What Does it Mean to be Fortified?

While folic acid is available over the counter, the other way to increase the amount of the supplement in your system is through eating fortified grain products.

On January 1, 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring grain products to be fortified with 140 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per 100 grams of grain product. Added fortification is included in cereals, breads, pastas, and other foods labeled "enriched." This was an effort to make it easier for women to obtain the recommended 400 mcg of folic acid in their daily diet in order yo reduce the risk of children developing neural tube defects while in the womb.

When it comes to fortified cereals, the ones that are fortified are often the ready-to-eat, pre-packed cereals – your Cheerios and Frosted Flakes -- and sometimes hot cereals like oatmeal.

Folic acid isn’t the only supplement added to fortified foods. Many cereals are fortified with vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and calcium, among others.

So why are cereals fortified? For one thing, it means Americans are getting more nutrients. Most U.S. citizens don’t meet the daily dietary recommendations for certain vitamins and minerals. Fortifying certain foods helps.

In the case of folic acid, adding it to fortified grain products has successfully reduced the number of children born with neural tube defects in North America.

The FDA did not require more than 140 mcg of folic acid be added to enriched foods because of the concern that folic acid might mask one sign of a potentially dangerous condition called pernicious anemia, that is seen mainly in elderly people. The level of fortification the FDA currently requires is believed to be safe for everyone.

That said, some fortified breakfast cereals contain 400 micrograms of folic acid in one bowl. It’s important to read the nutrition label on fortified cereals and other products.