Fortified cereal is a food product usually made from processed grains that have had nutrients added to them in an effort to make the cereal more beneficial to the health of the person eating it. If nutrients are added to a cereal because they were depleted while being refined, then the process is known as enrichment, whereas fortification adds vitamins and minerals that were not previously present in the food. The types of nutrients that are added to fortified cereal include folic acid, thiamin, vitamin C, vitamin A, and calcium, all of which are necessary for the normal functioning of the human body. There are some medical concerns about production of fortified cereal because there is a risk that, if eaten in excess, certain vitamins could reach dangerous levels in the body.
One of the first widespread uses for fortified cereal was the introduction of folic acid into diets. Folic acid helps to prevent problems in the body during times when cells are growing and multiplying faster than usual, as is the case during pregnancy. The addition of folic acid into cereals helps to reduce the risk for birth defects in the children of women who eat the cereal.
Some vitamins are added to fortified cereal because certain brands are eaten largely by children for breakfast. Vitamins A, C and D are all required by growing children to help prevent problems and promote proper growth of muscles and bones. Fortified cereal can be an important element in a diet, especially if there are few or no other sources for the vitamins. In this way, fortification can help prevent an unsafe nutrient deficiency.
Nearly any type of cereal can be fortified. The process generally involves adding powdered or liquid versions of the micronutrients to the grains before they are formed into their final shape. In most cases, the addition of nutrients does not affect the taste or texture of the grains, although there are instances in which the origin of the vitamin can introduce a small amount of flavor.
In adults, eating a well-fortified cereal on a regular basis can help to lower the risk of acquiring certain diseases, including osteoporosis, heart disease and high cholesterol. The effects of the additional nutrients, however, are most effective when consumed as part of a larger balanced diet. This is mainly because some of the vitamins and minerals in the fortified cereal are only fully absorbed when taken with other elements that might not be present in the cereal.