Winter is coming which means that gloomy weather and clouds are rolling in with it. That may leave some of you wondering how and where to get that super important dose of vitamin D. In today’s article, we’re breaking down the vitamin D ins and outs and giving you tips to make sure you get an adequate amount of this important nutrient!
What is Vitamin D Anyways?
Curve ball: vitamin D is not even necessarily a vitamin. It’s actually a pro-hormone, which means that it must be activated by something to act efficiently in the body. Vitamin D comes in two major forms: vitamin D3 and vitamin D2. D3 is the type that is activated by sunlight and the type that occurs naturally in foods. Vitamin D2 is often used for fortifying foods like fruit juice, milk, and infant formula.
Vitamin D is imperative in many bodily functions. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes calcium absorption in the intestines maintaining calcium levels and normal bone mineralization. Other major functions include encouraging cell growth, improving immune and muscle function, and reducing inflammation. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increase in infections or illnesses (and even muscle loss!)
How Much Do I Need?
The recommended intake for most healthy adults ages 19-70 is 600 IU (International Units) or 15 mcg (micrograms) per day. This recommendation may vary based on specific health conditions or genetic influences, so it is always important to double check with your doctor.
How Do I Get That Amount?
We know the struggle. Days are getting shorter and it seems the work days are getting longer. Often the sun has set by the time we’re done working during these winter months. But don’t worry! Vitamin D is naturally occurring in some foods and fortified in many others. Some of the highest sources of naturally occurring vitamin D are foods like liver, cod, halibut, salmon, catfish, eggs, sardines, tuna, mushrooms, and mackerel. Fortified sources of vitamin D are often found in milk, soy milk, almond milk, cereal, and yogurt. Do remember that homemade nut milks will not have vitamin D.
Sun exposure is always a natural and pleasant way to encourage vitamin D synthesis in the body. The amount of sun exposure necessary for individuals will vary depending on things like race, age, gender, and other health conditions. People with darker skin may be at a significantly higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Generally speaking, aim for 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen (this is not recommended if you have a family history of skin cancer. Read more here).
And now for the drumroll…
Our 10 Practical Ways to Get More Vitamin D
- Have a 3 oz. serving of salmon with dinner or have 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil in the AM
- Enjoy 1 cup of unsweetened fortified soy or almond milk with your breakfast oatmeal
- Take a 25 minute walk outdoors during your lunch break
- Scramble eggs with veggies and serve over brown rice for a meal
- Mix tuna with avocado for a healthy tuna salad
- Visit the local park on weekends during peak hours (10am-2pm)
- Toss 1-2 cups of mushrooms into a stir-fry, quesadilla, or as mini pizzas.
- Snack on your favorite bowl of fortified cereal (go for low-sugar, minimally processed options!)
- Make a delicious parfait with vitamin D fortified yogurt
- Consider taking a supplement
Do I Need A Supplement?
If you suspect that you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, you may request that your doctor measure your serum levels. This is a simple blood test that can tell you if you’re in the clear or could use a supplement. Vitamin D supplements come in both the D2 and D3 form. Some research suggests that the vitamin D3 form is more effective than taking D2. Though D3 is more effective, it is derived from animal sources, which is something to consider if you are a vegan or vegetarian. Vitamin D2, on the other hand, is typically derived from yeast or other plants. When considering a supplement, it is always of utmost importance to check with your doctor to make sure it does not interact with any of your other medications or that you don’t have underlying conditions that may cause issues. We typically recommend a 1000-2000 IU daily dose, but again, that amount may vary depending on a number of factors (so check in with the doc!) Remember that this is a fat-soluble vitamin, so you should take the supplement with a meal that contains fat for optimal absorption.
Vitamin D is essential to our functioning muscles, a healthy immune system, and other cellular processes. So it is super important to ensure we’re getting enough of it. Note that people with darker skin, people with impaired GI metabolism, people with limited intake of vitamin D-rich foods (such as vegans and vegetarians) and older individuals may be at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. If you belong to any of these groups, make an effort to eat foods rich in vitamin D or consider talking with your doctor about supplementing.
How do you get outdoors during the cold, dark winter days? We need all the creative tips you have! Drop us a comment below! xo