As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, I can attest to the challenge of living in a climate where it’s impossible to get enough vitamin D throughout the year. Nicknamed “the sunshine vitamin” because of our body’s ability to turn ultraviolet B (or UVB) energy from the sun into vitamin D, this essential vitamin plays a key role in our ability to absorb calcium. And new studies have shown that vitamin D is important for many reasons besides building and maintaining strong bones.
Why do we need vitamin D?
It turns out vitamin D has a larger effect on our bodies than we originally thought. In fact, current research shows that vitamin D can have an influence on our genetics. The true scope of vitamin D’s reach has been seen in studies on mood disorders, autoimmune diseases, cancer, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular health, and schizophrenia.
Why are these studies so important? Because most Americans aren’t getting nearly enough vitamin D. A recent article in Scientific American explains that three-quarters of American teenagers and adults aren’t getting enough vitamin D.
Help! I need more vitamin D!
Unfortunately, getting enough vitamin D from sunlight is almost impossible for many people living in the United States and Canada. In the winter, the sun isn’t at the right angle for UV light to reach the Earth, and during the summertime you need to be outside for at least 20 minutes in direct sunlight with large areas of your body exposed.
The suggested daily intake of vitamin D for women is 600 IU per day, with a recommended maximum of 4000 IUs. People who have low vitamin D levels or those who are higher risk (such as people with darker skin and older people) might look into supplements.
If you’re unsure about your vitamin D levels, your family physician can order blood work to determine whether supplementation should be considered. Otherwise, it’s possible to get your recommended vitamin D intake from dietary sources.
A Vitamin D Eating Plan
Getting all of your vitamin D from food-based sources would be difficult to achieve every single day, but it is possible if you approach it with a sense of creativity and a willingness to incorporate more fish and vitamin D–fortified dairy products into your diet (in general these are the most vitamin D-rich foods). If getting all of your vitamin D from food sources seems daunting but you’re up for a challenge, begin by aiming to incorporate one or two of these foods into your diet every day.
- 1 cup vitamin D-fortified orange juice (100 IU)
- 2 scrambled whole eggs (60 IU)
- Toast with 2 tsp. margarine (60 IU)
- 1 cup of mixed fruit
- ¾ cup vitamin D–fortified yogurt (70 IU)
- Tuna sandwich made with 2 ½ oz canned tuna (100 IU)
- Cut-up veggie sticks
- 2 ½ oz Atlantic salmon (200 IU)
- 1 cup cooked brown rice
- 2 cups steamed veggies
- 1 cup vitamin D–fortified milk (100 IU)
Smoothie made with:
- 1 oz vitamin D–fortified skim milk powder (100 IU)
- 1 cup frozen berries
- 2 cups spinach
- 1 frozen banana
- ½ cup coconut water
(All vitamin D amounts sourced from the Dieticians of Canada resource guide).