(photo credit: Judy Siegel-itzkovich)
In a few months, dairies will be required to fortify 3%-fat milk with vitamin D - which has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of a wide variety of diseases from osteoporosis to ovarian cancer and dementia - at no extra cost to the consumer, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The Health Ministry has finally taken action through an official standard for milk that will insert the vital but very cheap vitamin into bags, cartons and glass bottles of 3% milk, which is the most widely consumed. At present, only 1% fat milk has to be fortified with vitamin D.
Milk has been fortified for decades in the US and many other countries.
The dairy companies have long opposed forced fortification of 3% milk because they market "specialty" milks with vitamin D plus calcium - for which they can charge more, since these products are not subject to government price controls.
Forcing them to add the vitamin while charging the same price will cause them to lose income.
However, Health Ministry Nutrition Department head Dr. Ziva Stahl said that forcing dairy companies to fortify all their products - including soft white cheeses and yogurts - with the vitamin is quite a way off, as this will require a different standard.
The companies oppose adding vitamin D to cheeses and yogurts even more than to ordinary milk because it would require some complicated technological changes that will add to their costs, said Stahl, who is a clinical dietitian.
Doctors and other experts have long thought that Israelis, living in a country that is sunny almost all year, would have no shortage of vitamin D, as the sun's ultraviolet rays induce cells in the skin to produce it.
But recent screening of blood by Maccabi Health Services has found this to be mostly untrue. The vast majority of blood tested for medical reasons was screened by the health fund for a few weeks and found to be deficient in vitamin D.
Nowadays Israelis are more likely to keep out of the sun and use sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer; moreover, the observant of all religions dress modestly the year, while children tend to stay indoors in front of their computer or TV screens rather than play outside, thus reducing their exposure to sunlight.
The health funds do not check blood for vitamin D unless doctors specifically request it.
Stahl said the ministry, which recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid pills to minimize the risk of having infants with neural-tube disorders, is also considering the possibility of adding folic acid to all flour used in Israel.
The department head, who only a few months ago was chosen by a public tender to fill her new position, said that soon, clinical dietitians will be licensed by the ministry. At present, anyone who has taken only a short course in nutrition can call himself (usually herself) a clinical dietitian without having graduated from an academic course.
A feature article on the interview with Dr. Ziva Stahl will appear on a future Sunday Health Page.