Fortified foods aren’t exactly new. In 1941, the makers of Wonder Bread first started adding vitamins to their highly processed white bread. Post Golden Crisp cereal gets more than half its calories from sugar, but darned if it isn’t fortified with 10 vitamins and minerals.
Even so, there’s something a little jarring about the enriched Girl Scout cookies this year that were advertised as a “delicious new way to get your vitamins!” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking into this and other snack foods that toss in any healthy-sounding thing they can think of and then market it like crazy so it sounds like a nutritious food.
This is the era in which, instead of eating calcium-rich foods, we eat calcium-enriched foods that make sure you know about that in big letters on the label. Or the ones with antioxidants or the omega 3 fatty acids. Particularly if it’s the only claim to health fame they can make.
And it’s one of several reasons to be suspicious of government attempts to engineer our eating habits through bans, taxes and other restrictions. There are the perennial proposals for soda taxes and the New York ban on selling sodas bigger than a certain size (which was tossed out in court). Food is complicated stuff. Apple juice is right up there with soda in sugar content and isn’t a significant source of vitamins or minerals. So what parameters do we use to define junk food? Government restrictions on particular foods will lead many food producers to rejigger their formulas to escape new regulations.
If Coca-Cola packs its sodas with vitamins, can it then claim that this is a more healthful food than apple juice? (Dr Pepper Snapple Group already dabbled with that route by adding vitamin E to 7Up and proclaiming its antioxidant value on the label. It agreed to stop after a lawsuit alleging that the labels were misleading.)
The FDA could get into similarly problematic territory if it tries to go after cookies or chips. Cookies aren’t a healthful food even with a dose of vitamins wedged into them, but the fortified Mango Crème Girl Scout cookies are actually far lower in sugar than Golden Crisp cereal.
Why would one get a pass because you pour it in a bowl in the morning while the other might be looked at askance because it’s eaten as an after-school snack?