By Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator
Vitamin D is a very unique nutrient: it’s essential for many body systems (immune, skeletal, cardiovascular) but unfortunately not found in many foods. During the summer months, when we are able to get outside for 30 to 60 minutes each day, our skin is able to produce adequate vitamin D from daily sun exposure. But during the long, cold, dark winter in the Pacific Northwest, it is wise to pay attention to this essential nutrient.
The most reliable food sources of vitamin D are wild Alaskan salmon, dairy products, eggs and fortified foods such as orange juice and soy milk. Vitamin D is found in smaller amounts in only a handful of other foods, such as mushrooms and pork; seafood and dairy products are definitely the best sources.
(See table below for examples of foods providing significant dietary vitamin D.)
Another convenient way to ensure that you (and your child) are meeting your daily vitamin D requirement during the winter months is to consider a supplement. Tablets, softgels, and multivitamins are available, but the most economical way to supplement with vitamin D is with a liquid supplement. Just place a drop or two of this tasteless, odorless, colorless liquid into your scrambled eggs, on top of your pizza, or into a smoothie and no one will even know they are getting a boost of the sunshine vitamin!
How much do you need?
Infants need at least 400 IUs of vitamin D each day (up to 1000 IUs is considered safe), while older children and adults require 600 IUs/per day. Health professionals often recommend higher intakes for adults (1000 to 2000 IUs) to boost vitamin D levels especially during winter. The vitamin D content of foods and supplements are measured in International Units (IUs), and 1 mg of vitamin D = 40 IUs.
I always advocate getting nutrients from whole food sources, rather than relying on supplements, because whole foods provide additional benefits not found in supplements. But honestly, most of us in the NW need to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months (October through March). As the table below highlights, if you do not eat salmon or dairy products on a regular basis, it can be very difficult to meet this requirement from foods alone.
*Pasture-raised chickens spend more time outdoors than any other eggs on the market and this outdoor sun exposure boosts the vitamin D content of their eggs. This table shows the vitamin D content of conventional eggs.
Why do we need vitamin D?
Vitamin D is considered a “vitamin” but actually functions more like a hormone in our bodies, regulating many different body systems. Vitamin D helps regulate calcium levels in our blood and helps regulate our immune system, blood pressure and even our secretion of insulin, a hormone that tightly controls our blood sugar levels. A vitamin D deficiency increases the risk for osteoporosis, auto-immune diseases including type 1 diabetes, muscle weakness/pain, and even colds and flus.
Tips to boost your vitamin D intake:
About the Nutritionist
As a Nutrition Educator for PCC Natural Markets, Nick leads weekly “Walk, Talk, and Taste” tours, where he reveals the seasonal, sustainable and delicious food choices found at PCC.