It’s known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because vitamin D is primarily produced on the skin in sunlight. As it’s no secret that we’re coming to the end of summer, it’s more important than ever that we get plenty of vitamin D. It’s essential for healthy bones and teeth, supports the immune system and is also important in regulating our mood.
So how can we chase the sunshine this autumn? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her ideas on getting enough vitamin D through the coming months.
The most active form of vitamin D (vitamin D3) is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. What actually happens is that when ultra violet rays reach the skin, a form of vitamin D is converted into the active form known as cholecalciferol. This is then transported to the liver and kidneys which produce an even more potent form.
This is great if there’s sufficient sunshine! However, it’s a well-established fact that there’s widespread deficiency of vitamin D within populations living in the Northern Hemisphere (for example, the UK), as we get little sunlight during the autumn and winter months. The body can store vitamin D in the liver, but it’s often insufficient to last through the winter months, and that’s assuming there’s was enough to be stored in the first place.
Vitamin D is available in a few animal-based foods as D3 but in plant foods the form Vitamin D2 is harder for the body to convert into the active form. However, it’s still a very viable nutrient, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Vitamin D is super-powerful and has far-reaching health benefits. What we know for certain though is that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth. This is mainly because it’s essential to metabolise the minerals calcium and phosphorus. It also plays a key role in keeping the immune system on track and is thought to help ease low mood. More research is emerging all the time on this topic.
Vitamin D is found in a number of foods and even though it still has to be converted to its most active form, food sources make a valuable contribution to levels needed by the body. Salmon, for example, is one of the best sources of vitamin D3. However, wild salmon contains more than farmed salmon mainly because of the food the fish have consumed. Other oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are great (tinned sardines are particularly good if you eat the small bones), plus tuna, egg yolks, oysters and shrimp.
However, if you’re vegetarian, the only plant source of vitamin D is mushrooms. They work just like humans in that they produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Other than that, there are a range of fortified foods to choose from such as cow’s milk, soya milk, orange juice (not all brands will be fortified, so check the label), and some cereals which will also contain vitamin D.
Public Health England issued advice a couple of years ago that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months, such was the widespread problem of deficiency. However, this should very much be considered a minimum level as the body generally needs much more. Supplements contain either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2 and they will both help prevent deficiency symptoms, which can include muscle and joint aches and pains, depression, poor immunity and more falls in the elderly.
The best advice is to start taking a supplement now but also try to eat more foods or fortified foods containing vitamin D.
So whilst the summer has almost finished for another year, top up those Vitamin D levels through diet and supplementation to make sure you are getting enough of this essential vitamin.
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