The importance of Vitamin D this autumn: are you getting enough?

A fried egg make to look like yellow sunshine behind a white cloud

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.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

THE FACTS

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.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

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.

THE BENEFITS

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.

THE FOODS

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.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

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.

THE SUPPLEMENTS

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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The five best breakfasts to kick-start your day

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

For so many reasons, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Every main meal is an opportunity for taking on board nutrients and giving the body the fuel it needs in order to keep it functioning optimally. And as the body has been fasting for quite a number of hours while you sleep, first thing in the morning your blood sugar levels are low, energy is not at its best and the body is crying for refuelling.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five of her favourite breakfasts to start your day right!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

AMARANTH PORRIDGE WITH PEAR

There’s no down side to starting your day with some porridge; it’s packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates which will keep you feeling fuller for longer and won’t send blood sugar levels soaring; imbalanced blood sugar will adversely affect energy and mood for the rest of the day. Porridge is also packed with energy-giving B-vitamins, as well as other key nutrients.

Why not try a slightly different take on traditional oat-based porridge? Try using the grain amaranth which has a wonderful nutrient profile; high in minerals calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorus as well as protein.

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

One of the best ways is to simmer amaranth flakes (readily available in supermarkets and health food stores) is with some coconut milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon for about five minutes. Then add the sliced pears and continue to simmer for another five to 10 minutes. It’s delicious sprinkled with a few seeds and a little natural yoghurt if desired.

POACHED EGGS WITH ASPARAGUS

This delicious breakfast option is a meeting of two highly nutritious foods which actually work really well together. Depending on how much time you have in the morning, this might need to be a healthy weekend breakfast as it requires a few more minutes of preparation. However, it’s well worth it; asparagus is high in those energy-giving B-vitamins and eggs are one of the best sources of protein on the planet. Breakfast never tasted so good!

A poached egg on top of steamed asparagus to show a healthy breakfast

Ideally, steam or boil some asparagus spears for a few minutes until slightly tender. Meanwhile, poach a couple of eggs; clearly everyone has their favourite way of doing this but a proper poaching pan is definitely the easiest way! The asparagus can be served sprinkled with some grated parmesan cheese and black pepper with a slice of rye toast on the side. A great energy-booster to see you through till lunch.

SPECIAL MUESLI

Shop-bought muesli can often be rather sugar-laden, partly because of the high amount of added dried fruit which contains far more sugar than fresh or frozen fruit. It is a much better idea to mix up your own batch of muesli, store it in the cupboard and then add some fresh fruit when you come to eat it.

Oats, nuts and seeds to show homemade museli and healthy breakfast

Wholegrains are unrefined, which means they have had none of their nutrients removed, particularly the B-vitamins and other minerals such as magnesium (which is essential for your bones and energy, as one example). Mix some oat flakes, barley flakes, wheatgerm, sunflower and pumpkin seeds plus a few raisins. You can actually get more adventurous by adding other grains such as quinoa flakes.

It’s a great ‘go-to’ breakfast, always in the cupboard, and only needs some milk (why not try almond or coconut milk), plus some natural yoghurt and fruit of your choice if so desired.

AVOCADO ON TOAST

No breakfast suggestions would be complete without avocado! It’s an amazing superfood with so many wonderful nutrients. Most importantly, avocado will keep you feeling full all morning, plus their high vitamin E content will leave you with glowing skin.

Avocado on rye toast showing healthy breakfast

What could be simpler? A slice of rye toast is one of the best choices because it has a great nutrient profile. Additionally, it’s a denser bread so will keep you going for longer and has less gluten, which means you’ll be less likely to suffer from bloating.

Slice or mash the avocado, add to the toast and try adding a crunchy topping with some munchy seeds. For an added ‘twist’ swirl a little balsamic glaze over the top.

THE ULTIMATE BREAKFAST ‘ON THE RUN’

For those who literally ‘wake up and go’ then breakfast doesn’t have to be a double espresso and croissant! A small pot of natural yoghurt is packed with protein to keep energy levels balanced through the morning, topped with a few berries of your choice. All berries are low on the glycaemic index, keeping blood sugar levels in check and also adding some great nutrients.

Woman eating yohurt with berries showing healthy breakfast

This breakfast can be packed in your bag, eaten on the bus or when you reach the office!

So start every morning the right way with a nutritious breakfast, refuelling the body and providing you with the energy you need to get on with your day.

FOR MORE GREAT NUTRITIONAL AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister website Herbfacts