Enriching Foods, Not a Miracle

The concept of “enriched” foods is an odd one. You take wholesome natural food, process and strip it of its nutrients, and then, artificially reintroduce vitamins and minerals. Why are we reinventing the wheel? Just eat food as it is—wholesome and natural. Dr. Fuhrman thinks enriched food is a big waste of time too. He talks about in Eat to Live:
White or "enriched" rice is just as bad as white bread and pasta. It is nutritionally bankrupt. You might as well just eat the Uncle Ben's cardboard box it comes in. Refining removes important factors: fiber, minerals, phytochemicals, and vitamin E. So, when you eat grains, eat whole grains.


Refining foods removes so much nutrition that our government requires that a few synthetic vitamins and minerals be added back. Such food is labeled as enriched or fortified. Whenever you see those words on a package, it means important nutrients are missing. Refining foods lowers the amount of hundreds of known nutrients, yet usually only five to ten are added back by fortification.

As we change food through processing and refining, we rob the food of certain health-supporting substances and often create unhealthy compounds, thus making it a more unfit food for human consumption. As a general rule of thumb: the closer we eat foods to their natural state, the healthier the food.
Hopefully these refined foods don’t reach your dinner table—especially when you read news like this. Research has revealed that increased consumption of enriched foods like bread, pasta, and rice have upped the number of reported cases of colon and rectal cancer. Lawrence Lindner of The Boston Globe is on it:
But the fortification of foods with folic acid, a B vitamin, may have also led to an unintended consequence: an estimated 15,000 more cases of colon and rectal cancer each year than there otherwise might have been.


It's well documented that more folic acid in young women's diets has prevented neural tube defects. This month, for example, Canadian researchers published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine showing that since 1998, the year that it became mandatory to add folic acid to certain foods, the prevalence of neural tube defects in seven Canadian provinces decreased from 1.58 per 1,000 births to 0.86 per 1,000 births -- a reduction of almost 50 percent.

The story is similar in the United States, which began requiring folic acid fortification the same year.

But the timetable of the downward trend in neural tube defects exactly corresponds to a significant, sustained upward tick in the rate of cases of colorectal cancer, according to new data from researchers at Tufts University.

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, shows that before the late 1990s, the incidence of colon cancer was decreasing on a steady, predictable curve, presumably because of increased screening with colonoscopies, during which precancerous polyps and early cancers are removed. However, the curve has shifted.
This doesn’t surprise me. Dr. Fuhrman makes it clear, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are incredibly important, but it’s the phytonutrients—found only in unprocessed plant foods—that are so instrumental to superior health. In the Fortified Food Farce Dr. Fuhrman makes a comment that really lays it on the line. Here it is:
When you attempt to meet you micronutrient requirements with supplements or fortified products you miss those thousands of phytonutrients that accompany produce that is naturally nutrient rich. So every fortified food you eat is increasing your risk of cancer by decreasing your dietary intake of a food that could have supplied those calories in a more nutrient complete package. Fortified foods = processed foods. Processed foods = obesity and cancer epidemic.
I don’t get the hang up here. Why are people so willing to consume processed food monstrosities for nutrients, instead of getting them from the source? I don’t know. Maybe they’re not sure which fruits and veggies to eat. Well, this’ll get them started: Ten Super Foods to Use in Your Recipes and Menus.
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