Golden opportunity: White spaces for mineral-fortified functional foods in Japan – government study

By Nurul Ain Razali

- Last updated on GMT

Brands could tap on the potential to develop functional, fortified food to serve the mineral-deficient Japanese population. ©Getty Images
Brands could tap on the potential to develop functional, fortified food to serve the mineral-deficient Japanese population. ©Getty Images

Related tags Supplements Minerals Japan fortified foods

A Japanese government-funded study has revealed new opportunities for brands to develop functional foods and increase awareness among mineral-deficient consumers in Japan.

In a study titled “The Perception of Minerals and Their Prevalence in Fortified Foods and Supplements in Japan”​ published in the journal Nutrients, only 18.4% of the 15,000 participants knew about the amount of minerals they had consumed.

Most participants did not consume mineral-fortified food, supplements or both due to economic concerns. Some also did not meet the nutrient values, which could be detrimental during COVID-19 as zinc and selenium deficiency could increase the risk of infection and severity.

“In Japan, it is reported that skipping breakfast was associated with deficiencies of vitamins A, B1, and B2 and some minerals among female junior high school students. Another study showed that meals prepared away from home caused a lower intake of vitamin C and some minerals.

“Consumers should supplement their nutrient intake with dairy foods, but nutrient-fortified foods, dietary supplements, or both are also helpful. The reason why most participants did not use vitamin-fortified foods, vitamin supplements or both was the economic issue.

“On the other hand, among vitamin-fortified-food, vitamin supplement users or both, the purposes of these products’ usage were varied, such as maintaining health, supplementing nutrients, beauty-related purposes, and preventing infectious diseases. A similar scenario might present with minerals,”​ said the researchers.

Therefore, the researchers conducted an online cross-sectional survey among 15,000 Japanese individuals (7,500 males and 7,500 females) aged 20 to 79 from 8 to 11 November 2021.

The survey aimed to highlight their perceptions of each mineral and the prevalence of mineral-fortified foods and mineral supplements. The 2,077 respondents who consumed mineral-fortified food or supplements were given an additional questionnaire to show their knowledge about such food and mineral intake.

Unaware

Results showed that the perception and the prevalence of mineral consumption varied among respondents. Most consumers, including those who take fortified food or supplements, were unaware of the nutritional status of each mineral in the products.

7.9% of the respondents consumed mineral-fortified food, whereas mineral supplement usage stood at 9.3%. A total of 24.9% of the respondents understood the role of calcium, followed by iron at 19.1% and potassium at 12.1%.

The prevalence was greater in participants who frequently consumed a well-balanced diet. Past studies have shown that well-balanced meals could assist in maintaining health and immunity, especially against COVID-19 infections despite being vaccinated. However, only a third of the respondents in the current study consumed a well-balanced diet almost every day due to limited time and money.

In Japan, there are no regulations on stipulating the amounts of minerals in a particular product. Some products even exceeded daily limits. However, for minerals, the awareness of their intake was low, with some participants not checking the label on supplements. Labels also did little to increase consumer awareness. For example, respondents consciously took sodium when that mineral was already one of the priority issues in Japan – the UN recommends 5g daily, but the Japanese consume 10g.

“To maintain the healthy nutritional status of individuals, it is important to improve not only consumer awareness but also their environment, which make consumers choose a healthier product without imposing any economic burden. Empowering consumers with the awareness of mineral intake is also suggested,” ​concluded the researchers.

This research was funded by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Policy.

Source:​ Nutrients

“The Perception of Minerals and Their Prevalence in Fortified Foods and Supplements in Japan”

DOI:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14132586

Authors:​ Chiba Tsuyoshi et al.

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