Fortified for Health
Students explore the process of fortification where vitamins and minerals are added to food to make it more healthful and to help people meet their recommended daily intake of different nutrients. Grades 3-5
- Container of fortified orange juice (For example, the container may say "with calcium" or "with vitamin D.")
- Container of regular, non-fortified orange juice
- Disposable cups in two different colors, one of each for each student
- Box of whole grain wheat flakes cereal fortified with iron
- Empty boxes from other types of cereal; students can supply these from home
- Strong magnet
- Small resealable plastic bags
- Warm water
fortification: the process of adding micronutrients (essential trace elements and vitamins) to food
processing: in agriculture, the alteration or modification, for the purpose of storage, transport, or sale, of an agricultural product
Background Agricultural Connections
Farmers around the world grow and produce the food we enjoy every day. There are three basic steps to get food from the farm to the dinner table:
- Production involves growing the food on a farm.
- Processing is what happens to the food after it leaves the farm and before it is sold to consumers. This could involve mixing or combining different ingredients, pasteurization, product packaging, etc. During this stage, food may be fortified with nutrients.
- Transportation involves taking the food to the store.
Fortification is the process of adding nutrients to food. Most foods are fortified with micronutrients, which include trace elements and vitamins. The goal in fortifying foods is to prevent large scale deficiency diseases which are caused by inadequate nutrition. Some of the most common fortified foods include cereals and cereal based products, milk and milk products, fats and oils, and infant formulas.
A deficiency in iodine can lead to mental retardation, cretinism, or learning disabilities. Fortifying salt with iodine has decreased the occurrence of this disease. Folic acid is important for proper growth and division of cells and preventing neural tube defects in babies. Folic acid is fortified in many cereals. Niacin is fortified in bread to prevent the disease, pellagra. Vitamin D is added to many dairy products as well as margarine, vegetable oils, and orange juice. Vitamin D prevents diseases such as rickets, osteoporosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Ask your students what it means to have a "healthy diet." As they offer their ideas, use guided questions to lead them to recognize that a healthy diet provides all of the essential nutrients for good health. This includes the correct balance of calories, vitamins, minerals, and water.
- Ask your students what happens if you do not receive the proper nutrients from the foods you eat. Allow students to offer their answers and explain that they will be learning about a way we can receive more nutrients from the foods we eat.
- Farmers and manufacturers work to develop foods with better nutritional content. Discuss the term fortification with your students. Explain that vitamins and minerals can be added to a food to make it more healthful and to help people meet their recommended daily intake of different nutrients.
- Ask students: What are some examples of fortification? Adding fiber to foods to promote digestive health, adding calcium and vitamin D to promote bone health, adding omega-3 fatty acids to support heart health, etc. What is the purpose of fortification? To provide more nutrients in the foods people eat.
- One food that is fortified and sold in grocery stores year-round is orange juice. Show the class an orange juice container. Point out where it says “with calcium” or “with vitamin D.” Cover the labels and give students samples of the two juices to taste, each in a different color of cup. Don’t tell students which is which.
- Ask students: Does fortified juice taste different than regular juice? When nutrients or vitamins are added to foods, this may change the flavor and appearance. Since taste is a major factor in what people will or won’t eat or drink, companies work to find the right balance between fortification and taste. They might conduct taste tests like this one to see if most people can tell the difference.
- Explain that another common fortified food is breakfast cereal. Show the class several empty cereal boxes.
- Ask students: What information is on the box to let the customer know that the cereal may have been fortified? Students will see words and phrases such as “plus omega-3s, good source of calcium and vitamin D, high in fiber, iron rich,” etc.
- Next show students the box of whole grain wheat cereal fortified with iron and point out on the label where it says the cereal contains iron.
- Ask students: Why do our bodies need iron? Iron is a mineral. Our hemoglobin contains iron. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. Having too little hemoglobin is called anemia. Iron also helps our muscles store oxygen and helps our bodies digest food.
- Show the students a plastic bag containing about one cup of whole grain wheat cereal fortified with iron. Ask a student volunteer to crush the cereal in the bag using his or her hands.
- Ask students: Can you see the iron that was added? No. If we can’t see the iron, how can we prove that it has been added to the cereal? Encourage students to think about the traits of other metals, which are attracted to magnets. Lead students to see that a magnet can help detect iron in the cereal.
- Fill the bag about half full of warm water and seal it carefully. Be sure to leave an air pocket inside the bag. Shake the bag gently to mix the cereal and water.
- After 30–60 minutes, invite students to watch as you place a strong magnet on the outside of the plastic bag.
- Ask students: What did you observe? Tiny black specks were attracted to where the magnet was. This is the iron in the fortified cereal.
- Allow small groups of students to use the bag and magnet to see the result up close.
Teaching Note: Test your whole grain wheat flake cereal in advance. Not all brands work equally well. Also be sure to use a strong magnet for maximum results.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Foods are first produced on a farm, then processed, followed by being purchased by consumers.
- For some foods, the processing step involves fortification or the addition of essential nutrients.
- Fortification decreases the occurrence of disease caused by nutrient deficiencies.
Read Issue 2 of Ag Today titled Food, Keeping us Fueled for an Active Lifestyle. This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. Learn about the healthy and tasty food that farmers grow to help humans maintain a healthy diet. Follow the process from farm to plate and learn about serving sizes, food safety, and USDA's MyPlate.
Text and design by The Education Center, LLC. The development of this curriculum is made possible, in part, by a grant from Farm Credit.