Support for fortifying milk, four and oil with vitamin D in European countries appears to be growing, and comes as two recently published reports highlight the benefits of a higher intake of vitamin D.
A report from Frost & Sullivan published this week found that higher intakes of vitamin D and calcium for the over 55 demographic could save €19.8bn in healthcare costs over five years. While a recent NHS-backed study showed adding vitamin D to food could significantly cut healthcare costs in the UK by preventing colds and flu.
However, there are challenges for formulators, including delivering the required amount of vitamin D without comprising on areas such as flavour and solubility; the use of protective packaging to ensure vitamin D stability; and high quality blending and processing techniques.
“The challenges are possible to solve. Look at Finland or Sweden or the US where they use vitamin D3 fortification for a long time, this shows that it is possible,” Swen Wolfram, head of technical marketing and applications at DSM Nutritional Products, told NutraIngredients.
Adrian Martineau, professor at Queen Mary University of London, who led the recent NHS-backed study,added that from a technical standpoint fortification is ‘not complicated’.
“The challenge lie perhaps in deciding in what foods to fortify at what strength in order to combine efficacy with safety,” he told us.
In the UK, a government-commissioned report last year by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) advised everyone over the age of one to consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day, to protect bone and muscle health.
During winter months, people should consider consuming 10 microgram vitamin D supplements, should their diet not provide it, the advice states.
Martineau argues the guidance is flawed, and is urging health officials to mirror Finland and Sweden by making a conscious move to fortify food and drink with vitamin D.
“From my personal perspective, this [supplementation] is unlikely to happen in a systematic way because people may not be motivated to buy a supplement and take it regularly,” he said.
“The whole general population basically buying an over- the -counter supplement and taking it every day for over half a year. I don’t think it's realistic.”
“I think it makes sense to start considering that [fortification] for the UK,” said Martineau
Bridget Benelam, a senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, told NutraIngrtedients the current SACN guidance faced a challenge because of the size of its target demographic.
“I think it is a challenging message to get out because if you are talking about an at-risk group then you have a specific target group,” she said.
“But when your target group is all the population, that is a huge group of people and you probably need different ways to get the message to all of those.”
While small amounts of vitamin D are found in oily fish and eggs, most people’s vitamin D intake is through exposure of bare skin to sunlight.
“It is quite challenging to get enough vitamin D just from your diet, even including fortified foods unless you are consuming quite high levels of oily fish, which very few people in this this country do,” said Benelam.
Meanwhile, regulation for enhanced vitamin D fortification in Sweden has been delayed.
Last year Sweden’s National Food Agency proposed an extension of the products subject to mandatory vitamin D fortification.
Currently, milk products and margarine spreads are subject to requirements but the extension looked to broaden fortification to organic, lacrosse-free, and soured milk plus cooking oil.
The extension could see milk fortification levels increase from between 3.85 and 5 micrograms per litre to 10 micrograms per litre. For cooking oil, the National Food Agency suggested 20 micrograms of vitamin D per 100 grams.
The EU Commission responded to the proposal by requesting an amendment, which would see organic products from other European countries subject to the same fortification requirements as those made in Sweden.
The amendment has meant a delay to the regulation, which was due to come into force in the autumn of last year.
The revised proposals have now been sent out for further consultation in the EU.
“I hope it [the regulation] will be before the end of the year but it has taken much more time than expected,” Åsa Brugård Konde, nutritionist at the NFA, told us.
“The fact that it takes so much time means it takes longer until we get more vitamin D in the Swedish population.”
But Konde said that milk producers in Sweden had pre-empted the new rules by already fortifying milk with higher levels of vitamin D.