July 2019

Vitamin D enriched meatballs solving NI deficiency

After the 2nd world war it was presumed that vitamin D deficiency was eliminated from Northern Ireland due to better nutrition, but a recent re-emergence of cases of rickets in children has brought the deficiency once again to the public’s attention. The current recommendation for dietary vitamin D intake is 5ug/day. Vitamin D intake can be obtained through the diet; however, the best source is the sun (20-30 minutes on bare skin, 3 times a week). This is an issue in Northern Ireland because:

  • Ireland’s northerly latitude – In the months between November and March there is inadequate quality and quantity of sunlight to enable sufficient production of vitamin D by the body. Even on sunny days in the winter the sun’s rays are the wrong type for vitamin D production. 
  • Darker skinned people living in Ireland are particularly at risk as they require more sunlight to produce vitamin D (10 to 50 times more exposure to sunlight required).
  • Dietary sources of vitamin D are not consumed in sufficient quantities to counter the lack of sunlight exposure.
  • Offal meat such as liver and kidney are a good source of Vitamin D but these foods are not suitable for infants and pregnant women because they provide too much Vitamin A, which can cause liver damage if eaten in too high a quantity.

Due to the above, it is recommended that in the winter months people consume vitamin D rich produce to help increase the levels in their body.

Dunbia and Monaghan Mushrooms have recently been working together to produce a product which could assist in improving vitamin D levels in children. The result of this collaboration was a meatball which contains mushrooms enriched with vitamin D. The appearance of the mushroom in the product was almost non-existent, making the meatball a suitable meal for children who may be fussy eaters. The main benefit of this product was that one serving (3 x 20g meatballs) provided 5ug of vitamin D which is the recommended daily amount.

Events were carried out around Northern Ireland to test the suitability of the meatball with children. 2 types of meatballs were included in the trail – a control (A) and the mushroom meatball (B). The mushroom meatball was based on the same recipe as the original, the only difference being the addition of mushrooms. Before the children sampled the product, they were told about the health benefits of both lean red meat and enriched mushrooms, but they were not informed about the addition of mushrooms in meatball B (this was to avoid bias between the two different types).

Meatball A was given first and then B. The children tasted the food and then were asked to state which they preferred. They did this by writing either A or B on a piece of paper and then placing it in a bucket – the total was then counted after all the children had voted.

To eliminate any bias with the order in which the meatballs were given, they were swapped throughout the session – so meatball B first and then meatball A. This swapping principle was used at each event to make sure each meatball was given both first and last.

The results show that 55% of the children preferred the standard beef meatball and surprisingly 45% preferred the mushroom meatball.

Although the majority preferred the original recipe, statistical analysis shows that there is no significant difference (p= >0.05) between preference of either meatball.

As we had anticipated that there may be order bias within the group, we recorded the results in a way that allowed us to identify if this had happened. In 2 of the 4 events there was order bias. This would mean that for example, if you ate meatball A first you would forget the taste and so prefer meatball B as it is most recent in your mind. This could be one of the reasons which explains why there is no significant difference between meatball preference.

As there was no significant difference, this would make the uptake of meatballs enriched in vitamin D a potentially successful product. This is great for not only improving the vitamin D intake in Northern Irish children but also the beneficial effects vitamin D will have on health.



Red meat as part of a healthy diet can reduce the risk of MS.

Research lead by Curtin University and the Australian National University has discovered that, by including unprocessed red meat in the Mediterranean diet, the overall risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) is reduced.

840 Australians took part with the aim of finding a link between consuming a Mediterranean diet that includes unprocessed meat such as pork, beef and lamb, and a reduced risk of a first episode of CNS demyelination – a common precursor to MS.  

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable and potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

The immune system is triggered to attack the CNS which causes demyelination of the myelin sheath – this is the layer of cells that insulate the nerves and allow the signal to travel, uninterrupted towards the brain.  

The research came about due to the globally increasing diagnosis of MS. This suggested that environmental factors such as low sun exposure, low vitamin D, and poor diet may be contributing factors and therefore the research decided to focus on diet.

Previous studies have proven the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of other diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and overall life expectancy. However, there is inconclusive evidence to suggest this diet could have the same effects on developing MS.

The study first tested the Mediterranean diet alone to see the effects this would have on MS – no link was found. They then tried an inclusion of red-meat in the same diet which at first, low quantities of red meat appeared to have little effect, but when the amounts increased so did the likelihood of prevention of MS. Research suggested that the Mediterranean diet including significant amounts of unprocessed red meat can reduce first case diagnosis of MS by up to 52% (with 43% being the average risk reduction).

However due to the restrictions from public health guidelines on red meat intake, the research concluded that one daily serving of red meat (65g) may help to reduce MS.

Researchers are still unsure as to why red meat in combination with a Mediterranean diet has this effect on MS. However red meat contains an array of essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, selenium, potassium, vitamin D, and a range of B-vitamins, many of which contribute towards healthy neurological function.

As well as improving the quality of your diet, research has shown that by stopping smoking and ensuring you get an adequate amount of sun exposure (to produce vitamin D), you can reduce your risk of MS further.