01 Nov Spooning the Facts on Cereal Fortification
This post was sponsored by General Mills. All opinions are my own.
Growing up in a household of five children wasn’t so easy. As the oldest child, mornings were usually a blur helping my mom dress and feed my younger siblings, so cereal with milk and sliced fruit on top was our go to for a nourishing breakfast. My mom would have a glass jar and mix all the cereals together—so you get what you get and don’t get upset! But every day, thanks to this quick, easy, and nutritious breakfast, my mom was able to get all of us ready for school on time everyday.
As a registered dietitian (RD) and single mom with three children of my own, cereal has certainly come in handy for breakfast, snacks, and even for dinner. If you’ve scanned the nutrition facts panel, you can see that a variety of vitamins and minerals have been added to cereal – which is known as fortification. The addition of vitamins and minerals to cereal isn’t new and has been around for decades to help provide nourishment and close nutrient gaps that may exist for a variety of reasons, including food insecurity, an unhealthy diet, or even picky eating in kids. However, when I scan social media and speak with folks about cereal, so many inaccurate statements are made. I partnered with General Mills Big G Cereals because I wholeheartedly believe in the power of cereal to help nourish adults and kids.
In this post, I will address three common myths about vitamin fortification and specifically about vitamin D fortification.
Myth #1: The added vitamins and minerals in cereal are not as effective as naturally available nutrients
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), food fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of one or more micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals) in a food to improve the nutrition quality of that food, and thereby providing a public health benefit with minimal risk to the person’s health. Throughout the 20th century, there were many common health problems in the US stemming from micronutrient deficiencies like goiter (from lack of iodine), rickets (from lack of vitamin D in kids), beriberi (from lack of thiamine), pellagra (from lack of niacin), and neural tube defects (from lack of folic acid). Since the initiation of fortification, these diseases have been virtually eliminated.
Cereal is an ideal food to fortify with vitamins and minerals because it is convenient, affordable, widely consumed by people in all stages of life, and has the ability to have a uniform distribution of nutrients. The vitamins and minerals that you find in fortified cereals play the same role within the body as the vitamins and minerals that are naturally found in foods.
In the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans, vitamin D was identified as an under consumed nutrient for all life stages. A staggering 96% of all Americans age 2 years and older fall short on this key nutrient. This is why General Mills now offers twice the amount of vitamin D in their Big G Cereals to help bridge this gap.
There has been a debate about the effectiveness of synthetic and natural vitamins and minerals. Synthetic nutrients (or isolated nutrients) are usually made artificially, in an industrial process, while natural nutrients are obtained from whole food sources in the diet (like nuts, fruit, and vegetables). There has been research to determine if synthetic nutrients work the same way as natural nutrients in the body. A 2014 published study found that vitamin D supplement, when combined with calcium, improved bone health in older folks.
Bottom Line: Fortified cereals make for an easy and affordable way to help people get a delicious dose of essential vitamins and minerals as part of a balanced diet.
Myth #2: You can meet your vitamin D intake through sunlight alone
The two main ways you can get vitamin D are through sunlight and by eating food. But it’s tough for many folks to get sun exposure during the winter, in rainy areas, and on cloudy days. Your skin color also designates how much sun you need. Folks with darker skin need to spend more time in the sun to get enough exposure compared to folks with lighter skin. How much vitamin D you get also depends on how much clothing you’re wearing. If you’re bundled up, you’re not getting that much vitamin D!
Also, you can’t synthesize vitamin D by sitting indoors next to the window or when you’re wearing sunscreen. Plus, in today’s culture there is a lot of time being spent indoors in front of screens, using sunscreen, or sitting in the shade to avoid direct sunlight. Most folks will benefit from including vitamin D in their diet to supplement their limited sun exposure. That is why as an RD, I encourage the consumption of foods with vitamin D, including fortified milk, fortified 100% juices, and General Mills fortified Big G cereals (like Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms and more!), which now provide 20% of the Daily Value of vitamin D. That is twice the previous amount, making it an easy, affordable, and delicious way to up your vitamin D intake.
Bottom Line: Both sunlight and foods– including fortified foods– can help you meet your vitamin D needs.
Myth #3: You must get sun exposure to meet your vitamin D intake requirement
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because exposure to sunlight is one source of it. However, many folks believe that you must get a certain amount of sun exposure to get enough vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight is not always possible and has been linked to cancer. But did you know that you can also get vitamin D by eating foods rich in vitamin D and a vitamin D3 supplement? The caveat is that many foods rich in vitamin D aren’t foods folks eat on a regular basis, like fatty fish, sardines, egg yolks, and mushrooms. This is exactly the reason why vitamin D was added to foods like milk, orange juice, and grains.
General Mills Big G cereals, which are made from whole grains, are fortified with vitamin D to help fill the nutrient gap as it is under consumed by most of the U.S. population. General Mills Big G Cereals now deliver 20% of the Daily Value for vitamin D—which is twice the previous amount — to help take in this important nutrient in an affordable and delicious way. You’ll find some of your favorite childhood cereals including Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs (my fave!), Trix, and Lucky Charms now with 20% of the Daily Value of vitamin D. General Mills follows dietary intake of our current U.S. population and has updated these cereals to reflect what our current population needs to help close the vitamin D gap.
Bottom Line: You don’t need sunlight to get enough vitamin D. Many foods are a good source including fatty fish, sardines, egg yolks, milk, fortified 100% juices and General Mills Big G Cereals.