Dairy food tree
My holiday wish is for more dairy processors to boost the nutrient profile of foods I consume on a regular basis, such as cheese, milk and yogurt.

Ever since I can remember I have been challenged with swallowing pills. When I was a little girl, my mom would dissolve the orange-flavored baby aspirin in a spoon of water for me to swallow. Thank goodness Flintstones vitamins were chewable. When I got older, my doctor encouraged me to take the same approach as one does with their pets, and that is to hide the tablet or capsule in a piece of cheese or some bread. Let’s just say it’s pretty challenging to trick oneself.

I get frustrated because I want to enhance my diet with nutrients that I might be deficient in, but getting supplements down can be exhausting for me. And even once swallowed, I have a sensitive stomach, so I have to make sure I take them with enough food so they settle.

There are others like me. Many of us have become fans of Vitamin Water Zero. It helps get the goods down without any calories, much like a pill. We also seek out nutrient-enhanced foods — products we consume on a regular basis, not additions to the diet, which is what many nutrition bars and shakes are. We don’t want additional calories, just additional nutrients.   

When studies such as “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study” (Archives of Internal Medicine, October 2011) get picked up by mainstream media, consumers — OK, women of a certain age — get recommitted to supplementing their diets with key nutrients. And dairy foods, in particular milk, yogurt and cheese, are ideal carriers of these nutrients. At least they are for me, as these products are staples in my diet. 

The researchers in this study found that supplementation with vitamin B complex was associated with a 7% reduction in mortality, vitamin C was associated with a 4% reduction in mortality, vitamin D was associated with an 8% reduction, and the list goes on. “This study showed a benefit from taking B-complex, C, D and E vitamins, and calcium and magnesium,” according to Robert Smith, research associate professor, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Neuroscience, Philadelphia. “Therefore, if those wanting better health would take appropriate doses of supplements regularly, they would likely continue to achieve better health and longer life.”

I want better health and a longer life. So, for me — and the many others like me — we rely on fortified foods. Some nutrients, such as calcium, are added to many common foods. But other nutrients vital for good health, such as vitamin D and magnesium, are not as easy to find.

 Carolyn Dean, medical director of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, Orange, Calif., says, “Most people can benefit from magnesium supplementation because this vital mineral is sorely lacking in our standard American diet. Over 75% of Americans don’t get their recommended daily allowance of this multi-tasking mineral. Additionally, many people may not be getting the full benefits from vitamin D without also supplementing their diets with magnesium, which is a vital nutrient that works synergistically with vitamin D.

“Adequate levels of magnesium in the body are essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium as well,” she says. “Magnesium converts vitamin D into its active form so that it can help calcium absorption. Magnesium stimulates a particular hormone, calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones, which can help prevent osteoporosis, some forms of arthritis and kidney stones.”

And as we have learned in recent years, vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, does so much more than contribute to bone health. Vitamin D is involved with cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, reduction of inflammation and even cancer prevention.

Dairy foods formulators are uniquely positioned to add magnesium, vitamin D and other key nutrients to all types of dairy foods. Nutrient premixes, which are customized blends of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, simplify the fortification process for manufacturers. The premix serves as a single addition to a batch process and reduces chances for error. Premixes maximize formulation and process efficiencies.

Because many of today’s consumers prefer to get their daily dose of essential nutrients from foods and beverages rather than a tablet or capsule, it’s time to make fortification of common dairy foods a priority in 2012. Some dairies have started, such as the Borden Dairy Co., Dallas, which recently rolled out a line of milk products supercharged with vitamins, minerals and other select nutrients. (See page 23.) I hope others follow.  n