As we say goodbye to the winter months, we welcome the spring time with open and bare arms. We get to say goodbye to sweaters, scarves, and 4pm sunsets, and hello to sun dresses and sun-kissed cheeks. So for this Nutrient Spotlight, I thought I might talk about a vitamin we get from the wonderful, amazing, nutritious rays of the SUN! Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin responsible for an array of crucial bodily functions — maintaining bone density may be the most talked about. The primary role vitamin D plays in bone density involves allowing absorption of Calcium.
So, where do we get Vitamin D?
Did you know that most of the Vitamin D that our bodies make comes from sunlight? Now, it doesn’t take a day of sunbathing on the beach to reap the benefits of the sun’s nutrient-saturated rays. All you need is about 5-10 minutes of direct, UNPROTECTED sunshine (that means no sunscreen, with some skin showing) per day to get enough exposure. So, if you can make that happen, you’re covered! After your allotted Vitamin D time, definitely throw on that sunscreen to protect yourself from irreparable skin damage, which can lead to visible changes and skin cancer.
Here’s the process, from sun through skin:
If 5 minutes of sunshine per day is not possible for you, as is often the case in the summer months here in San Francisco, do not fear. There are other ways to meet your D-quota for the day!
What are good dietary sources of Vitamin D? How can we make sure to get enough when the sun doesn’t want to come out to play?
The good news for those of us who won’t be getting to soak up the sun during summer months, or for those dreading the winter’s gloomy return, is that there are alternative sources of Vitamin D. Food sources are limited, but do exist. They include fatty fish, mushrooms, and fortified milk; egg yolks provide a small amount as well. A number of other foods may also be fortified with Vitamin D, including cereals and milk substitutes like soy. Just be sure to read the labels on these items, and try to avoid adding highly processed foods into your diet in the pursuit of added nutrients — my opinion is that it’s not worth the trade off.
Keep it natural!
There has been some controversy over the use of UV (ultraviolet) lamps to increase vitamin D production. On one hand, the rays have been shown to increase the nutrient concentration in mushrooms, which produce Vitamin D the same way we do. Also, users of these devices have reported noticeable improvement in mood, and fewer symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during winter months. However, these lamps also come with risk of skin damage and cancer. It may be best to discuss the risks and benefits with your doc to determine if a UV lamp is right for you.
If you are still having trouble getting enough quality sun time, and feel your diet may be lacking, speak with your physician about getting a simple blood test to check for Vitamin D deficiency. Your MD may then recommend a Vitamin D supplement if you are deficient. I highly recommend checking your levels before starting a supplement, and always check with your physician before starting any kind of regimen to avoid dangerous interactions or toxicity (too much Vitamin D). Remember, supplementation will typically only provide benefit to those who are deficient in a nutrient. Otherwise, you might as well be swallowing capsulized cash.
What do you think?
What are some ways you clock some outdoor hours to make sure you get enough sun time? Do you take supplements, or use a UV light? Want to share your favorite recipe using Vitamin D rich foods?