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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Foods are Safe, Regulated by the FDA and to be Enjoyed by Families

By Michael McBurney

According to The Economist, research studies can make ‘big news’ and then after the dust settles scientists sometimes discover errors in peer-reviewed findings. Spectacularly bad reporting can lead to claims that hurricanes with feminine names were more ‘deadly’ than hurricanes with masculine names (see Why Female Hurricanes Made Getting the Story Right, Hard by Paige Brown).

The Environmental Working Group issued a report “How Much is Too Much? Excess Vitamins in Minerals in Food Can Harm Kids’Health”. The Nutrition Facts panel of fortified foods were reviewed. In the press release,   the FDA was criticized for ‘woefully outdated’ Daily Values (DVs). The D Vs were set in 1968 but there isn’t any scientific evidence to suggest that human vitamin and mineral needs have changed in the past 50 years. The report claims fortified ready-to-eat cereals and snack bars are harming children with excessive intakes of vitamin A, zinc and niacin.  CBS reported “nearly half of young children eat potentially harmful amounts of fortified cereals and snack bars. The added nutrients include vitamin A, zinc and niacin.USA Today’s headline read “Report: Over-fortified cereals may pose risks to kids”. Is it true that fortified foods are harmful to young children?

No. As discussed in TalkingNutrition on Monday, the tolerable upper limit (UL) is a safe daily intake which has never been shown to pose adverse effects in people. An intake of 101% or even 150% of the DV is known to be nontoxic.  In most cases, the UL for young children are extrapolations based on body weight adjustments from adult data using very conservative margins of safety. Many scientists believe that the ULs are set too low  for children. What is the evidence that ULs are too low?

The paper by Berner et al (2014) reports that 2-8y old children can exceed the UL by eating only foods which are not enriched or fortified (Fig 2). This is indirect evidence that the UL is set too low.  If children can exceed the UL without consuming enriched or fortified foods, why target ready-to-eat cereals and snack bars as the sole problem.  If exceeding the UL is a ‘real’ toxicity concern, why did they not identify other important nutrient sources?

Berner and colleagues (2014) identified other important dietary sources of vitamin A (Table 3) in the 2-8y age group. They are: milk (22.6%), carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash (4.9%), cheese (4.6%), and eggs (3.3%).  With regards to niacin, almost 25% of the intake comes from poultry (10.4%), mainly meat mixtures (5.4%), white potatoes (2.9%), beef (2.5%) and nuts and seeds (2.5%) (Table 10). And finally, zinc where 45% of young children may exceed the UL from food, almost 25% of their zinc comes from milk (12.4%), beef (5.2%), cheese (4.1%) and poultry (3.7%). Are any of these foods fortified with zinc? No, the UL is probably set too low for these nutrients in young children. The Environmental Working Group is right in one regard; ULs and DVs should be revisited.

Food products are formulated and labeled to meet regulatory requirements. The FDA requires companies to label the Percent Daily Value (DV) in the Nutrition Facts Panel according to age groupings.  Products intended for anyone over 4y of age require the following DVs: vitamin A (5,000 IU), niacin (20 mg) and zinc (15 mg). Products intended for children under 4y of age have the following: vitamin A (2,500 IU), niacin (9 mg) and zinc (8 mg). Ready-to-eat cereals and snack bars are intended to be consumed by older children and adults. They are labeled according.

Because of federal regulations and FDA oversight, our foods are safe. They can be enjoyed and shared by families. This includes ready-to-eat cereals and snack bars.


Bailey RL, Gahche JL, Thomas PR, Dwyer JT. Why US children use dietary supplements. 2013 Ped Res doi:10.1038/pr.2013.160

Berner LA, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer JT. Fortified foods are major contributors to food intakes in diets of US children and adolescents. 2014 JAND doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.10.012

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