Fortified Foods vs. Whole Foods – is there a difference? “Why are you even asking this?” you might be wondering. “After all, isn’t a whole foods diet what Nourishing Israel advocates and what Weston Price is all about – nutrient dense foods, properly prepared?” Or you might just be thinking to yourself: “Caryn, have you lost your mind?”
No, I haven’t lost my mind and I’m still a strong advocate of wholesome foods.
I’m bringing this up now because of an article in the June 17 edition of the Jerusalem Post titled “German doesn’t rule out fortifying food with nutrients to improve health”. Yael German, Israel’s Health Minister, will be considering adding vitamin D to milk and white cheese products, folic acid to wheat, and iodine to salt. Other countries have been supplementing foods with iodine and vitamin D for years. It seems that even the Palestinian Authority is ahead of Israel in this sense, as they have been fortifying wheat with folic acid and salt with iodine for some time now.
Years ago, before I became aware of the nutritional problems with cold, processed breakfast cereals and the truth about vitamin fortification, I would feed my kids the best cold cereal I could find. I’d read the boxes to see which had the most nutrients listed and that’s how I decided which “nutritious” cereal to purchase. As I later learned, adding back a select number of synthetic vitamins to a processed cereal does not make for a wholesome and nourishing breakfast. I hope my children can forgive me.
As I see it, there are at least three problems with adding nutrients back to processed foods:
1. Synthetic vitamins do not contain co-factors and other nutrients they need to function properly, and which are components of these vitamins as occurs in nature. An example of this can be found in the IVC Journal article, Whole Food Vitamins, Why they’re superior to synthetic alternatives:
[Vitamin C] needs all the co-factors to function properly. It is a complex of activities defined by function, not chemical description. The elements of this complex of bioactive molecules are susceptible to oxidation, so the plants that produce vitamin C enclose the active constituents with a shell of ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is a functional component of the vitamin complex but only comprises five to eight percent of the actual vitamin complex. Ascorbic acid is the marker molecule used to identify vitamin C activity and the presence of vitamin C in a food source. Isolated ascorbic acid is not vitamin C, except by legal definition.
2. Synthetic vitamins do not function in the same way as natural vitamins do. MC Vitamins relays much the same information that I’ve seen in numerous other articles and websites, that by their very nature, synthetic vitamins cannot function as natural vitamins found in unprocessed foods:
Synthetic vitamins are reverses or mirror images of natural vitamins. Keep in mind that synthetic vitamins are not vitamins but synthesized fractions (parts) of a vitamin complex, a mirror image duplicate of just a portion of the real, biologically active and physiological precise nutritional complex. The analogy here is essentially the same as an automobile salesman handing you a wheel from a car and telling you the wheel is an automobile, or wanting to eat an egg and getting the shell.
Because the structure is reversed, a left-handed molecule cannot take part in chemical reactions in the body meant for a right-handed molecule any more than a left hand can fit in a right-handed glove – its odd geometry would prevent it from being metabolized in the body.
In turn, the human physiology cannot properly utilize synthetic (mirror-image) fractions in the way natural complexes find their way into the biological reactions that are essential to tissue repair and the sustenance of life. A synthetic vitamin fraction can only be utilized for a drug or pharmacological effect. The effect of a drug is palliative – meaning a making or covering over of symptoms – it isn’t curative. The disease process remains unchanged or progressively gets worse for lack of proper attention.
3. We cannot possibly know everything that was lost in the food processing and put it all back in. I don’t think this point needs elaboration!
Although there is acknowledgement (click here and here) that some synthetic vitamins are effective as supplements when needed for curative purposes, while other synthetic vitamins are ineffective or even harmful, from a dietary perspective they are poor substitutes for nutritionally deficient processed foods.
I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Jerusalem Post, an edited version of which was published in the paper on June 26, voicing my concern that while supplementing foods may help mitigate some preventable diseases, the Health Minister should be advocating a diet of whole foods which would include all the nutrients we need.
Here is the letter as I submitted it:
Regarding your article on Monday, June 17, page 6: German doesn’t rule out fortifying food with nutrients to improve health.
Recently Health Minister Yael German discussed the possibility of fortifying milk and white cheeses with vitamin D, flour with folic acid, and salt with iodine. Deficiencies in these nutrients are unfortunately common and adding them to these foods, as is done in some other countries, would help improve the population’s health.
This might be a good effort to help mitigate preventable diseases, but like many other nutritional and medical interventions, it will in no way cure the problem. In this case, a good part of the problem is the substandard food that comprises the Western diet, and a good deal of the Israeli diet.
Processed foods, like white flour, white rice, white sugar, and table salt were once whole foods but were robbed of their nutrients in the manufacturing process. Attempts to add a few vitamins back into these foods in no way replaces all the nutrients that were lost. It does not make it a whole food once again.
Dairy products should ideally contain vitamin D, but Israel has little grazing land and the animals are fed unnatural diets of grains, corn, and soy (often genetically modified foods). Fish, which we probably don’t eat enough of, also contains vitamin D.
Table salt, which starts out as sea salt or rock salt is full of minerals but the minerals that it contains (and which the body needs to properly utilize the sodium) are sold to industry for higher profit. Sea salt (but not Himalayan salt) does contain iodine – naturally. Sea vegetables, fish, eggs and dairy from pastured animals, and strawberries also contain iodine.
Synthetic vitamins, rather than natural vitamins, are generally used for fortification. Often they do not function the same way that the natural vitamins do and they may be missing the other nutrients with which they need to function properly. For instance, vitamins A, D, & K work synergistically with each other and also need magnesium and zinc to be properly utilized. Unfortunately, most of us are deficient in magnesium and zinc, as well. And adequate levels of selenium are necessary for the thyroid to properly utilize iodine.
So, while German contemplates, with the help of her advisors, the next step in adding back a few of the missing nutrients to our food, I would suggest that she also consider promoting whole foods including those that naturally contain iodine, vitamin D, folate, and all the other nutrients we are lacking.