Food nutrition: mimicking the sun

Vitamin D might be known as the 'sunshine vitamin', but when the majority of time is spent indoors to avoid the heat, it is common for people even in the sunniest climes to be deficient. looks at ways in which companies from around the world are trying to solve this problem

A mushroom with a suntan. If that provokes the slightly odd image of a holidaying fungi unfurling his beachtowel and catching some rays then, well, you’ve probably been watching too many cartoons. But at Gulfood 2013 in Dubai last month, suntanned mushrooms became serious business. Monterey Mushrooms showcased a powder derived from mushrooms specially grown under UVB light which, when added to soups and sauces, would provide the total recommended daily allowance of vitamin D.

Globally, deficiency of the nutrient most commonly associated with sunshine is a major problem. Illnesses attributed to the lack of it in either daily life or diet include rickets, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and tuberculosis. The situation became so critical in the UK that late last year The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health urged the supplement of Vitamin D into more foods.

And while the trend is often for food to be organic and natural, when multinational food manufacturing company Kellogg’s started adding a “sunshine nutrient” to its children’s cereals in 2011, the reaction was entirely supportive.

“Awareness around the issue has definitely been elevated since we started adding the vitamin to our kids cereals,” says Kellogg’s UK Brand Communications Manager, Louise Thompson Davies. “It’s also been raised significantly in the political arena.”

And not just in the UK. In the UAE, debate continues among dairy companies and authorities regarding how much Vitamin D should be added to milk, with guidelines in the region fluctuating wildly. In Australia proposals are under way to make supplements in milk compulsory after a third of its population were found to be deficient. You might think people in warmer countries would be less prone to Vitamin D deficiency, but often the sun is so strong, their inhabitants are forced to shelter from it.

Yet the solution isn’t as new as it might sound. Countries such as Canada have had enriched products since the 1940s. Thompson Davies explains the process: once Kellogg’s cereals have been toasted, Vitamin D is added along with other vitamins and minerals.

Of course, it’s not just children who are in need of supplementation. Research also suggests that mothers-to-be and the over-65s are vulnerable groups too.

“We have added it to a number of our adult cereals – cornflakes, Bran Flakes and Special K,” says Thompson Davies.

Makes a change from sprinkling sugar on your cornflakes, doesn’t it?