Vitamin D is found naturally in fish and dairy products, foods that we need to consume less of in a climate-smart world. But how should we eat to safeguard the environment while preventing vitamin D deficiency? In a new project, researchers intend to find the answers.

Food accounts for a large part of human-induced climate impact, so we need to switch to more plant-based foods with a lower climate impact. But the transition to such a diet risks reducing our intake of vitamin D, something found in foods like fish and fortified dairy products.

“Oily fish contains by far the most vitamin D, but it is also found naturally in eggs, for example,” says Hanna Augustin, researcher at the University of Gothenburg.

Some groups are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency. It is recommended that children up to two years old take supplements, since vitamin D is important for skeletal development. But when children stop taking their vitamin D drops, the risk of deficiency increases.

“For young people, it is a crucial period in their growth phase during which the skeletal system should reach its full potential. Pregnant women, too, need a lot of vitamin D to promote the skeletal growth of the fetus.”

The sun’s rays are insufficient

In our northern latitudes, the lack of sufficiently bright daylight causes problems since our bodies need it to produce vitamin D.

Hanna Augustin
Hanna Augustin, researcher at the University of Gothenburg.

“For much of the year, the sun’s rays are insufficient for synthesising vitamin D via the skin, so diet becomes our only source of this vitamin.”

Extrakt previously reported on the expansion of vitamin D enrichment of dairy products to include plant-based drinks and some organic dairy products. In addition, the levels in several products were higher compared to previous levels.

“Fortified foods make a difference, but per serving you can’t compare them with the amounts you get from fish.”

Researchers do not currently know how long the enrichment is good for, and one concern is that the most at-risk groups will not have access to the fortified products.

“We know that many people don’t eat dairy products and so miss out on the enrichment.”

Does everyone get sufficient vitamin D enrichment?

In a new project, the researchers will investigate how we can get enough vitamin D and simultaneously have a low climate impact. Through collaboration with the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, the researchers gain access to RISE’s database containing climate impact data for different foods. The purpose is to see how we can eat food rich in vitamin D that benefits both our health and the planet.

“We’ll measure the vitamin D value in blood samples collected both before and after the expanded vitamin D enrichment, link it to diet, and calculate the climate impact of the food. Through collaborative partnerships we will be able to cover the many phases of life, from the small child all the way up to middle age.”

The project is expected to provide essential knowledge about how we can get enough vitamin D in a sustainable way in order to promote health for everyone, regardless of background or socio-economic status.

“This means that the project will demonstrate whether vitamin D enrichment is accessible to everyone. We’ll also learn whether enriching other foods can promote equitable health and a lower climate impact.”