Your body needs vitamin D. It helps keep bones and muscles strong by regulating calcium and phosphate absorption. It may even play a role in preventing cancer and other chronic illnesses, like multiple sclerosis. And you might be surprised to learn that 40 to 75 percent of people are vitamin D deficient.
How do you know if you are you getting enough Vitamin D?
Could you be one of them? Maybe — especially if you live north of the 40th parallel. Your body can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but the further away you live from the equator, the less sunlight you’re getting, and therefore the less vitamin D you’re making. Here’s what to do to make sure you’re getting enough daily vitamin D.
Get Some Sun Every Day
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because your skin can synthesize it. 7-dehydrocholesterol, a type of cholesterol in your skin, converts to vitamin D when exposed to UV-B rays from sunlight. Exactly how much vitamin D your skin makes can depend on factors such as your age, skin color, and use of sunscreen.
You should strive to get five to ten minutes of sunlight on your face, arms, and legs every day. The darker your skin color, the longer you’ll have to spend in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D, because the amount of melanin in your skin affects how fast 7-dehydrocholesterol can convert to vitamin D. Try not to stay in the sun so long that you get sun damage, such as a sunburn.
You may live where there isn’t enough sunlight
If you live further north than about Philadelphia, you may not be able to get vitamin D from sunlight at all in the winter. In that case, make it a point to get plenty of dietary vitamin D from September to March. Your body can store vitamin D in fat cells, so you may be able to “stock up” on the vitamin over the summer, but by March, blood levels of the vitamin will be well below normal and you’ll be at risk for chronic disease, muscle weakness, and bone disorders.
Eat Vitamin D-Rich Foods
There are few sources of dietary vitamin D, but oily fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies, and sardines contain plenty of it. One 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving of salmon can provide up to 386 IU of vitamin D, about half of the daily recommended intake. Wild caught fish may provide higher levels of vitamin D, due to the fish’s natural exposure to the sun. Egg yolks are also high in vitamin D, with eggs from pasture-raised chickens offering the most vitamin D for the same reason.
If you don’t eat enough eggs or fish, mushrooms are a good vegan source of dietary vitamin D. Buy your mushrooms from a trusted source, like a farmer’s market or a grocery store — don’t pick them wild unless you’re certain of what you’re harvesting. That said, if you can find mushrooms that were grown outdoors, they’ll have higher vitamin D concentrations due to their sunlight exposure.
Buy Fortified Staples
In the United States, a wide variety of staple foods are fortified with extra nutrients, including vitamin D. Orange juice, cow’s milk, nut and soy milks, yogurt, cereal, bread, and flour are just some of the food staples fortified with vitamin D. While you may struggle to get enough vitamin D from fortified foods alone, adding them to your diet alongside supplements, naturally vitamin D-rich foods, and a safe level of sun exposure can guarantee that you have the vitamin D you need.
Take a Supplement
Research has found that the amount of vitamin D in a daily multivitamin is enough to lower your risk of multiple sclerosis. However, you may want to take more vitamin D, especially if you’re concerned about counteracting the effects of a northern winter or of a longstanding vitamin D deficiency. A standalone organic vitamin D supplement can help you get the vitamin D you need.
Use a UV Lamp
In some parts of the world, schoolchildren are given UV baths to make sure their bodies make enough vitamin D during the winter. A home UV lamp that emits UV-B radiation can stimulate the vitamin D synthesization process in your skin. Just as with real sunlight, though, exposure to UV-B rays from a lamp can burn your skin. Don’t use your UV lamp for more than 15 minutes at a time.
You could be more vulnerable to a vitamin D deficiency than you think. Make sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient, so you can live a longer, healthier life.