Potato chips chock full of vitamins D and C! Corn dogs fortified with folic acid!
Fritos, Pogos and junk food of every description might soon be able to add a shimmer of health to their glossy packaging if Health Canada enacts proposed rule changes regarding the fortification of edibles.
And the new right to add minerals and vitamins to such demonstrably detrimental fare can only worsen this country’s obesity crisis, many health experts warn.
“If you’re already a junk food eater you’ll eat more of it … you can have these chips because they’re ‘heart healthy,’” says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa obesity specialist and longtime critic of the proposal. Worse yet, he says, it could encourage people who have been trying to eat right to succumb to the junk food temptation.
“There’s the very busy person who has been trying hard to cook meals with whole foods properly for their whole family,” says Freedhoff, founder of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute.
“They could decide, ‘Why should I bother doing this when I can get the healthy Pogo stick with the fortified this, that and the other.’”
The proposal does not specifically mention which foods can be fortified; it does, however, list those that cannot be. These include flour and bread (whose fortification is already set), pasta, sugars, syrups, alcoholic beverages, milk and butter.
Also on the regulated list would be fresh produce, meats, fish poultry, eggs, fresh brewed coffee and tea, and infant foods and diet formulations. But Freedhoff says those restrictions fly out the window when any of these products are mixed or battered or otherwise processed.
“They specifically mention the foods that are not allowed to be fortified, and then everything else is fair game,” he says.
If a company mixes any of these staples into a Pogo stick, for example, they can fortify at will, he says. “And it’s ‘at your discretion, food industry.’ I’m not sure about you, but certainly I’ve never known the food industry to have much in the way of discretion.”
University of Toronto nutrition expert Valerie Tarasuk says the food industry has argued the regulations would simply harmonize Canadian products with those sold in the United States, which has long had liberal fortification rules.