By JENNIFER PITTMAN - jrpittman at comcast.net April 14, 2010
Expected revisions to the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, which are expected this summer, may do wonders for mushroom sales thanks to a yearlong joint effort by Monterey Mushrooms and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase vitamin D levels in the average edible fungus.
"There's a better understanding of importance of vitamin D in human health," said Tara McHugh, a research leader at the USDA. "That's what really drove" the partnership.
The USDA estimates that 40 percent of Americans don't get enough vitamin D, but others estimate it may be twice that number. In addition to aiding calcium absorption by the body, vitamin D may help numerous health conditions including osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and even a reduction in overall mortality, according to the National Institute of Health.
"Mushrooms are the new super food," said Bart Minor, president and chief executive officer of the San Jose-based Mushroom Council. Mushrooms, which used to be known primarily for what they didn't have — high calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates — are now being recognized for their unique nutritional properties.
"It's a perfect food from that standpoint and you combine that with nutritional value recently discovered and we really think we're on to something," Minor said. "Vitamin D has the potential to be a big deal for the industry."
Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin found in few foods, occurs naturally in fish oils and has been added as a supplement to milk since the 1930s to help combat rickets, a major health problem at the time. Humans also create it naturally when ultraviolet rays from the sun strike the skin.
While it has been known for years that mushrooms also can generate the vitamin, it wasn't until a few years ago that people started thinking about its commercial viability.
It was found that exposing mushrooms to a short burst ultra violet light produces a daily allotment of vitamin D in three ounces of mushrooms without a negative impact on other nutritional benefits, appearance, taste or shelf life. In comparison, one cup of fortified milk provides about 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, according to the National Institute of Health.
"We really had a highly collaborative partnership," McHugh said. "That's part of why this project has been successful."
Monterey Mushrooms and Dole Food Co. are the only commercial growers using a UV process to enhance vitamin D levels in mushrooms.
Enhanced mushrooms have yet to really boost sales, but it's only a matter of time, according to true believers like John Kidder of Monterey Mushrooms and Minor of the Mushroom Council.
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Comment: No indication of how much vitamin D