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Vitamin D meets Vitamin GBC

In the name of science and health, 120 GBC students, staff, and faculty bravely volunteered to eat an overwhelming amount of pizza—topped with Vitamin D fortified mozzarella.

These volunteers formed part of a study conducted by University of Toronto (U of T) in collaboration with George Brown College’s Food Innovation and Research Studio (FIRSt). The study investigated whether eating cheese fortified with Vitamin D could affect the levels of Vitamin D in the body.

U of T Researcher Banaz Al-khalidi points to the critical importance of this study for Canadians. “There is a huge gap between the dietary guidelines and our food system.” The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently tripled recommended vitamin D intakes–from 200 IU up to 600 IU daily–yet according to the Canadian Community Health Survey Cycle, Canadian intakes of vitamin D average to 200-300 IU vitamin D per day in foods.

Al-khalidi explains, “Cheese fortification is an excellent alternative to [vitamin D] supplementation as most Canadians do not obtain adequate amounts of vitamin D through foods [or] even through sun exposure.” Cheese has long been a crucial part of the Canadian diet– the dairy industry in Canada produces roughly 137,732,000 kg of 700 cheese varieties every year. But as most people have cheese as an ingredient in a bigger meal, she decided to test whether the bioavailability of vitamin D in cheese is affected by cooking. In other words, can the vitamin D in cooked cheese still be absorbed by the body?

Study participants consumed individual pizzas prepared using Vitamin D fortified mozzarella cheese. Half the study participants received a pizza with fortified cheese at 28,000 IU vitamin D, and the other half ate pizza with cheese fortified at a significantly lower level, just 200 IU.

Research Food Scientist Moira Cockburn explains. “We had to design a vehicle for the delivery of cooked cheese, so we developed a bruschetta type pizza” that would appeal to a wide range of people, including those with dietary restrictions.

And the pizza had to be good enough to keep test subjects coming back. According to Culinary Technician Candace Rambert, “[The pizzas] couldn’t be great one week and ok the next because people would not come back. A great deal of planning and testing went into making sure that this was not the case.”

For Al-khalidi, collaborating with FIRSt “made everything much easier.” Moreover, she observes, “The enthusiasm and the positive attitude of the staff and the student culture at GBC helped our project to finish in a timely manner.”

And the results are in. Al-khalidi reports that the study “…successfully showed that cheese fortification is a viable method in safely increasing the vitamin D levels of our study participants who represented different ethnic backgrounds.” The study’s results ultimately provide scientific support for the commercialization of vitamin D fortified cheese in Canada. The new market opportunity is promising for the dairy industry of Canada, currently ranked third in the nation’s agricultural sector.

This applied research project was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).