Vitamin D-Lightful: Surprising Facts about Fortification

May 3, 2017
Vitamin D-Lightful: Surprising Facts about Fortification

Vitamin D is a hot topic for both health professionals and consumers. Many of us are concerned whether or not we are deficient, as vitamin D is essential to good health, playing many different roles in the body. It helps with bone building, cell growth and immune function – and even prevents inflammation. Inadequate vitamin D intake may be linked to heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer and depression. It’s also a nutrient of public health concern according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Let’s explore a few facts about vitamin D that may be news to you:

The Best Sources of Vitamin D

Although vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, it can be challenging to meet our needs solely through the sun. Time of year, time of day and sunscreen can complicate that process. Vitamin D is naturally present in only a few foods, and most of us don’t eat enough of those foods to cover our needs.

So, what’s our best source?

Food first: look toward fortification. Milk pairs vitamin D with an easily absorbable calcium to help build those strong bones. In the 1930s, milk was first fortified with vitamin D to help prevent vitamin D deficiency rickets in children, a public health crisis at that time. Today, milk continues to reign supreme as the No. 1 food source of vitamin D in the American diet, based on what people report actually eating.

Other products fortified with vitamin D include some yogurts, some cheeses, some orange juices and many milk alternatives. But not all fortification is equally effective: A recent study shows that some milk alternatives aren’t providing enough vitamin D to children. Choosing milk alternatives over real cow’s milk may also be affecting young adults and their bone health.

 New Rules and New Labels for Vitamin D Fortification

Current science has doubled the recommended Daily Value (DV) for vitamin D to 20 μg (800 IU). The nutrition label slated for release in 2018 will reflect that, and Percent Daily Value and actual amounts of vitamin D are now required to be included on Nutrition Facts panels.

A recent amendment to the food additive regulations is allowing companies to effectively double the level of fortification in milk and other beverages for the following maximum levels:

  • Milk – 200 IU/cup (84 IU/100 grams)
  • Plant-based milk alternatives (e.g. soy, almond beverage) – 200 IU/cup (84 IU/100 grams)
  • Plant-based yogurt alternatives –  151 IU per 6 ounces (89 UI per 100 grams)

Absorbing Vitamin D with Fat

What about fat and fortification? Is vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, better absorbed from whole versus low-fat or fat-free milk? To our knowledge, there are no scientific studies that have demonstrated this. Most studies show that as long as a person consumes some fat at meals and snacks throughout the day, vitamin D from food and supplements will be absorbed – though other variables may affect vitamin D absorption.

Supplements an Added Advantage for Seniors

There may be a benefit for seniors to get their three servings of dairy foods while taking a vitamin D supplement. A recent study discovered that specific dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese are associated with higher bone mineral density in the spine and are protective against bone loss in the hip, but only among older adults who take vitamin D supplements. These findings could lead to better care for the estimated 10 million Americans over 50 years of age diagnosed with osteoporosis.

I hope I’ve inspired you to discover even more about vitamin D and to help your patients seek vitamin D in their favorite dairy foods.