Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. Research links it to numerous health benefits, such as better bone and a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and more.
In addition, it’s both a vitamin and a hormone that the body can produce from the sun. Despite our ability to get this vitamin from the sun and food sources, an estimated 40%-75% of people are deficient. This may be because the vitamin is not abundant in food sources, and getting sunlight isn’t always possible in certain climates. To combat this deficiency, I will outline the best sources for vitamin D in this blog.
The importance of vitamin D
Vitamin D is a powerhouse vitamin responsible for the functioning of many bodily systems. For example, it:
- Protects the body from illness and infection and strengthens the immune system
- Improves mood and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression
- Regulates calcium levels in the bloodstream and is essential to bone formation
- Reduces inflammation and autoimmune response
- Defends cells against cancer
- Together with calcium it can help prevent osteoporosis in older adults.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
A severe lack of vitamin D causes rickets, and this shows up in children as weakness in muscles, incorrect growth patterns, deformities in joints and pain in bones, but this is rare. Children who are deficient may also have sore and painful muscles and muscle weakness. The deficiency is not so obvious in adults . Signs and symptoms might include:
Lack of vitamin D is not always obvious. Signs and symptoms might include:
- Bone pain.
- Muscle weakness, muscle aches, or muscle cramps.
- Mood changes, like depression.
Who is more at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
If you are frail or housebound and do not get exposed to sunlight often, you can be more at risk of being vitamin D deficient. Similarly, individuals resident in care homes can be more at risk due to reduced exposure to sunlight.
People who wear clothes that cover most of the skin when outside are also at risk, as well as individuals with darker skin.
How to get more vitamin D in your diet
Sunlight is most likely the best way to get sufficient doses of vitamin D. How much sun exposure you need will vary according to sun strength, cloud cover, your skin colour, and even what your diet is like. But, as a reference, a light-skinned person typically needs 20-30 minutes of the midday sun to produce a sufficient amount daily. People with darker skin need more sun exposure to get the same amount—up to 2-2.5 hours.
Sun damage, sunburn and skin cancer are real concerns when it comes to sun exposure; sufficient sun exposure shouldn’t result in burning. People with light skin or those not used to being in the sun regularly should gradually work up to the recommended sun exposure.
- Fortified foods such as soy milk, cow’s milk, cereals and orange juice
- Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Oysters and shrimp
- Egg yolks
- Cod liver oil
If you’re not able to get enough vitamin D from your diet and sun exposure, a supplement may be the next best thing. There are two types of supplements: D2 and D3. D2 is found in yeasts and plants, and D3 is found in animal products. D3 is more effective at increasing Vitamin D blood levels; however, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, there are some great options out there. As a dietitian, I can recommend what dosage would work for you, but in general, up to 4,000 IU daily is recommended.
If you believe that you may have a Vitamin D deficiency, feel free to contact me. I offer testing to see if you are deficient. In addition, as a qualified dietician, I will help create a customised diet plan so you can get a sufficient amount of this essential nutrient.