Consumer vitamin D awareness may offer bakery opportunities

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Increased consumer awareness of the potential health benefits of vitamin D is opening up opportunities in fortification, according to results of a new survey.

The proportion of American consumers believe that vitamin D plays a great role in maintaining or improving their health has increased to 44 percent, up from 37 percent last year, according to a US survey conducted by Angus Reid Strategies for Lallemand.

But while consumers may be more aware of the benefits, their interest for vitamin D-rich foods appears to focus on bread that naturally rich in vitamins (56 percent) than fortified bread (6 percent).

Vitamin D refers to two biologically inactive precursors – D3, also known as cholecalciferol, and D2, also known as ergocalciferol. The former is produced in the skin on exposure to UVB radiation (290 to 320 nm). The latter is derived from plants and only enters the body via the diet.

Both D3 and D2 precursors are hydroxylated in the liver and kidneys to form 25- hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), the non-active ‘storage’ form, and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25(OH)2D), the biologically active form that is tightly controlled by the body.

While our bodies do manufacture vitamin D on exposure to sunshine, the levels in some northern countries are so weak during the winter months that our body makes no vitamin D at all, meaning that dietary supplements and fortified foods are seen by many as the best way to boost intakes of vitamin D.

One such option is bread, being a staple of many cultures. Jean Chagnon, CEO of Lallemand, supplier of vitamin D-rich bakers’ yeast, pointed to recent findings from Professor Christel Lamberg-Allardt from Helsinki University that found that bread baked with a baker’s yeast containing vitamin D2 maintained blood levels of the vitamin to approximately the same extent as a D2 supplement over a four-week period.

“Bakers using our yeast therefore have a head start in helping meet this important dietary requirement,” said Chagnon. “In addition, we expect to receive soon a positive response to our FDA petition aiming to amend the current regulations to allow levels of up to 400 IU of vitamin D per 100 grams of baked foods using our yeast.

“This will provide bakers with an even greater opportunity to respond to the growing consumer awareness of vitamin D’s benefits, allow bread to naturally become the primary dietary source of vitamin D (perhaps ahead of milk) and strengthen bread’s healthy attributes,” he said.

Other findings from the survey included the findings that the most common vitamin D-rich food source is milk (74 percent), followed by yogurt (40 percent), orange juice (21 percent) and cereals (18 percent). However, only 10 percent of the respondents perceived bread as a source of vitamin D.