Unfortunately, mornings seem darker and the evening sun is shying away earlier and earlier. On its own, this can be upsetting, but it also has an unwanted side effect!
Vitamin D status is hugely dependent on sun exposure. Here in the northeast, the fall and winter months can cause an insufficient exposure to the sun, creating an environment for inadequate intake of Vitamin D. Exposure needs vary greatly and factors such as age and skin color, on top of physical environment, make it hard to narrow down on exact sun exposure needs. However, it’s safe to say somewhere between 5-30 minutes, 1-2 times a day, between the hours of 10am and 4pm of sun exposure to the face, arms, hands and legs without sunscreen is necessary.
Not only is this range widely variable, we can see a few issues automatically. For example, exposure to the sun without sunscreen may be good for Vitamin D status but problematic when it comes to skin cancer. Also, with the typical work day being 9am to 5pm, the times of the day when we should be out, we are working away. Lastly, in the cold months it is likely that we have all exposed areas, such as arms and legs, covered to stay warm.
Vitamin D is essential. The role it plays in bone health and calcium regulation is vital to avoiding osteoporosis and maintain proper bone integrity. Outside of this role, Vitamin D deficiency in research has been shown to be linked to decreased immune response, multiple forms of cancer, heart disease, weight gain and even depression.
So, what is the answer?
Diet, it’s always Diet!
Our needs for Vitamin D from dietary sources is are about 600IU per day or 15mcg. High concentrations of Vitamin D are found naturally in fatty fish such as tuna, trout, salmon and mackerel. Just 3 oz of trout has more than twice your daily needs of vitamin D and 3 oz of salmon is right around the daily need level. Egg yolk has about 44 IU per egg. If you are looking for a vegetarian source of Vitamin D, mushrooms are your best source. The amount of sun mushrooms are exposed to determine the amount of Vitamin D concentration in each mushroom. Mushrooms exposed to extra UV light exist on the market to increase it’s Vitamin D content. Some foods that lack Vitamin D naturally are fortified with it. On average, a cup of milk or dairy alternative such as soy, almond or oat milk that is fortified with Vitamin D has around 100-150 IU per serving. Other dairy products such as cheese, ice cream and butter tend to be fortified as well. Cereals are typically fortified.
Is diet enough?
Typically, if you are introducing these foods, then the answer is yes. However, if you fall into an at-risk group, then talking to a health professional is recommended. At-risk populations include: people with dark skin, people with kidney disease, older adults, people with digestive disorders, obese people, people in areas with limited sun exposure, exclusively breast-fed infants, vegans or anyone following a diet limiting a major source of Vitamin D. Supplements can be found in a wide range of concentrations. It is generally recommended that 600-800 IU daily is adequate. A dose up to 2000-4000 IU is generally safe but likely not needed. Taking more than 4000 IU is not recommend for toxicity concerns.
With the summer behind us, it is important we brace for a darker winter and therefore less Vitamin D intake. Luckily, we can meet our needs with nutrient dense foods.
Make sure to emphasize these foods over the next few months so we can stay DeLightful even when the sun isn’t shining.