Is it time to fortify flour with vitamin D?
The baking industry is doing its bit in the pandemic by feeding populations, but in the future there may be a new benefit to the daily loaf.
A study by scientists at the University of Birmingham last year recommended that vitamin D should be used in the fortification of flour and now with new studies suggesting that the vitamin protects against viruses, including those responsible for respiratory infections, the time for action may have arrived.
There is an increasing body of scientific opinion that vitamin D boosts the human immune system and may protect against a variety of ailments and infections.
For example, recent preliminary research, by scientists from Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation Trust and the University of East Anglia, suggests that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to COVID-19 fatalities.
Average levels of vitamin D were compared across 20 European countries with their coronavirus infection rate and mortality. This revealed a correlation indicating that countries where there were low average vitamin D levels in their population were those with the highest mortality rate from COVID-19 infection.
Bread of life
Back in August 2019 the Birmingham researchers concluded that a combination of wheat flour fortification and targeted supplementation could reduce vitamin D deficiency by 33% over the following 90 years by ensuring that risk groups such as children, the elderly and Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) people had the vitamin included in their diet. Lead researcher, Dr Magda Aguiar, lamented recently that nearly a year after publication, vitamin D was still not added to flour in the UK in spite of her research findings.
Fortification of flour with vitamin D has been shown to be effective in boosting vitamin D status of people who consume it. Queen Mary University of London professor of respiratory infection, Adrian Martineau, who has been researching the benefits of the vitamin, explained: "Although vitamin D in flour is no better absorbed than vitamin D in tablets/capsules, the fact that people don’t have to buy supplements and remember to take them is a big advantage that food fortification approaches have over supplement use – thus fortification approaches are a good way to boost population vitamin D status."
The question of whether or not boosting vitamin D status of the UK population will be useful in the current pandemic is an interesting one he confirmed. One being addressed by ongoing research at the university. A new study is currently under way and is looking for volunteers. Any UK resident aged 16+ can sign up and fill in the on-line questionnaire: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/covidence/
Vitamin D fortification of flour was also addressed in a 2016 Baking Europe article by the Vitamin D Council, which stressed its benefits over other ways of tackling national/regional deficiencies of the vitamin. In the forthcoming issue of the journal there will be an article by a leading academic bringing the baking industry up to date on the benefits of fortification based on latest science.