Vitamin D is a rising superstar with the potential to rival calcium as dairy’s most important nutrient.
Long touted for its role in aiding calcium absorption and bone health, research is now linking vitamin D-for which fortified milk is the primary food source in the United States-to a host of other benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and periodontal disease.
The research is so strong there is talk among health experts toward increasing the dietary recommendation for vitamin D in the future. While the current recommendation is sufficient for bone health, higher amounts may be needed for other benefits.
This increased focus on the vitamin could not come at a better time. Research shows vitamin D status is declining in this country due to lower consumption of the vitamin and reduced sunlight exposure because of less time outdoors and liberal use of sunscreen (the body can make its own vitamin D with adequate sunlight exposure). In fact, in the past few years, nutritional rickets-a softening of the bones in children as a result of vitamin D deficiency-has reemerged in the United States as a public health concern.
Maintaining dairy's strongholdAs evidence builds for vitamin D’s various other benefits, talk continues about increasing the daily intake recommendation and more attention is drawn to the vitamin through the mainstream press, consumers may turn elsewhere (to supplements or other fortified foods) to meet their needs. The consequence could be dairy losing its stronghold on vitamin D in the food industry.
There is much dairy processors can do to maintain dairy’s role as the primary dietary source of vitamin D. One option is to fortify the entire family of dairy products with the vitamin, including yogurt and cheese. Rather than milk, alone, being our golden product for delivering the nutrient, fortifying the product line would solidify dairy in the consumer’s mind as the best source of vitamin D.
Processors can also utilize labeling to highlight dairy’s vitamin D content. Dairy Council of California’s trends tracking system, which identifies food, nutrition and market issues likely to have an effect on the dairy industry, has seen a recent push for labels and symbols on foods in an attempt to help consumers make healthy food choices. Dairy packaging is one of our biggest assets as vitamin D becomes even more desired by consumers.
Addressing the immediateThrough our nutrition education programs and initiatives, Dairy Council of California is actively promoting the importance of vitamin D and dairy as the vitamin’s primary dietary source. For example, staff recently developed a monograph for health professionals updating them on emerging research regarding the vitamin.
Delivered to more than 12,000 health professionals, the monograph featured an update on vitamin D’s health benefits and information on the consequences of vitamin D deficiency. Further, it provided application tips for the practicing health professional, including dietary sources of the vitamin. Health professionals were also encouraged to recommend fortified foods (including dairy) as a preferred source of the vitamin. In addition, a consumer handout was included for health professionals to photocopy and distribute.
Dairy Council of California will continue to keep you abreast of the latest research on vitamin D, and looks forward to working with the industry to maximize a unique opportunity to take what has long been a positive characteristic of dairy and turn it into a significant advantage.