The need to display updated information in nutrition science was a large contributor to the new food labeling ruling. Reporting added sugars, changes in fiber declarations and modifications in what and how nutrients are reported are examples of that.
Historically, the nutrients required or permitted were Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron. The new label will now list potassium, calcium, iron and Vitamin D; Vitamin A and Vitamin C will no longer be required but could be included on a voluntary basis. Vitamin A and Vitamin C deficiencies are rare today, while potassium and Vitamin D levels are more likely to be inadequate.
Why Vitamin D?
Of particular interest, the prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency appears to be somewhat sudden and rampant. Over the past decade, the percentage of the American population to test adequate for vitamin D declined from roughly 50% to 25%. This means that 3/4 of the American population are found to be deficient in this essential nutrient. Health professionals have a few theories as to why this sudden decrease.
• Skin-cancer prevention campaigns which encourage sunscreen and long sleeves, blocking vitamin D production from the sun.
• Perhaps less and less people are outside between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm; the ideal window for synthesizing Vitamin D. Most would be inside working, and not outside for at least 15-20 minutes with their head, neck and arms exposed to sunlight.
• They also blame possible faulty testing.
Either way, most agree that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a unique nutrient - it functions as a hormone, helping all body cells to communicate properly. As such, the health effects of vitamin D are varied and include:
• The softening and weakening of bones.
• One contributing factor to depression.
• It’s been found to play a role in heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
• It can also effect an individual’s immunity and has been linked to some autoimmune diseases.
It’s quite possible that current research has only scratched the surface of the functions of Vitamin D and possible adverse effects of deficiency.
It’s a fairly easy and routine blood test and levels should be tested prior to supplementation. Proper dosage for deficiencies are based on current levels and are aimed to restore the nutrient to the ideal range without overdoing it, which is quite possible since Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is stored easily by the body and not eliminated in the urine like water soluble vitamins (such as B vitamins or Vitamin C).
Where does Vitamin D come from?
There are three ways we get vitamin D:
• The body makes Vitamin D through sunlight which is the primary way we keep adequate blood levels. Just 15-20 minutes in the sun will make the equivalent of 20,000 IU taken orally.
• We can also get it through supplementation, but the body will need to convert supplements to the active form called “calcitriol”.
• A small amount may come from food. However, food sources of Vitamin D are limited and include fortified dairy products, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified non-dairy products (fortified almond milk or soy milk, for example), salmon, mackerel, tuna and egg yolks. Again, the type of vitamin D in food or fortified products will need to be converted to the active form.
Food labeling controversy
This has led many to question if Vitamin D really belongs on the nutrition facts label. Many health professionals feel it could lead consumers to believe that food is an adequate source of
Vitamin D when what they really need is more sun. Dr. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of “Food Politics” has stated: “Vitamin D is not a vitamin; it is a hormone synthesized by the action of sunlight on skin. For this reason alone, it does not belong on the food label.” (1)
However, Vitamin D researcher Michael Holick, MD, PhD at Boston University Medical Center disagrees. While he recognizes the effectiveness of the sun, he also acknowledges the efficacy of Vitamin D supplementation and food fortification without the side effects of UV sun exposure. (1)
The effectiveness of food fortification on Vitamin D status is well documented, the best example being the milk fortification program implemented in the United States in the 1930s to combat rickets (softening and weakening of bones in children), which was then a major public health problem. Since then, almost all of the U.S. milk supply is voluntarily fortified with Vitamin D and fortified prodcuts are the biggest food contributor of the vitamin to the American diet. (2)
The bottom line
While it might be met with controversy, Vitamin D reporting will be required on the new food label. We at RL Foods can help food companies calculate and display the new changes to the nutrition facts label as well as any accompanying nutrient content claims on the front of the package.