DUBLIN scientists are investigating how to enhance Irish mushrooms with vitamin D as the population suffers from a lack of the "sunshine vitamin".
The mushrooms could boost levels of the vital vitamin in the Irish diet, research has claimed.
The new project at University College Dublin (UCD) is part of a wider scheme to increase levels of the nutrient here.
Scientists are studying how some mushrooms are naturally enriched with vitamin D in the hope they can replicate it and provide enhanced mushrooms.
As much as 40pc of the Irish population is thought to have low levels of vitamin D said UCD scientists.
"Our skin naturally produces vitamin D through exposure to the sun, so with lower levels of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere between October and April it is no surprise that many Irish people have sub-optimal levels of the vitamin in their blood stream," Dr Anne Nugent, of UCD Institute of Food and Health said.
Vitamin D plays an essential role in cell growth, immune function and strengthening bones. Some scientific studies have linked low levels of the circulating form of vitamin D in the blood to osteoporosis, cancer and obesity.
Every year about 8.5 million kg of mushrooms are consumed in Ireland.
"If our findings are positive, consumers will have another dietary choice for increasing their vitamin D levels," Dr Nugent added.
Dr John Collier, group research and development manager of Monaghan Mushrooms Ltd, said the study replicated nature's way of enhancing vitamin D.
He added that mushrooms were a versatile food, low in energy and fat but containing considerable amounts of protein, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.
The UCD study is funded by Monaghan Mushrooms in collaboration with the American Mushroom Council and the Australian Mushroom Growers Association through the Mushroom Global Health Initiative.