Browse the cereal, bread, and snack-bar aisles and it may be difficult to find products that don’t contain added calcium, folic acid, and iron. In fact, some packaged products are loaded with more than a day’s worth of those nutrients. But consuming a lot of fortified foods with vitamins and minerals along with taking dietary supplements may put you well over the recommended limits.

And most American adults already get enough calcium, folic acid, and iron without eating fortified food or taking dietary supplements.

“For healthy people eating varied diets adequate in calories, there is little or no evidence that fortification improves health,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. Here’s what you need to know about getting the right amount of those nutrients.


Adults generally need 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day, which is plentiful in dairy products and also found in beans, greens, fruit, and nuts. But don’t routinely exceed 2,000 to 2,500 mg, particularly of added or supplemental calcium, which research suggests is handled differently by our bodies than the calcium from food.

Too much added calcium can increase the risk of kidney stones. (In contrast, food that’s naturally rich in calcium seems to lower that risk.) Calcium dietary supplements can also interact dangerously with some heart and thyroid drugs.

It’s easy to go overboard. A ¾-cup serving of Total Whole Grain cereal, for example, has 1,000 mg of calcium, and a Special K French Vanilla Protein Shake contains 350 mg. Add two Nature’s Way Alive Calcium Gummies (1,000 mg) and you’ve consumed more than double the daily requirement.

Folic Acid and Folate

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that most adults consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day, a vitamin you’ll find in dark leafy greens, fruit, beans, and eggs. But don’t get more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day, a form of folate used in dietary supplements and fortified foods.

Too much can mask vitamin B12 deficiency, most likely to be seen among people 50 and older, and in vegetarians. “Untreated, that can lead to nerve damage, cognitive trouble, and even psychiatric problems,” says Consumer Reports’ medical director, Orly Avitzur, M.D.

Research suggests that daily folic acid supplements of 300 to 800 mcg can hide the symptoms of B12 deficiency. In a study of more than 2,500 older adults, consumption of more than 400 mcg per day was associated with cognitive decline.

Many manufacturers add folic acid to such products as enriched bread, cereal, flour, pasta, and rice.

If you munch on a ¾-cup serving of Cinnamon Life Cereal and take a One A Day Men’s 50 Plus Healthy Advantage multivitamin, you’ve consumed double the amount that your body requires and nearly hit the government’s safe upper limit.


In general, 8 to 18 mg of iron per day is sufficient unless you have a condition like iron-deficiency anemia. The IOM says healthy people shouldn’t exceed 45 mg. More than that can increase the likelihood of diabetes and heart problems for those with hemochromatosis, a surprisingly common genetic condition that causes the body to deposit excess iron in vital organs.

Most adults can get sufficient iron from food that naturally contains it, including red meat, beans, broccoli, and eggs.

Cereal, pasta, and bread are often fortified with iron, so you might get more than you need without even realizing it. One serving of Total Raisin Bran provides 18 mg; one GNC Ultra Iron supplement contains 65 mg.

What to do: It’s tough to avoid fortified foods altogether, nor do you need to. But it’s wise to concentrate on getting as much of your calcium, folic acid, and iron from whole food sources rather than fortified products. So check the Nutrition Facts label on packaged goods to see how much of those nutrients you’re getting. And unless your doctor has recommended dietary supplements of calcium, folic acid, or iron, skip them.