Are Enriched Foods Good for Children?

Enriched foods provide nutrients that may be lacking in a child's diet. But too much can be harmful. Keep reading to learn more.
Are Enriched Foods Good for Children?

Last update: 21 September, 2023

Are enriched foods good for children? The answer is yes, but with caution. The ultimate goal of enriched foods is to cover vitamin or mineral deficiencies that the child, for certain reasons, doesn’t ingest.

Although we must be careful, because although enriched foods have been around for almost 100 years, there are no regulations for children, so if consumed in excess, they can be harmful. In addition, there’s another detail, and it’s that most enriched foods are processed and are accompanied by a lot of sodium, sugars, and fats.

Therefore, it’s not a matter of including them recklessly. It’s important to receive guidance from a health professional to help you choose what’s healthiest for your little one. Stay with us to find out which enriched foods are best for your child.

A girl drinking milk.

What are enriched foods and fortified foods?

The organization Global Development Commons of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), defines an enriched food as one that restores vitamins and minerals that are lost during industrial processing.

For example, folic acid, iron, and riboflavin, which are lost when the wheat bran is removed, are added to refined wheat flour. The same organization clarifies that enriched foods and fortified foods aren’t the same things.

The latter refers to the addition of nutrients to those foods that by nature don’t contain them. For example, orange juice, naturally, doesn’t provide calcium. But calcium salts can be added to it to increase its intake.

In both cases, the objective is to offer foods that contribute to the intake of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for well-being and health. Therefore, in some cases, they’re used as synonyms.

But, are these foods healthy for children? Let’s see.

Are enriched foods good for children?

Children are vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies. So, their optimal and accelerated growth and development may be at risk if their requirements aren’t met.

Foods enriched with vitamins and minerals can supply these requirements and offer benefits for children, as long as they’re ingested correctly.

These nutrients help prevent long-term health problems, such as anemia, stunted growth, and poor cognitive development.

In fact, a study published in BMC Public Health suggests that micronutrient-enriched dairy and cereals may be an effective option for reducing anemia in children up to 3 years of age.

However, because there are no intake controls for infants, too much can have detrimental results. Especially, knowing that the added micronutrients are intended for adults and not for children.

For example, a study published in the journal Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism explains that excessive consumption of vitamin A can become toxic and lead to serious health problems.

The accumulation of vitamins A and D affects the liver, while those of the B complex, folic acid, and excess minerals will have a negative effect on the kidneys. This is suggested by the report published on the website of the organization Environmental Working Group.

This report suggests that fortified and enriched foods contain levels of vitamins and minerals that aren’t appropriate for children. Overdoses are potentially dangerous.

For this reason, experts recommend that children consume enriched foods at 20% to 25% of the recommended daily value for adults. This is especially true for niacin, zinc, and vitamin A. From this perspective, let’s discover the main enriched foods and review their labels to know their contributions.

The main enriched foods

We’re surrounded by foods to which nutrients lost during technological processing are added. Discover some of them below.

Wheat flour and bread

These foods are often enriched with folic acid. Their high consumption in the population makes it a good food to carry extra nutrients.

In this regard, a study published by the journal Birth Defects Research suggests that folic acid enrichment is recognized as an effective measure to prevent neural tube defects in newborns.

Vitamin D enriched milk

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone growth and strengthening during growth and at all stages of life. This vitamin aids in calcium absorption, especially when there’s insufficient sun exposure, such as in the winter months.

An opinion article published in the journal Molecules supports the importance of vitamin D and the role of milk as a carrier to promote adequate intake.

Cereals in general and for breakfast

Grains, including those used for “breakfast cereals”, are enriched with iron, folic acid, iodine, iron, zinc, calcium, thiamine, omega-3, and vitamin D. In the particular case of iron, the journal AIMS Public Health considers it a priority nutrient for its participation in neurodevelopment.

Hence, it supports the enrichment of cereals such as baby cereals to avoid deficiency in complementary feeding.

Juices enriched with vitamin C

Many juices that lose vitamin C with heat during pasteurization are enriched with ascorbic acid. They’re also fortified with calcium.

Margarine enriched with vitamin D

Margarine is an excellent vehicle of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D. As a widely consumed food product, it can be fortified with this vitamin, making it a convenient and affordable option for increasing intake.

A person feeding baby cereal to a baby.

Do all children need enriched foods?

As reviewed by Pot’s team in the journal Public Health Nutrition, a balanced and diversified diet is essential and sufficient for the healthy growth and development of children.

However, some circumstances such as a vegan style of eating, an insufficient and unbalanced diet, and poor intestinal absorption, among other reasons, require nutritional supplementation through fortified or enriched foods.

The important thing is for parents and caregivers to strike a balance between these foods and natural, fresh foods. Without allowing enriched foods to displace the nutritional quality and benefits of a healthy diet.

It’s advisable to consult with health professionals, such as nutritionists, to design a personalized diet for each child, in the case of a particular nutritional requirement.

Is it good to include enriched foods in the child’s regular diet?

Enriched foods can be convenient for children, as long as they’re consumed in a balanced way and combined with natural foods. Keep in mind the potential risks of overconsumption of these foods.

Consult a nutritionist and remember that balance is the key to including fortified or enriched foods.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.