Changes in dietary habits threaten nutrition deficiencies
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Because U.S. dietary habits are changing, more attention is being put on fortifying more products with vitamin D, says one industry insider.
For decades, fortification focused on the staples -- fluid milk, cereal, bread and juice, said Donna Berry, food scientist, consultant and owner of Dairy and Food Communications Inc. But Americans aren't eating like they used to.
With an increasing focus on the importance of vitamin D and more deficiencies, there's a movement toward fortifying other dairy products, she said.
"It's a need that's been identified by nutrition authorities," she said.
Milk processors began fortifying fluid milk with vitamin D in the 1930s to help combat rickets, a debilitating bone disease, which then was a major public health problem. Rickets hadn't been seen in the U.S. in 80 or 90 years, but is now showing up again, she said.
In addition to bone health, new research links vitamin D to a healthy immune system and improved brain function as well as helping to prevent diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
The medical community is making consumers more aware of the need for the vitamin, food-ingredient suppliers are becoming more proactive, and manufacturers are seeing an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, she said.
Historically, fluid milk processed for other dairy products has not been fortified, but the last couple of years have seen more companies fortifying yogurt and, to some extent, cheese.
"I'll be curious to see how many companies follow in their footsteps," she said.
Several dairy foods companies are pushing to add vitamin D to product if they hadn't already, said Michael Neuwirth, Dannon Co. senior director of public relations.
"Vitamin D got a lot of visibility and attention from the scientific community a year to six months ago," he said.
As for Dannon, it adds the vitamin to some products, but it's not a company-wide practice, he said.
"It depends on the end product," he said.
It would fit in with weight-management products aimed at consumers who are cutting nutrition as they cut other foods to save calories, he said.
"There's a good argument to supplement that product with vitamin D," he said.
Yoplait fortifies all of its yogurt products with vitamin D, according to its website. Requests for an interview were not returned.
Dairy Management Inc. supports fortification of dairy products with vitamin D, said David Pelzer, senior vice president strategic communications for DMI, which manages the dairy checkoff.
Milk is the No. 1 food source of vitamin D in the American diet, and 58 percent of the total vitamin D intake from foods comes from dairy, he said.
"DMI has provided research and technical support to enable manufacturers to fortify dairy products," he said.
In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled its vitamin D recommendation for infants children and adolescents. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine also raised its recommendation.