The vitamin D opportunity

by Jeff Gelski
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Sources say recommended daily levels of vitamin D intake may increase, perhaps even double, when an Institute of Medicine committee releases its findings later this year. Such news may have consumers seeking ways to increase their vitamin D intake, which in turn may present marketing opportunities for grain-based foods.

Current adequate intake (A.I.) levels for vitamin D are 200 international units (I.U.) for people up to age 50, 400 I.U. for people age 51-70, and 600 I.U. for people over age 70. The Institute of Medicine set those levels in 1997. Since then, some scientific studies have shown people are failing to meet those levels while other studies have found health benefits from vitamin D beyond healthy bones.

“It is so popular because there is good science behind it,” said Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice-president and chief scientific officer for Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, N.Y. “More and more scientific evidence shows how good vitamin D is.”

Wendy Dahl, an assistant professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, added, “The need for it goes so far beyond just bone health. We think about vitamin D in terms of bone health, but more and more we’re seeing there are just so many more problems that happen as a result of vitamin D deficiency.”

Thus, the I.U. numbers may increase this year.

“Instead of 400, they might go to 800 or 1,000,” Dr. Chaudhari said. “Definitely all the indications are in the vicinity of 800 to 1,000 I.U.”

Michael F. Holick, a medical doctor at Boston Medical Center and author of the book “The Sunshine Vitamin,” spoke in February at a baking seminar in Chicago sponsored by Lallemand, Inc. Dr. Holick said he personally would propose A.I. levels of somewhere between 400 to 1,000 I.U. for babies up to age 1, 1,000 to 2,000 I.U. for children age 1-12 and 1,500 to 2,000 I.U. for people over age 13. He is hopeful the Institute of Medicine committee will recommend at least 400 I.U. for children and between 800 to 1,000 I.U. for adults.

Exposure to sunshine may lead to increased vitamin D intake, but people are not getting enough vitamin D that way, Dr. Holick said. He added in the United States people living north of Georgia cannot get enough exposure to sunshine in the winter.

Dr. Dahl was involved in studies that examined vitamin D intake in University of Florida students.

“I think everybody was shocked that in the sunny state of Florida, the vast majority of students had insufficient levels, or less than optimum for sure,” she said.

To increase those levels, Dr. Dahl said baked foods seem like an ideal solution since studies show 94% of the population consumes baked foods. Yet Dr. Dahl pointed out a 2009 Mintel survey showed only 2% of U.S. bread products are fortified with vitamin D.

“People consume many servings of grains in a day,” she said “It’s good to target foods that everybody consumes. I would definitely like to see mandatory fortification. We have to do something.”

Vitamin D fortification comes with a few challenges in grain-based food applications.

Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, may be in different forms such as vitamin D2 and D3 in a form of oily crystal, liquid oil or powder with different concentrations and properties, said Yi Wu, chief innovation director for The Wright Group, Crowley, La. The products are sensitive to environmental conditions such as pH(<7), oxygen, light and heat.

“To fortify products with vitamin D, one will be facing challenges in areas such as selecting the proper form of vitamin D, calculating the usage rate and label claim, determining how and when to add it to the product during processing, and understanding how the ingredient will affect the properties such as the sensory attributes of the fortified product,” Dr. Wu said.

The Wright Group may provide assistance through formulation discussion, lab baking trial testing and on-site scale up testing, Dr. Wu said.

Manufacturers need to make certain the vitamin D is mixed homogeneously into the finished product, Dr. Chaudhari said. Stabilizers and some fat may be needed, he added.

Bakers yeast is another avenue for vitamin D fortification. A petition from Lallemand appeared in the Federal Register of Dec. 17, 2009. It seeks to amend the food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of vitamin D2 yeast for baked goods at higher levels than the current 90 I.U. per 100-gram serving. The petition seeks an increase to 400 I.U. per 100-gram serving.

Lallemand has a process to convert the plant sterols in yeast to vitamin D while allowing yeast to keep its leavening and flavor contributions intact. The company’s North American plants are equipped in such a way that all the yeasts (fresh cream, fresh compressed and instant dried yeast) are produced using this process.

Lallemand in mid-June had yet to hear back on the petition. James Kopp, a Lallemand vice-president, said the petition is not related to the upcoming Institute of Medicine committee findings. Lallemand might hear back on the petition before the committee releases its findings.

The 400 I.U. limit might help baked foods attain vitamin D levels closer to ready-to-eat cereal, which may be as much as 350 I.U. per 100 grams, Mr. Kopp said. At the 90 I.U. level, baked foods are unable to attain an excellent source claim, which would mean 20% or more of the daily level of vitamin D.

At the 90 I.U. level, baked foods also find it difficult to reach an F.D.A. claim relating to vitamin D and calcium, Mr. Kopp said. The claim states, “Adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”

Vitamin D optimizes calcium absorption in the body, Dr. Chaudhari said, but calcium may present application challenges. For example, calcium carbonate may have chalkiness. If formulators add 200 mg to 300 mg per serving, calcium carbonate may have an impact.

Dr. Chaudhari said formulators may want to use calcium carbonate in combination with other forms of calcium, such as calcium phosphate, for better sensory properties.

Dr. Wu said, “Similar to vitamin D, there are many different forms of calcium with difference in their properties such as solubility, particle size and calcium potencies, which may have an impact on the finished products. One major challenge to fortified products is the impact of calcium on compounds on the sensory attribute of the fortified products due to the high usage rate based on the high daily recommended intake for calcium.”

Vitamin D does appear easier to work with in baked foods than omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.

“Both nutrients are fat-soluble items and unstable, available in more than one form of selection with difference in the omega-3 fatty acid composition and concentration, and can be either as an oil or powder,” Dr. Wu said. “However, fortifying products with omega-3 is more difficult than with vitamin D due to their highly unstable nature and thus the tendency to go rancid and generate the typical fishy odor, which will have an impact on the flavor of the finished products.”

Vitamin D is not as prone to oxidation as omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, Dr. Chaudhari said.

Vitamin D applications are possible in various grain-based foods applications. New World Pasta Co., Harrisburg, Pa., now offers Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta, which qualifies as an excellent source of vitamin D and also contains three times the fiber of regular white pasta and the same amount of calcium as an 8-oz glass of milk.

Dr. Dahl said she lives in the southern part of the country where vitamin D might be added to such regional favorites as grits and corn meal. Even hamburger buns found at fast-food outlets might be an avenue for vitamin D inclusion, she said.

Dr. Dahl said, “Vitamin D is in microgram amounts. So it is in really, really small amounts. It has absolutely no effect on the quality of the product. There is no way anybody would be able to detect it in terms of sensory.”

With the findings from the Institute of Medicine looming, adding small amounts of vitamin D to products may present big opportunities for the grain-based foods industry.

Yeast with vitamin D has same effect as vitamin D supplement

HELSINKI, FINLAND — Bread baked with yeast containing vitamin D2 had an equal effect on vitamin D (S-25-Hydroxyvitamin D) levels in women as supplements containing vitamin D2 in a four-week trial at the University of Helsinki.

The single-blind bioavailability study involved 38 healthy women between the ages of 19-41. They randomly were assigned to three study groups. Each group consumed wheat bread baked with vitamin D2 bakers yeast or regular wheat bread and a vitamin D2 supplement or a placebo supplement daily. The daily dose of vitamin D was 1,000 International Units (I.U.). Researchers took blood samples at the beginning of the study, after one week, after two weeks and after four weeks.

Lallemand, Inc. offers yeast containing vitamin D2.

“Bread is a staple food consumed daily by persons of different ages and different ethnicities, and yeast is a key ingredient in the production of bread,” said Jean Chagnon, chief executive officer of Lallemand. “The simple process improvement in making Lallemand VitaD bakers yeast, with this scientific evidence, will certainly result in a significant percentage of all breads and yeast-leavened goods becoming new natural sources of vitamin D.

“This is good news at a time when the importance of this sunshine vitamin D is increasingly recognized by health professionals, public health officials and the general public. This study confirms that bread baked with Lallemand VitaD bakers yeast is as effective (bioavailable) as a vitamin D supplement.”

The study’s results come during a year in which other scientific studies have focused on various vitamin D health benefits and consumer intake:

• People of African ancestry with low sun exposure need 2,100 to 3,000 I.U. of vitamin D daily, according to a study that appeared on-line Jan. 6 in The Journal of Nutrition. During the winter, people of European ancestry with high sun exposure need 1,300 I.U. of vitamin D daily. The study involved researchers from the University of California, Davis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and Queensland University of Technology in Queensland, Australia. Researchers studied 72 people for seven to eight weeks in the fall, winter, spring and summer in Davis.

• Vitamin D from supplements independently was associated with reduced breast cancer risk in a study appearing April 14 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. No associations were found between overall vitamin D or calcium intake and breast cancer risk. The study involved researchers from Cancer Care Ontario in Toronto. The Ontario Cancer Registry identified breast cancer cases of people between the ages of 25 and 74. Controls were identified by using random digit dialing, and 3,101 cases and 3,471 controls completed epidemiologic and food-frequency questionnaires.

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