Some breakfast cereals that are overly fortified with nutrients like vitamin A, zinc, and niacin may actually pose health risks to children because the foods are fortified to provide an adult's recommended intake of those nutrients. These are the findings of a report by the Environmental Working Group, a health advocacy organization that says millions of American children are eating overly fortified cereals every day. Part of the problem, the group says, is that nutrition labels are not age-specific--and higher nutrient levels on cereal packages may actually sway parents' purchasing decisions because they think the products are healthier for their kids.
Only "a tiny, tiny percentage" of cereal packages carry nutrition labels that list age-specific daily values, Sharp says. "That's misleading to parents and is contributing to the problem."
The daily values for most vitamins and minerals that appear on nutrition facts labels were set by the FDA in 1968 and haven't updated, she says, making them "wildly out-of-sync" with currently recommended levels deemed safe by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences.
Getting adequate amounts of all three nutrients is needed to maintain health and prevent disease, but the report says that routinely ingesting too much vitamin A can, over time, lead to health issues such as liver damage and skeletal abnormalities. . High zinc intakes can impair copper absorption and negatively affect red and white blood cells and immune function, and consuming too much niacin can cause short-term symptoms such as rash, nausea and vomiting, the report says.
Image: Cereal bowl with milk, via Shutterstock