beyond calcium. Fortifying food with essential nutrients has had a huge impact on public health, improving our existing food supply and significantly reducing certain diseases in this country.

Many food manufacturers are now working furiously to introduce their own version of a fortified or "functional food" into the marketplace. Functional foods go beyond basic nutrition, adding nutrients that may offer protection against disease or other health benefits. This is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, with sales already in the range of $10 billion to $20 billion a year -- roughly 5% of the food dollar.

Where It All Began

Long ago, researchers discovered that our bodies didn't use the calcium in milk well without the presence of vitamin D. Milk has been fortified with vitamin D ever since.

In response to public health issues, the government has required fortification of many other foods. For example, grains, bread and rice are routinely enriched with B vitamins and iron.