The Fate of the Vitamin A in Vitamin A-Fortified Cooking Oil

4 Mins
March 22, 2017

Called by friends as Lensa, Dzesi has a BSc in Applied Biology and is currently studying MPhil Food Science (University of Ghana). He is well read in the areas of nutrition, food science, and health. He has interest in transforming scientific knowledge...

The surge in new brands of cooking oil on the global market is no longer surprising, as consumer requests and trends are being translated into products. Manufacturing giants in cooking oil processing sector have always made strides to incorporate the growing needs the sophisticated consumer into nutritious, and safe products. The latest among the collections of cooking oil on the African market is the Vitamin A-fortified cooking oil; an example is the Frytol cooking oil brand.

The World Health Organization’s e-library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA) report on Vitamin A fortification of staple foods points out that, vitamin A is very essential for visual (eye) health and also possess special properties that aid the growth and development of an unborn child and also plays an essential role in the immune system’s functions. WHO reports on Vitamin A Recommended Daily Intake or RDI (the daily intake amount sufficient to meet 97-98% of your daily requirements) indicate that, infants (0 – 1 year olds) require 1167 International Unit (IU)/day, while that for lactating mothers is about 2833 IU/day. Children between 1 – 6 years also have an RDI of 1333 UI/day but a basic daily requirement of 665 IU/day is acceptable.

The introduction of the vitamin A-fortified cooking oil stems from the incessant commitment to ending vitamin A deficiency in many parts of the world especially, sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. The WHO global prevalence of vitamin A deficiency published in 2009 reports classifies the deficiency as a public health concern because it was affecting approximately 190 million preschool-aged children and 19.1 million pregnant women.  The deficiency has also been linked to irreversible blindness or visual impairments in the form of night blindness, increased cause of childhood illness, infections such as measles and sometimes death. The magnitude of harm caused by vitamin A deficiency when put in perspective of death per year is very alarming. A study published in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin in 2010 suggests about 627,000 deaths and 21,569,000 disability-adjusted life-years, DALY (the measure of overall disease burden expressed as the number of years lost due to ill health, disability or death), has been attributed to vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency affects mainly children and also pregnant and lactating (breast feeding) women thereby increasing their risk of mortality (death). Research findings from other studies show that one in six pregnant women suffer from vitamin A deficiency especially in countries with higher risk.

The general reason for fortification of foods is however to deliberately increase the content of an essential micronutrient such as vitamins and minerals. These fortified foods seek to improve the nutritional quality of the foods as well as confer additional health benefits to the consumer, if possible with little or no risk to health. It is worth noting that, apart from edible oils and fats, sugar, flours, milk, condiments and cereal grains have also been fortified successfully. Fortification of oil with vitamin A, has existed in other parts of the world for several decades and could be traced to around 1950s. Fortification has since become the top-priority of most countries because it is one of the surest ways, considered effective and low cost for improving the consumption of nutritious foods which in the long term will reduce the health burden on individuals and nationalities.

Scientists believe that there’s a destruction of the vitamin A in vitamin A-fortified oil when they are subjected to high cooking temperatures. It is unclear if our traditional Ghanaian and African cooking habits can retain enough quantities of the vitamin A when the food is ready for consumption. Currently, there’s no published scientific data on the quantities of the vitamin A from the fortified oil left in foods prepared with some vitamin A-fortified brands. In a study conducted in Pakistan, the loss of vitamin A in fortified edible oils during cooking in Asian style was assessed and the study revealed that the percentage loss of vitamin A in oil was higher when the fortified oil was heated up to 250°C (the temperature at which oils generally begin to smoke). The study also compared the results to cooking with such fortified oils the Pakistani way “adding condiments, water and food items and then heating the mixture till the cooking of the food was complete”. The same study also posited that, frying in open air for longer time at high temperatures, destroys the vitamin A more rapidly, and the amount of vitamin A lost could also be accounted for by use and re-use of cooking oil. It is however a common scientific knowledge backed by facts that for the first 20-25 minutes of cooking with vitamin A-fortified oil, the loss is immediate.  Hence, your vitamin A-fortified oils must be kept in closed containers and not exposed to oxygen and light to help preserve the vitamin A in them prior to cooking. A study in Brazil has suggested that, oils stored in cans and from oxygen and light can remain stable for 9 months, whiles those left at the mercy of such conditions could become unstable after six months.

It is advised that, you do not heat your oil till the emergence of smoke before adding your condiments and food items, because about 50-55% of the Vitamin A could be lost.

In naturally unfortified foods, vitamin A exists as retinol in animal food and pro-vitamin or beta carotenes in plant foods. These animal based foods rich in retinol include eggs, cheese, whole milk, butter and meat. On the other hand, green vegetables such as spinach and kontomire have been report as the cheapest source of Vitamin A. Fruits and vegetable sources include papaya (pawpaw), carrots and mangoes. Another source of Vitamin A is the red palm oil.