It’s wintertime and we all know what that means… cold, snowy days with shorter hours in our day. And shorter hours combined with less sunlight? Bye bye vitamin D.
What is vitamin D? D is one of the fat soluble vitamins our body needs but has to acquire from other sources. We can make it using the sun’s rays but on days when there is no sun, we have to get it from our diet. And unfortunately, this is usually not adequate either.
Why do we need vitamin D? Vitamin D is a very important nutrient involved in many of the body’s mechanisms- from immune health to bone health to mood and brain functioning… it(almost) does it all. It aids digestion and is involved with calcium absorption, which then facilitates proper chemical activity within all systems of your body- muscular, skeletal, and tissue. Research has shown it to be active in cancer prevention and cell regulation, plus possible benefits for diabetes prevention and arthritis . Needless to say, it’s important; very important.
Only a few select foods have vitamin D, and it is important to include these in our diets. Milk and dairy products are the first thing we think of when we think vitamin D. Rule of thumb? High quality dairy, folks! Organic standards and as close to raw and local as you can get. Raw and non-homogenized dairy products offer the greatest nutrition because they have not been altered in any way. The food remains intact as nature made it and contains all the necessary enzymes our body wants to utilize the nutrients. And when you go organic, go higher fat. Opt for the highest level you feel comfortable with, but this is where you will get the most vitamin D. (And the fat- it’s good for our brains, hormones, body, and satiation! So it can be our friends when utilized correctly… but I digress.)
Next to dairy, think fish. Oily fish such as salmon and shellfish contain higher amounts of D. Cod and tuna offer greater amounts of D as well. Wild caught fish is matured in its own environment and allowed to develop with proper diet and natural growing conditions. Choose wild over farmed when buying fish. Sticking with proteins, eggs are a solid source of vitamin D. You want to eat the whole egg here. Nature created the egg with the white and the yolk, and they work synergistically in our bodies to deliver the greatest impact. Similar to dairy, go local and organic and properly pastured. Sure you pay a little more, but you get more in the end.
Plants are not great sources of vitamin D. Mushrooms grown in sunlight will contain vitamin D, but for vegetarians and especially vegans this will not be sufficient. Other sources will need to be sought.
So what other sources? Unfortunately no diet will be able to supply a person’s individual needs for vitamin D. It is important to get what we can, but this is by no means enough. I do recommend we seek natural sources of vitamins as much as possible, but there are some that we just don’t get enough of on our own. In addition to eating well, let’s think about our sun exposure. Are we getting enough? Chances are, no. With so many concerns about skin cancer we tend to cover ourselves with sunscreen and avoid the sun. Remember though that it takes little time to get enough sun for our body to manufacture vitamin D. It will depend on the time of year and how much sun is available, the location, how much skin is exposed, and the color of our skin. A fair skinned person will absorb the sun much faster than a dark skinned person, thus needing less time in the sun. Pay attention to the time of year. In the summer we get enough sun easily, but the shorter the day the lower the amount. When you do go out, you will absorb more with increased skin exposure. If you sun your back or full arm you will naturally get more than if you only sun your hands.
So what do we do now? Because we still aren’t getting enough, we need to think about supplementing vitamin D. Vitamin D, being a fat soluble vitamin, does best when combined with fat. I prefer supplements in oil or liquid capsule form. I look for those in quality sources of oil- coconut, olive or perhaps avocado oil. Taking this with a meal that contains a little fat (eggs? dairy?) increases its absorption and allows our body to use it more effectively. Every person is unique, but many find more success taking vitamin D in the morning. It can supply energy as it facilitates chemical mechanisms and enzymes to occur.
Take stock of your daily diet and see how your D measures up. You can also request a simple blood test from your doctor or local lab, but make sure it is the vitamin D 25 hydroxy test you request. Levels are considered acceptable if they are over 30, but many doctors are realizing it is better to get our numbers up closer to 100. Remember, vitamin D stores in our body affect calcium absorption and other bodily processes, so running close to our “acceptable” limits is kind of like only filling your gas tank up to just above the level that sets your gas tank light off! Why not aim to run on a full tank, right?
For more information regarding vitamin D, check out the Vitamin D Council website. https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/