It’s Vitamin D Season!

How and Why to Get Some

A lot of us still have a lot of questions about vitamin D. For starters, what is it? The answer is that it is a special type of steroid hormone that our body makes from cholesterol when our skin is exposed to sunlight. However, in part because there are only a handful of foods that contain vitamin D, up to 41.6% of all Americans are deficient in it. Minorities in general are more likely to be deficient in this nutrient; Black and Hispanic Americans are 82.1% and 69.2% deficient in vitamin D, respectively. Older adults, too, are at greater risk of not having enough vitamin D. If you suspect that you might be lacking, your health care provider can order a blood test to measure your vitamin D levels.

Where Can You Get Vitamin D Naturally?

Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning your body can store it for a long time. There are plant-based forms and animal-based forms. Fatty fish — such as salmon, tuna,  sardines and certain shellfish — contain some vitamin D per serving, with salmon containing 75% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin D per 3-ounce serving. Cod liver oil is a truly excellent source of vitamin D, with one tablespoon containing twice the amount you need for the day. 

Not a seafood person? One egg yolk contains 7% of your daily recommended allowance. Several dairy and plant-based drinks are fortified with vitamin D; that is, food manufacturers add the vitamin to milk or dairy products and dairy alternatives. Plant-based sources include fortified soy milk (try unsweetened if you are watching your sugar intake), fortified orange juice and even mushrooms. Baker’s yeast also can be exposed to the sun and become a source of vitamin D. Sunshine, of course, is a natural source of vitamin D, no matter what your diet is. 

When eating or drinking these vitamin D-rich foods, if you are not eating them in the form of fatty fish, consider eating them with nuts, avocados or another source of healthy fats. One study noted that high-fat foods can help people absorb vitamin D more effectively. Getting enough of other fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and K, may help with absorption, as can magnesium. 

Vitamin D and Your Health  

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are very subtle and can take years to show up. There is a disease called rickets, which is devastating to one’s health, caused by severe vitamin D deficiency. However, it is most common in children raised in developing countries, where foods are not fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is common in many people who have had heart attacks, as well as other diseases, though it is hard for experts to tell if the vitamin D deficiency is a coincidence or a contributing factor. 

Various studies have indicated vitamin D could help increase limb strength, prevent cancer, ease depression symptoms, reduce risk of falls, fractures, and osteoporosis in older adults and possibly help us live longer. Again, only a blood test can determine if you are deficient and need a supplement. Your levels should be above 20 ng/ml, though some experts say 30 ng/ml is preferred. The amount we need per day goes up as we age — infants need 400 IU (international units, or 10 mcg, micrograms); children and adults need 600 IU (15 mcg); and adults over 70 or pregnant or breastfeeding people need 800 IU (20 mcg). 

The US National Academy of Medicine states that a safe upper limit is no more than 4,000 IU (100 mcg) per day. Wear sunscreen daily, but bear in mind that there are moderate levels of unprotected sun exposure that can boost vitamin D intake. Experts co-wrote a paper where they noted how no more than two to three times a week of unprotected exposure of your arms, legs and abdomen to the sun for 10 or 15 minutes can produce enough vitamin D. They said to follow up with sun protection, such sunscreen and clothing, afterward. 

Written by: Mariann D’Arcangelis 

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