Many of us know that vitamin D is an important nutrient, but might not know exactly what it does within our bodies. Once absorbed, vitamin D strengthens our muscles and immune system, and works to increase how much calcium gets absorbed by our intestines. Of course, calcium is essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth, which means vitamin D is too!
To meet the minimum requirement, most adults need 400 to 800 IU per day. Older adults need a bit more: 800 to 1000 IU per day.
When your body doesn’t get the vitamin D it needs, it can experience poor immune function or something called Osteomalacia, aka bone softening…yikes. I prefer my bones to be strong and unbending, thank you very much. So how can you make sure you get enough vitamin D and prevent such a thing?
Make sure you focus on getting plenty of the following in your daily life:
Sunshine - The skin actually makes it’s own vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun. In fact, your skin makes enough vitamin D to live on if you spend enough time in the sunshine. However, many of us don’t get much exposure during the cold winter months. Research tells us if you live above the 40° North latitude, you are at much higher risk of getting insufficient vitamin D. I’m looking at you, Portland and Detroit (my two homes – eek!). The good news is 15 minutes of sun can suffice. But keep in mind, the more skin exposed the better.
Eggs - The yolk of eggs contains a small amount of vitamin D (about 40 IU per egg). Cook up the whole egg, not just whites to reap those vitamin D benefits.
Milk – Most commercial milk is fortified with about 100 IU vitamin D per 8oz serving. That’s 25% of your daily needs. Woo!
Salmon – The flesh of fatty fish naturally provides vitamin D. Just 3oz of salmon can give you 450 IU! For most people, that means one fillet meets 100% of your needs!
Mushrooms – Mushrooms contain vitamin D if they were grown using UV lights or exposed to UV rays after harvesting. Believe it or not, you can even fortify your own mushrooms by leaving them gills-up in the sun for 15 minutes before eating them.
Other fortified items – Cereals, soy milk, orange juice, yogurt, and margarine are three grocery items that are commonly fortified with vitamin D. Simply check the bottom of the nutrition facts label to be sure.
Supplements – If you are struggling to get enough vitamin D from any of the choices above, you may want to consider taking a supplement. If you take a daily multivitamin, check the label for vitamin D before jumping in. Many multivitamins provide enough to keep you covered. Be careful and ask your dietitian or doctor before starting any new vitamin supplements. If you do go this route, ask for vitamin D3, which is the form most easily utilized by the body.
Nutrition Technique: Pay attention to how much time you spend outside this winter (and year round, really). Try to meet your needs through eating vitamin D rich foods. If all else fails, ask your dietitian or doctor about starting a supplement. Especially for all you cold weather folk out there – make sure vitamin D is on your grocery list as wintertime approaches.
Amy Jones, MS, RDN, LD, CD