You know that “feel-good” sensation you get during a long, hot, lazy summer day?
Things may or may not be going well in life, but the sun is shining, it’s warm outside and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself! Well—catching all those sun rays may actually be the source of your pleasant mood.
Vitamin D is formed in your body when it’s exposed to the sunlight, and the right consumption is vital for strong teeth, bones, and a healthy immune system.
How Does Vitamin D Benefit the Body?
Vitamin D allows you to absorb calcium and phosphorus, and it even helps improve your resistance to certain diseases. We know that vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin” and is best produced when exposing your bare skin to sunshine—but what if you can’t get outside on a regular basis to catch those rays? In some climates and seasons, getting that necessary sunlight is not always possible—the fortunate thing is that there are enough food sources you can get your vitamin D from.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
- Poor Immune System (always getting sick)
- Back Pain
- Bone Pain (and bone loss)
- Slow Healing
- Hair Loss
- Muscle Pain
Au Naturel! Natural Sources of Vitamin D
Let’s be honest: If our bodies are lacking certain vitamins, our first inclination is to turn to supplements—but sometimes natural food sources are the way to go. Vitamin D is no exception. Getting your vitamin D from natural food sources will not only provide you with the proper vitamin intake, but it can also give your body a healthy dose of other beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that will keep your healthy and protect you from diseases. If it’s not possible for you to expose your skin to the sunlight all year around, let’s take a look at some healthy, natural vitamin D food options:
Vitamin D-Rich Vegetables
1. Potatoes: Potatoes are tasty, as well as a good source of vitamin D. If you mash the potatoes and add milk and butter to them, you will consume 21 IU of vitamin D per measure. The normal measure for mashed potatoes, with milk and butter, is one cup per measure.
2. Corn: Everyone loves corn on the cob; so it’s an easy and popular option to get some vitamin D. But you can also get your vitamin D from more creative uses of corn, like corn pudding. By preparing corn pudding at home, you can get 55 IU of vitamin D, per measure—at one cup per measure.
3. Spinach: As much as some of us may dislike the taste, spinach contains quite a large amount of vitamin D. If you were to make a spinach soufflé at home, you would consume 42 IU of vitamin D per measure (at one cup per measure).
4. Mixed Vegetables: You don’t necessarily need to consume each vegetable on its own; why not get creative and combine a bunch of vegetables together? Some people make a variety of different meals that incorporate the essential vegetables, such as homemade soup, fresh homemade stew, or Shepherd’s pie.
Vitamin D from Mushrooms
Just to be clear—mushrooms aren’t technically considered vegetables, but they are packed with high levels of vitamin D after being exposed to sunlight at very high levels. The best part is that there are various kinds of mushrooms, which means you are not limited when incorporating them into your diet:
- White Mushrooms: Also called white button mushrooms. They are a great source of vitamin D when they have been exposed to the sun’s rays while in the growing stage. Not only do they provide adequate amounts of vitamin D, but they also have other health benefits; i.e. research shows that if you use white mushrooms in place of red meat they can help enhance weight loss. So incorporating these mushrooms into your diet can improve your health in every aspect. Per serving, every ounce of white mushrooms will give you 8 IU of vitamin D.
- Shiitake Mushrooms: Shiitake mushrooms provide about three percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, but if they are exposed to higher volumes of sunlight, the intake levels can be much higher. For every four shiitake mushrooms served, your body consumes 20 IU of vitamin D.
- Portobello Mushrooms: A cup of diced Portobello mushrooms contains an enormous percentage of vitamin D; about 64% of the daily vitamin D intake and only 22 calories. Portobello mushrooms also contain antioxidants and minerals that are essential to your body. Some of those minerals include copper, potassium and iron. For every cup of diced Portobello mushrooms, your body consumes 384 IU of vitamin D.
Vitamin D-Rich Fruits: Oranges!
In all actuality, the only fruit that contains vitamin D is the orange. By converting the orange into liquid form, cooling it down and making sure it is concentrated, your body will consume 100 IU of vitamin D per cup.
Fish, Eggs and Meat with Vitamin D
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Eggs are a very efficient way of getting your daily dose of vitamin D and you can add them to any meal of the day! Because vitamin D comes from the yolk of the egg, it is essential that you use the whole egg instead of just the egg white (one egg yolk will give you 40 IU of vitamin D). But you can’t get all of your vitamin D from eggs. Each egg contains 200 mg of cholesterol, and the recommended dose of cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association, is 300 mg a day.
By consuming at least 3.5 pounds of beef liver, your body is consuming 50 IU of vitamin D. Not only does it contain vitamin D, it contains other important nutrients, including vitamin A, protein and iron. However, much like eggs, beef is high in cholesterol—so you’d want to monitor your intake.
Cod liver oil is one of the purest, more efficient sources of vitamin D. Though it might not sound enticing, it is effective, and it can also be found in capsule form. One tablespoon contains 1,300 IU of vitamin D; it does not exceed the dietary limit, which is 4,000 IU per serving for people over eight years of age, but it does exceed the limit for infants, which is 1,000 IU per day.
Vitamin D Recipes
Consuming vitamin D does not have to be boring— why not turn it into a tasty experience? Below are some recipes that you can try that will give you a vitamin D boost:
Poached Salmon with Creamy Piccata Sauce
- 1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut into 4 portions
- 1 cup dry white wine, divided
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons capers, rinsed
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Preparation: Place the salmon on a large skillet and then add half a cup of wine, and enough water to cover the salmon. Boil it over high heat and reduce the temperature to simmer, and flip over. Cook and cover both sides for 5 minutes each, then remove.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining half cup of wine; boil until slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice and capers; cook 1 minute more. Remove from the heat; stir in sour cream and salt.
Serves 4 per fillet
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
- Cooking spray
Preparation: Preheat the broiler; you will then put the first four ingredients in a bowl and stir with a whisk. You will then take the salmon and place it skin down on the broiler, then coat the salmon with the maple mixture you made before placing the salmon on the broiler. Broil the salmon for 12 minutes.
What Happens if I Take Too Much—or Too Little—Vitamin D?
Inadequate levels of vitamin D and a lack of sun exposure can lead to low blood levels of “calcidiol” and a vitamin D deficiency. The deficiency can result in impaired bone mineralization and bone damage, which can then lead to bone-softening disease, such as rickets for children and osteomalacia for adults:
- Rickets is a childhood disease that is caused by impeded growth and soft, deformed, long bones. When the child begins to walk, the bones will bend and bow under his weight. The lack of calcium, phosphorus or vitamin D is what causes this disease—nevertheless; rickets is rare in developed countries, as calcium and phosphorus are readily available in milk products.
- Adults typically get osteomalacia as a result of a vitamin D deficiency. The characteristics of this disease include softening of the bones, bowing of the legs, muscle weakness, and bone fragility. Osteomalacia tends to be present when the 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25 OH D) levels are less than 10 ng/ml. Osteomalacia can reduce calcium absorption and can also increase calcium loss, which increases the risk of bone fractures.
Taking too many vitamin D supplements (i.e. 40,000 IU per day or more for at least a few months) can lead to vitamin D toxicity. As a result, the liver will produce too much 25 OH D levels—which can then lead to high blood calcium levels, known as hypercalcemia. You’ll begin to notice an increase in urination and thirst.
If hypercalcemia is not treated, it can cause excess deposits of calcium in soft tissues, and in other organs, including the kidneys and the heart. The result of this is severe pain in the organs and potential damage as well. Pregnant women, or women who are breastfeeding, should consult a doctor before taking vitamin D supplements.
Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin D
Recommended levels of vitamin D will vary, depending on the individuals and where they live in the world. Below I have included charts for certain areas of the world that illustrate the average vitamin D dosage individuals should consume per day.
This chart illustrates the established dietary guidelines of vitamin D intake for people living in New Zealand and Australia. Did you know that a third of the people living in New Zealand and Australia have vitamin D deficiencies?
|Age Group||Adequate Intake (μg)||Upper Level of Intake (μg)|
|Infants 0–12 months||5.0||25.0|
|Children 1–18 years||5.0||80.0|
|Adults 19–50 years||5.0||80.0|
|Adults 51–70 years||10.0||80.0|
|Adults > 70 years||15.0||80.0|
Below illustrates the recommended dosage of vitamin D for people living in Canada.
|Age Group||RDA (IU)||Tolerable Upper Intake (IU)|
|Infants 0–6 months||400*||1,000|
|Infants 7–12 months||400*||1,500|
|Children 1–3 years||600||2,500|
|Children 4–8 years||600||3,000|
|Children and Adults 9–70 years||600||4,000|
|Adults > 70 years||800||4,000|
|Pregnancy & Lactation||600||4,000|
Below illustrates the recommended dosage of vitamin D for people living in the United States.
|Age Group||RDA (IU/day)|
|Infants 0–6 months||400*|
|Infants 6–12 months||400*|
|1–70 years||600 (15 μg/day)|
|71+ years||800 (20 μg/day)|
|Pregnant/Lactating||600 (15 μg/day)|
Sunlight and Vitamin D
I touched on this a bit at the beginning—exposing your skin to the sun is the most efficient, natural way to get vitamin D.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is made in our skin when we expose it to the sun. It happens quickly— about half the time it takes before your skin begins to burn. It could take anywhere from 15 minutes, if you have fair skin, up to two hours, if you have darker skin.
There is no need to “burn” your skin in order to get some vitamin D. Even exposing your skin to the sun for a short period of time will help produce vitamin D in your body. In most cases, that production is from direct exposure to large areas of your body, such as your back.
The amount of vitamin D you can consume depends on different scenarios:
- Time of day: Our skin produces more vitamin D if we are exposing it during the middle of the day when the sun is giving off the most ultraviolet B.
- Where you live: The closer to the equator we are, the easier it will be to produce vitamin D from sunlight year around.
- Color of your skin: If you have fair skin, you can produce vitamin D quicker than someone with darker skin. For example, if you are fair-skinned, did you know that your body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D before your skin turns pink?
A Word to the Wise
There should never be an excuse not to get vitamin D in some way. It is evident that exposing your skin to the sun’s rays is the most beneficial way of producing vitamin D, but with the amount of vegetables, fish and other natural food sources that are available, you will never be at a loss for finding a deliciously natural alternative to getting your “sunshine vitamin.”
This article was republished with permission from doctorshealthpress.com.
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