Winter is in full swing, and that means it's time to talk Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin! Find out the many reasons you need it and what foods contain it here
Winter is in full swing, and that means it's time to talk Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin! During fall and winter, the sun sets earlier, its rays are weaker, and we have the tendency to stay indoors longer. So how are we supposed to obtain this essential 'sunshine' vitamin when nature is working against us? And by the way, a lack of vitamin D is fairly common in those who live in warm sunny climates as well as colder climates.
Vitamin D refers to a group of fat-soluble vitamins that can be obtained several ways: from exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet B), by consuming certain foods, and by taking supplements. In the summer months, most people meet their vitamin D needs through planned sun exposure like sunbathing, gardening or unintentionally from exercising outdoors in a tee shirt. Various factors affect our body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight including season, geographic latitude, time of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, age, and sunscreen use. Direct sun exposure for 15 minutes three times a week, despite the factors mentioned above, is thought to keep our body’s vitamin D stores at healthy levels.
So why do we need it? It seems like every day researchers are finding that vitamin D plays a role in almost every aspect of human metabolism. Research has suggested that vitamin D may aid in the reduction and protection from adverse cardiovascular events, hypertension, cancer, asthma, the insulin response, and several autoimmune diseases by modulating neuromuscular and immune function and helping to reduce inflammation.
Vitamin D also helps control the cell life cycle keeping good cells and getting rid of cells that are no longer necessary. Vitamin D’s most well known role in the body is to aid in the absorption and regulation of calcium; deficiency can result in a variety of bone disorders including rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis which currently affects over 10 million Americans over 50. Like all vitamins and minerals, vitamin D is important in maintaining optimal health.
What to look for when grocery shopping? Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shrimp and fish liver oils are the best sources. Vitamin D can also be found in small amounts in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and some mushrooms. Other foods have been fortified with vitamin D, thus do not naturally contain the vitamin, and include milk (cow, soy and rice), some brands of orange juice, margarine, and yogurt. Breakfast cereals often contain around 10 percent of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin D as well. The Food and Drug Administration recommends at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily and up to about 2,000 IU is considered safe – although the upper levels depend on your current status.
The next time you visit your physician, make sure you get your vitamin D levels checked as many of us (even those lucky enough to live in sunny warm weather year round) are vitamin D deficient. If you are already aware that you don’t consume the natural or fortified sources of vitamin D on a regular basis, or do not have a varied, balanced diet, supplementation is probably something to consider. Always consult your health care provider before making any dietary changes.