When we think of vitamins, we think of Vitamin C or that multi-vitamin we sometimes take in the morning. But do you ever think about Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is kinda special and pretty important too. Plus, it's difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.
So, let's talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing foods, and through supplements.
So why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?
Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The official minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts (and myself) think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health.
To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.
How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?
Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun; that's why it's referred to as the 'Sunshine Vitamin.' But how much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week.
Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it's not easy to get sun exposure. (hey fellow Canadians...this is a big problem for us!)
I used to have a big problem with seasonal affective disorder until I started taking Vitamin D in the Fall/Winter months. I had no issues in the Spring and Summer as I spend loads of time outdoors. But living in Canada in the winter means we don't have a lot of access to sunshine and if it is sunny, it's entirely too cold to be outside with bare skin.
How can I get enough vitamin D from food?
Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. And some mushrooms make vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun.
Some foods are 'fortified' (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course). Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.
How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?
It's easy enough to just "pop a pill" or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.
But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.
Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care. The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.
The best thing, if you're concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.
I've given you some ideas how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU or vitamin D daily. And if you're concerned, it's best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what's right for you. Always take supplements as directed.
But what if you don't eat animal products? Well, here's some great plant-based sources of Vitamin D to add into your daily routine:
- Mushrooms - Portobello, maitake, morel, button, and shiitake mushrooms are all good sources of vitamin D. Tip: set them out in the sun to boost their vitamin D content! Less than a minute can make a big difference.
- Fortified Beverages - Fortified orange juice, Almond Milk or Soy Milk. Just make sure to read the labels.
- Fortified Cereals - lots of vegan cereals are fortified with Vitamin D. Just check the label.
- Tofu - again, check the label as some Tofu is also fortified with Vitamin D
- Vegan Vitamin D Supplement - so not all Vitamin D supplements are vegan. Some D3 is made from animal products and some is made from lichen. Just make sure to read the label and grab a plant-based one.