Nutrient Spotlight on Vitamin D

This post is part of the series Nutrient Spotlight... meant to explore the what, why, where, and how of important dietary players, with some culinary inspiration to get you started.

For the first HGN post of 2018, let’s give vitamin D the Nutrient Spotlight.

What is it? // Why do I need it?

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for proper cell growth, reduction of inflammation, helping nerves carry messages between the brain + every part of your body, and aiding the immune system in fighting off bacteria + viruses. Adequate vitamin D also helps the body absorb + utilize calcium, and it may play a role in decreasing risk or progression of a variety of chronic conditions, including cancer.

According to the 2005 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, roughly 41% of American adults are deficient. Low levels are linked to suppressed immune health, decreased mental clarity, depression, hypertension, muscle aches + spasms, bone pain, and severe asthma + rickets in children. Low vitamin D also increases risk of type 1 + type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, and several types of autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis + Hashimoto’s disease.

In pregnancy, vitamin D helps the body utilize not only calcium but also phosphorus, and it promotes strong teeth, bones and eyesight for the developing fetus. Maternal deficiency is associated with increased risk of gestational diabetes, and may lead to muscle spasms in the newborn.

Where can I find it?

Vitamin D is an endogenous nutrient — synthesized by the human body. While it takes as little as 15 minutes of sunlight only a few times per week to promote adequate production, there are many factors that can inhibit the process (e.g., dark skin, low altitude or heavy air pollution, minimal sun exposure). Deficiency becomes an even greater issue during the short, dark days of winter, meaning vitamin D-rich foods + drinks should be routine in all of our daily diets, particularly those living in higher latitudes.

There are, however, very few natural sources of vitamin D. Small amounts are found in egg yolk; pork, beef + calf’s liver; some cheeses, such as Swiss; and mushrooms grown under UV light, especially crimini, white button, portobello, maitake (hen of the woods) + shiitake. Vitamin D is also present in several types of fatty cold water fish, notably fresh or canned salmon, sardines, mackerel, rockfish (striped bass), rainbow trout, swordfish, anchovies + tuna.

Some foods + drinks are vitamin D-fortified to provide more alternatives, e.g., fortified cereals, breads + other grains like oatmeal, as well as fortified yogurts, tofu, 100% orange juices, and dairy + plant-based milks.

Here are some other methods to help maintain healthy levels of vitamin D:

+ One of the four fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin D is better absorbed + utilized by the body in the presence of fat from food. Incorporate healthy fats, like extra virgin olive, flax, avocado and/or nut + seed oils, into your diet, particularly with the foods that contain vitamin D.

+ Exposure of arms, legs + face to the sun for 15 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week, will help increase your body’s vitamin D levels. Go out early or late in the day when the sun is weakest, without sunscreen; do use sunscreen at all other times. (Device apps from Apple + Android to track individual intake and/or when you can maximize “intake” from the sun.) 

+ Soft-Scrambled Eggs on Toast (GF + V)
Rolled Omelet (GF + V)
+ Garden Glut Succotash with Barley, Basil and Poached Eggs (V)
Creamy Homemade (Whole Milk) Yogurt OR Homemade Ricotta Cheese (GF + V)
+ Creamy Mushroom Soup (GF)
+ Poblano Peppers with Mushroom, Corn, Bacon and Herb Quinoa (GF)
+ Asparagus and Olive Chicken Roll with White Wine-Mushroom Pan Sauce (GF)
+ Grilled Beef Tri-Tip, Corn and Pickled Cherry (Romaine) Salad (GF)
Salmon and Veg en Papillote (GF)
+ Smoked Salmon Kedgeree with Spinach, Green Peas, Leek and Basmati Rice (GF)
Chipotle Vanilla Smoked Salmon (GF)
+ Grilled Chilli-Herb Salmon Burgers (GF)
+ Whole Fish Baked in Salt (GF)
Hiyayakko (Japanese Cold Tofu) (GF + V + Vg)
+ Tofu Scallion Brown Rice Onigiri (GF + V + Vg)

How much do I need?

The guidelines below reflect the needs of adult men + women. Unlike some other nutrients, there is no increased need for vitamin D for women of any age during conception, pregnancy or breastfeeding. (Find the recommendations for infants, children and teens here.)

All Adults (ages 14-70): 600 mg per day
All Adults (ages 71+): 800 IU per day

Consuming enough vitamin D can be difficult for some. A daily supplement** may be required to meet the recommended intake for:

+ vegetarians OR vegans;
+ older adults, due to decreased efficiency of vitamin D production + less time spent outdoors;
+ individuals with darker-pigmented skin OR who have limited exposure to the sun, related either to latitude, altitude, air pollution, clothing, sunscreen, or from being home-bound;
+ individuals with lactose-intolerance who may have decreased intake of vitamin D-rich dairy items;
+ individuals with IBD or other fat-malabsorption conditions, such as some forms of liver disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease + Crohn’s disease;
+ individuals who are obese (BMI 30 or higher) or who have undergone gastric bypass surgery;
+ breastfeeding infants — the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all breastfed babies
receive a daily supplement of 400 IUs.

The tolerable upper limit (UL) for children 9 years or older + all adults is currently set at 4,000 IU per day of vitamin D from foods or in supplement form.

*Information on recommended daily intake for infants, children + teens here.

**Discuss testing + supplementation with your physician if you are taking corticosteroids, cholestyramine, orlistat, phenobarbitol or phenytoin, due to potential drug-nutrient interactions.

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… How do you get your vitamin D? 

+ + + +

Check out my downloadable nutrition guides!

p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.

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From the Author Nutrient Spotlight

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