When parents consider their child’s nutrition they usually don’t think about the problem of getting too many nutrients, especially vitamins. Most parents worry about the opposite problem, presented in our last post: nutrients children may be missing.
But with a food supply dramatically different than it was just 30 years ago, and the popularity of vitamin supplements, kids can most definitely get certain nutrients in higher-than-expected levels. And more is not always better.
In our second post in our Kids’ Nutrition Series, we’re talking about some ways your child could be getting too much of nutrients essential for health — and what you can do about it.
But first, a brief history of why this is a concern in the first place.
Nutrients already added to food
In the 1900s the process of adding vitamins back to refined flour became popular because of the development of pellagra (niacin deficiency) and beriberi (thiamin deficiency). An international effort for enrichment was initiated in the 1940s during World War II that included flour and bread products (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and iron).
Enriched means that the nutrients added are replacing what is lost during processing and fortification is when nutrients are added to foods that didn’t have them in the first place.
In the 1980s and 90s evidence began to mount regarding folic acid’s role in helping prevent neural tube defects in babies, such as spina bifida. While it was a long road to get there, in 1996 the FDA published its final rule adding folic acid to the list of nutrients listed above.
In more recent years fortification of food products has exploded. While the FDA tried to tighten regulations around food fortification, they were not successful and instead settled for a “policy statement” aimed to help manufacturers follow sensible practices.
What does this all mean?
While enriched foods (plus folic acid) have benefited the public with classic nutrient deficiencies practically eradicated and neural tube defects on the decline, the benefits of the new wave of fortified foods and dietary supplements are not so clear.