Submitted by Rebecca Crumb-Johnson, RD
NorthLakes Community Clinic
Vitamin D is essential for our health. It promotes calcium absorption and keeps the proper balance of calcium and phosphate in our blood. This helps bones grow and stay strong, while also helping prevent muscle cramps. Adequate vitamin D helps safeguard children from brittle and misshapen bones. In adults, it prevents bone thinning. Additional roles in the body include immune function, blood sugar metabolism, decreased inflammation, as well as affecting cell growth.
The best way to get vitamin D is naturally from the sun. Sunlight stimulates your body’s natural production of the vitamin. Thus its nickname, “the sunshine vitamin.” Just 15 minutes of mid-day sun exposure without sunscreen is sufficient in the summer. The time needed varies based on factors like how much skin is exposed, the darkness of skin, (the darker the skin, the more time is needed), the time of the day, the cloud cover, etc. Try to avoid being in the sun longer than 30 minutes without sunscreen or covering up to prevent increased risk of skin cancer.
If you live anywhere north of the line between Los Angeles and Atlanta – as the majority of our readers do – it can be challenging to get sufficient vitamin D from November to March. During this period, the sun is positioned very low in the sky. Northerners must rely on the vitamin D we store up from the summer. However, many of us are inside at work, school, or home for most of the day. So even in the summer months, we may be missing out on the benefits of sunlight. And given that our bodies adapted to get the vitamin D we need from the sun, even vitamin D food sources can be limited.
Good food sources of vitamin D to add to your grocery list might include fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon. This is especially true for wild salmon, which offers at least 400 IU (international units) in 3.5 ounces! The same portion of farmed salmon contains 200 IU. Or choose from local fatty fish options like white fish and lake trout, which has 155 IU in 3.5 ounces. An added benefit of these food sources is that they also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
There are also small amounts of vitamin D found in mushrooms and eggs. One large egg yolk contains 44 IU. Vitamin D is not found in egg whites, however.
Fortified foods – such as cow’s milk, soy milk, orange juice, and cereals – also contain vitamin D. One eight-ounce glass of any fortified cow’s milk offers about 117 IU. Inspect your product labels to find out the exact vitamin D content, as it can vary widely. If the product is not fortified, it will not be a source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement. Vitamin D3 is used more efficiently by the body than vitamin D2. The recommended amount for age 6 months to adult is 600 IU per day by the Institute of Medicine. The upper limit recommended is 4,000 IU per day from 9 years to adult. As with all nutrients, it is better if we can get them naturally rather than in a pill.
Higher amounts of vitamin D may be needed for those with low levels. Vitamin D levels can be checked through a blood test. Consider the low, normal, and high vitamin D levels, per the National Institute of Health:
- Levels of 50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL) or above are adequate for bone and overall health.
- Levels below 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL) are too low and might weaken bones and affect health.
- Levels above 125 nmol/L (50 ng/mL) are too high and might cause health problems.
Please consult with your medical provider before taking higher-than-recommended dosages of vitamin D.
The days continue to grow shorter. As we enter the season of increased darkness, make an effort to get the vitamin D you need.
Want to learn more about how food intake can impact your overall wellness? The NorthLakes Nutrition Therapy program provides guidance on diet and lifestyle. Give 888.834.4551 a call to learn more about how you can take control of your wellness through healthy eating adjustments!
Rebecca Crumb-Johnson, MA, RD, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian at NorthLakes Community Clinic.