Are Fortified Foods Good for Anemics?

3 min read

older woman reading food label at grocery store

Being active and eating right is a struggle, even for the most health-conscious person. But when you have anemia, that struggle becomes all the more real. 

Having a busy life while also maintaining a nutrient-rich diet to help combat your anemia symptoms is time-consuming and complicated. It’s difficult to create the right balance to ensure you’re getting what you need. 

For those with iron-deficiency anemia, fortified and enriched foods might seem like a simple way to boost nutrient intake without having to make any significant change to meal planning. That said, the simplest way isn’t always the savviest.  

Combating anemia through diet requires a clear course of action. Gaining that level of clarity requires a bit of knowledge and a little guidance, especially when incorporating fortified food into your diet.

What is Fortification?

According to the World Health Organization fortification is a process whereby nutrients are added to foods that don’t naturally contain them. A process that requires FDA oversight and approval in the United States, fortification is often applied to wheat-based items, like flour and cereals, as well as milk and even juices. 

Another form of nutrient processing is enrichment, which is significantly different from fortification. Enrichment happens when certain foods are reconstituted with nutrients lost through processing. While enriched foods add nutrients back, fortified foods add nutrients that don’t occur naturally in those sources. Understanding this difference highlights some of the limitations of fortification. 

Does Fortification Really Work?

Over the past century, the fortification of foods has proven beneficial for the prevention of illnesses like beriberi, goiter and rickets. In recent years, iron-fortified foods have been developed to help people struggling with anemia, but the results have varied.

Certain nutrients require auxiliary vitamins and minerals for metabolization. If a fortified food lacks those supplemental nutrients or contains nutrients that inhibit certain nutrient absorption, the value of the fortification is lost.

When dealing with anemia, the healthiest option is to create a meal plan containing foods with naturally occurring iron sources.  

For example, iron-fortified dairy products are not useful because the nutrients in dairy inhibit iron absorption. Iron-fortified cereals also not helpful when it comes to adding iron to your diet if they are consumed with dairy.

Alternatively, foods that are high in folic acid and Vitamin C help to absorb iron. So, iron-fortified orange juice could be a better method of adding iron to your diet. That said, fruit juices are high in sugar so the cost-benefit of this calorie source needs to be weighed in conjunction with your overall meal planning.

Can Fortification Be Dangerous?

In addition to specific use and, at times, limited efficacy, some nutrition experts have expressed concerns that fortified foods can cause nutrient overdose, especially in relation to iron. 

Too much iron can damage the stomach and digestive tract. It’s particularly dangerous in children under 5 years old. Ingesting too much iron can conflict with your metabolic processes and damage the liver. This is why it’s vital that you regulate and balance your iron intake, which is why you should be mindful of fortified food sources. 

When dealing with anemia, the healthiest option is to create a meal plan containing foods with naturally occurring iron sources. Eat them in conjunction with auxiliary nutrients, and take an iron supplement that provides an accurate breakdown of its iron levels. This is the best way to optimize your iron intake simply and safely.

And, if you choose to incorporate iron-fortified foods into your diet, then talk to your healthcare expert and assess which products are the best option for you.

When you struggle with anemia, it’s good to be aware of the different products available to help combat your anemia, including fortified products. But it’s just as important to understand and measure the specific benefits of these products to your overall health. 

The key is to create a plan that works for you and your lifestyle. 

Enjoy nutrient-rich foods that keep you healthy. And, when appropriate, add the products and supplements that will boost your energy, invigorating you to stay active and be fit. 

With more knowledge and greater clarity, you’ll be able to develop a nutritional plan and improve your health. Take control of your condition with the right food and the right supplements.

It’s time to stop letting your anemia control you.