Sun-drenched Middle East has a high vitamin D deficiency rate. Why?

Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight. (Shutterstock)
Updated 10 June 2019
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Sun-drenched Middle East has a high vitamin D deficiency rate. Why?

  • Research shows vitamin D deficiency prevalent among almost 81% of Middle East and North Africa's population
  • Skin color, genetic predisposition, weather and cultural practices are some of the reasons behind the phenomenon

DUBAI: Dubbed the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight.

Paradoxically, despite the intense sunshine in the Middle East and North Africa, deficiencies in the vitamin are widespread among the population.

According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, “the Middle East and North African regions have a very high rate of vitamin D deficiency, which reaches 81 percent among various age groups.”

Reasons for this include cultural practices, climate, genetic disposition and skin color.

Cultural forms of dressing, which include covering major parts of the body, also may affect the skin’s absorption of sunlight, especially for women.

Another reason is the region’s high temperatures, which limit time outdoors for many people.

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Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a number of illnesses, including rickets and osteomalacia, which weaken bone tissue.

Researchers at the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal said the deficiency can also be attributed to “a racial difference in vitamin D concentration or a genetic predisposition to vitamin D deficiency among people of Saudi Arabia.”

Skin color also affects the skin’s ability to synthesize sunlight into vitamin D. 

A paper published in 2011 by Floor Christie of the University of Sunderland and Linda Mason of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine found that women with darker complexions require two hours of sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D that a woman with lighter complexion can produce in 12 minutes.

“Creating areas where women, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status, can enjoy sun exposure, as well as fortifying more foods, would go some way toward tackling this problem,” they wrote.

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a number of illnesses, including rickets and osteomalacia, which weaken bone tissue. 

Severe cases of rickets may result in stunted growth and skeletal deformities in children.

Recent studies show that vitamin D deficiency is also linked to various types of cancer, some coronary heart diseases, and type 1 and 2 diabetes. It is also correlated to ailments such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease.

Moreover, research has also suggested a link between vitamin D deficiency and some mental health problems, including depression.

Most doctors recommend vitamin D supplements since exposure to sunlight and food intake may not always be sufficient to meet the required dose.

 

 


Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

Updated 17 September 2019

Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

  • And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits

JEDDAH: An enterprising Saudi family is aiming to take the world by storm with its scientific approach to healthy eating.

The Bogari’s newly opened Protein Laboratory restaurant in Jeddah is the brainchild of brothers Ahmed, Hussain and Hassan.

The three doctors got the inspiration for their startup from hospital laboratories while studying in medical school, and with the help of their parents set about establishing their innovative culinary venture.

In recent years the health and fitness fad has become a flourishing business sector in the Kingdom, which has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of gyms and fitness centers.

And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits. However, eating clean can be a challenge for those with busy, modern lifestyles who do not have the time to prepare meals.

Enter the Protein Laboratory, opened to add fun to the idea of healthy food. “We wanted to reintroduce the concept of healthy food to the Saudi health and fitness community,” Ahmed, 27, told Arab News.

“We believe that healthy food does not have to be boring and achieving your goal of fat loss can actually satisfy your taste buds and leave you happily full at the same time.

“We are planning to expand in Jeddah and Makkah to help more people achieve their fitness targets while enjoying tasty food, and we are aiming to be recognized globally,” he said.

The trio started planning their enterprise while studying at medical college but credit their parents’ support for helping turn their vision into a successful business launch.

Their father guided them in setting up the company and their mother took responsibility for the restaurant’s kitchen, playing a major role in developing recipes and supervising operations.

The brothers’ association with the field of medicine also helped them in their efforts. Ahmed was first inspired by hospital laboratories and the way researchers worked on minor details to get the best possible results.

“The long counters, glass walls, and test tubes are what I liked the most, in addition to the complete transparency of the place. It is exactly how I wanted our restaurant to be. Everything to be prepared and cooked just in front of the customer with a high level of attention to detail,” he added.

The idea behind the name Protein Laboratory was to ensure customers had the option to select, mix and create ingredients according to their taste or preference.

“Customers can order their meals according to their nutritional needs and preferences, starting with selecting the protein base, cooking method, side dishes, the sauce and portion of the meal’s components in grams.”

Ahmed said: “We use the healthiest cooking methods possible. We don’t use frozen meat; we blend our own spices and make sure everything is always made in the healthiest way.”

The brothers and their mother work like scientists. “We spent one year testing ingredients and creating healthy recipes. We had only one goal in mind: High protein in a healthy meal and a portion that could help us and others to stay healthy while still eating the food we desired with higher quality and better taste,” Ahmed added.

Their lab salad dish includes more than 20 organic ingredients high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. The restaurant’s burger has only 396 calories, and one of their best-selling desserts is a sugar-free banana pancake.

“We aim to make our prices within everyone’s reach,” Ahmed said.

One of the services offered by the restaurant is subscription to a meal plan drawn up according to the nutritional needs of the customer and delivered to their workplace or home.

Protein Laboratory is located in Helmi Kutbi Street, in Jeddah’s Al-Zahra district and can be followed on Instagram @proteinlabsa.