Breakfast cereals that are “fortified” with synthetic imitations of vitamins like zinc, niacin, and vitamin A could be harming children, says a new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Researchers from the consumer advocacy organization maintain that many cereals, breakfast bars and other breakfast products marketed to children contain excess levels of synthetic vitamins that may harm vital organs and immune function in the longer term.
The investigative report looked specifically at the three aforementioned additives, all of which are synthetically derived when added to breakfast cereals, to see how manufacturers use them. The team looked at nutrition labels for 1,556 breakfast cereals and 1,025 snack and energy bars to analyze their contents of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, and compare these levels to recommended daily values.
What they discovered was that 114 cereal brands were fortified with levels of either vitamin A, zinc or niacin — or all three — that exceed the recommended daily amounts for adults by 30 percent. Similarly, 27 snack and energy bars were identified as having these same nutrients at levels 50 percent higher than the recommended daily amount.
Isolated, synthetic vitamins can disrupt proper absorption of nutrients
The reason why this is a problem is that each of these key nutrients, when consumed in synthetic form, poses potential health risks. Too much synthetic vitamin A, for instance, can potentially cause liver damage, skeletal abnormalities, peeling skin, and/or hair loss. And too much synthetic zinc can block the absorption of bioavailable copper, which is necessary for proper immune function.
These same nutrients as found naturally in whole foods are completely harmless, of course. But when they are manufactured in a lab and injected into processed foods that have been stripped of their natural nutrient content — commercial breakfast cereal is a perfect example of this — the effects can be quite different.
“Food producers often fortify foods with large amounts of vitamins and minerals to make their products appear more nutritious so they will sell better,” explains the EWG report.
“Fortified breakfast cereals are the number one source of excessive intake because all three nutrients are added to fortified foods in amounts calculated for adults, not children.”
Whole food vitamins are safe to consume in high levels
Though the EWG report does not make a clear distinction between whole, food-based vitamins and the chemical imitators commonly added to processed foods, the evaluation clearly demonstrates that synthetic vitamins are the problem. Because they lack the necessary co-factors required for proper metabolism, synthetic vitamins tend to tax the body rather than feed it.
“Excessive exposure to fortified nutrients is the result of unscrupulous marketing, flawed nutrition labeling and outdated fortification policy,” adds the EWG report. “The current nutrition labeling system puts children’s health at risk and is in dire need of reform.”
You can read the full EWG report here:
Again, it is important to note that these findings pertain to synthetic vitamins as they are added back into over-processed foods, and not to whole foods that are naturally high in vitamins. The findings also do not pertain to whole-food-based vitamin supplements derived from actual food rather than synthetic chemicals.
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