A big bowl of milk and cereal can be a great way to start the day. Many breakfast cereals and snack bars contain nutrients that help our bodies stay strong and healthy. But some of these foods are packed with too many vitamins and minerals. According to a new study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), this extra fortification may be more harmful than helpful. The EWG is a nonprofit group that promotes public health.
Many kids’ food makers advertise products that are rich in vitamins and minerals. This appeals to families who want to eat healthy. But more isn’t always better when it comes to certain nutrients. The EWG studied 1,556 breakfast cereals and 1,025 snack bars and found large amounts of vitamin A, niacin, and zinc. Among the products the group tested, 114 cereals contained 30% more of these three nutrients than what is recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Of the tested snack bars, 27 have more than 50% of the recommended amounts of vitamin A, niacin, and zinc.
Nutrition facts listed on packages are based on recommended daily values for adults, who are physically larger and require more vitamins and minerals. So when kids eat these cereals and snack bars, they are getting more nutrients than they need.
Nutrients in Action
Vitamin A, niacin, and zinc are best in fresh and unprocessed foods that are in their natural state. Vitamin A helps you see at night. It occurs naturally in eggs, meat, cantaloupe, carrots, and spinach. Niacin is a vitamin that helps our bodies make energy. It is found in foods like fish, seeds, and peanuts, as well as in whole grains like wheat and brown rice. Zinc helps our bodies fight off infection. It is found in many foods, including wheat-based products, meats, beans, and nuts.
Children typically eat more than one serving of cereal or snack bars a day, in addition to taking vitamin supplements. Eating large amounts of these nutrients can be dangerous to kids’ health. Too much vitamin A can cause liver damage, and high levels of zinc can disrupt the body’s natural immunity, or power to fight infection.
The EWG authors are calling for the FDA to make changes to its guidelines for nutrient intake and revise its daily values to match kids’ diets.
Vitamins and minerals help our bodies grow and stay healthy. That’s why it’s important to read labels and think about the foods we eat every day. If you have questions about the right amount of vitamins and minerals for your body, talk to an adult.