What’s the Deal with Vitamin D?
Touted as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is receiving a great deal of attention recently both in the scientific community and in the media. This is because researchers and public health officials are telling us we’re not getting enough.
Here are some facts:• Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because our skin, when exposed to sunlight, can produce this vitamin for the body.
• Your ability to make the vitamin decreases if you use sunscreen (highly advisable to reduce the risk of skin cancer), during the winter months if you live north of the line between Florida and southern California, if you have dark pigmented skin, and as you age.
• As a result, vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency is increasing. By some estimates up to 40-50% of Americans currently have inadequate vitamin D status.
• In late 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new recommendations to double the daily vitamin D intake for infants, children and adolescents to 400 units. This was a big move by the AAP who are very conservative in making recommendations to supplement children, based on the large and growing body of scientific evidence of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels for overall growth and healthy development.
• The current adult recommendation is 400 international units but most researchers and public health and nutrition experts expect that number to increase in the very near future to around 1000 units daily – already seen in other countries including Canada.
Why Vitamin D MattersYou may already know that vitamin D plays a vital role in keeping your bones strong and healthy, by helping with the absorption of calcium from your diet and in the formation of bone, but this essential vitamin has also been linked to decreased risk of:
• heart disease
• high blood pressure
• multiple sclerosis
Research suggests that adequate vitamin D may also be associated with a lower risk of colorectal and other types of cancer. And recently, there is emerging evidence it may also help beat the blues since low levels have been linked to certain mood disorders like PMS and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that affects many of us during the winter months when the sun is high in the sky and the grey days seem interminable.
Where to Find Vitamin D in the DietFood sources are somewhat limited so you have to be creative . . .here are some top choices:
• Cod liver oil. Yes, cod liver oil! A single teaspoon has 400 units (our current daily recommended dose). Before you cringe at the thought, lemon and other natural ‘flavors’ added to cod liver oil have made it much more palatable than in the past.
• Milk. One 8-ounce cup of non-fat or low-fat milk has 25% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D, not to mention terrific energy-enhancing protein, 30% of your bone-building calcium and other essential nutrients.
• Eggs. A single egg has 10% of your daily vitamin D. The vitamin D is found in the yolk, along with other important carotenoids like lutein that can help keep your eyes healthy by reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration as you age.
• Fortified cereals. Look for whole grain cereals fortified with vitamin D. They offer about 10% of your daily needs for the vitamin per serving, along with the healthy fiber and B-vitamins of those energy-boosting whole grains.
• Certain varieties of mushrooms. When mushrooms grow in the wild, they produce vitamin D in their skin, much like people make vitamin D from exposure to sunshine. However, most mushrooms today are cultivated, growing in dark spaces and never seeing sunshine. A few companies are starting to expose their mushrooms to a flash of UV light in the growing process, which naturally stimulates the mushrooms to produce vitamin D. Dole portobellos are one example you can find and Monterey is another brand to look for (look for the mention of vitamin D on the label). A single portobello has 100% of the daily recommendation and only 40 calories.
And there are supplements, too. If you choose to supplement with vitamin D, choose one that has vitamin D3 and take it with a meal. Keep your dosage to around 1000 units from foods and/or supplements and consult a registered dietitian or your doctor for more individualized recommendations. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin so is absorbed along with foods or meals that contain fats. Choose healthy fats from lean poultry, fatty fish like salmon, olive oil from cooking or in salad dressing, nuts and avocados. You’ll be hearing lots more about this essential vitamin D for your bones, joints, heart, and mood in the year ahead.
By Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD
Wendy Bazilian is a doctor of public health, registered dietitian and freelance writer in San Diego. She is also the Nutrition Specialist at the renowned Golden Door. Dr. Wendy is author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale, 2008).